Practice and rest are no longer enough. If you are trying to improve your test scores, your concentration at work, or your performance in a game (live or in person), now there are medications that will improve your cognitive abilities.

Or pretend, anyway.

Drugs improving the performance of a turquoise bottle

While the jury is still out on exactly how they can actually improve your performance, many esports, poker players, and other cognitively demanding players are doing their own hands-on research with these types of “smart” drugs.

And for now at least, most of them are free to experiment without repercussions.

What is Ritalin and how it can help with gambling

Methylphenidate, better known as Ritalin, is a psychostimulant commonly prescribed for people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

As well as improving attention and avoiding fatigue, it’s also a favorite of college students looking to prepare for tests, adults who need to stay focused on boring assignments, and, allegedly, gamers looking to prepare for tests. improve their cognitive abilities.

A 10 mg box of ritalin tablets
Image Credit: childrenshospital.org

A recent study compared the effects of Ritalin, modafinil, a medicine to stay awake, and caffeine on the abilities of 40 tournament-ranked chess players.

Over the course of a month, each player played 80 games against a computer after receiving one of these three substances or a placebo. Those who took only the placebo won 51% of their games, while those who took Ritalin won 54.1% of the time, less than 1% behind the other two substances.

In chess, that ~ 3% difference can be a tournament ranking difference of around 1,500.

However, research found a limitation in Ritalin use: Games that encountered time limit issues were more likely to be lost by players dosed with Ritalin, compared to those that did not use any. substance. This suggests that the drug was not helpful in situations where time management was critical.

A list of prohibited substances for Olympic sports
Image Credit: canadianmmalawblog.com

Other research further validates that Ritalin, modafinil and similar drugs may affect cognitive performance, as can the placement of these drugs on the WADA’s Prohibited List. This is a list of substances banned and tested in Olympic sports (and others that use a WADA-based doping control program).

So it’s not hard to imagine why and how Ritalin use would be common in cognitively demanding activities like esports and poker, and some high profile participants even blatantly admitted this. .

Prevalence in esports and poker

In 2014, an industry insider made waves when he wrote that doping using drugs like Ritalin, Piracetam and Propranolol was commonplace in the sport.

Less than a year later, Counter-Strike: GO pro Kory “SEMPHIS” Friesen admitted in an interview that he and his teammates were all about adderall in a $ 250,000 tournament.

An ESPN Outside the lines report made similar claims on the Halo competition circuit.

Esports player who claimed to have used adderall in a tournament
Image Credit: gameranx.com

Friesen’s comments sparked a partnership between the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) and the Electronic Sports League (ESL) to begin testing player saliva in the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, League of Legends tournaments. and StarCraft 2.

After 200 tests over approximately 18 months, no positive results were returned, which led Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) Commissioner of Integrity Ian Smith to comment that doping in high esports level is probably not as widespread as it seems. .

“I have no evidence of abuse in the high end of professional esports,” says Smith. “It is possible that people are trying to abuse [substances like Ritalin] in the middle and lower levels of esports, but that’s pure speculation.

A photo of Phil Hellmuth, one of the most decorated poker players
Image Credit: calvinayre.com

In poker, the evidence for the use of Ritalin (and similar drugs) is also anecdotal.

Poker pro Paul Phillips attributes much of its success (a World Poker Tour title and over $ 2.3 million in prize money) to drug use.

Phil Hellmuth, legendary member and member of the Poker Hall of Fame, was also quoted saying that many successful poker players take “brain boosting” drugs (or even more intense drugs).

Regulations and testing

While ESL quickly adopted ESIC Anti-Doping Code (largely based on AMA), none of the other major esports organizations have adopted it, or they have adopted it but have not implemented an actual testing program due to the cost.

According to Smith, “The rules are already good, we just need more eSports tournament organizers and editors to embrace them and start doing doping control testing at events.”

However, one limitation with testing in competitions is just that: a player knows when he might be tested next. This allows them to continue using Ritalin and similar substances (which metabolize in the body much faster than, say, steroids) between tournaments, which means the ability to practice longer and more intensely than someone else. who is not taking the drug.

In contrast, Olympic-level athletes are subject to out-of-competition testing at home, at school or at work, 365 days a year.

A photo of doping control personnel at a live sporting event
Image Credit: vinogradovcoach.blogspot.jp

For those prescribed drugs like Adderall, players can get what’s called a Therapeutic Use Clearance (TUE).

It’s basically a request from an athlete and his doctor to the testing organization that says “Hey, this player needs this drug to function normally and he’s not taking it to get some sort of unfair advantage “.

If approved, the TUE is recorded in the athlete’s file and he is not tested for this substance like other players.

For those who get busted and do not have a TUE, possible sanctions according to the ESL rulebook include penalty points, team disqualification and player ban for primary offenders.

Repeat offenders can be subject to a lifetime player ban and fines of up to 100% of the event’s cash prize.

In poker, a game that practically originated in alcohol-soaked bar-backrooms, there has been no real movement to control the drug use of its players.

In online gaming, the challenges are obvious. And just like the challenges esports face in trying to get their many major leagues to adhere to the same testing standards, bringing the many circuits of poker together and agreeing on the best policies and practices would be a daunting task.

Looking forward to

ESports is expected to be included as a demonstration sport at the 2018 Asian Games, and then as a medal event in iteration 2022. All athletes at these games will undergo drug testing and unless another major esports tournament beats them, this will be the first event with drug testing based. on AMA.

It could also be the first instance where esports players are subjected to out-of-competition drug testing in the days, weeks or months leading up to competition.

Poker, at least for now, doesn’t seem to need or want to be on display at international multisport events.

However, if the day drug use becomes so prevalent that people start to question the legitimacy of the abilities of the best poker players, the WSOP may want to consider hiring an anti-doping organization to test its stars (a much like the UFC did with USADA).

If either sport is to legitimize itself and ultimately achieve a place in the holy grail of competition, it is better to start taking testing seriously: in order for a sport to be admitted to the Olympics, one of the requirements is doping control.

But for now, the majority of the tests carried out in poker and esports are only those of the patience of its fans and sponsors.



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