Doug Kalman PhD, RD & Susan Hewlings PhD, RD
Esports have quickly gained recognition and social acceptance globally. It has been reported that viewership for esports games, such as League of Legends, has already surpassed the Major League World Series and the NBA finals.1,2 By 2024 it is anticipated that there will be 286 million eSports enthusiasts worldwide. In 2021, the global esports market was valued at just over 1.08 billion U.S. dollars, an almost 50 percent increase from the previous year. Additionally, the esports industry’s global market revenue was forecast to grow to as much as 1.62 billion U.S. dollars in 2024. Asia and North America currently represent the largest esports markets in terms of revenue, with China alone accounting for almost one fifth of the market.3,4
Esports and egaming can be defined as “organized video competitions”. The more specific description or definition of egaming is “the casual or competitive playing of video games within a ranking system, regulated by official leagues – that allows for the development and/or display of expertise in fine motor coordination and perceptual-cognitive skills”.5 Those who spend long hours engaging in these often multidimensional, complex games are of great research interest in many disciplines, particularly those related to neurological functioning and cognitive performance.6 Egaming is more than a game, it has become a viable competitive business both for game developers and gamers. There are many factors which could potentially influence esports performance (e.g., physical fitness, general health, stress coping, psychological factors and nutrition and diet quality.6,7 Egaming has gained interest in the scientific community for its potential related to cognitive function and enhancement. It therefore makes sense that Esports participants are an increasingly popular target audience for dietary supplement research and ultimately sales. Identifying ingredients that offer a potential performance benefit for esport athletes is advantageous.
What is required for E Sports?
In order to fully understand the needs of the egamer it seems wise to assess exactly what skills are required to be successful in egaming and thus we can determine exactly what strategies can be utilized to maximize those skills. While there is a perception that the demands of the sport are not as rigorous as traditional sports, new research is suggesting otherwise, particularly relative to the cognitive demands of the sport. Increased appreciation for the cognitive skills required to succeed have created an emerging field of research pulling from many disciplines including sport psychology, cognitive neuroscience, neuro sports and nutrition. In trying to create an overview of skills for e-gaming, it is important to consider that esports typically occur in a social/multi player environment where the players must rapidly process new information in an ever-changing environment influenced by the game and the actions of other players. Players must be able to quickly and efficiently processing information and then respond appropriately, often with precise, fine motor movements. The skills needed to do this include reaction time, processing speed, processing of visual information and ultimately visuomotor performance.8 It is for these reasons, that many are starting to look at egaming nutrition as a form of cognitive nutrition.
Two key cognitive processes involved in Esports are attention and working memory. These skills are perhaps more tangible than many of the others and are often discussed by the gamers themselves. A semi structured interview of 7 elite esport athletes revealed that e-gamers report that feeling focused, calm, confident and not stressed were important to their success in any given game.7
Part of the self-reported focus discussed by e-gamers is being skilled at blocking out outside distractions, while making selective attention a key skill for success. This all overlaps with sustained attention, which is the ability to maintain the focus for hours of game play. Of course, the cognitive skills needed for game strategy in both the short term and the long term cannot be discounted. Working memory is a big aspect of successful strategy making.8 As an example, top players of League of Legends showed superior scores on Stroop switching compared to intermediate players This suggests that the top players demonstrated better cognitive flexibility and more accurate control of interference in the context of task-switching, in addition to better impulsive control compared to intermediate players.9 This means enhanced cognitive processing and better control of the thought and action processes which translates into better performance.
Another cognitive function needed to strategize, anticipate and respond to the ever-changing gaming environment, while monitoring one’s own performance, all while maintaining calm under stress, is executive functioning.10 Executive functioning encompasses cognitive flexibility, problem solving, decision making, and metacognition.11
Considering the importance of cognitive performance in this rapidly growing sport, a strategy that supports these skills even outside of game playing seems critical for optimizing performance.
