Tag Archives: esports

Virtual PEDs

Photo Illustration (Peter Snarr/ Xpress)


By Drake Newkirk

[dropcap size=”50px”]F[/dropcap]lashing lights, roaring fans, play by play analysis, giant screens, a sold out arena, two teams, one trophy, millions of dollars in prize money and performance enhancing drugs.  These things can be found at any championship sporting event, but the same is true for eSports and competitive video gaming. Popularity and prize pools have grown for eSports. Analytics firm, Newzoo, estimates that there are 116 million eSports enthusiasts who view video game related content more than once a month.

Nearly nine million unique viewers on Twitch, an online video streaming service, watched a four-day multi-game tournament in Poland, organized by Electronic Sports League in March.
“I don’t even care, we were all on Adderall,” said Kory “Semphis” Friesen in an interview referring to competitors at ESL Katowice. Teams competed for a $250,000 prize pool. Since then, critics have questioned whether or not video game tournaments have doping problems similar to those of mainstream sports. Friesen’s former team, Cloud9, took first place in the video game Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

The suspected performance enhancing drug is Adderall, a prescription medication issued primarily to treat attention deficit hyperactive disorder. Its effects on video game performance have not been studied, but it is believed to heighten the player’s focus and reaction times in games.

Learning From Your Predecessors

The Major League of Baseball banned steroid use in 1991, but that didn’t stop athletes from using them to gain an advantage. Steroids were believed to be used by numerous MLB players between the 1980s and into the 2000s. The MLB didn’t implement performance enhancing drug tests until 2003, when the widespread use of steroids ran through the league.
ESL responded to the issue by implementing the same drug testing and substance bans as the Olympics and World Anti-Doping Agency in their most recent tournament – ESL Cologne. Players were tested and none were disqualified.

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*In millions of dollars

“I was not surprised but still happy to hear that ESL Cologne was found to be 100 percent clean,” said Jack Etienne, founder of Cloud9, a competitive gaming company. “As I suspected it was just blown out of proportion and I hope it can be put to bed now.”

The ESL Rulebook section 2.6.4 states “To play a match, be it online or offline, under the influence of any drugs, alcohol, or other performance enhancers is strictly prohibited, and may be punished with exclusion from ESL One.”  This is the only mention of substances throughout the rule book.

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The implementation of PED policies are controversial, some question whether or not the measures are necessary.

“ESL’s drug testing policy is more of a publicity stunt than a legitimate solution to a real problem, CS:GO’s real problem is straight up aimbotting and wallhacking,” said David “LD” Gorman, co-founder of Beyond the Summit, a playcasting studio for the game Defense of the Ancients 2. “Fortunately the steps the majors take now to prevent those at (Local Area Network) events seem to be pretty effective.”

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*Data collected from the official websites of each respective tournament.

The real problem is using cheats downloaded from the cloud.  Aimbotting and wallhacking is a cheat which uses a program to automatically aim and fire at the enemy and provides the player with x-ray vision to see enemy players through walls. This provides the cheater with an advantage by knowing where the enemy is coming from and when they will be exposing themselves from cover. Organizers have since forbid players to use flash drives and cloud downloads of their personalized configuration files.  Instead, players must hand-write the configuration, line by line, to be inspected and entered into the computers by tournament administrators.

“I hope that ESL will enforce the policies,” said Chris “Mudsliide” Slaughter, a professional Heroes of the Storm player. “I think that drug testing is something that’s needed to progress the scene further.”

Michael Poropat, an attorney who focuses on eSports agrees.

“I think it’s something that needs to be done in order for eSports to continue to grow and continue to be considered legitimate,” Poropat said.

“I respect their effort, but I also think that its to save face,” said CJ Scaduto, President of Showdown.gg, an eSports tournament promotion company.  “They’re trying to be taken more seriously like an MLB and NFL.”

Top tiered teams are directly invited to participate in the tournaments, however, lesser known teams have to compete in online qualifiers for a seat at the main event, known as a LAN
Slaughter mentioned the fact that tournament organizers can’t drug test players during the online qualifiers.  Depending on the tournament, qualifying for the LAN will secure the team prize money.  At The International 5, the 16 teams that qualified for the LAN secured a minimum of $55,289.  Prize money for all eSports has grown over the past 10 years. Newzoo estimates $71 million will be awarded this year.

A Growing Industry, and Growing Scrutiny

The eSports industry is exploding and everyone wants to get involved. Amazon outbid Google in acquiring video game streaming website, Twitch.tv, for nearly $1 billion last August.  In response, Google launched YouTube Gaming to compete with Twitch in August of this year.

