TORONTO (Reuters) - Gamers who use stimulants could be frozen out of competitions after the World Anti-Doping Agency and Global Esport Federation said they will work on an education programme that could lead to signing onto the WADA Code and open the door to the Olympics.
WADA told Reuters it had been approached by the GEF about developing a plan around health and wellness which could alert gamers, who spend hours and even days behind screens, to the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs.
Despite the fact that gaming is a billion dollar industry and esports tournaments offer hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money, it has no regulatory body for drug testing.
"Esport Federation realises that they have now a real need to start educating their players because they see there are challenges in the abuse of substances," WADA director general Olivier Niggli told Reuters. "They play for 16-18 hours a day, they have a bad lifestyle that is not very healthy.
"They have a health concern first. Doping is one of them.
"Clearly the way they are playing requires some support if you are playing a game 18 hours in a row behind a screen."
Melita Moore, a GEF board member and editor for The Handbook of Esports Medicine, told Reuters it was well-known that there were performance-enhancing substances being used in esports.
But before there can be drug-testing WADA must meet the esports community and start to provide education and awareness around health and performance.
"There is not a regulatory body in esports. Therefore, the word doping does not exist in the same context as it does in traditional sport," said Moore, who has served as a team physician in the NBA 2K League, WNBA and NBA G League.
"Which means there isn't anti-doping measures that are or can be put in place.
"I do believe that in the future, there will be a regulatory body and doping will become part of the nomenclature used in esports."
The rapidly growing world of esports and its popularity amongst young people has caught the attention of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which in 2017 recognised it as a sports activity.
"Whether they could one day be considered for the Olympic programme the answer is yes,” IOC president Thomas Bach told a news conference in 2020. “It depends when this day is coming."
That day would appear close at hand.
Esports made its major multi-sport event debut as a demonstration sport at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and will be a medal event at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, which due to COVID-19 have been rescheduled to Sept. 23-Oct. 8.
Also this October, the first Pan American Esports Championships will run in parallel with the Pan Am Games in Santiago, Chile.
But if esports wants to become part of the Olympic programme it would, like every other sport, have to be compliant with the WADA Code, which means athletes are subject to testing including out-of-competition.
"You have athletes for esports coming completely outside any anti-doping regiment but they are there and with other athletes who are subjected to strict rules and the Code," said Niggli.
"We really want to encourage now the esports to be a bit more structured and regulated in terms of the potential use of prohibited substances.
"We think it is important that they start moving in that direction."
A revision of the WADA Code begins later this year and Niggli said there may be a need to consider incorporating new rules that reflect on esports.
While Moore agrees that WADA is "on track with their approach", testing is something down the road and the focus must be on education and awareness.
"I believe this is where we start the conversations," said Moore. "Although esports is not in its infancy, as it started in the early 1970s, it is most definitely in an evolutionary phase with over three billion gamers worldwide.
"Until recently, there has not been a pipeline in esports where gamers have grown up with the basic knowledge surrounding education on their health and performance, unlike their traditional sport counterparts."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)