“As a student-athlete, there are three main areas of life: 1) academics, 2) athletics, and 3) social life. But, you can only really do two of those three areas well! Which two do you think are most important?”
I heard this stated by an NCAA Division 1 athlete guest speaker as I attended a cross country camp as an impressionable young runner many years ago, and it has stuck with me 20+ years later.
Now, as I teach courses within Slippery Rock University’s new undergraduate Minor in Esports (1), I am reminded of this opening quote and want students to consider: What is appropriate life balance?
While “video gaming” is recreational for the purpose of leisure time enjoyment, “esports” is organized video game competitions against other players. (2) My esports courses teach students transferrable knowledge, skills, and competencies needed to work in the video gaming or esports industry, as well as careers outside of gaming. For example, here is more information on esports careers from British Esports and an esports-related professions infographic.
One of the life balance health-related concepts we cover is gaming addiction. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (3) proposed the term: “Internet Gaming Addiction”. Briefly, a diagnosis of this non-substance addictive disorder would require experiencing five or more of the following symptoms within a year, and includes gaming on any electronic device:
- Preoccupation with gaming.
- Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away or not possible (e.g., sadness, anxiety, irritability).
- Tolerance; the need to spend more time gaming to satisfy the urge.
- Inability to reduce playing; unsuccessful attempts to quit gaming.
- Giving up other activities; loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities due to gaming.
- Continuing to game despite problems.
- Deceiving family members or others about the amount of time spent on gaming.
- The use of gaming to relieve negative moods, such as guilt or hopelessness.
- Risk; having jeopardized or lost a job or relationship due to gaming
Then, in 2018, the World Health Organization (4) proposed “Gaming Disorder”. Three major diagnostic features include: 1) impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity,
duration, termination, context), 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. In order for diagnosis (unless symptoms are extremely severe), gaming behavior and other features are normally evident over a period of at least one year.
However, it is important to briefly mention the recreational gaming, collegiate esports, and professional esports landscape:
- The global video game market is valued at $176B, with 3B gamers worldwide (5)
- In the U.S., 76% of kids (under 18 years) and 67% of adults play video games (6)
- 74% of American households have at least one video game player (6)
- There are over 2,000 collegiate esports “varsity” teams or clubs in the U.S. (7)
- About $19M in esports scholarships were distributed in 2021 (8)
- There are over 120 higher education academic esports education programs worldwide, and this is only increasing (9-11)
- The aggregated total prize money distributed across major esports competitions in 2021 was $209M (12)
- The largest prize purse for a single esports tournament in 2021 was The International (Dota 2) at $40M (12)
- The Asian Games included esports since 2018, and in 2021, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) hosted the “Olympic Virtual Series” with discussion surrounding esports in the Olympic Games continuing (13)
Thus, video gaming is now mainstream – it is not just for teen boys playing on a gaming console in their parents’ basement. Collegiate esports continues to grow with academic program and competitive playing scholarship opportunities. Professional esports and its related industry continues to proliferate with career options as well.
But, if we re-visit the opening quote, what is proper life balance? The guest speaker who stated the opening quote went on to say how student-athletes must make sacrifices with spending time with peers (i.e., social life), and if you wanted to be a good athlete, you had to prioritize academics and athletics. Is this the cultural norm for athletes in today’s society? It is often socially acceptable for sport to take precedence over other activities to the extent that these activities get pushed aside (outside of family responsibilities). Now put this question in relation to an esports player:
Would it be okay for video gaming to take precedence over other life activities to the extent that other activities get pushed aside?
One who is unfamiliar with the esports scene may certainly have a problem with this with an esports player. But on the other hand, may consider it totally fine for a traditional sport athlete
to prioritize sport practice and competition over most everything except their family and education.
Certainly, it is unhealthy if an esports player does not attain the recommended daily physical activity levels (14), and there are dangers of too much seated (i.e., sedentary) behavior. (15) So, what is my point?
