Much like sports nutrition, a market for supplements, energy drinks and meal replacements has emerged that claim to fuel mental speed, cognition and enhance focus and memory.
The Esports industry is worth €244m ($298m) in Europe, according to games and interactive media research firm SportsData - the revenues of which contribute to almost €1.6m ($2m) in individual prize money for the top players.
With stakes this high participants have looked to the lifestyle of a professional sports athlete, paying attention to dietary, nutritional and supplementary needs in order to hit peak mental condition at the right time.
With advertisers and brands like The Kraft Group (owner of New England Patriots) and Red Bull making serious financial commitments, are supplement and nutrition firms following suit and capitalising on the sector’s growth prospects?
The Ingredients Show
Speaking at the Ingredients Show in Birmingham, Andrew Lovatt from the German-based Active Nutrition International believed a ‘wait and see’ approach was wise as the Esports sector and its audience was maturing.
“At this moment in time, it’s not on our radar,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is capitalise on growth in the UK in terms of protein and protein-based products such as bars, ready-to-drinks and powders.”
“Regarding the Egamers, it will come later down the line as education filters through the layers or sectors of the industry.”
Lauren Calvert, who works for No Carbs Company (NOCCO), a Swedish based health- and exercise enterprise specialising in functional beverages, echoed his thoughts adding that Esports “had probably been thought about,” at her firm.
Esport enthusiasts will undoubtedly point to the recent work of Professor Ingo Froböse as validation of the physical and mental toll Egamers go through during training and competition.
In a study Froböse, a professor at the German Sport University in Cologne, found that heart rate peaked up to 160 bpm with cortisol levels indicated a small increase in stress hormones throughout the games, similar to those of rally car drivers.
“What isn't happening is cycling the stress, in other words, building in breaks after periods of strain so that the athlete can recover and overcome fatigue during competition," Froböse said. "Another factor is getting the right nutrition."
Esports acceptance not needed
But for Aleksandrs Zavoloks, CEO of Runtime, an Esports nutrition company described recently completing a seven-figure financing round as “a justification of serious partners supporting our vision”, as ingredients firm Döhler and Food Angels Germany added their names to the investment.
He added that he did not necessarily believe that Esports needed any sort of acceptance from traditional companies or athletes to thrive.
“Fixing nutrition for Esports and gaming has been a long dream of mine. However, it took a while before Esports has received enough recognition and became mainstream to actually build a company with the pure focus on the market.
“I do not believe that traditional supplement companies can develop authentic products,” he added. “The authenticity of the brand is one of the reasons why they trust Runtime and use our products.”
Runtime, a Berlin-based company are amongst the first to make available meal replacements, energy drinks and high protein bars specifically designed to aid in endurance and concentration needed for long gaming or training sessions.
Other firms active in the Esports sector include Natural Products a wholly owned subsidiary of LTS Nutraceuticals.
Last year, they inked a deal with NutriData of California to develop a high-energy supplement specific for gamers of the Esports sector.
Other industry players
Along with Runtime, Neubria are another Europe-based firm specialising in brain health. The UK-based company, headed up by managing director Jonny Kennedy believes current ‘nutritional’ products marketed to gamers are generally caffeine-laden energy drinks that are not particularly healthy.
“We wanted to create a supplement that not only contained a selection of valuable vitamins, but also specific ingredients to support the brain,” he said.
“We’ve also included lutein and zeaxanthin to support the eyes. Essentially, Zone is a regular-use supplement to support a healthy gaming lifestyle as opposed to a quick single-use ‘caffeine-fix’.”
For Zavoloks, an ex-professional Esport athlete and cyclist, his approach involved creating a series of product categories each with their own purpose.
“Next Level Meal is a complete and balanced meal, keeping hunger at bay for 3-5 hours (depending on metabolism).
“The functional ingredients—BCAAs, MCT-Oil, Collagen, Vitamins and Minerals— help performance.
“Performance Drink also uses Isomaltulose, unlike typical energy drinks, maintaining stable blood sugar levels, but also helping with concentration with the help of caffeine/green tea extract combo alongside the vitamins.
Education is key
As the industry grows and the pressure become ever greater, there is concern that gamers will look to supplements as a quick fix rather than a long-term regimen – something Zavoloks and Runtime are eager to address.
“If we look at Esports (in general), top teams in every game do have professionals working with them. The more Esports grows into a bigger industry with more money to be made, the more widespread these professionals will be because nutrition is essential to achieve great results.
“If you look at the amateur scene in every sport – people are just following trends, going for the quick fix, as you mentioned it, and not having a clue. This is happening in every sport.
“Part of our mission is to educate our consumers about nutrition, the DOs and DONTs and so on. We treat this very seriously and believe there is much work to be done.”
Kennedy, himself an ex-professional rugby player, also stressed the need for education, adding, “Everything starts from the top”.
“With the leading Esports teams paying more attention to overall health, we hope that message will filter down over time to the more casual gamers.
“Supplementation is only a small piece of a much bigger puzzle which is why we’re so keen to educate and inspire the gaming community to not only pay attention to their nutrition, but also their fitness regimes, sleep hygiene and mental health.”