Do you consider playing video games to be a sport? Do you know what "mid laning" is? Have you ever heard of Echo Fox, the eSports team founded by ex-NBA player/actor/professional good-looking person Rick Fox?
Maybe not. But the eSports industry is expected to be a billion-dollar field in 2017, so it’s clearly moving from the fringes to the mainstream.
According to Bloomberg’s Decrypted podcast, players in the League of Legends Championship Series, or LCS, can be paid six-figures salaries. There are millions of dollars pouring into some teams, and there’s a lot on the line.
So what happens when a player gets injured?
Long-term disability insurance protects your income when you’re unable to work. You might not think this would be particularly applicable to someone who sits behind a keyboard or a controller for a living, but the career of a professional video game player might warrant long-term disability insurance.
Injuries sustained by professional eSports players
Let’s get this out of the way first: most disabilities are caused by illness rather than an injury related to work. So whether you’re a factory worker or a lawyer or, yes, and eSports player, making sure you have income if you can’t work is a good choice. It can happen to anyone.
But back to eSports in particular. Whether the game is League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Super Smash Bros, Overwatch or any other number of games, there are a few things players have in common. There’s a lot of sitting, a lot of slouching, and a lot of repetitive movement that causes strain on hands and arms.
Some common injuries? Carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, trigger finger, and tendinopathy. You might see those from your everyday office worker, but eSports gamers click and tap faster and more frequently than the rest of us.
In 2015, Hai Lam, one of the world’s biggest League of Legends players, retired, citing wrist injury:
My wrist injury is something that I simply cannot ignore. It limits my ability to play as much as I need to and my ability to improve. I cannot keep up with the amount of Solo Queue games my teammates play and it’s not fair to them. At best, my wrist injury would have only allowed me to play for another split and that wasn’t even certain.
Lam stayed on with team Cloud9 as Chief Gaming Officer, helping to grow the team’s players and partnerships. But his career as a player, at least for now, is at an end.
He’s not the only one. League of Legends player Heo "pawN" Won-seok missed two months of action due to back injury. Dota 2’s Clinton "Fear" Loomis had to skip games due to a bout of tennis elbow.
Players may be getting paid, but when it comes to injuries, they’re usually on their own. Most professional players don’t receive any sort of insurance from their league or team, which means there’s no protection if, like Lam, they’re unable to work. And it isn’t like getting an injury fixed is simple, either; according to data provided by Amino, carpal tunnel surgery in the Los Angeles area (where teams like Echo Fox are based) can range from $3,100 to nearly $4,400.
The trouble with eSports and long-term disability insurance
There’s no question that eSports players can purchase a private long-term disability policy to protect their income. But exactly what kind of coverage they get can be tricky due to their occupation.
On its surface, it seems obvious. If you make a living playing a video game and you suddenly can’t, say, click a mouse like you used to and perform your job, disability insurance provides income replacement until you recover.
But long-term disability policies come in a few different flavors. Own occupation policies cover you while you can’t perform your own occupation; any occupation policies cover you if you can’t work any job.
How does this come into play? Let’s go back to Hai Lam, who is out of action because of his disability. He didn’t completely quit the scene, though; instead, he moved from being a player to being an executive. If Lam did have long-term disability insurance and it was an own occupation policy, he’d get income replacement (because he isn’t able to perform his own occupation, professional eSports player) while still being able to take on a new role.
However, if Lam had an any occupation policy, he wouldn’t be eligible for benefits exactly because he is able to work in another capacity – as Cloud9’s Chief Gaming Officer.
Disability policies would also have to take into account just how "professional" these professional players are. League of Legends tournaments sell out Madison Square Garden. Professional football and basketball franchises are starting their own teams. But there are also gamers getting paid on a smaller scale. People who play fighting games make around $10,000 annually and have "real" jobs in addition to gaming. Twitch and Patreon have allowed anyone to log on, stream gameplay, and accept money from fans from the comfort of their living rooms.
When it comes to long-term disability insurance, work-from-home jobs can be hard to define. That can result in a reduced benefit period, or a limitation on the definition of own occupation. You’ll need to provide a tax return to set your income so the insurer can decide how much coverage you qualify for.
This isn’t a reason for players to not get long-term disability insurance. It just stresses the importance of knowing what’s in your disability insurance policy. When people claim that their policy benefits weren’t provided, it’s almost always because they didn’t meet the definition of disabled as outlined in their policy. Long-term disability policies aren’t one-size-fits-all, and if you’re going to protect yourself and your income, you need to know when that protection kicks in.
So what is the future for eSports players and long-term disability insurance? Other professional sports leagues offer comprehensive benefits to their players, even allowing them to unionize and collectively bargain. As eSports leagues continue to grow and bring in more money, it’s in the best interest of leagues to protect their players by offering protections that allow them to come back from injuries.
And maybe that will happen. Echo Fox puts their players through stretching and workout regimens; as revenue continues to grow, offering a stronger suite of benefits may be in the cards. For now, though, and professional eSports players who want to protect their income should look into private long-term disability. You never know when a mid lane rush to your opponent’s Ancient might be your last.