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Esports gamers win with supplements

Gamers’ needs are unlike those of other athletes, paving the way for a new category of performance supplements.

Rachel French

July 28, 2023

7 Min Read
NPI22-eSports July DM Feature.jpg

Ask the average person what comes to mind when they think about esports, and they might envision a shirtless teenage boy sitting on his parents’ couch with a controller in his hands. 

Throw in a pizza box and a crumpled bag of chips and you’ve completed the picture. 

While that image may capture the ’90s gamer stereotype, it’s a far cry from the esports gamer taking the competitive sports arena by storm. 

“When a certain generation thinks about gamers, they think of Doritos, Mountain Dew, people in basements,” Jason Chung, director of the Esports and Gaming Initiative and clinical assistant professor of sport management at NYU—and head of the esports, gaming and media practice at Zuber Lawler LLP—said, “but it’s not the case anymore, right? When you’re talking about esports organizations and teams and the athletes—they’re actually athletes.” 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) agrees. The esports industry made headlines when the Olympics introduced virtual games in 2021—and the trend is reflected around the globe. 

"In recent years, we’ve seen the emergence of professional gamers who are paid and trained full time to compete,” Ben Milhau, EMEA Marketing Lead, IFF Health, explained. “Schools in [the] U.S. and South Africa are increasingly offering esports scholarships, while some institutions are solely dedicated to esports (such as the Esports Koutou Gakuin school in Japan).” 

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Why is esports gaining ground in the larger sports arena? The answer is simple, Chung said: revenue and fans. 

“People really like to intellectualize this a lot, and I just basically distill into the fact that anything that has fans and revenue will generate interest—from an advertiser point of view, from a sponsor point of view, from a brand point of view,” he said. 

A lot of runway 

Esports, the competitive side of video gaming, is an industry valued at $1 billion, per Chung. 

Video gaming as a broader industry brings in global revenues of more than $196 billion a year, per Newzoo’s Global Games Market report, making it the largest entertainment industry in the world, he added. 

“There are 7.9 billion people in the world ... and 3.2 billion of them play video games,” Brian Zapp, marketing director, Applied Food Sciences, said, citing the Newzoo data. That amounts to more than 40% of the global population. 

“It’s bigger than film, it’s bigger than music—it’s actually bigger than film and music combined in terms of what people will spend on it,” Chung said. 

That’s thanks, in part, to a trait unique to gamers: They’re highly engaged, making them apt to brands and ideas that speak to their interests. Adding to the strength of the esports community is an expanding audience that crosses generations. 

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“Playing video games is no longer a pastime exclusively enjoyed by the young,” Maria Stanieich, marketing manager, Kyowa Hakko USA, said. “As generations have grown up with video games as a normal part of life, the age of the average gamer has also increased.” Per a 2022 Statista report, 36% of video gamers fall into the 18 to 34 age demographic, while 40% are over age 35. 

What does that mean for the esports market? Huge potential. 

Supporting athletes 

At the elite level, esports athletes train with the same intensity and dedication of other professional athletes, tapping into nutritionists, sleep doctors and performance coaches to improve their competitive outcomes. 

“Just because esports athletes aren’t physically moving and exerting physical power, they still require a certain level of endurance and recovery time,” Sarah Sullivan, head of customer marketing, OmniActive Technologies, said. “Think about it, there is a lot of demand on the brain, eyes and hands, because games are faster, more lifelike and intense. Therefore, games require more attention and demand the brain, eyes and hands are working to process and react to things more quickly.” 

These needs are unlike those of other athletes, paving the way for a new category of performance supplements. 

“There isn’t another market segment that focuses this much on support for cognitive performance,” Steve Fink, VP of marketing, PLT Health Solutions, added. “That’s not to say that the benefits that gamers are looking for don’t overlap with those of other market segments. Could gamers be interested in muscle and joint health? Improved cardiovascular and metabolic health? Why not?” 

Areas of overlap, per Milhau, include stamina, endurance, sustained energy and joint health. Formats that are convenient and easy to take are also popular in both the virtual and mainstream arenas. 

Some needs that are unique to gamers include eye health and vision performance, cognitive and stress support, blue light protection and sleep, energy, and joint health and performance, Sullivan said. 

