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What can we learn from e-athletes and their professional well-being?

The workday of an e-athlete is more like that of an office worker than an athlete. However, research shows that competitive gamers exercise more and eat healthier than the average population. They also need to be able to optimise their work ability for important games. What can we learn from them?

You sit at your computer for seven to eight hours a day. The work is intensive. Circumstances change constantly, and you have to be ready to react all the time. You work mainly remotely and rarely meet your colleagues face-to-face.

Sound familiar?

This could be a day in the life of a regular office worker. In reality, however, it is the life of a competitive gamer in the Jyväskylä-based esports team KOVA.

Since competitive gaming is also called esports, competitive gamers are often compared to athletes.
This is, of course, a little silly, because in many ways competitive gaming is more like working in the office than being a professional skier, hockey player or gymnast.

“When you work 8-hour days in front of the computer, it is essential to take breaks: you should remember to get up regularly, do some stretches and take your eyes off the screen,” says KOVA’s performance coach Perttu Leppä.

Sounds familiar again, doesn't it?

E-athletes live healthier than the average population

The image that has been long associated with esports is that e-athletes are “unfit and overweight young men who sit in front of their computers 24/7”. What’s the truth? Let the research tell us!

What research shows:

  • Competitive gamers eat better than the average population. For example, they consume significantly less sugar than other people, says a recent German study.
  • Competitive gamers exercise more than the average population. According to a German study, over 80% of competitive gamers meet the WHO guidelines, which means they exercise more than 2.5 hours per week. According to a recent study, competitive gamers exercise as much as 9.5 hours per week. In a study conducted by the University of Jyväskylä, top gamers exercised for 1 hour a day on average.
  • Competitive gamers smoke less and drink less alcohol than other people, says this Australian study.
  • German gamers spend 7.7 hours a day sitting down on average, which is less compared to the average person in Finland at the moment.

E-athletes are not athletes in the traditional sense of the word, but many of them live healthier than the average office worker. This is certainly due to the fact that there is a link between a healthy lifestyle and successful gaming performance, as research shows.

“When exercise, nutrition and sleep are in balance, it will have a big impact on alertness, concentration, reactions and overall well-being,” Leppä says.

These sound like useful things for people with more traditional jobs as well.

Performance coaches take care of the work ability of gamers

While traditional workplaces aim to promote work ability and employee well-being with sport vouchers and electric tables, many esports teams have gone one step further. To take care of their professional well-being, gamers have performance coaches like Perttu Leppä.

“I am responsible for everything that happens outside the game,” says Leppä to sum up his role. He says that his coaching philosophy emphasises self-knowledge and finding a lifestyle that suits you. In other words, professional gamers are not all forced to go for a 6 a.m. morning run. Instead, everyone is helped to find a form of exercise that they like.

“The approach resembles personal training,” says Leppä, who has launched a tool for his gamers to track their health and performance.

“At the end of each week, the gamers analyse their sleep habits, nutrition, exercise and well-being."

"The results are then compared to the same week’s gaming performance to see the causes and consequences,” Leppä says.

Gamers have to pursue excellence

As opposed to regular office workers, for competitive gamers phrases like “reaching your full potential”, “pursuing excellence” and “performance optimisation” are not just consulting jargon or LinkedIn buzzwords but an essential part of everyday life. When gamers have an important tournament coming up, their work ability has to be at its highest.

“It’s about the basics. Your lifestyle has to be right in the long run to get the most out of yourself at the most crucial moments during stressful games. During coaching, we also focus on how to prepare for the game and what to do during the game: how to optimise and maintain a good energy level,” says Leppä, who is also in charge of the mental coaching of the KOVA team.

While office workers may not have tournaments with millions of euros at stake, their work ability also comes in cycles. You cannot and do not need to bring your A game every time. However, you should have the capacity at the most crucial moments.

Even though many of us normal workers may not relate to e-athletes, there are surprisingly many similarities. Perhaps even so many that esports should be viewed as one possibility to promote health and well-being in Finland now and in the future.

“One fifth of men aged 18–29 have unhealthy eating habits, exercise too little and smoke."

"Almost half of them are overweight (FinTerveys 2017 health survey). Esports could be one way to reach out to this group of people and instil into them the idea that exercise, sleep and nutrition affect everything – including gaming,” Leppä points out.

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