Co-founder and CEO Ryan Scollan talks us through the goal for his start-up, which uses sports science to help esports players and teams up their game.
Esports is an incredible industry but, like all sports industries, it has its problems.
Follow the biggest esports news for long enough and you’ll soon learn of players like League of Legends pro Jian Zihao – best known as ‘Uzi’ – who retired at 23 after years of arm and shoulder injuries, as well as chronic diseases. Or professional Counter-Strike player Lukas ‘Gla1ve’ Rossander, who stepped down from his team Astralis due to ongoing stress and burnout.
According to Ryan Scollan, this is just the tip of the iceberg: “If you speak to more players, more organisations, you’ll understand a lot of people are struggling with their physical and mental health. A lot of people think that being an esports athlete is all sunshine and rainbows. You’ve got all these young people seeing their favourite personalities, streamers and YouTubers being all chipper and winning millions of dollars, and they think it’s all great. But there is a darker side to esports.”
The harsh reality Scollan describes is one of eight-to-twelve-hour daily training routines. And if pro players aren’t working towards competitions, they’re fulfilling other requirements for their sponsors like livestreaming and engaging with their followers.
“These guys and girls don’t get a break from the digital world, and I think in today’s society so many people are adversely affected in a negative way because they’re hooked into this digital world 24/7,” he says. “It’s a bit like a battery: if you don’t recharge, eventually you burn out.
“And it doesn’t matter what the game is, you’re probably training more than what a traditional sports athlete would do. So when you look at the fact that the average active career of these players is only three years, you’ve got to ask yourself the question of why these sedentary athletes are having shorter careers than someone who’s on a rugby field playing a high contact sport. As a sports scientist, I was driven to get to the root of that.”
Scollan’s solution – or rather his path to a solution – is GScience, an esports performance company providing teams and players with custom, high-performance coaching and an analytics platform to help them optimise both their health and their in-game performance.
The venture started a little under two years ago after Scollan graduated with a first-class degree in sports science and wanted to go into business for himself. He spent weeks trying to work out how to combine his love for coaching people and helping them improve their wellbeing with an industry that would be in need of such a service. Being an avid gamer, it wasn’t until a friendly game of Call of Duty until he realised the potential in esports.
Scollan reached out to the top people in the industry but only Chester King, CEO of the British Esports Association, responded, helping him to make the crucial connections that would get GScience up and running.
The company offers performance audits for either teams or individuals, looking at everything from how much sleep they’re getting, what skills training programs they use, what their high-performance environment looks like – even their chosen chair position.
Based upon this data, and other evidence-based studies, the team prescribes a custom program to help balance four key areas: exercise and recover, psychological skills training, nutrition and sleep. The theories are based on everything Scollan learned about sports science, which – while historically only applied to traditional sports – is “very applicable” to esports as well.
“Although esports athletes aren’t traditional athletes in that they don’t have the same physiological requirements -- they don’t have to sprint for under ten seconds or jump a certain height vertically -- I like to class them as separate athletes in themselves,” Scollan explains. “Some people don’t even class esports athletes as athletes, which I think is a joke. They’re the next generation of athlete, and the next frontier of science is going to be unlocking the brain. I see esports athletes as cognitive athletes.”
Scollan describes the current esports ecosystem as a “high-challenge environment with very low level support.” While the lack of academic research is unsurprising given how comparatively new the field is, it’s still concerning to see a lack of support for people who go from playing in their bedrooms one year to playing on a main stage in front of hundreds or thousands, perhaps millions, of people by the next.
“These are people who are not used to that pressure, who are crumbling and... there’s a lack of coping mechanisms,” says Scollan. “And esports in itself, the way teams operate, they don’t put enough emphasis on players’ health and wellbeing – they’re more focused on competitions, sponsorships and other things that drive the bottom line, instead of focusing on their “assets,” the human beings that are playing for them.”
GScience believes it can help. Even without its performance audits and upcoming analytics platform, the company wants to help shift the mindset in esports and raise awareness of how important it is for teams to look after their players. To that end, Scollan has the following advice.
“What I always recommend is -- and this applies to looking at optimal performance for anything, whether it’s esports, business, a relationship or whatever -- start with why,” he says. “When you really understand what’s the reason behind why you’re doing this endeavour, that will be your core motivation to get you to your end goal. Strip everything back and start with why.
“Once you’ve figured out what that why is, the next step is to set your goals. What do you want to achieve? Is it to become a championship-winning team? Do you want to be the CEO of a company? Whatever it is, set the goal so you can look at what the outcome is, what are the obstacles, and how you’re going to plan to overcome them? Once you’ve done that, set small milestones to keep you motivated along the way. Break down that big goal into smaller individual steps, and what you’ll find is as you start working towards that goal and knocking down the obstacles, it keeps building momentum, it keeps you motivated and focused.”
It’s also worth making sure you’re progressing towards your goal a little every day, Scollan continues, and “celebrating the small wins as you go” can further boost your motivation. And always, throughout your journey, keep in mind your general health and well-being.
“You can’t burn the candle at both ends,” warns Scollan. “Look at mindfulness and meditation for your mental health. Look at disconnecting and having technology detoxes – I went up to Scotland and had a tech-free week, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. Get out of that highly overstimulated world. Are you getting enough steps in a day, are you moving your body? A lot of esports athletes aren’t. One of the LCS players had a collapsed lung. That will partly be the pressure, but being sedentary does not help. Get outdoors, get fresh air and sunlight.
“And look at who you’ve got supporting you, because it’s not always going to be sunshine and rainbows. There are going to be hard times, and you’ll need people who are going to keep you motivated and inspired.
“There’s no magic pill, there’s no quick fix. Real change, important change takes time. It’s about buying into the process, setting the goals, being focused and working hard.”
GScience is approaching its third year in business, and Scollan reports that every team it has helped so far has gone on to win a championship in their chosen field. And, just as the teams that GScience has coached, the esports startup has received support at crucial steps of its own journey.
Back in December 2018, Scollan applied for the IgniteNI accelerator, a six-month program which targeted early-stage tech companies in his home nation of Northern Ireland. His application was successful, and during this time, he met team embers from the Barclays-run Eagle Lab incubator, which also offers resources for start-ups.
“It’s fantastic they’re supporting the UK grassroots esports scene with their sponsorships,” Scollan says of Eagle Lab and Barclays’ wider efforts in the industry. “I’m really excited about if we get the opportunity to work with them on something around an health and wellbeing initiative in the UK. It’s been great to access and network with partners, and get together on projects that really help grow the UK esports scene.”
GScience is currently working on its first product, Optimal: the world’s first esports athlete monitoring system. The company will soon be starting a fundraiser with the aim of having it ready to launch by the end of Q2 2021 -- and Scollan’s ambitions go even further than this.
The CEO tells us how he is “in this for the long-run,” with the hope of having Optimal eventually embedded in every Xbox, PlayStation and PC. And with an eye on the not-too-distant future, Scollan believes Epic Games’ Fortnite is a crucial step towards the Ready Player One metaverse, and it’s there that GScience will fully realise its own potential.
“We’re all going to have our virtual self and our real self,” he says. “I want to be the health and fitness company that’s making sure people do switch off and still live in the real world. That’s where I think we can get to.”