Art by Sam Woolley
"Blood, sweat and tears" appears on many a weight room motivational poster, but isn't quite as applicable to esports as it is to more traditional sports. There are certainly tears, after wins and losses, and injuries are becoming commonplace as pros get older. Curious, we reached out to esports competitors in all sorts of games to ask a simple, burning question: where's the sweat at?
There's no comparison, of course, between running 42km and firing off a hadouken in Street Fighter, or between being tackled by a 150kg lineman and getting killed in Dota 2. Still, a combination of nerves, hot studio lights, and the constant contact against surfaces like controllers, fightsticks, and keyboards does result in some perspiration.
Most of the players interviewed were loathe to admit to sweating themselves. Many were happy to incriminate others, however, whether naming names or just saying they "know a guy."
Cody Sun, image credt: Riot Esports Cody Sun, from Immortals' League of Legends squad, was willing to own up to his sweat. "I do often sweat during games, especially in very important matches or if the games are really close," Sun told us. "I don't really have a problem with hand sweat."
Teammate Eugene "Pobelter" Park raised a different concern: he gets a bit chilly at times.
"On stage, the air conditioning has to be pumping really high to keep all the PCs and lights cool, so cold hands are pretty common," said Park. "And that can be difficult because you'll more frequently make mistakes in clicking the right key if your fingers are stiff."
Eugene Park, image credt: Riot Esports Verros "MaybeNextTime" Apostolos, of the independent Dota 2 team formerly known as Ad Finem, was happy to indict others. "I never had an issue with sweaty hands or something like that, even though I know a lot of people who get that," he said.
League of Legends and Dota 2 doesn't have the same kind of constant-contact as other games, however, so we talked to some controller junkies as well. Smash 4 player Jason "ANTi" Bates says he does not sweat, though he does get nervous, but was happy to point us in the direction of a heavy sweater: fellow Smash 4 player Eric "Tyrant" Legesse.
"Sometimes when I try to play him, he'll tell me that he cannot right now," Bates told us. "I'd ask him why and he'd respond with, 'I don't want to ruin my shirt.'"
Eric "Tyrant" Legesse (left), image credit: Twitter This seemed a little strange, so we reached out to Legesse, and sure enough, he confirmed it.
"The [usual] stresses I experience playing for a while or in [a] tourney is how much I sweat in the clothes I'm wearing, haha," wrote Legesse in an email. "Sometimes I'll sweat so much during a set that I'll have to change my shirt multiple times and put on deodorant multiple times as well."
Hand sweat isn't as much of a concern for Legesse, but it can leave players' controllers pretty dirty when it gets bad. Most pros find ways to deal with hand sweat if it becomes a persistent issue.
Though hand-warmers were frequently mentioned as a go-to asset, we also brought up rosin bags, a tool baseball pitchers use to keep their grip on baseballs. Surprisingly, we learned legendary Smash player Adam "Armada" Lindgren carries a rosin bag around at tournaments, according to Bates.
"It's very helpful to have tools like that, as cold or sweaty hands, especially in a game like Melee, can cause you to make a lot of technical errors," said Bates. "Which can in turn lead to a series of bad decisions in game."
Jason "Anti" Bates, image credit: Immortals Echo Fox's Jeremy "Neslo" Olsen, part of their Call of Duty roster, also said he knows of other players who sweat, and that "a little sweating" can occur for him. Two members of Immortals' Vainglory squad, who play their game of choice on solely mobile devices, said that armpit sweat was not uncommon.
In all the interviews, I also asked some general questions about exercise, health, and injury prevention, to understand whether esports pros are keeping an eye on their body's reactions to the stresses of play. Overwhelmingly, players responded with detailed anecdotes, discussed areas where they frequently feel tension, workout and nutrition plans they were instituting, and more.
"Since the Xbox controller is a bit bigger, and the games [have] become more and more movement intensive, the amount of activity your hand is receiving 6-10 hours a day is a lot," Olsen said. "You don't see it as much within Call of Duty, but as you can see from [Counter-Strike] and other esports, hand issues and wrist issues are becoming more and more common."
Immortals' Vainglory squad, image credit: Vainglory Esports
"I do get a tad fatigued when I play against certain people or playstyles," said Bates. "When you're playing against someone who won't approach you and just keeps throwing projectiles, it does get pretty boring."
"Injury is a concern since there have been occasions where pro players were forced to retire because of it," said Apostolos of keeping an eye on his health. "Just the thought of it is pretty scary."
Laurent "Aloh4" Ortega, a Vainglory player, said back and neck pain usually leads to him taking Advil.
As a group, players seemed to have an awareness that even though their profession involved long hours of sitting, their health was of vital concern to their performance.
"In college, I was an avid bodybuilder, so health and nutrition became a lifestyle for me," DaJuan "Shroomed" McDaniels, a Melee player, said. And Legesse, our most up-front admitted sweater, takes steps to ensure his health by playing basketball, baseball, and running.
Esports are fundamentally different from most traditional sports, but just like those pros, esports competitors are acutely aware of how their bodies affect their performance ... and how their performance affects their bodies.