Professional gaming grows up: Drug testing comes to e-sports at ESL One Cologne – PCWorld

COLOGNE, Germany—Virtually all NFL, MLB, or NBA fans accept drug testing as a part of sports. Now that drug testing has made its debut in professional video game tournaments, it turns out that’s exactly how e-sports fans—and even e-sports pros—feel, too. 

“There’s been a problem with first-person shooters with doping and stimulants being abused in our game,” American Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) pro gamer Sean “sgares” Gares of Cloud9 told PCWorld at last weekend’s ESL One Cologne tournament, the first professional e-sports event to feature random testing for performance-enhancing drugs. “Drug testing is something that’s way past overdue in our game.”

Drug use thrusts e-sports into the limelight

Many people had no idea e-sports even existed before news broke globally in July that Nihilum CS:GO pro player Kory “Semphis” Friesen admitted in an on-camera interview that everyone on his former team, Cloud9, took Adderall (which is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—ADHD) before competing at the ESL One Katowice tournament in March.

What followed was something that you’ll never see happen in real sports. Turtle Entertainment, the parent company for ESL One, immediately took action and instituted random drug testing for its next big ESL One event, which took place this past weekend at Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany. Granted, e-sports doesn’t have a players’ union to deal with (yet), but this is still something you’d never see happen so quickly in any “traditional” sport on any level.


The world of CSGO is ultra-competitive.

Members of NADA (Nationale Anti Doping Agentur) were at ESL One in Cologne to oversee the random drug tests, which occurred with one member from the two teams before each CS:GO match. Saliva swabs were used to detect usage of specific performance-enhancing drugs, according to a NADA representative. NADA also had an infotainment booth inside Germany’s largest indoor arena to alert gamers about the dangers of taking unprescribed drugs, using the campaign “Achieve everything, take nothing” through a social media photo campaign and free bags. ESL One also worked with WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) on this event, although representatives from that organization were not in Germany.

“Our strategy for this event was not to test everybody, it was to make sure people understand we are going to do drug testing and we’re going to roll out that process step by step once we have more experience working with the major agencies,” Ralf Reichert, managing director at Turtle Entertainment, said. “We could stay with random tests in the future, or if we need to go with a full test for everybody, we will. It will really depend on our experience, which we’re just starting to roll out.”

Players who fail the test will face any number of sanctions, including losing prize money and tournament points all the way up to a two-year ban from ESL events. It’s worth noting that the use of marijuana is prohibited during any ESL event, but unlike other sports like football, players are allowed to use that drug recreationally outside of tournaments.

Rolling out testing at ESL One Cologne

esl one champions ESL One

Sixteen teams were in Germany competing for a piece of a $250,000 prize pool, which is the world’s largest CS:GO tournament. Fnatic won the $100,000 first place prize and Envyus took home the $50,000 second place purse. There were also over 180 media representatives from around the world covering the e-sports event, which was a record for an ESL One event—and many were interested in the alleged doping scandal.


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