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Mental Health - Why the League of Legends Community Should Care

eggsta626

eggsta626

Mon 10th Apr 2017 - 9:27am

This article touches on something that has been likely been a constant in the League of Legends scene, but perhaps amplified during high stress times like the next few playoff weeks: mental health.

Why should we care about such an issue? Is it even relevant to the League of Legends community?

In the professional scene, there have been a number of players who have commented about how the intense practice regime and schedule of an average pro player affect them. Some players have even cited it as a reason to take a leave of absence or to quit professional play entirely. This is only those who have come out and publicly stated this—for all we know, there may be even more players affected by this issue. Clearly then, for those who play the game at the highest level, mental health is an important factor for both their wellbeing and their play.

What about the average player? Based on age, the average player is in a range with relatively high depression rates. Though there are no official statistics regarding the average age of the League of Legends player, it's safe to assume that the average age probably falls somewhere between the ages of 16-29 [1]. Within this age group, about 10.3 percent of adults between the age of 18-25 experience depression [2] and up to 16 percent of adolescents between the ages of 15-17 [3]. If we pair those statistics with the roughly 100 million plus players that play every month [4], that equates to approximately10-16 million players who may experience depression. This is only an educated guess--in reality, there may be many more. 

Mental health is thus something that affects all members of the community from professional LCS player to the random Bronze Udyr main. Being open and empathetic to these issues allows League of Legends to be a way to combat them. While League can never replace professional help, it can be a place where players can come, enjoy the competitive nature of the game, and have a good time. Of course, it is naïve to assume every player, streamer, viewer, and reader will be as accommodating as we might want. But there is no hurt in trying to make the game as welcoming as possible.

With the LCS playoffs starting soon, professional players must be feeling the increased pressure.

This article tackles only one of many mental health issues—depression. 

According to the National Institute on Mental Health, a subgroup of the U.S. Department of Health and Services, depression is “a common but serious mood disorder" [5]. While there are many forms including persistent depressive disorder, psychotic depression, and bipolar depression, common symptoms include “persistent sad, anxious, or ‘empty’ mood…pessimism…loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies…fatigue…thoughts of death or suicide.”

There are three big misconceptions about depression that needs clarification. The first is that that being sad and being depressed are the same thing. We should be careful in accepting this. Depression is characterized as being “persistent,” or continuing over an extended period of time. Everybody gets sad when something bad or sad happens, and this doesn’t mean you have depression because of it. However, it might be considered depression when these thoughts continue seemingly without end, inhibiting the ability to perform daily tasks.

The second misconception is that it is not actually a physical health issue, but rather a “phase” or being overly emotional. The details aren’t as important as the general idea—that we should understand is largely a biological condition, similar to any other physical illness. Chemical imbalances in the brain as well as faulty, “nerve cell connections, nerve cell growth, and…functioning of nerve circuits have a major impact on depression" [6]

Finally, there is a misconception that our immediate surroundings always correlate with depression. On one hand, our immediate environment can trigger the onset of depression. High stress environments, like the tight schedule of professional players, can certainly bring about symptoms of depression. Importantly on the other hand, improvement of those conditions do not immediately cure depression. Being a wealthy streamer or being a successful competitor do not decrease the likelihood of being depressed. The community should try and move away from comments that suggest that there are legitimate or illegitimate reasons for being depressed.

Now that we know what depression is and is not, we can begin to discuss how the community might respond moving forward.

For one, there should be increased visibility for these issues. This is not to say that no effort is being made. Streamers such as Voyboy have had fundraising streams that raise money for organizations that help deal with these issues. Voyboy’s last stream, for example, raised over $30,000 to help with suicide prevention [7].

 

With his charity stream, Voyboy successfully raised $31,583 for suicide prevention.

Of course, Riot Games themselves are making an effort as well. Riot held the “Impact Challenge” last year which raised money for the Cybersmile Foundation, an anti-cyberbullying nonprofit, and Mental Health America, the nation’s largest nonprofit “addressing the needs of those living with mental illness…and promoting the overall mental health of all Americans" [8].

Seeing events and fundraisers like these more frequently might help address mental health in the community. As the player base continues to grow, so will the number of players that have mental illnesses, and so we should try and make an effort in helping those in need and these types of streams and events are extremely helpful. Of course, raising and donating money to nonprofit organizations is always a boon. But in addition to this money, these events can show that some of the biggest companies and personalities in the industry are aware of issues like depression and are committed to helping respond to them. This also helps players at home not feel alone or ashamed for having such issues.

Suggesting what might be done on the professional level is more difficult for us, as most of us are not involved directly in the competitive scene.

Many teams have already started to tackle this increasingly common issue. Teams have started hiring sports psychologists to help ameliorate some of these issues. Weldon Green, who was formerly a part of Team Solo Mid, is probably the most famous.

But what else can be done? For one, it’s important to stop suggesting that people with these issues just shouldn’t be playing at the competitive level. Comments such as “If you can’t handle the stress, then don’t play competitive League,” or “How can you be depressed when you are making money playing video games,” are inappropriate and insensitive. These types of comments are blaming the player for something that is largely out of their control. In addition, there may be undiscovered talent that is limited only by their fear of the mental stress that might come with playing professionally.

One idea is to have Riot Games, or some part of the LCS, become associated with professional sports psychology organizations. Smaller teams may not have the resources to hire a professional sports psychologist but still have the same pressures and stresses of big name teams. Pairing up with organizations like the Association for Applied Sports Psychology by having sports psychologists available for any player might help improve some of these issues. Alternatively, Riot could require professional teams to have a sports psychologist on the team to ensure the mental wellbeing of the players. 

These are only some suggestions, and they are by no means perfect. Other more qualified people, such as sports psychologists or people more closely involved with the professional players, may have better suggestions. What this article hopes to accomplish is to (re)start discussion about mental health in the League community. Is it being appropriately addressed? Are the professional players treated well enough with regard to this issue? How can the community be more accommodating towards mental health issues?

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