Fingers click furiously as players race to end the game before their opponent respawns. With one final hit, their enemy’s structure has been taken down and “Victory” flashes on their screen. Confetti begins to rain down on the audience as the casters declare the winner of the tournament.
The winning team emerges from behind their screens after almost an hour of intense focus. Their coaches and loved ones gather around them while the crowd continues to cheer.
After a few words from the players on the game, the camera cuts to the analyst desk, ready to provide post-game commentary. While they review the top plays of the game, the analysts expose the tricks that players had hidden up their sleeves, from character builds to offensive tactics. Every secret strategy that the team had kept hidden becomes revealed.
There’s one secret that they don’t reveal: the players are using Adderall to help them win.
Amphetamines and sports
In 2012, Lance Armstrong’s athletic career ended when the United States Anti-Doping Agency concluded that he had been using performance-enhancing drugs. As a result, he received a lifetime ban from competing in any sport that follows the World Anti-Doping Agency code.
Performance-enhancing drugs have long been banned by professional sports organizations, including the use of Adderall, known as the “mental steroid.” Several sports leagues have included testing for Adderall in their tests for performance-enhancing drugs.
In the last decade, dozens of athletes have received suspensions for testing positive for Adderall. The amphetamine, which is listed as a Schedule II prescription drug with an accepted medical use, is noted for having a high potential for abuse.
Adderall has developed a stigma from college students using it as a study drug. Yet it’s only recently become a popular topic in sports, where athletes are taking it to help them gain an edge over their opponent during games.
At the same time, eSports has emerged as a major-league spectator sport, rivaling professional sporting events in size by selling out giant arenas and attracting millions of viewers in-person and virtually. The League of Legends Championship drew an online audience of 27 million, compared to the 15.5 million viewers of the NBA Finals.
eSports competitions mirror professional sports tournaments in production. Casters offer commentary on gameplay and analyst desks provide post-game analysis of gameplay and players. Confetti showers the crowd as winners get crowned. For winning a tournament, players can take home six- or seven-figures.
Recently, several professional athletes have begun investing in eSports. With the support of big names like Shaquille O’Neal to A-Rod, the recognition of eSports as a thriving industry has added to its legitimacy as a sport. Yet unlike the National Football League, performance-enhancing drugs are still failing to be regulated.
Video Games and Adderall
In online forums for video games, it’s not uncommon for Adderall to be mentioned alongside all-nighters and leveling up. Several Battle.net threads are dedicated to players offering recommended dosages for amphetamines and gaming subreddits are filled with players describing how Adderall carried them from low platinum to diamond ranking.
These forums highlight the short-term effects of Adderall. From improving focus to aiding in strategy creation, they make Adderall seem like a cure to the fatigue that stems from staring at a screen for hours at a time. Yet very few of these threads discuss the negative effects of long-term Adderall abuse, such as dependency or cardiac issues.
Although it’s a popular mention online, amphetamines are still a taboo topic for professional players to discuss. In 2015, the eSports industry was hit with a doping scandal when Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player Kory “SEMPHIS” Friesen admitted using Adderall with his Cloud9 teammates during the ESL One Katowice tournament, where $250,000 in prize money was on the line.
A month later, Friesen and another player were dropped from the team. Although the ESL didn’t look into the allegations, they began implementing performance-enhancing drug skin tests at their tournaments. Since its implementation, ESL has yet to have any players test positive.
It’s Not Against the Rules
Despite how large it has become, the eSports industry continues to only cite players that hack or fix matches for cheating.
The ESL Gaming Network and Major League Gaming have emerged as the two largest independent game leagues, putting on tournaments such as Call of Duty® Worlds and the World of Warcraft Arena World Championship. Although Major League Gaming bans the use of drugs during events, they currently do not test for them.
Several game publishers also hold tournaments of their own. All three of the largest—Riot Games, Blizzard Entertainment, and Valve—do not currently include regulations for substance use during professional tournaments.
Riot Games, the creator of League of Legends, has yet to include drug use in its official rules for the League Championship Series. As the most widely played game, and having the largest fan base, Riot has been noted for its failure to set the precedent for substance abuse policies.
Similarly, Blizzard Entertainment’s Heroes of the Dorm tournament also did not include substance abuse in its official tournament rules. In its partnership with Tespa and ESPN to create a March Madness-style tournament for its game, Heroes of the Storm, neither organization has adopted regulations for substance abuse in their tournament rules.
Valve, the company behind DoTA 2, also does not include any rules against performance-enhancing drugs like Adderall in their tournament rules.
The International eSports Federation became the official signatory of the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2013, but the ESL has been the only eSport organization to officially adopt anti-PED measures.
The Future of eSports
Recently Yahoo and ESPN have both launched eSports verticals, establishing the industry as a legitimate sport. Yahoo purchased Twitch, the online streaming website for gamers. TBS began airing ELEAGUE, a professional CS: GO League. Heroes of the Dorm has proven that video games can attract viewers on ESPN.
More and more video games are being produced with future professional tournaments in mind. Recent releases, such as Overwatch and Rocket League, have already begun to dominate the world of professional eSports.
Yet after each tournament, while the winning team celebrates, their opponents watch VODs of the game series, timing how long it took them to react and dissecting every mistake made. For every misplay, they’ll discuss strategies to do better, from improving their lane tactics to increasing their dosage of Adderall.
But in post-game interviews, when asked how they plan to improve for future tournaments, they’ll always keep Adderall as their best-kept secret.