Since it’s creation in the early 60’s, video games have been seen as a common hobby for both kids and adults alike. Often branded as a hobby for “nerds” or nonathletic individuals, video games have grown into something more than a standard at home activity.
Competitive gaming (Esports) once seen as an underground community, has grown to a now multi million dollar industry and even has articles in ESPN branding video games as a now, legitimate sport. Sponsors such as Redbull, Gatorade, and even the phone company HTC now offer contracts to competitive gamers making this once childhood fantasy, a reality. As a competitive gamer myself I’m happy that Esports has grown to such heights. Even I know however, these companies won’t just sponsor anyone.
I follow and play a game know as Super Smash Brothers Melee. Since it’s existence in 2001, this game’s competitive community is now bigger than ever. With it’s fast paced movement and style, people always ask the question. “How can a player move that quickly?” When tested, top professionals such as Adam “Armada” Lindgren and Aziz “Hax$” Al-Yami can average up to 900 inputs per minute. What may look like common “button mashing” to the average viewer are actually precisely timed inputs to make the players character move so quickly and efficiently. Inputs are the amount of times a player taps a button to cause an action in the game. With each match lasting around three to four minutes and played in sets of 3 and 5, one can imagine the toll it can take on ones hands by moving so quickly. I mentioned earlier how the game has been played for over 15 years with new and old players still going strong. As for the older players however, the toll of using such quick reflexes for years, is finally catching up to them.
Hax$ first got onto the world’s radar in 2008 by placing 9th at his first major tournament. At just 14 years old, he proved to be a rising star placing within the top 8 at almost every tournament (Participants ranging from 300-1,000+). In January 2015 seven years after making his debut he was forced to take his first hiatus from the game due to a nagging hand injury. An injury that would later develop into Carpal Tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome causes numbness, tingling, and other problems in your hands due to pressure within the nerves of your wrists. The name strives from the area that your tendons run through and connect to your wrists. There are many causes for it as it has links to arthritis, diabetes, and even pregnancy. Unfortunately for Hax$ he developed carpal tunnel due to the excessive and repetitive inputs from his fingers causing his carpal tunnel to swell up and make the tunnel tighter. Seeing it as just a nagging hand pain, Hax$ took a hiatus from the game to ice and rest his hands. Three months later he returned to the scene for no more than a handful of tournaments before he found the pain coming back. Concerned about the constant pain, Hax was then diagnosed with Carpal tunnel syndrome and spent over half a year icing his wrists, not touching the game at all, and even wearing a splint to help heal his tendons before they got worse and his nerves would develop long term damage. Finally after months of treatment Hax$ returned in April and got 3rd at his first National since his diagnosis proving he could still hang with the best. This also however may mark the end of the road for Hax$ as he announced that his hands were in so much pain during the tournament he has no choice but to get surgery. It was a success but we all question when and if he may return to full time competition again.
Hax$ isn’t the only one concerned with retirement from their profession. Players all around the Esports community have expressed concern about their own hand pains and there are even talks of having on sight doctors at tournaments. Much like the NFL’s concerns with concussion/brain damage from excessive head trauma, Esports competitors although just playing a game, are at more health risk than one might think. I fear the day I develop such injuries, but when and if I do, I’ll remember the story of Aziz “Hax$” Al-Yami and the precautions I shall take.
It’s always good whether you’re a gamer or not, to ice, stretch, and flex your tendons throughout the day. A simple exercise you can do to strengthen your hand is to wrap a rubber band around your finger tips and stretch each finger 5-10 times. Take breaks often, and take time to flex and extend your wrists. Make sure your hands stay in a neutral position when typing on a computer, also keep your hands fresh and loose and this will definitely be better for you in the long run. So remember, video games are fun for everyone, just remember to give your hands a break, they deserve it more than you know.