The Future's Bright for E-sports: Practice Self Care to Play Well

By Angela Kneale OTD, MA, OTR/L, NBC-HWC

Electronic sports (e-sports) are a global phenomenon! The challenge and competition of video gaming has exploded over the past decades to include online gaming, e-sports leagues, tournaments, high school electronic gaming clubs, college level and professional players, and organized, multiplayer video game competitions hosted in enormous sports arenas.

In addition to popular games like League of Legends, Dota 2, and StarCraft II, the e-sports industry is expanding beyond the PC and console to mobile games. Electronic games also include smartphone apps, online poker or blackjack, and educational activities for children of all ages. Players become fans and by 2019, ESPN estimates that 427 million people around the world will be playing and/or watching some form of e-sports.

What It Takes To Play

Competitive gaming requires precise fine motor coordination, comprehensive knowledge, and very persistent practice. While many people play electronic games for five or six hours per week, professional gamers often play 8–12 or more hours a day. And similar to other sports that demand intensive training, e-sports can lead to repetitive stress and physical symptoms that impact performance and health.

Overuse of muscles, nerves, and tendons may develop due to repeated motion, awkward body positioning, uncommon hand and wrist movements, and prolonged periods of play. Abundant hours of keyboard and mouse use often detrimentally impacts wrists, fingers, and elbows, while controller use may lead to thumb problems. Specialized equipment, such as ergonomically designed controllers and vertical mice, helps support e-sports players to reduce repetitive strain. 

Whether you play electronic games professionally, weekly or daily, you can take positive steps toward staying healthy. Employing ergonomics, the science of designing products and systems to best fit the people who use them, to e-sports promotes preemptive measures to help prevent overuse problems. New products continue to be developed, requiring thorough testing and thousands of hours of practice. While each e-sports player’s situation is unique (based on the controller, video game, and individual grip), proactive application of biomechanical principles will always be beneficial.

Be Aware of Your Body and Its Needs

For e-sports participants, playing well necessitates awareness of your movement patterns and body positioning. Begin by noticing how you are sitting—shift your weight to the left, and then to the right, comparing ease and comfort, and then center your weight evenly. Tilt your pelvis forward and back, and then find neutral where your pelvis is vertical and feels comfortable. Position your chair in line with your desk or table, and ensure good lumbar support and neutral spine alignment. Adjust the chair height (not too high or too low in relation to the desk) to safeguard the neutral position of your wrists during keyboard, mouse, and/or controller use.

Paying attention to your health and well being will help you to play e-sports well over time. Appropriate hydration, good nutrition, and whole body exercise optimally fuels your body and brain. Deep breathing promotes enhanced focus and relaxed alertness. Self-care strategies to maximize your performance include warm-up exercises before playing and movement breaks between sessions. Be certain to move and stretch your hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders in a variety of ways, especially in the opposite ways of routine electronic gaming motions.

Other healthy habits include self-massage to relieve excess stress, reduce muscle soreness, and enhance flexibility of your hands and arms. Self-massage techniques, including squeezing, rolling, and gentle compression with the Gelliflex® Abacus® can help maintain healthy tissues, as well as help promote healing following problems of overuse. The versatility of the Abacus® provides targeted therapeutic techniques for fingers, thumbs, hands, wrists, forearms, elbows and upper arms. Incorporating the different densities of gel-balls during self-massage allows specific focus on the healthy function of your thumbs, wrists, and forearms required for electronic gaming.

The future is bright for e-sports. Take care to play well!