Look After Yourself

When you have an injury in esports, people are empathetic for you as a person, but not as a player.

There’s no denying that, in esports, wrist injuries can be career ending. And yet, a taboo exists around injuries in esports; just mentioning wrist pain is frightening for esports teams because there’s always the what if?: ‘what if halfway through the split, this guy can’t play anymore?’. Team owners don’t want to take the risk, players don’t want to be seen as damaged goods.

At the end of the day, this competition is all of our livelihoods and you’re only as good as your last performance; if you’re not performing, you’re not playing up to the standard you set for yourself.

People can be empathetic towards injury, but if you lose as a result of it, everyone loses – this was especially true in the pre-franchising era of the NA LCS when relegation loomed at the end of every split.

I’ve been playing League of Legends for a really long time. I’ve paid my dues to the challenger scene, admittedly playing at that level for longer than I would’ve liked, waiting for my shot at becoming a starting AD carry for an NA LCS organization.

I never experienced any wrist issues on my way up with Ember, but it has always been something I worried about as an esports pro. I did stretches diligently, but outside of that, I enjoyed that I could play excessively without any consequences. The only thing that could possibly hold me back was burnout, which has never been an issue for me.

When I broke into the NA LCS with Team EnVyUs, I never looked back. There had been rumours that I wasn’t the team’s first choice ADC – I’m pretty sure they wanted to go with Altec – and in truth, that got to me. I wanted to prove to them I was worthy of the jersey.

Sure, NV wasn’t the greatest team, but in my rookie split, we still cemented ourselves in the top six. We didn’t achieve anything grand, but I personally felt like I had shown what I was capable of – I had the potential to become one of NA’s top AD Carries.

I practised all day and near enough all night. In scrims, I went played hard every single game. In previous years that would never have been a problem, but at NV, I started to notice my wrist and hand locking up the moment I had finished playing.

It started with a throbbing throughout my hand and I tried to ignore it, but soon it started spreading to my wrist and then my arm. It quickly reached a point where, when I woke up in the morning, the tendons would be stuck in a position and for the first hour of my day; I simply wouldn’t be able to use my hand, it was as if it had been set in concrete.

I desperately tried to figure out what it was. I started using wrist braces, hand cloth compressors, basically any recommended treatment I could get from fellow pros. After speaking about my wrist with other players, it started to dawn on me that what I had was different – it didn’t fit the typical symptoms of carpal tunnel or RSI.

I should’ve gone and got it diagnosed right away – of course, I should – but it seemed so difficult to find time during the competitive season, I was so focused on keeping my spot on the roster and we ended up moving houses in the middle of the split. It wasn’t until I moved to Team Dignitas that I finally spoke to a physical therapist and we figured out what was wrong; turns out I have a serious (but treatable) nerve problem.

I used my move away from Team EnVyUs as a clean break; to continue my recovery, I had to do everything perfectly. I’d been abusing my hand for six years, I couldn’t just continue to fuck it up the way I had been, I had to change something. I started going to the gym in the off-season, eating better and generally taking better care of myself.

I bootcamped with Dignitas prior to moving into the gaming house for the Spring Split and I immediately saw the positive effect of the changes I had made. I was playing really well and I felt the best I had in years, I was confident it was going to be a really good split for me.

Unfortunately, it was only after I had committed to moving into the Team Dignitas house that I realized a lot of the things I had been promised, hadn’t been delivered, perhaps most importantly, the ability to access a gym. I reverted back to type and things started to deteriorate quickly; all the positive changes I had made during the off-season faded away.

I played and practised with no thought for my injury. Predictably, as the split wore on, it got to the point where I would finish a scrim and my hand would be throbbing so badly that I couldn’t even bear to click the next game.

Regardless, we started the 2017 Summer Split strongly, even though my personal stats hadn’t been that impressive in the first two weeks – I had been suffering from the flu and a 104-degree fever just days before the start of the split and spent time in the hospital, unable to practice.

By Week 3, I felt I was back on track to be a top-four AD carry, but a dip in my form, coupled with the increasing strain of my injury, soon threw me off course. I was frustrated with myself more than anything because people weren’t seeing the same potential in me that I saw.

I had been open with my teammates about my injury from day one because, as shitty an excuse as it was, I knew there were going to be a couple games along the way where I wouldn’t perform like I wanted to, simply because I couldn’t practice as much as I needed to.

I didn’t want to bring it up too much, but I do blame some of our losses on the rapid decline of my wrist – the onus was on me to carry games but I just couldn’t because my hand was completely fucked. I ended up in a condition even worse than I had been in before. I went back to wearing the brace but it didn’t have anywhere near the same effect, the damage was done.

I vividly remember it getting so bad that I’d have to shake my hand out in between minion waves to stop the shooting pains going up my arm. I tried to play through it the best I could though; I didn’t want to use my injury as an excuse for my poor performance, but I can’t deny it was a factor.

I didn’t feel comfortable being the weak link on our team as a result of my wrist injury. I’d worked so hard to earn my place on a top NA LCS roster, yet now that I had the chance to prove myself, my mind was willing, but my body had just started giving up. Ultimately though, it was my problem; nobody else’s, I had to either solve it or face the consequences.

Did I solve the problem or face the consequences? Probably a bit of both. It certainly didn’t come as a surprise to me when I was replaced.

At the time, I was admittedly really salty about being replaced, but looking back, I think it had to happen. From that moment until today has been a rehabilitation period. When I moved back home in November, I saw it as a chance to completely fix everything. I haven’t missed a day of the gym since then, I eat better and am completely rethinking the way I play; the way my wrist sits, even the angle of my armrest – anything that could cause problems for me in the future, I’ve worked to eliminate.

In an ideal world, I will find my way back to the NA LCS. I want to prove to people that I’m better than those first few weeks of the 2017 Summer Split – since that’s all people seem to remember of me – trust me, those games were outliers.

I miss competing, these past seven months have been the most boring time of my life. I had to sit on the sidelines for such a long time on my path to the NA LCS, waiting for my chance – I can stick it out again.

I’m certainly not the only esports player to experience wrist issues, even the likes of Hai and Bjergsen have had problems in the past. Unlike them, however, I wasn’t so good that it was worth my team waiting for me to recover; I wasn’t an integral part of my team’s identity like Hai or Bjergsen were/are.

I might have been if I had been given more time, but I wouldn’t have wanted my team to wait for me forever and I understand them wanting to make a change. I don’t blame anyone else but myself for what happened to me, as an esports professional it’s up to me to take care myself.

I’ve finally reached a point where I can play just as I did years ago; before any of these issues started; I feel no pain whatsoever when I play now.

What bothers me to this day is that I didn’t get a chance to recover my stats; I didn’t get a chance to erase the black mark that now exists in the record book next to my name. I still exist though – I didn’t fall off the face of the earth – there’s still time to change that.

Image Credit: Riot Games

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