It is generally accepted that nutrition, both chronically and acutely, plays a key role in cognitive performance. The nutrients provide by a typical Mediterranean diet have been shown to support optimal brain and cognitive function by providing a nutrient dense diet rich in omega -3 fatty acids, antioxidants and other nutrients known to improve overall endothelial function and thus brain health.12-14
In addition to determining ideal dietary patterns to support cognitive health, it is relevant to consider the acute effects of overall diet and nutrients on cognitive performance. Perhaps the most researched ingredients showing improved cognitive function in sports are caffeine and carbohydrates.15 In general, diets that contain complex carbohydrates help with maintaining a more level blood sugar. Having stable blood sugar levels, suppers optimal physical and cognitive performance. When blood sugar is controlled, the cognitive ability to maintain focus and attention is bolstered. Caffeine, a natural stimulant has been shown to enhance cognitive and cognitive performance when the dosage of caffeine is typically in the 3 to 6 mg/kg fashion (i.e., ~200 mg caffeine for 150 pound person).
When looking at total diet or dietary approach, the one singular diet and lifestyle approach that has demonstrated the most consistent cognitive and brain sustaining and enhancing qualities is the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diet. The MIND Diet is simply a combination, or mashup of the Mediterranean Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay Diet and the Dietary Alternatives to Stop Hypertension diet (“M-DASH”, became MIND Diet). The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fish, fruits, and vegetables, with olive oil as the main source of fat. The DASH diet is a low-sodium diet that encourages consumption of foods rich in nutrients such as potassium and calcium magnesium that help lower blood pressure. The MIND Diet includes 10 “brain-healthy” food groups consisting of green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine. It excludes red meat, butter, margarine, cheese, pastries, sweets, and fried or fast food.16,17
While The MIND Diet has been shown to reduce risks of Alzheimer’s disease by up-to 53%, the benefit in the short term of following such a dietary lifestyle is the rich natural antioxidants it supplies, along with foods rich in phytochemicals, all of which are shown to reduce oxidative stress and generalized inflammation. Minimizing oxidative stress and inflammation supports overall health and wellness as well as optimal cognitive and physical functioning. Supporting brain health through diet, lifestyle and supplemental nutrition appears to be the ideal combination to achieve support cognitive and physical performance including e-gaming related tasks.16,17
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is composed of sulfur, oxygen, and methyl groups.18 MSM is naturally found in a variety of foods, such as milk, fruits, tomatoes, corn, coffee, and tea.19 However, the amount found in food is often decreased by farming techniques, in processing and therefore there is interest in supplementation. OptiMSM® is a branded form of MSM manufactured by Bergstrom Nutrition and is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). It has demonstrated antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
It is well recognized that controlling the amount of oxidative stress and inflammation can play a role in maintaining cellular health, organ health, cognitive health, and overall well-being. MSM is one key sulfur-containing nutrient that has been shown to support and elevate one of the strongest antioxidants in the body, glutathione. Glutathione plays a key role in cellular health. Enhancing glutathione levels has been shown to have a plethora of positive effects in cellular health, organ health and even in feelings of wellness. It cannot overlook that the level of glutathione decreases with aging and is linked with cognition.20 Therefore, it can be concluded that supporting optimal glutathione levels throughout life will support optimal cognitive functioning, such as is required to be a successful egamer.21 MSM has been shown to have antioxidant activity that is beyond its impacts on glutathione, hence the utility for the egamer.22 MSM has been shown to enhance blood antioxidant capacity and reduce muscle soreness that are likely to benefit the e-gamer.
Further, MSM is known to play a role in joint health. In e-gaming, maintaining joint health especially in the joint of the hands and fingers will help to maintain performance.
The world of esports and egaming is a fast growing one. Universities in the United States now also include scholarships for egamers. In addition, there have been competitive esport leagues established globally. These leagues have significant prize money and exposure for those who excel. The egaming world is rapidly evolving, and as part of that, the competition is intensifying such that every small advantage is needed to achieve cutting edge success. Thus, it is the right time to support egaming as a competitive activity whose participants can benefit from fine tuning dietary lifestyle and supportive nutrition in order to bring the rapidly evolving sport to the next level
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