OmniActive’s Lutemax 2020 is a patented extract of marigold flowers that contains all three nutritionally relevant macular carotenoids—lutein, RR-zeaxanthin and RS (meso)-zeaxanthin, said Deshanie Rai, Ph.D., FACN, VP of global scientific and regulatory affairs, OmniActive, “and it’s uniquely positioned to address the multiple needs of gamers.” 

Of particular importance to esports athletes is the extract’s eye support capabilities. Rai pointed to research showing its potential to protect the eyes from the effects of blue light; and to support contrast sensitivity, photo-stress recovery and disability-glare thresholds. 

OmniActive’s Lutemax 2020, too, has been shown to provide cognitive support esports athletes need, such as sustained attention, and processing and psychomotor speed, which are related to reaction time. 

“This group is driven by cognitive health ingredients that support focus, attention and concentration,” Stanieich said. “We are also seeing new demands occurring for focus and non-caffeine energy.” 

Kyowa Hakko’s Cognizin Citicoline is supported by clinical research demonstrating several mechanisms of action that appeal to gamers: increased focus, attention and psychomotor speed

Plus, the ingredient helps support the brain over time by increasing the formation of brain membranes by 26% and restoring brain energy by 13.6%. 

Fink pointed to a new ingredient by PLT: Nutricog Cognitive Performance Complex, a patented combination of haritaki (Terminalia chebula) and boswellia (Boswellia serrata) standardized to gallic acid, ellagic acid and amyrins. Clinical research awaiting publication showed the complex improved learning, memory, sustained attention, working memory and executive function, “where increases in cognitive speed were seen concurrently with improvements in accuracy while multitasking,” Fink said. 

The results included a nearly twelvefold improvement in focus over baseline at 120 days of supplementation, per proactive interference (PAI) scores, Fink added. 

Importantly, when it comes to brain support, esports athletes are looking for the sweet spot of more energy and no jitters, which can negatively affect gameplay. 

“While gamers want benefits for stamina, focus, energy and concentration, they wish to avoid jitters and anxiousness, which are well-known side effects of energy products,” Zapp explained. 

For that reason, some esports athletes are skipping conventional caffeine and looking for other ways to boost energy levels. 

Applied Food Sciences’ AmaTea Max organic guayusa extract in a placebo controlled, double-blind study provided gamers with increased vigor (sensations of energy, effort and enthusiasm), decreased mental fatigue, improved reaction time and maintained more cognitive focus throughout the six-hour testing process—with no increase in jitters. Plus, gamers who consumed the organic guayusa extract increased their kills per match by 21% relative to placebo and had 12% higher kills compared to synthetic caffeine. 

Sleep, too, has a unique priority among esports athletes. 

Research shows gaming for more than one hour per day was linked to a 30% higher risk of poor sleep quality. Per Rai, prolonged exposure to blue light, which has been shown to suppress melatonin, could be the cause. 

OmniActive’s Lutemax 2020 significantly improved sleep quality in subjects exposed to blue light as a result of digital device use. 

Capturing consumers 

Supplements are a no-brainer for elite-level esports athletes. Capturing fans and enthusiasts is another story—and key for brands that want to tap into this surging group. 

“How do we take the benefits that help these elite athletes, and how do we actually democratize the effects?” Chung asked. “And how do we communicate those effects to a broader audience is, I think, really where the supplements industry is at.” 

Rachel Adams joined Informa’s Health & Nutrition Network in 2013. Her career in the natural products industry started with a food and beverage focus before transitioning into her role as managing editor of Natural Products Insider, where she covered the dietary supplement industry. Adams left Informa Markets in 2019 but continues to freelance for its brands. 

For expanded coverage of all things sports performance—from the gut/muscle axis to recovery ingredients—download the free Natural Products Insider digital magazine here

About the Author(s)

Rachel French

Rachel French joined Informa’s Health & Nutrition Network in 2013. Her career in the natural products industry started with a food and beverage focus before transitioning into her role as managing editor of Natural Products Insider, where she covered the dietary supplement industry. French left Informa Markets in 2019, but continues to freelance for both FBI and NPI.

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