The rise of esports and esports nutrition
To use gaming parlance: The raid is on. Electronic sports and electronic gaming’s raid of the mainstream that is.
New Esports and egaming maps and worlds have been created that are very, very far from the massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) they sprang from or even the first egame competitions of the 1980s – on stand-up arcade Space Invaders or Pac-Man video games.
Today the millions-strong fan and player communities that exist around games like Fortnite and Counter-Strike are worth billions in subscriptions, merch, skins and events in mega-markets like South Korea, the US, Japan, western Europe, Russia, Australia, Africa…hell, just about everywhere really.
The world’s biggest brands – including L’Oreal, Gucci, Spotify, Marvel, IBM, Levi’s, BMW, Renault and food and beverage brands like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Chipotle – are onboard with sponsorships and fast-growing in-game advertising.
Esports players are genuine celebs in many countries and becoming a pro gamer is seen as a way out of poverty for many younger gamers.
Although elite esports go far beyond pure pro aspiration, as Rick Yang, partner at esports investor New Enterprise Associates – put it to Insider Intelligence: “I actually think of esports as the mainstreaming of gaming, or the pop culture instantiation of gaming versus the pure idea of these players becoming professionals to compete at the highest levels.”
Esports pro tournaments for games like Defense of the Ancients, Starcraft, Fifa Online Football and Call of Duty fill stadia with 10s of 1000s of egaming fanatics (pre-pandemic at least). Livestreaming crowds frequently blow away ‘real world’ sports blockbusters like the US NFL Super Bowl or the European Champions League final.
Highly engaged fans around the world watched about 140 million livestreamed hours of the 2020 League of Legends tournament.
Giant football clubs like Paris Saint Germain in France and FC Schalke04 in Germany have established pro esports teams to compete with veteran pro gaming outfits like Sweden’s Ninjas in Pyjamas (founded 2002), Evil Geniuses (US, 1999) and SK Telecom T1 (Korea, 2012) in ragingly popular leagues and tournaments.
Mobile-based gaming is expanding the scene as well as free public WIFI options diversify and unlimited 5G data packages make on-the-move gaming a reality.
GETTING YOUR EGAMING NUTRITION ON
Anyway, you get the point – egaming has become a rather big deal. Esports are legit sporting heavyweights with all the specialization and trappings of elite effort – including pros and pro teams hiring entourages that include behavioral therapists and nutritionists to aid the drive for optimum performance at the gaming stick, consul, mouse or keyboard.
They are using a wide variety of supplements as they seek performance gains including:
- Heightened concentration
- Boosted short term memory
- Improving reflex and reaction time
- Faster thinking and learning
- Reduced physical pain and anxiety
- More energy – prevent mental and physical fatigue
- Superior vision including eye tracking, depth perception, color dissemination and visual memory
A rung below the professional ranks are millions of serious gamers who devote endless hours to their craft and enter multiple player online games and amateur tournaments and who also have a strong interest in what nutrition can do to boost performance in front of the screen – and health and wellness away from it.
Note: Not all gamers are Y Gen kids and Millennials – about a third of gamers are over the age of 34 and almost half of all gamers are themselves parents.
“The scope is huge for the egaming market,” says Nick Morgan, a UK-based nutrition sector consultant who recently published a report on gaming nutrition drawn from a vast US/European sports nutrition database his Nutrition Integrated firm has compiled.
Morgan believes brands need to take more formulation chances to really tap into the health and performance needs of gamers.
“It seems some companies are taking the path of least resistance and just marketing stereotypical energy drink and nootropic formulations to gamers, but when you consider brain health opportunities and recovery, relaxation, sleep – there is a lot of scope for different products. Yes caffeine is an efficacious stimulant but brands that can build something more tailored than that are going to be better off.”
Alt-caffeine forms include green tea, guarana, ginseng and other botanical extracts that appeal to gamers seeking natural, organic and clean label solutions.
