By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Targeted testing of esports competitors is leading to a rethink about drug cheating in online gaming and which stimulants are more widespread, according to anti-doping expert Michele Verroken.
The former head of anti-doping at UK Sport, Verroken now runs the Sporting Integrity consultancy and carries out tests at a number of tournaments for the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC).
Adderall, a prescription amphetamine used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), has long been a concern since a gamer in the United States claimed in 2015 that it was the drug of choice.
In an interview with Reuters at an anti-doping conference organised by the Partnership for Clean Competition (PCC), Verroken suggested however that test results and player surveys indicated changing attitudes.
“The trend is to say ‘yes, we thought that Adderall was the problem but actually we’re beginning to now think that the testing has had an impact and people who might have been considering it are not doing it’,” she said.
“Now the players are saying we’re not so sure. We think you should be aware more about marijuana use as well.”
Marijuana, usually classified as a recreational drug, can be performance-enhancing in esports if it helps a player relax in a stressful quick-fire environment where being too tense is a disadvantage.
Adderall, sometimes referred to as the ‘Study Drug’ because of student misuse, also has properties that keep the user calm, awake and energised.
Verroken carries out oral fluid tests, rather than urine as in traditional sports, targeting those stimulants that gamers are most concerned about.
“We asked the players what they thought should be on their prohibited list and they told us,” she said. “Those drugs are easily tested orally, and in a much cheaper way.”
Doping, along with match fixing and betting fraud, are ESIC’s main area of concern as competitive gaming, with multiple players performing in live-streamed matches, becomes ever bigger.
Esports now has its own star performers and leagues with tournaments that sell out stadiums and offer prizes worth millions of dollars, with online audiences also in the several millions.
Verroken’s tournaments include popular games League of Legends, Counter-Strike and Star Craft.
David Howman, the former head of World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), described esports at the conference as ‘The Wild West’ — a young world lacking a uniform anti-doping policy and governance.
The South Korea-based International esports federation (IESF) is an official signatory of WADA but ESIC has said the anti-doping agency’s ‘one size fits all’ approach to banned drugs is inappropriate for esports.
Verroken, who has now conducted more than 300 tests on players and coaches, said she had yet to sanction anyone but was in discussion with a team about “what looks like party drugs. MDMA at a very low level.
“We call them in, talk to the team, say this is your warning — next time you are going to be targeted. And when I say targeting, I mean targeting,” she added.
Welfare issues are meanwhile coming more to the fore with increasing concern about screen time and the health of players, often youngsters, spending hours in darkened arenas or in front of computers.
But at a time when athletes in conventional sports are seeking a far greater say in the decision-making processes, Verroken said esports was encouraging active engagement and doing things differently.
“I ran the UK anti-doping programme, but it just didn’t seem to have the right structure to me. And now I work with esports where there’s huge engagement with the players. It really is good,” she said.
“If they think somebody’s cheating, it will be on social media. They are not going to be afraid.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)