Increasingly, eSports has gained momentum in recent years. From larger prize pools (The International 2015 for Dota2 totaled more than $18m USD) to more players (35k peak in number of players in Feb 13 to 738k peak in number of players in Feb 16 for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive), its clear that a eSports is here to stay. This has even given birth to a billion dollar company, Twitch.tv, which streams players live.
The use of Modafinil to improve athletic performance in regular sports has long been researched and proven. A 2005 study noted significant ethical considerations when competitive sportspeople improve their performance through drugs. The Olympic committee has long outlawed the use of Modafinil for athletes intending to participate in the Olympic Games, for reasons of fair play. It is considered a Performance-enhancing drug that confers an unfair advantage, which muddles the true performance of an individual. The consequences for testing positive of Modafinil in Olympic competition is a rather harsh lifetime ban. As this has been well established and debated, this post aims to scope the discussion towards the use of Modafinil in eSports.
One of the rather interesting propeties of Modafinil is its ability to reduce reaction time. This has important ramifications in eSports, when an improvement of 0.1 second in reaction time could mean winning million dollar prize. Among other things, Modafinil also improves concentration and decision making skills, making it a suitable candidate for real-time strategy (RTS) games such as League of Legends or Dota2, where focus and response to changes in the game environment variables are essential to securing a victory. What’s even more surprising is that unlike the Olympics, no testing is done. Even if rigorous testing was done, based on the 12-15 hour half life of modafinil, the drug becomes almost untraceable in urine tests in as short as 3-7 days.
In fact, the use of Modafinil outside of competition may also yield significant benefits. For example, a study discovered that the drug provided a 22% increase in time to exhaustion, a metric used to calculate how long before one is exhausted to the point they cannot continue, as compared to a placebo. This means that eSports athletes can train harder, for longer, and perform faster. While caffeine provides similar effects in a lesser magnitude, it lasts for only about half as long as modafinil and may lead to anxiety in higher doses.
Given the medical literature of what we know about psychoactive stimulants like Modafinil, its a big question mark on how performance enhancing drugs will come into regulation within the domain of eSports. Granted that Modafinil shares significant similarities to regular sports in aspects of audience, training and commercial interest, why isn’t more being done to ensure a level playing field?