Are Nootropics Legal in Esports?
Electronic sports (eSports) is beginning to evolve into one of the world’s most highly-valued industries. Esports is a multibillion-dollar industry that has formed quickly over the last few years! This falls in line with a reported worldwide eSports audience of almost half a billion viewers this calendar year that is only predicted to scale further in size.
Add on the fact that there are millions of dollars in prize money to be won per game, and you have a winning recipe for a lucrative market that will continue to grow and grow!
With the attracted attention being brought towards the money and fame provided to professional eSports players, it is only natural that competitors will utilise every single tool available to give themselves an advantage. The most obvious choice for egamers to give them an advantage in mental performance over the competition is the use of nootropics. If nootropics can make your brain work faster, you will be a better gamer – it’s a simple as that. Just like steroids and other physical enhancing supplements are banned in sports, are nootropics going to be banned in esports?
WHAT ARE NOOTROPICS?
Nootropics are any natural or synthetic substance that may have a positive impact on the way your brain works. Nootropics include various supplements, foods and drugs. Other names people use to describe them are: smart drugs, brain boosters, memory boosters, neuroenhancers, drive drugs, study drugs.
Healthy adults use them to improve memory, learning, focus, mood, concentration, information processing, motivation, and attention. Some people use them to decrease brain fog and increase mental clarity. Older adults also use them to support healthy cognitive aging.
Because they enhance your mental ability, anything that requires quick thinking, mental clarity and fast problem solving ability (i.e esports) will be improved by the use of nootropics.
WHY DO PROFESSIONAL GAMERS USE NOOTROPICS OR SMART DRUGS?
Well, because many of these games require intense levels of mental concentration and stamina, especially during drawn-out matches where a split second is all it takes to make the difference between victory and defeat. You need to maintain peak levels of focus for long periods of time, and the smallest lapse in concentration is the difference between winning and losing.
Video games are no longer “just video games”. Did you parents ever tell you to stop playing games and go outside when you were younger?? I remember my parents telling me to stop wasting my time playing DOTA (a game with an annual prize of over $50 million) when I was younger. Players at the highest levels earn their full-time living solely from competing in tournaments. They are being watched by millions of people all around the world. Sponsors and investors support these players with the expectation that they will continue to win.
There is a lot at stake for these young players, who usually range anywhere from their teens to their early 20’s. The global nootropics market is expected to reach a valuation of over $6 billion in the next few years, and it’s no surprise that this rise is happening alongside eSports.
If a single nootropic can make enough of a difference when it comes to performance, you can bet that it will have widespread use among professional gaming teams.
ARE THERE ANY BANNED NOOTROPICS IN ESPORTS?
There has been ongoing debate and discussion around the banning of select substances from eSports competitions. The Electronic Sports League (ESL) announced in 2015 that it would be using the rules of the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to enforce stop gamers from taking nootropics that give them a mental advantage over the competition. 
Some of the substances that are banned are illegal altogether, and so the fact they are on the list is unsurprising. This includes (but is not limited to) cocaine, morphine, marijuana, and heroin. While they are not acknowledged as nootropics or smart drugs, they certainly may have some cognitive-enhancement effects (however harmful) that could lead to an unfair advantage.
However, there are cognitive enhancers present on the list from NADA and WADA that most smart drugs enthusiast would immediately recognise. These include Modafinil, Adderall, Ritalin, and various versions of Ephedrine. Notably, all of these drugs require a doctor’s prescription for legal use across many first-world countries.
WADA has published a comprehensive list of prohibited substances that is publicly available for further viewing. It categorises them on the basis of their use (in and out of competition), and on the basis of the sport being played. You can see the list here.(2)
WHAT ARE SMART DRUGS?
There isn’t really a legal definition which is a “catch all” for nootropics – which is why the fact that some are banned is a bit controversial. A nootropic can be a synthetic prescription drug which is “scheduled” and “controlled” by a country’s regulatory body. Likewise, it can also be an over-the-counter formulation that uses natural ingredients.
Moreover, many governing bodies are very slow to act and do not officially recognise nootropics as an established class of drugs, and therefore make no significant effort to regulate them. Due to the fact that nootropics can constitute virtually any substance that has mild cognitive benefits, it will be difficult to enforce standardised tests. This is especially true for “nootropic-stacks” that contain numerous nootropics in a single formulation, for example Savvy Mental Performance.
HOW WILL ESPORTS OFFICIALS “TEST” FOR NOOTROPICS?
There are numerous problems with the idea of testing eSports players for banned substances.
For starters, enforcement can only happen during tournaments where the players are required to be physically present. During an event, players can be subjected to salivary and blood tests that screen for banned WADA and NADA “in-competition” substances.
However, what is the solution for tournaments that are played online where players can compete from the comfort of their own homes? How would one go about simultaneously screening competitors from multiple international locations and verifying the results? This is unquestionably a major oversight that will need to be solved in the near future.
Secondly, there is no unified body of regulation when it comes to screening players. Anti-doping officials have been present at large eSports events, which are already heavily regulated with respect to other aspects of gaming, such as checking equipment and software. (3)
Lastly, there are individuals who can bypass WADA and NADA rules through a doctor’s note that allow them to take banned substances. This is most commonly seen with Adderall and Ritalin, two synthetic drugs used by individuals with a medical diagnosis of ADD/ADHD. The problem with a lack of independent regulation is that many other eSports leagues and games do not possess regulations in relation to nootropics.
THE FUTURE OF NOOTROPICS IN ESPORTS
Many experts simply do not know about the role that nootropics will play in esports. This is due to the fact that the regulation of them is so hard! It’s not as easy as banning steroids or peptides. As time goes on, new nootropics will inevitably be developed that provide superior results to what is currently available. Brain enhancement is something humankind has wanted forever, and the idea of taking a substance, or group of them, and performing better than you would without is pretty amazing and this is why there is a rapidly growing global market that is filled with ample commercial opportunity to grow in revenue and increase its viewership further!