Rampant Drug Abuse Is One of 4 Big Challenges the Booming eSports Industry Must Overcome

Imagine if LeBron James walked off the basketball court in the middle of a game. Having four players on the court instead of five would put the Cleveland Cavaliers at a disadvantage.

In the burgeoning field of eSports, having a player leave in the middle of a game whether from a bad internet connection or an angry temper tantrum can be disastrous for teams. It increases the likelihood of teams losing, possibly harming their record and ranking, and discredits the eSports system.

When it comes to Activision Blizzard's (ATVI - Get Report) multiplayer first-person shooter game Overwatch, however, Jeff Kaplan, the game's director, said recently the company is looking into banning such "leavers" from playing future competitions.

Overwatch punishes leavers with timed bans. The more players quit, the longer they have to wait before they can play again. Their teammates still in the game can continue without them or end the game, but quitting counts as a loss on the team's record.

That may be important for players in the Competitive Play mode, which allows gamers to compete and up their ranking on a seasonal basis.

"Our philosophy has been that we would rather not have leavers playing the game at all (especially in Competitive Play)," Kaplan, who is also Blizzard Entertainment's vice president, said in a game forum. "We keep increasing the penalty for leaving and will continue to do so. We're in the process of implementing a new policy which would take into account how many Competitive Seasons you have been banned from and at a certain point, prevent you from playing Competitive ever again."

Kaplan did not give a timeline for the implementation of the policy.

Leavers, however, are not the only issue eSports face. A recent report from Pacific Crest Securities identified several challenges in the industry, which is expected to generate nearly $700 million in global revenue this year, to its growth. Here are some of them.

Brand Advertising
Brand Advertising

According to NewZoo, an eSports analytics company, advertising accounts for more than $155 million, or 22%, of eSports revenue. Pacific Crests' analysts, however, said it should be more, noting advertising has come mostly from native brands.

They described growth of advertisers more like in traditional sports, including sponsorship from financial services, pharmaceuticals, automotive makers and retailers. They noted Nike (NKE - Get Report) , Adidas (ADS - Get Report) and Under Armour (UAA - Get Report) should have a stake in eSports because they currently do not.

Drug Abuse
Drug Abuse

In 2015, Kory Friesen, a professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player known by his username "Semphis," made headlines when he revealed players on his former team, Cloud9, had taken Adderall, an amphetamine-based drug used to treat Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The raucous surprised much of the gaming community that believed performance-enhancing drug use was an open secret in eSports, according to Kill Screen.

Later that year, the ESL, the world's largest eSports organizer, began drug testing participants. It did not find any users, according to Dexerto, but as recently as May, Team EnVyUs's Austin 'SlasheR' Liddicoat has commented on Twitter about the wide use of Adderall among Call of Duty gamers.

Inconsistent Broadcasting
Inconsistent Broadcasting

Those looking to watch eSports can find the action on Amazon's (AMZN - Get Report) gamer streaming service Twitch, which grabs the eyeballs of 10 million people for an average of two hours daily, according to the report. Additionally, Turner Broadcasting System's (TWX)  started Eleague, a Counter-Strike competitive season, that became the first eSports competition broadcasted directly on television on a regular schedule like traditional sports, Engaget reported.

Many times though leagues, tournaments and special events lack a normal schedule for broadcast, according to the Pacific Crest researchers. They added this makes it more difficult for casual viewers to engage in eSports consistently.

Team Veritability
Team Veritability

The Pacific Crest analysts compared eSports teams to startups. They lack of infrastructure, according to the report, and it can be challenging and expensive to find players, whose costs are rising. North America League of Legends Championship Series players averaged $105,000 a year in 2016, according to an ESPN survey. The league is increasing the minimum salary from $25,000 to $75,000 in the 2017 season, Dot eSports reported.

Plus, players' careers are often short. Many start at the age of 14 or 15, but average League of Legends professional players retire in their mid-20s, Polygon reported.

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