Esports Takes To The Gym!


by | Feb 25, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

It wasn’t too long ago that the gamer stereotype was someone who disliked physical activity and spent most of their time as a recluse in their local basement (in fact, this assumption is still prevalent, even today). While this was a common insult before, it hardly applies in today’s gaming scene – especially in esports. Newcomers to competitive gaming may be surprised to find that the physical state of these players betray their expectations! The modern professional esports scene is filled with anything but these stereotypes, as players and their teams now take their physical fitness more seriously than ever.

Recently, big-name esports team organizations (e.g. Team SoloMid, Dallas Fuel, Cloud9, Los Angeles Gladiators, Fnatic…) are regarding their players’ physical health as a critical component of their play. Much as one would expect a professional, ‘real’ sports team to, these organizations highly encourage their players to work out and focus on their nutrition – for some, it is even mandatory as part of their training as a player. Often, the managers for these teams will even hire personal trainers and cooks to cater towards daily exercise and a healthier diet.

UCI Esports scholarship teams are no exception to the belief that physical health is a key part of player success, both in and out of the game. In fact, the scholarship players have a personal trainer available to them, Haylesh Patel. Patel works for both the League of Legends and Overwatch teams as their Exercise Physiologist – crafting health and wellness programs that are tailor-made experiences for each individual player. These programs take into consideration a player’s goals, whether it be in the physical or mental realm.

A lack of physical activity on stage makes a clear divide between pro esports players and athletes. However, fitness and health remain key to consistent performance and optimal gameplay. Good health is vital to competitive games of all types – whether it’s a MOBA, FPS, or FG. These games are fueled by split-second reflexes and a deep knowledge of game strategy. A player’s mind is the key to their success and one of the best ways to amp concentration is to embrace a healthy lifestyle.

A number of pro players have gone through drastic physical transformations after being recruited under these teams – losing weight and gaining muscle mass. It is remarkable how much positive attention some esports teams have gotten in terms of keeping their players fit, whether it be for aesthetic appreciation or the sheer dedication the players put into their exercise. A fine example of such would be Gilbert “Xplosive” Rojo from OpTic Gaming. In 2017, he posted two photos of himself – one at the beginning of the year and one at the end. The dramatic loss of weight garnered much attention, with many fans expressing how inspiring his fitness journey was.

Xplosive is one of many pro players with a weight loss transformation to behold. Recently, pro players have become active on social media – promoting fitness with videos at the gym, progress photos, and updates on their personal fitness goals. Many fans of these players often feel inspired by the dedication to the gym life and strive to create and work towards their own goals.

It’s amazing to see how the esports scene has revolutionized itself over the years, changing the stigma and bringing light to fitness and health in a young, but rapidly growing industry. In future articles, I will provide readers with an in-depth look at the UCI Esports fitness program, featuring interviews with Haylesh Patel himself, as well as an inside scoop on the program’s function from players Brenden “tildae” Alvarez (not pictured) and Lyubomir “BloodWater” Spasov (pictured above in the featured image to the very right)!

Why Gamers Should Read Black Authors


by | Sep 24, 2020, 7:30AM PDT

Years from now when people ask “where were you in 2020?” I will respond, “online, and I hated every second of it.”

2020 was a year filled with strife and changes, as many of the country’s issues were placed under the microscope of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were made privy to the fragility of our healthcare system, made to grapple with the mistreatment of our workers, and we saw just how little our government was ready to deal with the unseen threat of a virus. As buildings and campuses became unsafe for congregations, schools and businesses quickly transitioned from physical interaction to remote operations, trading desks for couches, and cubicles for bedrooms. As an academic I soon saw myself writing grants, hosting calls, and meeting with colleagues all through the screen of my computer. Just like that my and many other lives became mediated through digital platforms.

But then came May and the US caught fire as major cities around America erupted in protest after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on the neck of George Perry Floyd Jr. for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, killing him on camera. The act was such a clear show of police misconduct and brutality that not only did protest emerge in Minneapolis but in cities like Los Angeles and New York. People across America took to the streets to protest what was a vile and malicious act of policing and unfortunately (and ironically) were subsequently met with the very force they went out there to speak against. Agitations flared, peaceful protest turned into physical confrontation, and long-ignored anger and sorrow became the fuel for the flames which burned signs, buildings, and coincidentally an NYPD van.

