Pro gaming league ESL has decided to start administering tests for performance-enhancing drugs. If they're serious about it, though, they have still got a lot of work ahead of them.
In the wake of pro Counter-Strike players' admissions that they'd been chomping on ADHD drug Adderall for a boost of a not entirely rules-friendly variety, the ESL recently announced that they'd start testing for drugs. However, details were sparse. Now, though, they have followed up with a statement:
"In order to maintain the fair play spirit of our sport, ESL has partnered with NADA (Nationale Anti Doping Agentur, located in Bonn, Germany) to help research and determine an anti-PEDs policy that is fair, feasible and respects the privacy of the players, whilst simultaneously providing conclusive testing results. Additionally, ESL will meet with WADA (World Anti Doping Agency, with headquarters located in Montreal, Canada) to actively involve them in the making, enforcing and further internationalizing of this policy to regions like the US, Asia and Australia."
"ESL will use the expertise of NADA and WADA to create a PEDs prevention program, which will be distributed to all players participating in esports competitions organised, hosted or produced by ESL. The goal of this program is to ensure players are provided with information and structural support to help them manage the physical and emotional pressure that the highest level of competitive gaming puts on many of them."
WADA is the real deal -- or at least, as real as it gets in an era when anti-doping agencies are beginning to crack down hard yet haphazardly. You might recognise WADA from The Olympics, which is kinda important as far as sporting events go. But working with WADA, an administrative body first and foremost, doesn't guarantee anything.
Before all of that goes into effect, ESL still has their August event, ESL One Cologne, to worry about. Even with nada support from NADA and WADA, they still plan on doing their damndest to keep the big A-(dderall), spork, tiger cocoon, and whatever else the kids are doing these days off the mean streets. "We are going to administer first randomised PEDs skin tests at the ESL One Cologne event this August," the ESL wrote. "Our aim is to perform those tests at every event in the Intel Extreme Masters, ESL One and ESL ESEA Pro League competitions."
Here's where things start to get messy. Skin tests involve sweat samples and are capable of detecting everything from marijuana to meth. However, some studies have found them to be unreliable, susceptible to environmental contamination and false positives, among other things. I imagine NADA and WADA will advise more stringent testing by way of urine or -- most reliably -- blood. The more involved the testing, however, the more expensive it gets. The fact is, comprehensive drug testing is expensive as shit. The question is, how much are eSports leagues willing to shell out?
There are other potential problems here -- at least, with the ESL's initial approach. Random testing sounds nice and scary, but it can also be inconsistent, especially if not everybody gets tested. Also, ESL will be administering early (and possibly future) tests themselves. They don't appear to be working with any independent athletic commissions. That leaves room for bias or misreporting of positive tests. I'm not saying the ESL would necessarily do that, but simply that they should look to structure their program in a way that removes all doubt.
On top of all that, ESL told me that they won't be doing any sort of testing during online qualifiers for larger events -- at least, not yet. So players might get caught with egg on their face and Gamer Steroids in their butt at the big show, but until then, they can do whatever they want.
Again, though, the ESL is designing their long-term PED prevention program with some bonafide anti-doping heavyweights, so it's clear that they're at least trying. It's impossible to say where it will all end up, but it's something.
"The nature of anti-PED programs is that they tend to evolve over time based on the needs of the sport and how the drugs are being used," an ESL rep told me. "eSports is a long way from having mandatory drug tests at every single event, and our initial work is a small first step to a larger governing body involving appeal processes for testing."
They have a point. The very concept of taking performance-enhancing drugs to get an edge in eSports is still a clumsy infant of an idea, a thing some people can't help but laugh at even if it makes them feel bad. Right now it's Adderall, but -- given the amount of money on the table at these events -- some players will almost certainly seek out other solutions. People will find ways to fool tests, and new drugs might enter the picture. Right now a baby step in the right direction is better than no step at all, but there's still a long uphill climb ahead.