All play and next to no balance can torpedo the careers of ESports athletes

Uzi was practically the Gordie Howe of League of Legends play

Jian “Uzi” Zihao. Yahoo photo.

As ESports announcements go, it was a bombshell. Imagine having it all, and then giving it up for the sake of one’s health and, from the sound of things, sanity.

That’s what League of Legends superstar Jian “Uzi” Zihao did last week in announcing he was retiring from the game that made him a legitimate celebrity in his home country of China.

Athletes retiring is, of course, a reality of life. Eventually, time catches up with every elite talent, whether you’re talking Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan, Joe Montana or Larry Walker.

What makes Uzi’s decision to hang up the headset so shocking is his age.

He’s 23.

And despite being what his teammates called the heart and soul of China’s Royal Never Give Up team, he admitted that he feels nothing like a giant on the digital battlefield these days.

Wear and tear

Uzi’s body was starting to give out. The gamer revealed that he was suffering from obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and hand and arm injuries caused by repetitive strain.

During a routine trip to the doctor, he was told that he had the arm of someone twice his age. Don’t let anyone tell that you ESports doesn’t cause wear and tear on the body. Ask yourself how you feel during an eight-hour-plus haul in front of the computer during a work day, when your eyes, back, and wrist are in a pitched three-way battle for the King of Pain crown. And then ask yourself how you’d feel if your job consisted of paying rapt attention to a screen for 12 to 14 hours per day.

Team Liquid League of Legends pros have stated that they practise a minimum of 50 hours per week, with the key word there being minimum. In Sue Bradford Edwards’s book Professional Gaming Careers, professional League of Legends gamers Chae “Piglet” Gwan-jin and Kim “Fenix” Jae-hun stated they slept four hours a night and practised as much as 14 hours per day.

That kind of demanding regimen took a toll on Uzi. Royal Never Give Up described his retirement as a result of “injuries accumulated over eight years of high-intensity training”.

In announcing his retirement to his five million followers on Weibo, he attributed his problems coping on a daily basis to “chronic stress…irregular diet, staying up late and other reasons”.

Short careers

The fact that Uzi lasted so long in the trenches—he first roared onto the LoL landscape in 2012—is a testimony.

In interviews, Counter Logic Gaming team owner George “HotshotGG” Georgallidis has stated that the average length of a gamer’s career is one or two years. An ESPN study pegged the average age of a LoL LCS pro at 21. For comparison’s sake, the average age of a Counter-Strike:Global Offensive pro is 23. For an NHL player, that jumps to 27, and 29 for those in Major League Baseball.

By those measures, Uzi was practically the Gordie Howe of League of Legends play when he decided it was time to walk away.

And a new study suggests that he made the right decision—at least if the goal is having a balance between life on a screen and life in the real world.
In a study tied to his work as a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire, Dustin Moore collected data on 1,000 male students at the school between the ages of 18 and 24. His research found that gaming interfered with exercise and healthy eating. Those surveyed devoted a minimum of five hours per week to gaming. During this time they consumed more saturated fat and sodium, and fewer fruits and vegetables, than those who didn’t play.

In a press release announcing the study, which was presented to the American Society for Nutrition, Moore said: “The video game industry is continuing to grow at a fast pace and more people are playing than ever. If the findings of our study are indicative of general population, increases in video game usage could translate to increases in overweight/obesity and chronic disease in the general population, which is already a big issue.”

Balance is the key

Uzi, then, has done the smart thing by being proactive, and learning that with everything, whether it be loading up at the buffet table, packing the bong, or playing LoL, moderation is the key. At some point—no doubt five minutes after he saw the doctor—he realized that professional hockey players don’t spend 14 hours a day on the rink. Ironically, they often unwind with video games.

Then again, just as retirement isn’t always a sure thing—remember the Washington Wizards version of Michael Jordan—don’t count on Uzi shuffling off into the sunset for good.

The day after dropping his bombshell, he told Chinese Network Television,

“If I can recover at my best, or if I can slowly get better, I still really want to return to this stage.”

With 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, five to 13 servings of vegetable and fruits per day, and eight hours of sleep nightly, there’s nothing to stop him from getting back in the game.

Mike Usinger once took the better part of two years to finish Grand Theft Auto. Over the course of his career he has written about everything from eSports to music to movies to travel.

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