Washington, D.C., – The MedStar Wizards District Gaming Studio in downtown Washington, D.C., is abuzz with the sounds of competing athletes.
Sneakers squeaking on hardwoods.
Players chattering back and forth.
But this isn’t the type of competition you’d normally think of. And it’s certainly not the kind of athlete you’d consider needing a deep bench of medical professionals to stay healthy.
“Esports athletes have a different set of medical concerns and issues than the traditional athlete,” says Melita Moore, MD, of MedStar Health and head team physician for Wizards District Gaming, the esports incarnation of the Washington Wizards.
The burgeoning NBA 2K esports league of 21 NBA teams is wrapping up its second regular season. Each team is made up of six professional players usually between 18 and 24. Game play is a video game. But stakes are high. There is a yearly draft. Play is hyper-competitive.
“Despite these players being young and healthy, they’re at risk for injuries people usually associate with long hours spent in front of a computer, not the movements and injuries they’d suffer on an actual basketball court. Medstar Health has compiled a robust medical team to take care of their unique needs regarding mental health, brain, vision and neck/hand issues.”
“The doctors are very helpful,” says Michael Albiter, “UserPick,” 27 of Dallas, Texas. “They teach us breathing techniques and other things we need to do our job at a very high level.”
“Along with myself as the primary care team physician, we have a hand surgeon, sports psychologist, optometrist, hand therapist, vision therapist, sports performance coach, athletic trainer and our orthopedic and sports research team,” says Moore.
Maurice Delaney, “ReeseDaGod,” 21 of Chicago gets frequent headaches from looking at the screen for long periods of time and has sought help from the MedStar Health physicians.
“Having better posture has helped,” says Delaney. “They’ve also given me advice and exercises to do when my head starts hurting or when I’ve been looking at the screen for a very long time. Otherwise a headache makes it hard for me to focus and play my best.”
“If you’re hunching back or hunching forward, you can end up hurting your back,” says Albiter. “A lot of gamers are playing and not knowing how their back is postured and I’ve learned that you want to sit straight up and look directly forward. Getting away from your chair a little and stretching for as little as two or three minutes can make a big difference. “
Moore says she’s also on the alert for behavioral health concerns since the intense play can be mentally taxing.
Then there is nutrition and sleep. Moore says it has been more challenging to change the players’ nutrition and sleep habits, but they are improving and making better choices.
“The way we’re trying to enhance the performance of our esports athletes is to improve their nutrition habits, encourage good sleep and vision hygiene, exercise and to make sure that overall they’re healthy in every way. I believe that also improving and increasing physical fitness and activity helps to enhance performance,” says Moore.
“Thanks to this program with MedStar Health, I know what red flags to look out for,” says Albiter. Like if my eye is twitching or I get dry eyes I can see the doctor about it. These are all things you wouldn’t think of but they’re important for an esports athlete.”