Founder & CEO at Energent Media
When asked to name a paragon of technology-life balance, most people wouldn’t reflexively answer, professional gamer.
Let’s be honest; we all know the stereotype. We picture pasty-faced players sitting in dark basements, their eyes glued to the screen as they tap away towards their next high score, win, or record. The husks of snack wrappers and forgotten energy drinks sit crumpled and discarded by their keyboards; the only human connection available is from the players whose voices stream over the audio feed.
It’s intuitive to assume that those who spend so much time online must be doing something wrong. Being plugged in is a critical part of a pro gamer’s day-to-day life, far more than it is for the average office worker. Spending hours and hours online is quite literally in the job description; often, players even move into shared houses to make facilitating team development and practice easier. Given all this, it’s easy to dismiss esports professionals as having no tech-life balance – or to assume that the mark skews so heavily towards tech as to make the question of finding some nebulous equilibrium laughable.
Here’s the thing: these assumptions totally mischaracterize a profession that could actually help us renegotiate our relationship with technology as a whole.
Consider Team Liquid, a professional esports organization that supports internationally-competitive teams for games such as League of Legends, DOTA 2 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, as an example. The team has managed to find a surprisingly balanced, if tech-driven, way of living.
According to a profile published by the gaming magazine Kotaku, Team Liquid’s schedules have been designed by esports psychologists to support both gaming performance and players’ physical and mental wellbeing. On regular workdays, Liquid’s League of Legends team starts off the day with a morning gym session, then travel to the team’s practice facility for a healthy, catered breakfast. The team then has practice sessions in three-hour blocks, broken up by regular breaks and meals. By 10 PM, they can choose to either stream their gameplay, hit the gym, or go home from the night.
A critical difference between Team Liquid’s approach and those of other teams is the separation between the players’ home and working environments.
“It feels good to have that morning ritual of getting ready, getting dressed, and going to the office to scrim and start the day—rather than crawling out of bed onto my computer chair in the gaming house,” Eugene “Pobelter” Park told Kotaku.
For many players, being a professional gamer requires the same work-home separation that any other career would – although, as Park implies, the task requires a little more thought to be given to creating boundaries within a conventional “home” environment. Teams that don’t have multi-million-dollar facilities often try to create areas of separation by creating rules against having gaming gear in player rooms and designating Internet-off hours. This ensures that players have enough space and distance from the work and personalities that they have to maintain online.
Then, of course, is the personal aspect. Contrary to the stereotype of the lone player living in an isolated basement, professional teams often try to make sure that their players have social lives beyond their screens by planning team outreach events, encouraging team bonding activities, and providing ample leave time.
In an article for TechRadar, AS Roma Fnatic team manager Colin Johnson explains that he tries to give team members the time they need to stay connected with their families and friends even if the job has forced them to move across the world. Beyond usual breaks, Johnson says that he sets aside four weeks during the holiday season to allow the players to “reset mentally” by spending time with their families.
All of this brings up a question: If professional gamers – who by definition spend hours online daily – can achieve a healthy balance between their online and offline lives, does their success refute mainstream assumptions about the inherent unhealthiness of technology use?
Accepting, rejecting, furthering, and reviling our relationship with technology has become a regular undercurrent in everyday life. We have guidelines, apps, and tech-cutback tools to distance us from the perceived dangers of technology use. In 2018, Apple famously developed its “Screen Time” feature to track our usage and remind us when we’ve hit our predetermined limits. One Forbes contributor explained that she created her 30-day detox program after “someone I consider wise and aware and thus immune to tech addiction — literally begged me to create a detox program for her and everyone else she knows.”
The underlying assumption is simple: using technology too often makes us feel sick. If we “detox” – the phrase itself implying that technology acts as a toxin – we will feel better and realign with a “normal” state of health.
It was a sentiment like this one that prompted OneZero writer Steve Rousseau to dramatically cut back his technology use and write about the resulting experience. He expected the week to be funny, inconvenient, or even annoying. He was unpleasantly surprised.
“By day five, I didn’t feel ‘free’ or relieved to be away from screens,” Rousseau wrote. “I felt isolated and anxious. I missed a message from my girlfriend, who’s in Pakistan for work, because of Screen Time. I sent her an apology and a sheepish explanation of this dumb experiment, which only made me feel silly and even more isolated.”
Interestingly, Rousseau also found that once he began viewing his technology use as something to be avoided, he began to feel physically ill when he decided to use some of his allotted time to play a game that he usually enjoyed.
“Screens are a vital part of how I work, unwind, and connect with the people I love,” he reflected. “Arbitrarily reducing my screen time only served to mess with the delicate, I would even say healthy, balance I had naturally developed.”
Rousseau’s point about balance is interesting, given that it refutes the simplicity of assuming that a “healthy” relationship with tech requires stepping away from it, cleansing yourself of it. This idea makes me think of what Scott Adams, the creative mind behind Dilbert, wrote about what he called pre-success failure.
“If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction,” Adams explains. “Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of success until they bore you, or set new goals and re-enter the cycle of permanent pre-success failure.”
In this context, a digital diet would be something we take on to accomplish a goal: to fall in line with assumptions of what constitutes a “healthy” relationship with technology by rejecting it. Yet, how can anyone possibly not do something they love in perpetuity? Furthermore, why would anyone want to do that to themselves? As Rousseau notes, viewing tech solely as something to be controlled, minimized, and rejected can be harmful; going on a digital “diet” can disrupt the very emotional-mental-interpersonal balance we hope to preserve.
According to current perspectives, gamers should be the antithesis of a stereotypically “healthy” life – after all, they spend most of their time glued to a screen. However, despite living to that digital extreme, many professional gamers view their online lives as positive and balanced; pro gamers eat well, they exercise, they engage with their team, and they spend time with their families. Gaming directs players’ days, but it doesn’t overwhelm them.
True, most of us don’t have fancy facilities or psychologists or personal trainers to separate ourselves from our lives online. However, the building blocks for a new philosophy for technology usage are still there. Pro gamers offer the idea that we can appreciate technology for the value and joy it can provide. They also teach us the value of creating areas of separation and the importance of maintaining healthy living habits regardless of how much time you allocate to one interest or another.
We need to stop framing our technology use within a dieting mindset. Instead, we should negotiate our own balance, our own routine – one that respects and values technology within the broader context of our lives without creating the anxious need to punish ourselves for using it.
If gamers who log hours and hours of play per day can achieve that kind of tech-life equilibrium, it seems fair to say the rest of us stand a chance.