After a series of retirements and breaks in esports from its highest-achievers due to stress and burnout, we thought it would be valuable to have a chat with someone on the inside of health and wellbeing in esports – Ryan Scollan.
Ryan is the co-founder and CEO of Gscience, one of the industry’s leading health and wellness practitioners that focuses on the sports science aspect of competitive gaming. In our chat, we spoke about all things related to health and wellness in esports, the company’s goals, and everything in between.
Esports Insider: In September 2019, Gscience became the inaugural TheClutch winner. Can you give us some insight into what you’ve been doing since then?
Ryan Scollan: I think we were very early on at that stage when we won The Clutch, and winning was a huge bit of validation for our mission and what we are trying to achieve in the industry. It was great to have the backing of ESI and a lot of the other industry figures that were there, and we got lots of good feedback after winning that.
Over the last twelve months we have been understanding the problem with health and wellness in esports, performing coaching, and producing educational content to try to help people become more self-aware of the problems in the industry, and help players realise the importance of taking care of their health and wellbeing. We’ve been spending a lot of time trying to build a reputation in the scene, and talking about these issues to shed a light on some of the problems in the industry so that we can try and work together to solve them.
We have also reached out to a lot more universities to try and start looking at academic research into the health, wellness and performance of esports athletes. Since winning The Clutch we have added a few more performance coaches and are currently building the team out. We are putting all the insights from our research into our analysis product Optimal, because before we built anything, we wanted to make sure we were going to have something valued that was actually going to make a difference and solve these problems.
We took our time, didn’t rush into it and now we have data on multiple athletes – something along the lines of 45 or 50 different data sets – from their health and in-game performance. That data gives us some serious validation and we now have a better understanding on a scientific level the impact of training for 8-12 hours a day on someone’s health and wellness and how we create better training protocols. I think what has been really positive as well is that we now have a proven methodology since working with teams such as NSG who were ranked last in the UKEL before going on to win, and even GamersOrigin who totally outperformed expectations in EU Masters.
The game is on and there are loads and loads of people trying to get into the space now. We understand where the real niche is and so we’re very confident we can do it, but we need some swag and some investment. That’s another thing as well, over the last year I have been building the investor pipeline so we can try and go to market to raise a round in the near future.
ESI: Have esports organisations been open to the idea of analysing the sports science behind esports or have you met much resistance there?
RS: It really depends on what level you’re looking at and every team is totally individual. You have some trailblazers in the industry that are open-minded to sports science such as the likes of Astralis, Complexity Gaming, Excel Esports, and Rogue, but across the board, I still feel like there is a massive lack of understanding of what esports performance coaching actually is.
Here at Gscience we often talk about barriers to change, and when we go to work with a team a lot of the time it comes down to one or two things.
First, people often have a preconceived idea of what esports performance coaching is, and they sometimes think it’s in-game coaching whereas we obviously take care of the out-of-game factors. Secondly, people we talk to often question where our proof or evidence is. On a couple of occasions, we have spoken with bigger teams and they claim we don’t have any proof despite our first-class honours from top universities for sports science and our credentials in that world. We are sure these methodologies work, but we have had to go away over the last year and work on our case studies to knock down that barrier.
I also think that organisation’s priorities aren’t always right at the moment as many focus on content and sponsorships – which I recognise are crucial for their survival – but don’t put any money into health and wellness, so it’s often hard for us to even charge for a service. There are still challenges but things are beginning to change in the industry, we’re starting to see more and more people invest in health and wellness, and we’re starting to see more and more top players burning out. My personal opinion is that the situation will get worse as the competition gets tighter unless appropriate support systems like Gscience or other practitioners are in place.
ESI: Now that we’re seeing the likes of Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander and Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao taking breaks or retiring from esports completely due to stress and burnout-related issues, do you think that this could be a pivotal moment where lots of organisations now pay more attention?
RS: 100 percent! When you have guys who are playing at the top level – let’s even take Astralis for example – they were one of the earliest teams to adopt wellness and take a healthier approach to the game, and you have seen the success they have had. What worries me though is that even with the best team in the world and all the support, their players are still burning out and you have got to ask yourself, why?
Jamie, Gscience’s co-founder, and I have spent a lot of time in the industry and we have spent a lot of time reading academic papers, looking into different training methodologies and observing the industry. The big thing we have noticed is that all these teams have their sports science support, but they don’t have the data over a longitudinal period of time for an athlete. These staff can help players on a daily basis and help with interventions, but if you are not collecting data on a long-term period you are unable to see the trends and patterns that will lead to things like burnout or injury. So, by collecting data over a longitudinal period, you can then look for insights and patterns which means you can take preventative action before the likes of burnout or injury occur and that’s where we come in.
No one fully understands what the impact of playing 8-12 hours a day has on an esports athlete, nor does anyone understand how other lifestyle factors and stresses influence in-game performance so there are just too many unknowns in the industry right now. We certainly don’t know all the answers as well and that’s why we’re still speaking with many teams and doing the academic research.
The current situation is not sustainable and we want to focus on building healthy habits in gamers early on, focus on creating healthy gaming strategies to help improve player longevity and make players healthier, happier and more successful. We need the collaboration of the players, the teams, publishers and tournament organisers, but at the moment when we go to the bigger teams, some want us to pay them money to access their team for our brand. We’re here to solve their problem for them, not to get our brand exposure – that is what I’m in the game for, I’m in the game to make real change.
ESI: Most of your services appear to be geared towards individuals and teams. Has Gscience considered working with tournament organisers to provide services or treatments for players on the day of an event?
RS: That is currently in discussion now. I obviously can’t say which specific organisers because we’re chatting with two at the minute – but you’re totally right. That is the avenue we want to go down because, even if you look at the event minimum standards for players, a lot of the time they’re inadequate to be totally honest. In order to make sure the players are having a safe, healthy and enjoyable experience I think they need more health and wellness support, so that is something we’re looking into at the minute and having conversations with the biggest tournament organisers.
ESI: Gscience is one of a few esports businesses based in Northern Ireland. Can you tell us a bit more about your experience operating out of Belfast and being slightly disconnected from the rest of the UK?
RS: It has definitely been a challenge. I love Belfast so much and there is an amazing tech scene here, but it would be nice to walk out of my front door and work for a Cloud9, TSM, an Excel Esports, or a Fnatic if you know what I mean? It definitely has its challenges, but if you think about it, esports itself is a global industry and esports itself started online, so a lot of the challenges we have in terms of geography can be overcome by online services and support.
I think it has been a challenge from an investment standpoint as well because people in Northern Ireland are a bit more risk-averse and, usually, the cheque sizes that are written in Northern Ireland aren’t as big as say North America or even London. That said, if you look at the cost of living here it’s a lot cheaper and also it’s where I am from. I would say that it has probably been essential for me to be here because I did an accelerator and I have a great mentor network here but, in terms of esports specifically, it has been a challenge to be totally honest – I think if we were based elsewhere we would probably be a lot further ahead than we are now.