“We’re getting to a point where esports are so big now you have these non-endemic sponsors entering this space, the amount of (venture capital) funding is increasing,” said Bryce Blum, an attorney who specializes in eSports.

There are numerous games and dozens of tournament organizers, but zero standardization of leagues, cheating policies and rules.  According to Newzoo, eSports revenue will surpass $250 million this year, and that the fan base will grow by up to 37 percent.

Slaughter and Blum, among others, argue that regulation is necessary to uphold the integrity of competition.  Others, like Jack Etienne, founder of Cloud9, believe the issue was exaggerated.

“There has been some misconceptions of professional video game players and specifically the CS:GO players that they use illegal drugs to help them focus,” Etienne said. “It’s something my players specifically are against and we welcomed the tests to clear the air once and for all.”

With hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line in every major tournament, organizers must do all they can to protect the integrity of competition. In August, Valve hosted its flagship tournament, The International, which boasted a prize pool of more than $18 million, with $6 million awarded to the first place team of Defense of the Ancients 2. Valve posted a base prize pool of $1.6 million, which grew from sales of digital, in-game items, to be the world’s largest eSports prize pool.

[pullquote]“We don’t really know what the scope of substance abuse in eSports is because it has never really been studied. All the evidence is anecdotal,” Blum said.[/pullquote]

Both Defense of the Ancients and League of Legends fall into the multi-player online battle arena genre, where teams outwit and outplay the other to victory. These games are strategy focused, and slower paced than the twitch reaction, First Person Shooter games, such as CS:GO.

“In something like Counter Strike, (Adderall) helps you, but in these games, I don’t believe it does, so I don’t think it will ever be a problem within the MOBA scene.” Slaughter said.

Despite all discussion and policy implementation, there is a surprising lack of statistics and hard evidence regarding the substance in the competitive gaming scene.

“We don’t really know what the scope of substance abuse in eSports is because it has never really been studied. All the evidence is anecdotal,” Blum said.

As a relatively new competitive industry, eSports has more obstacles to encounter and resolve. The use of Adderall at ESL Katowice may have been an anomaly, however, Friesen’s comments in the interview ignited a discussion that will undoubtedly help progress eSports.

Booze, Games, and Comfort

From Super Smash Bros. to Uno to Beer Pong, people gather at Folsom Street Foundry to play and hang with friends and fellow gamers every Tuesday and Thursday for SF Game Night. (Lorisa Salvatin/ Xpress Magazine)
From Super Smash Bros. to Uno to Beer Pong, people gather at Folsom Street Foundry to play and hang with friends and fellow gamers every Tuesday and Thursday for SF Game Night. (Lorisa Salvatin/ Xpress Magazine)

A sword has just been thrown across the field unexpectedly, its victim yelling at their opponent for hitting them, as the perpetrator gleefully sprints across the arena, awaiting his reward of being devoured by a giant dragon-monster-thing. Elsewhere, a man groans in agony as the gigantic flaming ball he is rolling, a-clutter with miscellaneous items such as a peach and a cow, accidentally falls into a bed of water. Game over.

This is SF Game Night at the Folsom Street Foundry, where patrons gather at this SOMA-residing bar, huddled together closely on comfy couches to play video games old and new, such as the aforementioned Nidhogg and Katamari Damacy.

Miniscule balls from nearby beer and ping pong tables whiz by, with a stander-by watching a match of Towerfall Ascension picking a stray ball from the ground and tossing it back to the players, with a smile and a headnod. The warehouse-esque bar is lined with couches, chairs, and bar stools along long tables. People chat happily in groups, sipping beers, and eating snacks, all there to watch, or play, video games.

SF Game Night, a weekly set of events on Tuesdays and Thursdays, is put on by local eSports organization Showdown for gaming brethren to gather and compete or just casually play video games in a bar setting. The Folsom Street Foundry is huge and crowded, yet it never seems to get “too” loud (a common trait among popular bars in San Francisco). This makes SF Game Night extremely accessible and most notably, comfortable, a trait that president and co-founder of Showdown, the organizer of SF Game Night, CJ Scaduto aims to achieve.

(From Left) Richard Whalen, Eleanor Brown, Daniel Lee, and Jeremy Mah play Mario Kart on one of the four projected screens. (Lorisa Salvatin/ Xpress Magazine)
(From Left) Richard Whalen, Eleanor Brown, Daniel Lee, and Jeremy Mah play Mario Kart on one of the four projected screens. (Lorisa Salvatin/ Xpress Magazine)

Described as “an extension of your living room” by Scaduto, the coziness of the Folsom Street Foundry is evident. The atmosphere is relaxed and upbeat and the crowds are diverse, encompassing people from all walks of life. SF Game Nights offer a wide selection of beer, food, and even cocktails, so that people can drink and game, no matter what their taste. SF Game Nights also promote a BYOG policy: Bring Your Own Games, be it board games, iPads to play Hearthstone, or even their own video games from home.

