A new partnership between the University of Akron’s video gaming team and Cleveland Clinic Sports Health will provide medical professionals with research data while students receive specialized health care.

Cleveland Clinic Sports Health will be the exclusive medical provider of Akron Esports, the new varsity sport which started last fall. The team has 40 varsity video gamers who participate in tournaments, as well as 800 participants in its club programs and students who also participate in recreational leagues on campus, said Micheal Fay Jr., the head coach and director of Esports at UA.

The university is the first public university in northern Ohio and one of the first Division I universities in the country to create a comprehensive varsity esports program, joining an estimated 70 collegiate esports programs around the country adding the sport in recent years.

“By teaming up with the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health, UA’s esports program has taken one of the most significant steps in the collegiate esports space toward keeping our players healthy, safe and positioned to stay on the forefront of research and instructional opportunities in this emerging field,” Fay said.

School officials said while electronic video gaming may not have the physical toll on gamers that professional football or basketball players receive on the field or court, the medical industry is taking a keen interest in keeping collegiate esports gamers physically and mentally healthy.

As part of the collaboration, the esports athletes — who already had access to sports trainers and Cleveland Clinic’s doctors — will have direct access to physicians and experts who understand gaming, said Dr. Dominic King, a sports medicine physician and director of the Esports Medicine Program at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health. The UA grad will serve as the medical consultant for Akron Esports.

King and his team will work with the program to administer baseline neurocognitive and gaming ergonomic evaluations as well as have discussions relating to nutrition, fitness, training and psychology.

The data will be used to develop research in the field, which is still very new, King said.

“Right now, we know almost nothing from an epidemiologic standpoint,” he said. Researchers want to know “how often they train, what type of injuries they have and how to prevent these injuries.”

King said he advises esports athletes as well as recreational gamers at home to take a break at least once an hour and avoid sitting hunched over with eyes straining at the computer.

Having specialized care and research will help UA's competitors in the niche sport to stay healthy "and give us the competitive edge,” Fay said.

Cleveland Clinic Certified athletic trainer Jason Cruickshank said the team will look not only at the prevention and care of physical injuries, but also at how to train the students’ brains to react quicker in the video games.

UA junior Jadon Brooks of Akron said he noticed his wrist hurting after he started playing a new video game for the esports team and was repetitively completing a new motion for the game.

“I talked to my coach about it, put on a brace and took a break for about a day or two and it went away,” he said, as he and a few of his teammates were playing video games during a press event Tuesday.

Brooks said he sees the benefit to the partnership and research.

“Just like any other sport, I’m worried about injury and overuse and the long term effects. So the more information I have and more prepared I am, it’s better for me and I’m excited for the collaboration,” Brooks said.

 

 

Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/topics/linfisher