Outside the video game industry, there’s this pernicious idea that people who work with games should be immune to mental health issues — that having a dream job in the industry should wash away any other concerns. That’s demonstrably untrue, but it’s a stigmatizing idea that even has a foothold in the game industry itself.
By that standard, people who play games for a living must have a particularly easy time of things. After all, if making video games is an effortless dream, playing them must be a non-stop party.
But of course, mental health issues affect people everywhere, in every industry. Add the stress of competition, the long hours of training, and the public life, and a career in esports can be downright detrimental to some pros. For others, it can provide badly needed focus and motivation.
Writing for Esports News UK, Dominic Sacco shares the stories of ten people involved in esports, looking at how mental health has affected them. The players and other professionals he spoke with cope with things like borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, ADHD — a wide range of challenges.
Their stories show that mental health issues exist in esports as they do in every other industry. They also show that having the support of a community, wherever you find it, can make all the difference.
Take Jay Massaad’s story. Massaad is a content creator for the National University Esports League (NUEL) in the UK, but he got his start competing, and that’s where he first found his community.
Depression can be a very lonely place, and it hit very hard during my first two years at uni when I was dealing with the fallout from an ugly relationship. It made me retreat inwards, spending most of the day sleeping and the night playing games – specifically League of Legends.
It was during this low time in my life that I became aware of the NUEL. It was everything I needed at the time – a welcome form of escapism, providing me with a sense of purpose whilst I became increasingly disconnected with my studies; but more importantly, it gave me a community, where I could find plenty of like-minded people at my uni who would go on to be some of my best friends.
At the same time, the conditions of esports can be punishing — and as with any industry that encourages crunch, that can do serious harm to people. Sacco also highlights the story of Paul Chaloner, who recently spoke to Esports News UK about the burnout he suffered as a caster.
I don’t think it’s any more time consuming than other esports roles. If you think of a full-time job, 35 to 40 hours a week, or if it’s managerial maybe 55 or 60 hours a week, whereas esports is probably more like 80 hours a week because it’s so full on and a changing world, you need to keep on top of it.
You have to have that mentality when you’re doing these big events: ‘okay I understand to make money and remain in the public spotlight, I need to do this for three months’. It’s business and it’s my job, it’s not a rockstar lifestyle but it’s the kind of thing you need to do.
But at some point you have to recharge. And I’ve learnt that the hard way – I almost killed myself last year doing esports. I got to the end of November and I genuinely was at the end of my career, basically. I had just had enough. I wasn’t tired of it – I was just tired. And actually very, very emotionally burnt out – and physically exhausted.
The best way to fight stigma is to open up if you’re in the position to safely do so. That’s what Mental Health Awareness Month is all about: showing the world that mental health issues affect people everywhere. Even in the industries that look like nothing but fun.
So check out the rest of the stories over at Esports News UK. If you’re coping with mental health issues, you’re not alone — within the gaming world, or beyond.