New ESports Drug Tests Are Full Of Loopholes

New ESports Drug Tests Are Full Of Loopholes

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.

To contact the author of this post, write to [email protected] or find him on Twitter @vahn16.


  • Sometimes I think it’d kill the human race to compete honorably. If you’re not good enough, get better, train harder, practice.

    Probably a bit of a strong punishment but if you’re going to cheat by using drugs in any sport you should be immediately banned of any further competitions in that particular sport for life. That ban only lifted if it’s proven you didn’t consciously know you were doping.

  • This is hilarious. It’s not just that pro-gaming developed a culture where people are cheating but how fast that culture developed.
    It shows how buckled in the head plenty of these guys are.

    I guess as long as there’s money involved then people will always cheat and you have to try to stop that, but it’s going to get stupidly complicated if you try to police the problem.

    ADHD medication isn’t an illegal substance, lots of people are told to take it by doctors and pro-gaming isn’t overseen by any kind of legitimate body that governs ‘in competition drug use’.
    Are they going to start testing caffeine testing or out of competition testing?

    Maybe you just let them take it and let the police deal with it if someone shows up on Meth or something like that, because it really gets stupid when you’re drug testing nerds for ADHD meds before a gaming competition.

    • If the medication has a statistically significant positive affect on performance paired with a danger and negative effects, there should be rules surrounding it. Caffeine would have a minimal negative impact on professional gamers, where as Adderall can have strong effects with time. I agree it seems ridiculous but this is an industry where lots of money is changing hands for a victory. If “real” sports require a urine sample or whatever before a big important game, why can’t multi-million dollar software games?

    • Adderall can be a dangerous and addictive drugs especially if a person is using it casually for a competitive edge. They have a problem with it in baseball now, some players (and stats) showed that the bans on amphetamines that had a similar effect to adderall were a bigger deal than banning muscle building steroids and now a lot of players are getting ADD prescriptions and taking adderall for the same effect.

    • It’s called integrity. People really are trying to legitimise esports and these tests are primarily purposed counter the usage of performance enhancing drugs, if so however a person is detected of having recently used an illegal substance then I imagine consequences will be had, not just because it jeorpardises the competition but that fact that it is illegal. Performance enhancing drugs are way of cheating and nobody likes cheaters.

      • While nobody may like a cheater, everyone loves a winner. In professional sports people are willing to part with their hard earned cash to see larger than life individuals doing larger than life things. PEDs have been shown to facilitate this with the resurgence of baseball at the hands of Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds to Lance Armstrong and his seven consecutive Tour De France victories. These milestones saw major rises in the popularity for these respective sports and the legitimacy of a sport is most certainly directly related to its popularity and not some notion of fair play and integrity.

  • Why don’t they just swab test? It’s cheap and more accurate for immediate usage than urine or blood testing. It also only detects up to a few days rather than other tests which will give a positive THC (for example) result from months ago.
    Seems like the obvious choice to see if people are affected during competition.

    • Exactly this. I don’t even think it goes back days.
      My old workplace implemented drug tests. We were told “We don’t really care if you have a joint on the weekend, just don’t come to work under the influence”.

  • Go with the expensive test but halve the sample size: only test winning teams.

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