“Fueling the Games”: Energy Drink Consumption, Marketing, and the Associated Perceptions and Behaviors in Video Gaming

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“Fueling the Games”: Energy Drink Consumption, Marketing, and the Associated Perceptions and Behaviors in Video Gaming

Energy drinks have become a dietary staple for many adolescents and adults and are heavily integrated with esports and gaming. They are the most popular dietary supplement among American teens and young adults. In this paper, the authors investigated the relationship between video gaming and energy drink usage, explored the motivations and perceptions of gamers who consume energy drinks, and sought to understand the impact of marketingon energy drink consumption among gamers.

These drinks contain high levels of energy-enhancing ingredients like caffeine, sugar, carnitine, taurine, and vitamins. Motivations for consumption include improved focus, energy, and cognitive function. However, research on the cognitive and physical performance effects lacks clear evidence on the effectiveness of stimulant ingredients. Consumers often lack knowledge about the safety, risks, and ingredients of energy drinks, which are promoted for their energy-boosting benefits but may pose risks such as sleep disturbances, increased sugar intake, cardiovascular problems, and unhealthy weight control. Critical concerns include caffeine overdose, excessive sugar intake, and risky behaviors like mixing energy drinks with alcohol, particularly among adolescents and young adults.

The study employed a mixed methods design, utilizing both an online survey and semistructured interviews to investigate the interrelationship between video gaming and energy drink consumption. This design, situated within the pragmatism paradigm, allowed for a comprehensive exploration of the research questions by combining qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis. The survey, with 103 participants, focused on gaming behavior, energy drink consumption habits, and brand exposure. The seven participants in the qualitative portion were recruited from university-affiliated esports clubs/teams. Participants were aged 18 and above, self-identified as gamers and energy drink users, with varying gaming intensity levels.

The survey instruments were adapted from established questionnaires like EAT 2010 and BEVQ-15, evaluating energy drink consumption consistency, gaming habits, habitual beverage intake, and energy drink brand choice. Questions on the impact of energy drink marketing were adapted from a study on alcohol sponsorship-linked advertising in esports. The survey also assessed motivational factors for energy drink consumption using a Likert scale. Semistructured interviews were guided by questions developed from a systematic literature review, aiming to provide a deeper analysis of participants’ perceptions and motives regarding energy drinks and associated marketing strategies.

The researchers found that first-person shooter games were the most popular among regular consumers of energy drinks, and the most common energy drinks consumed were Red Bull, Bang, and Monster.

Participants’ motivations for consuming energy drinks were diverse and included factors such as enjoyment, gaming performance, social opportunities, stress/fatigue relief, and, to a lesser extent, addiction. Enjoyment was often tied to taste preferences and the fulfillment of sweet cravings without excess sugar. Gaming performance was a significant motivation, with participants seeking enhanced focus, reaction times, and overall energy to stay competitive and maintain an edge. Social opportunities played a role, with energy drink consumption fostering camaraderie and anticipation during gaming sessions. Stress and fatigue relief were cited as reasons for consuming energy drinks, providing a mental boost and combating drowsiness, especially during late-night gaming events. While most participants did not claim addiction, some acknowledged developing a caffeine tolerance, necessitating energy drinks for the desired caffeine “buzz” and energy rush, citing a perceived need for these beverages due to immunity to coffee over time.

Interview participants cited energy-enhancing effects as a primary motivation for consuming energy drinks, extending beyond gaming to activities like workouts and morning focus. Despite being exposed to health claims on energy drink labels, participants struggled to accurately identify active ingredients and their functions. Many cited claims such as “keto friendly”, “zero sugar”, “natural”, and “focus blend of vitamins” as factors that motivated them to choose one drink over another. Some participants expressed concerns about caffeine content and reported symptoms like headaches and anxiety, but also indicated that they were unsure whether symptoms like “heart racing” or “adrenaline spiking” were attributable to energy drinks.

All interviewees regularly consumed energy drinks, with most having one to two cans daily. Some linked increased caffeine desire to age-related fatigue, while others viewed energy drinks as a replacement for coffee. Many participants were introduced to energy drinks through gaming and developed a consistent habit. Marketing played a crucial role, with participants noting the impact of collegiate partnerships, social media presence, influencer affiliations, and sponsorships. G FUEL, Red Bull, and Monster were prominently advertised brands. Marketing strategies strengthened participants’ connection to brands, with streamer endorsements enhancing authenticity and credibility. Brand slogans, such as Red Bull’s “Gives you wings,” and collegiate promotion programs were identified as influential factors shaping consumer behavior.

**Discussion Summary:**

This study investigated the connection between energy drinks and video gaming, exploring gaming behavior, energy drink consumption, and the impact of targeted marketing strategies among gamers. The inclusive methodology provided insights into preferences across different skill levels and gaming genres. Physiological effects, such as energy enhancement, were identified as a primary motivation for energy drink consumption, aligning with previous findings. However, claims of improved gaming performance lacked consistent scientific support. Motives for energy drink consumption extended beyond gaming to stress relief, socialization, and enjoyment. The study highlighted the normalization of energy drink use in video gaming, influenced by extensive marketing that downplays health risks. Health claims significantly influenced brand preferences, contributing to a “lesser of two evils” mentality. Marketing strategies, including advertising, sponsorship, and influencer partnerships, played a powerful role in promoting energy drink brands and consumption. Lack of knowledge regarding potential health risks was a concerning finding, with participants experiencing adverse effects but showing limited concern or reduced consumption.

Clinical Applications

1. Education and Awareness: Perhaps most importantly, esports health professionals should focus on educating gamers about the potential health risks associated with energy drinks, emphasizing the importance of understanding ingredients and moderation. Providing accurate information on caffeine content and potential side effects can empower gamers to make informed decisions. For more information about caffeine and performance, we recommend the Nutrition addendum of the Foundations course, and the “How to Pick Supplement Brands for Esports” Content Access Pass article, both of which were written by registered dietitian Casey Thomas.

2. Performance Enhancement Research: Professionals can conduct research to investigate the claimed performance-enhancing effects of energy drinks on cognitive function, reaction time, and decision-making in gaming. This research can help debunk myths and provide evidence-based guidance to gamers seeking to optimize their performance.

3. Health Communication Strategies: Develop health communication strategies tailored to gamers, emphasizing the importance of balanced nutrition, hydration, and adequate sleep. Professionals can collaborate with esports organizations to integrate health promotion messages into gaming communities, promoting overall well-being.

4. Policy Advocacy: Esports health professionals can advocate for policies regulating energy drink marketing to youth and ensuring clear labeling of ingredients. By collaborating with esports organizations and industry stakeholders, we can work towards creating a healthier gaming environment, especially in youth/developmental spaces.

Roscoe, D., Pu, H., Cuy Castellanos, D., & Dalton, J. (2023). “Fueling the Games”: Energy Drink Consumption, Marketing, and the Associated Perceptions and Behaviors in Video Gaming. Journal of Electronic Gaming and Esports, 1(1), jege.2022-0047. Retrieved Nov 21, 2023, from https://doi.org/10.1123/jege.2022-0047

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