A new wave of athleticism now craves the attention of medical experts. eSports athletes are comparatively newer to the game, with global tournaments increasing in number at the start of the 21st century. Similarly, the first X Games for extreme sports only began in 1995. These fairly recent developments in the sports world require a medical approach as they become more formalized.
eSports is defined as competitive gaming on multiplayer platforms, while extreme sports are defined as activities with a higher degree of risk compared to other sports. Although eSports athletes sit for hours on end as extreme sports athletes risk their lives on top of mountains, both groups are in danger.
The Missing Dangers of eSports
Only a few studies on the dangers of eSports have been conducted, possibly due to the apparent injuries caused by too many hours in front of a screen. Dr. Hallie Zwibel, a sports medicine expert from the New York Institute of Technology, identified the main risks posed by eSports to be: eye fatigue, neck and back pain, and wrist and hand pain. Due to the tendency to minimize the injuries that these athletes gain from sitting in front of a screen all day, she noted that only 2% of eSports athletes get their injuries checked at a clinic. This indicates that since the numbers for eSports are limited, the actual number of affected athletes might have gone unreported.
Given how recently the world began to recognize the validity of eSports, it is unlikely that there will be sufficient data to prove the dangers of eSports until at least a decade or two from now. However, this should be taken as a warning to eSports athletes to get their injuries checked and to participate in adequate physical activity. Providing data to medical experts can provide a better understanding of the life-long implications of athletes who pursue eSports for decades to come. This is crucial since the average age of eSports players ranges from their mid-20s to early 30s. Even though some professional players retire before they turn 30, it will be necessary for the future of their niche that sports scientists follow players after they retire.
Extreme Sports Athletes in Jeopardy
Extreme sports athletes face constant physical risks, be it from height, speed, or a mixture of both. As a result, there is a frequent emphasis in the extreme sports industry on the safety of their athletes. Specialized protective gear for athletes in this category is constantly being developed, from high-performing ski helmets to shin guards. Despite all the protection, between 2000 and 2011, extreme sports athletes experienced over four million injuries. This category of sports places their athletes on such an adrenaline high that they are willing to stay in the game even though there is a clear risk of death.
Medical sports doctors are usually on alert and are on the scene of any extreme sports event. Proponents of extreme sports ironically pair the thrill of danger with precaution. It is always advised that extreme sports athletes undergo intensive training to decrease the chances of fatal injuries during tournaments.
Both sports are driven by a culture of capitalizing on the fan base of the players and athletes. Extreme sports is a multi-million dollar industry, whereas eSports boomed into a billion-dollar industry in 2019. The alarming rate at which the eSports industry has grown could result in more players entering the scene, placing them at a high risk of injury without proper treatment due to the lack of data or practice geared towards treating those kinds of injuries.
For example, before the prominence of eSports, carpal tunnel syndrome was more commonly identified with extensive physical labor or considered as a result of genetics. It is now a common result of holding a controller or a mouse for hours on end due to the repetitive motion exerted by players for at least 7 or 9 hours a day. Those affected by carpal tunnel syndrome will only realize its effects later on when they will need physical therapy and surgery.
As the sports industry gets bigger and more economically valued, its athletes are driven to compete even harder, no matter what the risk. Although extreme sports sound riskier, the hidden dangers posed on players by eSports provide possibilities of similar earlier mortality rates and mobility-limiting injuries. Sitting on a chair for most of the day and consuming highly caffeinated products packed with sugar add to the risks of eSports players developing diabetes and heart disease even after they retire. Only time will tell if eSports players will actually be able to live longer than extreme sports athletes.