SF Game Night organizers Showdown got their start putting on local BarCraft events, where people would gather at bars to, well, drink and watch people play the popular strategy PC game Starcraft. BarCraft events began in the Summer of 2011 in the United States by the North American Star League, and later spread all across the world. Due to its success, BarCraft-esque events became a trend, with Hearthstone-themed “Fireside Gatherings” and Dota 2-themed “Pubstomps,” and even spurring a chain of competitive eSports bars in Europe called “Meltdown.” Showdown decided to embrace the trend and bring it to San Francisco in October 2013, and later the idea of a gaming night for both casual and competitive gamers, and thus, SF Game Nights were born. Since SF Game Night’s start in February 2014, their audience has grown from two hundred to three hundred people to four hundred to six hundred in August 2014.

(From Left) Rickie Sherman laughs at some of the selected cards as he plays Cards Against Humanity with friends Nick Robinson and Amber Mock. (Lorisa Salvatin/ Xpress Magazine)
(From Left) Rickie Sherman laughs at some of the selected cards as he plays Cards Against Humanity with friends Nick Robinson and Amber Mock. (Lorisa Salvatin/ Xpress Magazine)

Despite the success of BarCraft events, Scaduto’s initial idea for Game Night spans all the way back to January 2001.

“I wanted to create a fun, relaxing atmosphere for adults to celebrate video games,” Scaduto says. The slow death of arcades all around the country, including the cult San Francisco arcade Southtown, has left people without a place outside their home to enjoy games. “[SF Game Night] is the next logical step for those who grew up playing in arcades,” says Scaduto.

At weekly tournaments, SF Game Night has regulars coming back week after week to compete. On Tuesdays, professionals and casuals alike duke it out in Super Smash Bros. Melee tournaments, titled “Get Smashed,” meanwhile, Thursdays see a competition of Ultra Street Fighter IV called “Churning the Butter.”

Spenser Cheung, Co-Founder and Live Production Director for Showdown, started playing a major role with the organization after volunteering at a League of Legends event. Cheung monitors the livestreams of the weekly competitions and makes sure that everything goes smoothly.

“I’ve always been a fan of streaming, so I started making my own overlays,” Cheung says of getting his start. “And now I get to sit and watch every match.”

Cheung is enthusiastic about the hardcore fighting game community that comes out weekly, with about thirty regulars, he notes.

Showdown’s an official partner with Twitch, the livestreaming website recently acquired by Amazon for roughly $1 billion. They stream their competitions live each week.

Cheung expressed interest in attracting a bigger MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) crowd in the future, with the potential of League of Legends and Dota 2 competitions.

Hai Nguyen, U.S. history major at SF State, is a regular at the Showdown-hosted SF Game Night events.

“I was surprised that San Francisco can support such an event, and after checking it out for the first time, I knew that this was [the] place to be,” Nguyen says. “There’s a wide spectrum of gamers just looking for fun with alcohol and games.”

Nguyen began going to SF Game Night after reading about it on Facebook and the closing down of his favorite arcade, GameCenter in San Mateo. He has attended less recently because of school, but still thinks fondly of the weekly bar romp.

“What I like most about GameNight is the concept itself,” Nguyen says. “Video games and board games in an adult environment mean that there is a level of maturity and open-mindedness that I suppose adults have, rather than teenagers or young adults.”

SF Game Night has evolved into a platform for independent developers to show off their games, for advertisers, for hosting international competitions, and even expanding to charity work, with a planned twenty-four hour broadcast with the organization Extra Life on October 24th.

Showdown recently instated a $5 entrance fee rather than being free, in an attempt to provide more value to the night’s experience, such as providing more televisions for video games. Co-Founder Scaduto also hopes that by the end of 2015, there will be more regular Showdown events around the Bay Area.

Showdown Co-Founder Spenser Cheung views SF Game Night as a sort of safe haven for those who enjoy playing video games.

“Everyone I know who has ever played games has been made fun of it at one point,” says Cheung. “Here [at Game Night], everybody can gather and be themselves in this environment. Even though everyone likes different games, everyone has a good time.”



UPDATE: The previous version stated that SF Game Night allows patrons to bring their own consoles, but this was miscommunication as the Foundry does not have enough space, and was instead referring to Showdown being able to acquire and replace new consoles.