While esports has grown massively over the last decade, it's still yet to deal with a lot of the challenges facing players. Now, new Australian studies are aiming to address rising issues like player sleep deprivation by analysing the habits of esports players around the world.
One study, carried out by Flinders University in Adelaide, is researching the amount of sleep that esports players get and the impact on their mental health and general wellbeing.
While the study is still ongoing, important trends are already starting to emerge, according to sleep disorder specialist Professor Michael Gradisar. "From the data we’ve collected so far, we can see a trend that many esports athletes obtain less than 7hrs of sleep p/night, have a tendency to want to sleep and wake very late, with mood impacted as a result in some players,” he told Kotaku Australia.
The study uses wristband monitors called Readibands (often used to track military personnel or elite athletes) to measure sleep levels of players. The original study included a sample size of 17 players from across Australia, the U.S. and South Korea, with the current, ongoing study now tracking about 60 players (with the aim of tracking 80-100) in order to evaluate the benefits of sleep intervention.
Preliminary statistics reveal that during the ongoing study, the average Aussie esports player spent 4.5 hours training (usually in the hours between 6pm-11pm), and only 6.7 hours sleeping, with 75% of players experiencing a disturbance to their sleeping pattern the night before a competition.
Sleep is an essential part of staying healthy. "Adults up to 65 years of age need an average of 7-9 hours of sleep each night," Dr Sophie G Carter, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Australian neuroscience institute, NeuRA, told Kotaku Australia via email. "Frequently not having enough sleep is stressful for the body as well as for the mind." Carter identified energy drinks, a disturbed sleep cycle and exposure to blue light from screens in the hours before bed time as high-level disruptors to sleep.
In addition to this, esports players are faced with a variety of distractions preventing them from getting the sleep they need. Daniel Bonnar, a clinical psychologist involved in the study, told Kotaku Australia these distractions including long training times, a reliance on caffeine, pre-competition anxiety, significant travel hours and the lack of priority given to sleep in the longterm.
"Whereas in traditional sports sleep management has become a key component of overall performance management, therefore mitigating the risk of poor sleep, esports athletes have not had access to the same knowledge, skills and resources to improve their sleep," Bonnar said.
The good news is esports organisations are now pushing for change in the industry, with local Aussie organisations joining the study — including Perth's Ground Zero esports team. Kanga Esports and Gravitas are also working directly with Bonnar to support the mental health of their players.
"My understanding from talking to industry stakeholders is that there's not much support available to players below the Tier 1 teams," Bonnar said. "On a positive note, some progressive esports organisations are now looking into how they can improve in this space."
Importantly, The Flinders University study isn't the only one currently looking to improve the mental health of esports players. Studies out of South Korea, the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the Appleton Institute in Adelaide are all pushing for new, healthier standards in esports.
QUT esports researcher Michael Trotter, who founded Australia's first university esports program told Kotaku Australia via email that "the biggest health and wellbeing challenges facing esports players today are mental and physical health concerns such as depression and anxiety, as well as physical dysfunctions brought on by a sedentary lifestyle including poor posture and pain in the neck, back and arms of players."
As part of his research, Trotter is looking at how esports players can improve their game without risking their overall health, an essential step towards addressing the challenges facing esports players.
Even if players aren't able to access the support that they need, Trotter makes clear that there are still ways that gamers and esports players can stay healthy while playing. "Staying healthy and physically active as an esports player should be important for players," Trotter said. "Being healthy could increase your gaming performance, and protect against mental and physical health problems which could directly impact a players career."
Focusing on improving the overall mental health and physical wellbeing of gamers is essential as the esports industry continues to grow globally. These studies are an important step towards creating a healthy atmosphere and competition for all esports players around the world while maintaining a commitment to positive mental health and wellbeing in the longterm. While esports is an industry brimming with potential, the health of its players should always come first.
Australia's contribution to this research and support for healthier gaming habits is important, and it's fantastic to see the push for more positive physical and mental health in gaming picking up speed. Whether it's simply straightening up our posture, or making a dedicated effort to getting more sleep, these studies reveal important facts that can help us all to improve our health while gaming.