This news on professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players taking Adderall for performance enhancement came as no real surprise. There has always been the talk regarding steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in sports, and it wasn’t long before it became a topic in eSports. But while the dynamic is more obvious with athletic sports, there’s less that’s known about how performance enhancement affects eSports and other competitions centered more on the mind.
My personal attitude towards PEDs have always been liberal at best since I believe them to be self-defeating when it comes to use for competition (medical and supplemental use are all good, though).
When I first started to really get into StarCraft II, the talk of Adderall as performance enhancement for competitive gamers had been in the periphery. If that drug can help you study for an important exam, it may also help a player focus and do well in something as mentally straining as StarCraft and other competitive video games.
Cheating is quite prevalent in online multiplayer with hacks and trainers. Few things are more infuriating than a map hacker in StarCraft II or a wall hacker in CS:GO beating you in a game and actually rubbing salt on the wound with trash talk. Those forms of cheating are straight-up wrong. So what about drugs?
NOTE: The following are mostly conjecture and second-hand knowledge, so please read at your own discretion. Thorough research through trusted scientific sources is recommended if an informed opinion on the subject is desired.
Bigger, Stronger, Faster
You may want to watch this first to get your head clearer on performance enhancement. This is by far the best documentary on steroids and the culture that both gave it life and now sustained by it.
It’s kind of old now, having been released back in 2008, but it still hits lots of good points up to this day regarding the what, how, and why behind anabolic steroids. It also has a bit on mental enhancement drugs such as Adderall and beta blockers.
(I may talk about this film in a future post.)
(It’s also available on Netflix, in case your country does have the service.)
Gaming on PEDs
Of course, taking a psychostimulant doesn’t automatically turn you into a pro gamer since there is a lot more going on other than just having your synapses firing faster. For it to actually help, you must already be well-versed in your chosen game before supplementing it with that.
Let’s take two examples I know best—StarCraft and fighting games.
It wouldn’t be enough to have your synapses firing extra rapidly when playing StarCraft, but you also have to know your build orders, maintain a high level of macromanagement, build everything on time every time, attack at specific timings, defend whenever attacked while still maintaining income and unit production, micromanage units to maximize them, and so on. It’s 100% intense from start to finish while still being a thinking man’s game.
As for fighting games, you have to know how to do the moves of your chosen character(s), as well as the fundamentals of playing fighting games “properly”. In fact, it takes a hell of a long time to learn the “fundamentals”, which are perhaps at the highest level of learning for novice players. Once you are versed in the fundamentals, you then have to learn about the system of that particular game and make the most of its features.
People like to scoff at competitive video games, but a lot of the factors in athletic sports are also present in pro gaming. The need for tons of practice to building up the muscle memory and making appropriate reactions automatic is there, as well as studying one’s opponent and coming up with strategies and tactics to compete are all there.
When a contender who does have a relatively high level of playing skill wishes to get an extra edge with a psychostimulant, he/she could reap the benefits more than a casual player who isn’t that serious with the game. But still, the effects may only be a small fraction of improvement that is fleeting and beset by diminishing returns.
In the case of CS:GO, Adderall may help you “see” more clearly and react more quickly, but it doesn’t exactly help you you get good at aiming with an AWP.
The Probably Dangerous Allure of Adderall
First of all, I believe in one’s right to do whatever he/she wants with his/her own body, so long as it doesn’t hurt others as well. Let’s just get that out of the way.
When I say there’s a dangerous allure to Adderall, I’m not talking about the mainstream perception on drugs and addiction (I should write about that in the future). I’m talking more about the act of fooling yourself to thinking that you’re actually becoming a better person by taking something that temporarily enhances your brain functions.
There are the movies such as Limitless and Lucy that make the idea of taking something to go from normal to genius seems quite attractive. I certainly have entertained the idea of taking Adderall to write a whole lot, maybe even write a book if I ever get to that level.
Competence is sexy, and a pill that seemingly gives you that—even for a little while—is very tempting.
The prospect of success that can come from being more mentally engaged is what sells Adderall. However, the rewards become linked with the taking of the drug, which makes Adderall abuse very likely.
Mind you, there may be some placebo going on, but definitely not entirely. If it has been getting all this press and all the people taking it for various reasons, then it should be working for the most part. We’re not talking about gingko biloba here.
Factoring in the reality of daily living, having to rely on it heavily can snowball from minor inconvenience to something the size of King Kong on your back. This is even more true if much of your performance at work is predicated on the taking of Adderall or any kind of psychoactive.
What if you run out and can’t get any right away? What if people find out that the only reason you’re any good is that you’re on something? Maybe it’s an exaggeration and you don’t have to worry about it too much if you happen to be an Adderall user, but there are different cases for different people and freak cases do exist.
There is still a lot that’s not known about the true long-term effects of psychostimulants. If they happen to be already known, I admittedly am not aware of them yet. I still have a lot to look at on this subject, but what has been happening is already pretty interesting, especially with eSports involved.