Top level video-gamers ‘facing same mental health pressures’ as other athletes

Mental health problems such as stress, sleep problems, burnout, social phobia and anxiety are highly prevalent in top video-gamers at a level comparable to other professional sports, according to a new study.

Researchers at the universities of Winchester and Chichester say that improving the mental health of those taking part in esports should be made a priority as it is with other sports such as football.

The study looked at 313 competitive university student esports athletes who play either Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Valorant or Rainbow Six Siege.

All three games are multi-player, competitive, first-person shooter games, with the aim of out-performing the opposition team.

The esports athletes completed surveys looking at stressors resulting from competing in esports including team-mate interactions, personal and team-mate concerns and game-specific worry, as well as other signs of mental ill health.

Dr Matt Smith, a sport and exercise psychologist at the University of Winchester, said: “Our study has important implications for player health in esports.

“In particular, it highlights that interventions could target specific aspects of stress, sleep, burnout and social phobia anxiety, to improve the mental health of those who compete in esports.”

Atheshaan Arumuham, an applied practitioner in psychosis studies from King’s College London and one of the study’s authors, said: “Esports athletes face specific demands that vary from those faced by traditional sports athletes,” said one of the study’s authors.

“For example, the need to use skilled fine motor co-ordination while facing a high cognitive workload that includes attention, information-processing and visuo-spatial skills and the lack of an ‘off season’ means there are unique stressors for esport athletes which are linked to mental ill health.”

Dr Smith, who is the lead author of the report Examining the Predictors of Mental Ill Health in Esport Competitors published in the MDPI journal Healthcare, added: “There is a lack of research examining mental health in esports athletes.

“By identifying the risk factors which underpin mental ill health for this group of athletes we hope healthcare practitioners can deliver evidence-based healthcare provision for esports athletes.

“From implementing interventions to improve quality of sleep, to providing esports athletes with strategies to deal with the demands of their sport to avoid burnout, there are practical steps that can be taken to address the factors which we now know can predict mental ill health.”