Yet, still, for many, the most heated moments of the protest were not experienced in person but rather were witnessed second hand through their television or through social media online. As the protest raged on, Twitter threads became battlegrounds, YouTube videos spun narratives, and the internet yet again became the hotbed for information and dialogue around the events many were experiencing. With #BlackLivesMatter trending yet again in response to the death of ANOTHER Black person at the hands of the police, the online blurred yet again with the physical. So much so, that social media became the key place where I, a Black man, kept up with the news, contacted friends and family who were near protest areas, and was made to relive the trauma of watching Floyd lose his life again and again as it was shared on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter both as both a form of awareness and as jokes from those craven enough to mock a man posthumously. And, while I donated to BLM initiatives, honked my horn in-vehicle protest, and showed up physically where I could, I—like so many—experienced the brunt of this protest online.

So, it should not come as a surprise when I say that it was not in person or even on Twitter where I got into my harshest debates, but instead, it was within video games like Overwatch and League of Legends where I found the most abuse. In fact, it was gaming spaces like these that became the hardest to occupy during the time of the protest. In an attempt to find some semblance of peace while the world burned, I decided to turn on Overwatch (a hero first-person shooter from the company Blizzard) to try to take the edge off. After some time, I was eventually placed with 11 other players and dropped into a starting zone to wait. However, instead of the typical banter of roles and positions, I was met with a “hello my fellow African Americans, let’s go burn and loot some stores because BLACK LIVES MATTER!” from one of my teammates. Reminded that video games seldom work as escapism for black people, I contemplated whether to let the comment go or to make a scene. I chose the latter.

I responded with “do you think that’s funny?” which prompted him to say “of course! Because they should not be out there at all, because ALL LIVES MATTER!” and quickly an argument ensued. Shouting in a way I am not all too proud of, I went back and forth with the player, I shouted the names of those killed—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin—only to have him respond with conspiracies like the FBI started BLM and comments like “slavery didn’t matter.” It didn’t take long for our remaining teammates to mute us with one going as far as to exclaim, “I don’t play this for politics.” In hindsight I think I would have been better off ignoring the troll—I must admit I was perturbed, livid in fact. Livid that a player used the game as his platform for racism and livid at the apathy of the other players viewing the deaths of Black men and women as simple politics. While the game’s very company (Blizzard) was tweeting in support of Black Lives, its players continued to disparage them. With each engagement I grew colder and angrier, each bout of racism striking deeper than the last until eventually, I arrived at simply telling people to shut the… well you can finish the rest.

Unfortunately, what I experienced is nothing new, as scholars such as Kishonna Gray, Andre Brock, Anna Everett, Samantha Blackmon, TreaAndrea Russworm, and many others have written extensively on the experiences of Black players similar to my own. However, as more and more games become spaces for online interaction, I and many others are yet again forced to acknowledge that games and the many who play them are not always aware of the struggles non-white gamers may go through. But, in writing this piece and sharing my experience I do not want this to come off as an accusation of gamers and gaming practices (there are other avenues for such), but instead as an opportunity to engage with perspectives that have been ignored or overlooked.

As many of us face yet another crisis in our communities, where Black life is threatened for simply existing (under the blanket of COVID no less), it is important to remember that games, as peripheral as they may seem, work as powerful sites of cultural creation and expression. I could not escape my pain through games because the same rhetoric, behavior, and trauma that took place in the physical informed and shaped the virtual. That is why this piece is less of an accusation and simply a call to action.

In a time where Black players face constant racial abuse both inside and outside of games, I propose that gamers engage with the history of this country and the writings of Black scholars, activists, and people. In wanting to see a healthier gaming community, I have curated a list of books, short readings, and articles to read in hopes that gamers and the gaming community at large will pick up the call and accept this challenge. While by no means extensive, the list provided will offer introductory reading to familiarize oneself with Black history in the US and the Black experience in areas such as school, healthcare, and most apropos, online spaces. While seemingly unrelated, there is much to be gained by engaging with past and current writers, and only when we have an informed gaming population can we hope to see change.


Akil Fletcher grew up in New York where he received a B.A in Anthropology from the City College of New York. Currently, he is a Ph.D student in the anthropology department at the University of California Irvine, where he researches the navigation of Black video game players online. Funded by the National Science Foundation, Akil researches how Black players form and manage communities in spaces that are often hostile to Black participants.

If you would like to join in on discussing any of the readings from Akil Fletcher’s list, you are welcome to the UCI Esports Discord server‘s #book-club channel.