Esports is becoming a serious endeavor with realistic options for collegiate opportunities. The vast majority of people who play video games competitively do not have an addictive disorder. The global prevalence of gaming disorder is less than 2% of the population, which is similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and some substance-related addictions. (16)
For comparison, what is your life balance with your cell phone use or favorite digital streaming service (e.g., Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc.)? While all things should performed in moderation and physical and mental health must be monitored, it must be understood that it is okay for an esports player to take competitive video gaming seriously.
Dr. Seth Jenny is an assistant professor within the Department of Exercise Science and Athletic Training at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. Check out his website here. When he’s not teaching or conducting technology-related research, he is the president and head volunteer club coach for elementary cross country and track and field athletes with a non-profit organization he co-founded – the Grove City Athletics Club. Dr. Jenny is also the lead author of the Human Kinetics book: “Technology for Physical Educators, Health Educators, & Coaches”:
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Pair this post with the following:
1 Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. (2022). Esports (Minor). https://www.sru.edu/academics/majors-and-minors/esports-(minor)
2 Jenny, S. E., Manning, R. D., Keiper, M. C., & Olrich, T. W. (2017). Virtual(ly) Athletes: Where Esports Fit within the Definition of “Sport”. Quest, 69(1), 1-18. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.2016.1144517
3 American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM 5 (5th ed.). Author. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
4 World Health Organization. (2018). International classification of diseases for mortality and morbidity statistics (11th ed.). https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en
5 NewZoo. (2021). Global games market report: The VR and metaverse edition. https://newzoo.com/insights/trend-reports/newzoo-global-games-market-report-2021-free-version
6 Entertainment Software Association. (2021). 2021 essential facts about the video game industry. https://www.theesa.com/resource/2021-essential-facts-about-the-video-game-industry
7 Hedlund, D. P., Fried, G., Smith III, R. C. (2021). Esports Business Management. Human Kinetics.
8 Postell, C. & Narayan, K. (2021). Trends in collegiate esports: 2021 report. Esports Foundry. https://esportsfoundry.com/Trends-in-Collegiate-Esports.html
9 Jenny, S. E., Gawrysiak, J., & Besombes, N. (2021). Esports.edu: An Inventory and Analysis of Global Higher Education Esports Academic Programming and Curricula. International Journal of Esports, 1(1), 1-47. https://www.ijesports.org/article/59/html
10 Jenny, S. E. (2021, October 18). Update on the Higher Education Esports Academic Program Inventory. Esports Research Network. https://esportsresearch.net/2021/10/18/update-on-the-higher-education-esports-academic-program-inventory-seth-jenny
11 Scott, M., Summerley, R., Besombes, N., Connolly, C., Gawrysiak, J., Halevi, H., Jenny, S., Miljanovic, M., Strange, M., Taipalus, T., & Williams, J. P. (2021, December 30). Foundations for Esports Curricula in Higher Education. The ACM (Association for Computer Machinery) 26th Annual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE) Conference Proceedings. ITiCSE-WGR ’21: Proceedings of the 2021 Working Group Reports on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education, 27-55. https://doi.org/10.1145/3502870.3506566
12 Esports Earnings. (2022). Esports Earnings. https://www.esportsearnings.com
13 International Olympic Committee. (2021, June 21). The Olympic virtual series. https://olympics.com/en/featured-news/olympic-virtual-series-everything-you-need-to-know
14 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, March 17). Physical activity basics. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/index.htm
15 Schary, D. P., Jenny, S. E., & Koshy, A. (2022). Leveling Up Esports Health: Current Status and Call to Action. International Journal of Esports, 1(1). https://www.ijesports.org/article/70/html
16 Stevens, M. W., Dorstyn, D., Delfabbro, P. H., & King, D.L. (2021). Global prevalence of gaming disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 55(6), 553-568. https://doi.org/10.1177/0004867420962851