Worldwide, esports revenues continue to soar. Amid huge investments in advertising, media rights and sponsorships, this year the global esports industry surpassed $1.1 billion in value — up 27% from 2018. In three years, esports is expected to top $2 billion; legal cannabis, meanwhile, will reach $66.3 billion USD globally by 2025. We’ll stick with USD, here.
In a short time esports now rivals major league sports organizations with a total audience of 443 million across the globe, greater than both American football and rugby combined. If it’s growth continues, it’ll easily dwarf classic heavy hitters like Formula One and the UEFA Champions League. At this intersection is an ever growing number of teams, leagues and companies, creating and driving a new kind of professional competition — and the stakes are massive.
Tournament prize money in esports is surging at an average rate of 42% a year, and will top $173 million by the end of this year. To give you an idea: the $15.1 million prize for the Fortnite World Cup dwarfs the $3 million handed out to winners at Wimbledon, and the $30 million prize pool of DOTA 2’s The International is far and beyond the $11.5 million pool at the Masters Tournament.
Gaming and cannabis of course share a deep link with each other in the private arenas of gamers’ basements or bedrooms, but going professional changes things. As esports continues to attract huge investments from major celebrities and organizations, it’s relationship with legal cannabis will reflect such interests. Here’s a few key points to remember:
Major League Rules Will Apply
The Electronics Sports League or ESL is a leading production company. For two decades the ESL has staged high profile international league competitions and tournaments, making them a world leader in the industry.
Questions regarding substance abuse in the professional gaming industry and how it should be handled were asked after popular CS:GO player Kory “Semphis” Friesen admitted his entire team had been competing while using Adderall during an online interview in 2015. While the ESL didn’t take any action against Friesen, it’s still no surprise that a short time later the ESL issued it’s anti-doping policy.
Drafted in partnership with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) it covered a long list of banned substances. And while it included cannabis, it’s main thrust was against the rise in abuse of addictive stimulants like Adderall, which can be especially harmful to the developing minds and bodies of young pro gamers. The question of whether the esports industry had a doping problem was posed even before Friesen’s clumsy reveal by writer Simon Parkin, whose research helped prove a definitive link to heightened player performance by abusing Adderral.
‘WADA’ The Rules?
By sports testing standards the ESL’s anti-drug policy is still fairly liberal. Those with prescriptions will still be allowed to use Adderall regardless of its performance-altering side effects. The ESL says it has also allowed for medicinal marijuana cardholders to medicate before a tournament or event, however in order to adhere to WADA guidelines, cannabis for general or recreational use during tournaments remains banned.
Shortly after the ESL’s new policy was introduced the company began randomly testing for violations at its events. All players are expected to abstain from the first day of the competition until it’s last day. Punishment for use would still occur at any time during a tournament. In other words the players still undergo random testing, but aren’t disqualified based on these results unless they are discovered to be under the influence while at a competition.
For testing, the ESL’s threshold is 150 nanograms (or one billionth of a gram) per millimeter, although given THC can be stored in body fat, regular users are still concerned they’ll be unable to pass a test if that THC is released into their bloodstream without consumption ever taking place.
No Exceptions — Well, Maybe Some
Plenty other influential organizations have followed suit. Contestants in FIFA’s eWorld Cup are subjected to the same rigorous standards as FIFA”s own world-class elite athletes. Among sports organizations FIFA follows WADA guidelines strictly, testing for everything from run of the mill stimulants and narcotics to human growth hormones. It also includes the potentially helpful AdderallAdderral on it’s list.
The World Electronic Sports Games — WESG for short — implemented its first anti-doping initiative in 2017. They had been formerly known as the World Cyber Games, which saw modest success in the early 2000s before being reborn. In terms of their approach to anti-doping, the WESG has adopted the “Fair Play” philosophy used in many other professional sports leagues, such as the Olympics.
Finally, US-based Major League Gaming also prohibits the use of so-called performance enhancing substances for its competitors. But strangely it does not use any sort of drug testing to prevent or discover violations to its policy among its competitors. They are, however, obliged to sign a detailed appearance & participation release form that states they will not take any drugs prohibited by the WADA while in attendance at any MLG-run event.
Herbal Performance Enhancement
All of this begs the question: can cannabis use make you a better professional esports gamer?
WADA clarifies that any substance will make the list if it enhances performance, poses health risks to the players or violates the spirit of sport. While health risks and sportsmanship are hard to argue against, the question of whether cannabis can actually make you better at video games has been asked before — but it seems we’re no closer to understanding cannabis outside of a possible performance enhancing substance when it comes to professional gaming.
Studies have offered mixed results on how cannabis use affects gaming capability. Research shows that it can impair coordination and hinder reaction time, while still more research suggests that it can sharpen vision, improve brain health and works to reduce overall performance anxiety — useful for playing in front of an audience of thousands. But real world effects vary by individual, and a few of these studies use unrealistic consumption scenarios, like administering doses of pure THC intravenously.
With millions of dollars at stake companies like the ESL won’t likely be taking any chances on whether cannabis can make you a better gamer. And adhering to a world-class standard on anti-doping in competitive sports does great things for the esports industry as a whole by giving it legitimacy. But while the esports scene continues to ramp up, and with cannabis is legal throughout many locations where pro gaming is popular, it’s unlikely to stay out of the game for long.