Jake Middleton is a fitness trainer for video gamers.
a few deep breaths, as he often tells his clients, and soak this in: We
are a video-gaming nation, that’s a fact. As such, we can either waste
away there with a four-pack of Red Bull and bag of flaming Cheetos — or
we can follow Middleton’s sound-body, sound-mind advice.
lot of research shows that aerobic exercise is really good for brain
function,” says Middleton, 24, of Blue Springs, Mo. “When you’re gaming
you’re using your brain more than anything else.”
Middleton knows more than a little about physiology and
the joystick culture. He knows that in the heat of battle a player’s
heart rate may surpass 160 beats per minute. He knows how blood sugar
can spike and crash under the influence of energy drinks.
Arthritis can strike. Wrists go numb. Sleep might suffer.
most troubling is that just as society has embraced big-money,
professional video-game competition, “a bunch of these guys are burning
out and retiring in their early 20s,” Middleton says.
So welcome to Mat Smith’s garage.
is there in Oak Grove, Mo., spotting Smith, 21, while Smith hoists a
60-pound barbell from a squat, back straight, shoulders up. Again and
again. The point of this is to tone muscles that promote good posture.
Then they toss a medicine ball.
common malady of the intensive gamer is the drooping of shoulders and
slow caving in of the chest. Smith was fit and trim from the start, but
after following Middleton’s regimen for a month, he says he does feel
better. When playing “League of Legends” — sometimes for several hours
at a time — his posture seldom slips.
Smith is a member
of TeamKC, a collection of “League of Legends” players who compete in
amateur tournaments. You might know the game from an ESPN online
broadcast in 2014, when the world championship from South Korea drew
more viewers globally than did Game 7 of the World Series between the
Royals and the San Francisco Giants.
E-sports, they call it. E-athletes, the players are dubbed.
sport’s broadening appeal and corporate sponsorships present
opportunities for enterprising sorts such as Middleton, who holds a
bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Missouri State University.
than a half-dozen of those jobs exist in the U.S., says Middleton, who
earns his income as a personal trainer for the Blue Springs YMCA. He is
providing his services to TeamKC for free.
It’s not all fun and games for the soft-spoken Middleton — himself a video-gamer who qualifies as buff, thanks.
in college he teamed with Missouri State instructor Scott Richmond to
test a hypothesis that exercise could enhance game scores. Participants
in the study were randomly assigned to “a no exercise control group” and
another team that spent time lifting weights and riding stationary
Using “League of Legends” as a test case,
Middleton’s theory landed a direct hit: The exercise group “increased in
every performance category with a 28.9 percent increase in win
percentage, a 1.4 increase in K/D ratio (kills to deaths),” according to
his paper, and “a 14.4 increase in total points/games played.”
has issued to TeamKC workout programs customized to each player. For
gamer Smith, Week 1 included two daily sets of push-ups, 10 “frog
jumps,” 20 forward lunges, a “Superman” stretch that involved extending
the arms and arching the back from a prone position, and regular flexing
of the fingers and wrists.
“Working out was something I’ve wanted to do — just to feel better in general — but didn’t,” Smith said,
Picture NASA’s mission control multiplied by 10.
than 500 computer screens glowed in a cavernous room at KCI Expo
Center, their users communicating through headsets. Last weekend, TeamKC
joined other competitive squads for the 72nd gathering of KCGameOn.
trainer Middleton was a calming presence. Between rounds he quietly led
his five-man squad in deep breathing and hand stretching.
Schreiner heads up LeagueKC, which his business card calls “the
official League of Legends community in the greater Kansas City area.”
He travels with TeamKC and provides encouragement:
the thing. What I want you to do is relax and have fun. Nobody here has
trained as much as us … There will be mistakes but don’t let them get
They played flawlessly in the first round
against a hastily-assembled squad that called itself Dank Memerinos. But
as midnight neared, double elimination would catch up to TeamKC.
They finished second. But looked fit doing it.
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