In a mid-2020 survey analyst FMCG Gurus found the COVID-19 pandemic had provoked more consumers – including gamers – to seek out plant-based ingredients they considered to be more nutritious, healthier and better for the environment.
IN THE ENERGY LANE: “THE OFFICAL DRINK OF ESPORTS”
G Fuel refers to itself as the self-styled “official drink of esports” and promotes its products around three pillars of energy, focus, endurance although it does not reference any particular science. G Fuel packs 300mg of caffeine (equivalent to about four standard coffee cups) into its 473ml canned energy drink. Its range contains a version developed with legendary Swedish Youtuber and gamer Pewdiepie that includes Scandinavian lingonberry, ketones and a range of botanical extracts. G Fuel revenues grew 214% between 2015 and 2018.
Nutrition Integrated found 69% of US and European nutrition brands that entered the esports space offered just one variant specific to egaming nutrition, usually a canned beverage or sports nutrition powder.
“Every tool that exists in the nutrition industry be it branding, technology, ingredients, bioavailability, encapsulation is totally primed to be leveraged for egaming product launches,” says Morgan, adding, “Brands should make more use of that potential.”
As it stands, the egaming nutrition landscape is populated by food supplements, sports nutrition supplements, energy drinks and foods, nootropics and healthy food brands along with esports-dedicated food and nutrition brands like G Fuel, Esports Nutrition and LevlUp.
Much of the marketing occurs via rapidly expanding in-game advertising that is worth €100bn+ in 2020, according to Research and Markets. Some companies already throw more euros at in-game advertising than out-of-game advertising.
SPREADING THE EGAMING NUTRITION WORD
Bigger nutrition brands might be lagging on the creative formulation front, but the highly social nature of egaming means food and nutrition experiments and advice fly fast through the egaming ether on sites like Twitch and Youtube, other social networks and messaging apps, not to mention bespoke gaming platforms as gamers talk up their favorite products and their own customized ‘nutrition stacks’ that deliver at the screen and beyond.
These can include nutrients as diverse as energy drink staples like B vitamins, glucuronolactone, caffeine and taurine along with omega-3s, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and botanical extracts like lutein and Panax ginseng.
Other bespoke nutrition stack faves include medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), L-Theanine, creatine, L-glutamine, ginkgo biloba, CoQ10, zeaxanthin, citicoline, L-Tyrosine, guayusa, phosphatidylserine (PS), pine bark extract and rhodiola.
Plenty of activity yes, but supplement use remains far from ubiquitous, especially at the amateur level. In a 2020 poll of European gamers who played at least 15 hours per week, FMCG Gurus found only about one quarter regularly took food supplements and other nutritional products to improve their gaming experience. But the proportion is rising and 76% said they would be willing to use supplements to protect their vision; 65% said they were willing to use supplements to improve performance.
Gamers also showed a high interest in science to back efficacy and safety claims and said it influenced their purchasing decisions.
The Coronavirus pandemic has increased interest in nutrition and supplements to more broadly support immune function not to mention gaming itself – the two sectors being rare beneficiaries of a world so urgently and unceremoniously shoved online by the COVID-19 crisis.
EGAMERS HEALTH ISSUES AND PERFORMANCE NEEDS
What about the more holistic health and nutrition needs of gamers?
In its 2020 survey FMCG Gurus found lack of energy, sleep, obesity/overweight and eye health (especially in regard to the sight-damaging and sleep-disrupting blue light that emanates from gaming monitors and screens) were the major concerns of European core gamers.
Their top gaming performance-related concerns were:
- Onscreen visual processing speed
- Improving awareness
- General energy levels
- Reaction times
It is thought better nutrition can help pro players extend their careers – many retire in their mid-20s citing stress, mental fatigue, joint health and eye fatigue as reasons for early exits from the pro ranks.
Nutritionists warn many egamers ignore nutritional basics like staying hydrated and balancing protein/carb/fat intakes which can inhibit the bioavailability and benefits of esports supplements and other nutritional inputs.