One of the oft-cited complaints about esports, or indeed any form of digital gaming, is the assumed connection to unhealthy lifestyles. You know the stereotype: the overweight, awkward gamer who can’t peel himself off the sofa in his mother’s basement.
However, a new paper from two Finnish researchers could expose this image as pure myth. Tuomas Kari, from the University of Jyvaskyla and Veli-Matti Karhulahti of the University of Turku have authored the article Do E-athletes Move? A Study on Training and Physical Exercise in Elite Esports.
What’s in the study?
The paper aims to establish not just how many esports athletes engaged in exercise but also how long they exercise for, their attitudes toward exercise, and the reasons esports athletes engage in it.
The study is built on an earlier unpublished paper by Andreas Hebbel-Seeger, who looked at competitors’ exercise levels in the Electronic Sports League. The study looked at many facets of its 115 sampled players, including the different types of esports they played, whether they were individual or team players, what their nationality was, their age, gender, income from esports, and level of education.
The study found that of the 115 elite and high-level esports professionals questioned, only 13 undertake no physical activity. That is just 11.3% of the respondents, meaning 88.7% answered in the affirmative.
Interesting, too, were the reasons given for exercising. Those who felt that being physically fit would help them be more successful in esports numbered just 10 people and 8.7%. So if esports competitors are not doing physical exercise to become better at esports, what are they doing it for?
The answer was rather simple: 47% simply cited the health benefits. Then, 17.4% aimed to improve or maintain their physical appearance. Smaller numbers, 7%, did so to improve their physical capacity, and just 5.2% did so for fun or enjoyment.
Now the naysayers at this point would likely question what represents physical activity for an esports player, perhaps making a cutting remark that a 30-second walk to the refrigerator does not count. Here’s where the study grows really interesting.
The baseline here conforms with the World Health Organisation’s standard of 21 minutes of activity per day. As for our respondents, 20% trained for up to an hour of physical exercise per day, 40% for between 60 and 90 minutes per day, a further 20% trained for between 90 and 120 minutes per day, while 4.2% trained for over 120 minutes per day.
This means by WHO guidelines, at least 65% of the esports athletes questioned trained more than double the amount suggested and just under 85% hit the minimum mark.
Limitations of the study
Of course, the study is not without its flaws. As the authors readily admit, the sample of 115 esports athletes was heavily imbalanced in terms of gender. Just three female esports athletes responded compared to 112 male. That’s, of course, not a surprising disparity given industry trends.
Furthermore, the age of the respondents also was predominantly young adult, with the average age believed to be around 20.8 years old. Furthermore, the respondents were mostly based in Europe and North America with just a small sample of Asian players. The flaw there is that continental Asia constitutes a beyond-massive swath of esports athletes.
Although this is a small study, it does offer a far more positive appraisal of how top-level esports competitors view physical training than media stereotypes would suggest. Far from being alien, exercise is a regular component of their lives.