Every day, professional players in League of Legends play for hours nonstop. As a result of playing for so long, professional players want to ensure that they have an experience that’s comfortable and efficient for them. Some players prefer to set up their keybindings a different way, or to sit in a particular fashion. For example, Counter Logic Gaming’s AD Carry Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes uses WASD for his camera and 1234 for his action keys instead of the standard QWER.
Players make these changes to suit their interaction with the game. However, for professional players, how they interact with the game directly affects player longevity. Due to their long hours, playing incorrectly may not just mean intentionally feeding in games, but also playing in a manner that can cause career-ending injuries.
Injuries in League of Legends
A History of Injuries
Over the years, League has seen a fair share of professional players end their careers early due to wrist injuries. Season 2 League of Legends World Championship winner Taipei Assassin’s midlaner, Lau “Toyz” Kurtis Wai Kin, retired from League of Legends due to issues with carpal tunnel. Carpal tunnel syndrome leads to a burning, tingling, itching, and/or numbness in the palm of the hand, thumb, or index and middle fingers. Continuously doing repetitive motions like typing causes carpal tunnel syndrome. For professional players who constantly play League and seek to maximize the actions and clicks they can do in game, carpal tunnel syndrome is a stressful reality.
Carpal tunnel is infamous in the gaming community, but is not the only injury that can affect player performance. Another player who suffered career-affecting injuries is Hai “Hai” Du Lam, who announced his retirement in 2015 due to wrist injuries. Although both Toyz and Hai returned to the scene after treating their injuries, injuries contribute to the short lifespan of a professional gaming career. For example, Starcraft, the first large-scale esport, saw legendary player Lee “Flash” Young Ho undergo surgery due to pain caused by playing the game.
The Problem with Injuries
Due to the nature of gaming, wrist injuries are the most common injury in esports. When symptoms of a wrist injury appear, the player must treat it is as soon as possible. However, most treatments involve the player taking a break from playing in scrimmages or on stage. Every team has game-changing players. For example, Invictus Gaming top laner, Kang “TheShy” Seung-lok was unable to play due to a wrist injury in April of this year. Due to him being unable to play, team morale is down and their subsequent match results are questionable. Furthermore, most teams do not have a substitute player prepared for every role. A team with an injured player cannot play with a perfect roster.
While rest along with treatment is highly preferred, players may choose other options like corticosteroid injections or medication. However, players may never recover from injuries. In a game where even a tenth of a second leads to a game-losing teamfight, getting injured decreases the value of a player onstage. Getting an injury forces players into a tough situation. Prolonging an injury without treatment makes it worse. However, taking a break and resting may lead to their team’s loss.
When injuries are not treated as soon as possible, the condition can get steadily worse. Players can be unable to make a fist or even move their fingers. Recovery is not perfect, and players may be left with a physical inability to perform. While sitting at a computer does not seem physically demanding, playing League at the highest level causes muscle strains and damage like any other sport.
Solutions and Preventive Measures
Organizations and teams know about the potential career-ending nature of injuries. Therefore, most teams have hired physical therapists and likewise professionals to assist the team. For example, Matt Hwu owns 1HP, an organization that helps players prolong their gaming careers. According to 1HP’s website, they help players prevent and manage injuries, stay fit both physically and mentally, and track nutrition. Players are taught good posture and injury-preventing exercises. Teams provide players with equipment that help prevent injury. For example, when Team SoloMid midlaner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg dealt with a wrist injury, he had the treatment to fix it. Players now have the support to prevent injuries and treat them.
Looking to the Future
Professional players of League of Legends face injuries due to the long hours they spend playing the game. While players have more support than ever, injuries still affect their careers. For example, Royal Never Give Up’s star player Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao is taking a break from competitive gaming. Due to posture, Uzi’s left shoulder is in bad condition. Recently, RNG has seen massive success on the international stage, defeating the long-dominant Koreans at the Mid-Season Invitational and Rift Rivals. At both tournaments, Uzi played a huge role in the victories.
Having a player like Uzi taking a break due to injury speaks to the harsh nature of being a professional player. Professional players are young. Uzi is only 21. The most famous player in all of League of Legends, SK Telecom T1’s Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok is 22. Despite Uzi’s age and performance, he may be forced to retire in the near future due to injury.
Although professional gamers get paid extreme amounts at a young age, unlike traditional sports, players can only stay relevant for a few years, if even that much. Esports is a fast growing field, and as the field continues to develop, so too does the need for player support. The far-reaching effects of injuries are still indisputably career-ending. Players may be forced to retire due to no conscious fault of their own.
Featured image courtesy of Robbie Nakamura, @GHOSTCLAW