In South Korea gaming is pretty much a national sport. The most popular game, Starcraft, sees the country’s players earning six-figure salaries.

When the national football team made it through to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2002, members of the top Starcraft team were called in to the dressing room to help motivate the players.

The UK is still a long way from calling on gamers to motivate David Beckham during half time at an international match.

But Mike O’Dell, team manager of David’s gaming collective known as Dignitas, said he remains focused on creating a sustainable business model for his international team of 88 players.

He said sponsorship is beginning to improve following the global recession.

“I see it definitely beginning to turn – this year for us especially has been crazy; we’ve had sponsors come along like buses for keyboards and mice, all at once,” he said.

Paul Chaloner, a professional player turned commentator, believes it will not be long before professional gaming becomes more widely accepted.

“It’ll take a while to persuade people that gaming is a popular sport, but I think it’s a generational thing. Once we pass through another generation it will be, just the norm,” he said.

Sedentary pursuit

Yet David is currently the only full-time member of team Dignitas – the rest of the team have to juggle their every day lives with the demands of their training schedules.

Gamer Kurtis Shore is an electrician who juggles work and play: “I don’t know how I do it to be honest,” he said, “I don’t think even my team know.

“I’m up at five in the morning, sometimes not coming home until seven at night, and we’ve still got to play three hours a night. It’s very, very hard.”

Adding to the pressure, professional players are often contracted to spend a certain amount of time practising for a tournament.

In the case of team Fnatic, assembled from players across the globe, the contract stipulates putting in seven hours a day for two weeks leading up to a tournament event.

Team managers ensure players take regular screen breaks and drink plenty of fluids, but the sedentary nature of video gaming still raises concerns.

Dr Dominic Micklewright is a sports psychologist at the University of Essex who normally works with high-performance cyclists.

He tested some pro-gamers to find out if they share the same traits as professional athletes.

He found the players’ reaction times and mental acuity to be on a par with other sportsmen. They reacted to visual stimuli almost as fast as fighter jet pilots.

But Dr Micklewright found their actual physical fitness levels to be far below average for their age, and is concerned children may look up to players as role models.

“Younger people in their attempt to want to become a professional gamer, they’re going to spend a lot of time practising on a computer,” he said.

“Screen time with children has a very strong correlation with childhood obesity and risk factors with heart disease later in life,” he added.

For David, the results of Dr Micklewright’s tests were a spur to action.

“It’s always shown that the people that have exercise have always done better in tournaments.”


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