The 4 ways colleges can prevent injuries, liability in esports

With students overextending themselves and their time spent online, it is imperative to monitor their play and health while protecting the interests of the institution

With the advent of personal computers in the workplace in the 1990s, businesses and schools witnessed a new phenomenon in the form of repetitive stress injuries. Wrist sprains, carpel tunnel surgeries and lower back pain from sitting in front of a desktop were commonplace among support staff in academia. Today, universities are witnessing a resurgence of technology-related injuries related to esports, where players reportedly spend in excess of 4-8 hours daily in front of their gaming PC.

Prolonged play without monitoring of health habits can expose young people to physical injuries. A 2018 peer-reviewed study from BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine journal found that, among collegiate esports players, 56% report eye fatigue, 42% report neck and back pain, 36% and 32% report wrist and hand pain respectively. Despite these high numbers, the journal reports that only 2% of players sought medical attention.

In addition, related player health is of growing concern, involving both unhealthy eating habits and lack of physical activity. It’s not uncommon for players to sit for hours without break and not give a lot of thought to a healthy diet. USA Today reported on League of Legends star Jian “Uzi” Zihao, who retired at the age of 23. Uzi shared to his 5 million followers that he suffers from obesity, irregular diet, Type-2 diabetes, and a recurring hand injury – all the result of excessive game play.

Are universities exposing themselves to negative press and costly litigation should esports athletes claim their institution fostered an unhealthy and harmful playing environment? Should a student claim they have sustained an injury from prolonged participation in your esports program, what efforts has your institution taken to protect itself and its students from such claims or injuries in the first place?

Institutions may be vulnerable to litigation if such matters are not proactively addressed. School officials can’t claim ignorance of these issues, when issues regarding esports injuries are featured in reports from such media outlets as CBS News and USA Today. Whether students participate on campus or remotely at home, participation in school-sponsored programs places the responsibility squarely on the institution to protect its student players.

Academic institutions can take proactive steps to ensure student esports athletes avoid injury and maintain a balance for a healthier lifestyle going forward:

  • Treat Esports As Any Other Sport
    Your institution likely has existing policies and procedures for current athletic programs. Use them to model appropriate policies and procedures for esports. These may include such facets as mandated physicals, appropriate safety gear, reporting and treating injuries, and limits on practice time.
  • Access Resources for Health and Preventive Care
    The National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors (NAECAD) published a Guide to K-12 Esports containing numerous articles on healthy play that can also help colleges. In conjunction with Microsoft, High School Esports League released a curriculum guide that highlights esports and learning standards, including Health Promotion and Preventive Care. It includes exercises, diet, rest and the harms of excessive game play.
  • Adopt a Code of Healthy Game Play – Enforce It
    Make certain your esports staff adopt and enforce a code of conduct that addresses and sets limits to game play and sets an expectation that athletes report any symptoms to coaches and directors.
  • Implement Technology to Track Healthy Game Play
    New technology solutions such as Healthy Player One help enforce mandatory breaks from game play to reduce repetitive stress injuries and also track any student-reported symptoms. To prevent injuries, the software empowers coaches to limit game time, enforce breaks, provide exercises for players during breaks, and use online “check-ins” to document the appearance of any injury-related symptoms. Documenting symptoms early can reduce repetitive strain and eye-related injuries. Most importantly, the software helps schools proactively demonstrate oversight into their esports programs, reducing their exposure to liability lawsuits.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how many “kills” your students log in a game or what tournament they won. It’s their health and lifelong investment in competitive gaming that can provide a foundation for their future. Taking steps today to address the health and welfare of gamers is not merely a choice for academic officials….it’s our responsibility.

Dr. Jay Prescott is Vice President for Student Affairs at Grand View University in Iowa. Grand View University was one of the first colleges nationwide offering a varsity esports program and hosts annual conferences for esports directors. He’s also the co-founder and executive director for NAECAD (the National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors).

Elliott Levine is Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of Healthy Player ONE, and Chief Academic Officer for STS Education, a national educational technology services firm. Formerly the first Distinguished Technologist in Education in Silicon Valley, Elliott is a past school district official, adjunct professor, columnist, and sought-after keynote speaker in the edtech vertical. He advises institutions and companies privately, and his opinions expressed in this piece are entirely his own.

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