It was on the latest episode of Richard Lewis’ League of Legends talk show, “First Blood,” that former Team SoloMid support and current substitute Nicholas “Gleeb” Haddad casually mentioned he was in the emergency room two days ago because of sleep problems. He showed Lewis and guests Ram “Brokenshard” Djemal and Joshua “NintendudeX” Atkins his admittance wristband and laughed it off.
The amount of public attention dedicated to mental health issues come and goes, like most other issues in a 24-hour news cycle. We like to address the real severity of mental health and the tragic stigmas that lead to a trivializing of the problems. We like to share our stories struggling and coping with anxiety, depression, or any other debilitating mental disorder. But far too often, the conversation stops, and we move on — thankful that we got the opportunity to share and read stories of the mentally ill in hopes that things will get better now that everything is out in the open, that that’s how stigma dies.
In my time watching eSports, I never once heard a player talk about mental health, though I’m sure now — given my own battles with anxiety — that it was and currently is a huge, pervasive problem. It wasn’t until Haddad, days after being benched by Team SoloMid, that I heard a player finally admit to their pre-existing mental health problems affecting their performance on an eSports team.
And I was moved, and uplifted, and happy that someone finally spoke out about their problems with mental health in the cruel eSports arena, where eighteen, nineteen, and twenty-somethings deal with an insane amount of pressure from a less-than forgiving community that demands to be impressed with every match at every tournament in every eSports title.
It seems like such an obvious thing for a player to confront mental health issues. Given the stresses of everyday life, the cruel affliction that is mental disorder finds its way into completely normal individuals, who aren’t in the gaze of the public eye. But consider the growth of eSports in the last few years, on top of already established and suspect lifestyles of pro-gamers who sacrifice a large amount of their time to stay relevant, and it’s no surprise that mental health too takes its toll in our scene.
When Haddad first opened up about it, he went on his Facebook account to comment on his post-benching reactions, noting the comments he made on stream about his decision to no longer pursue a spot in the LCS on a different team. He wrote that such statements came after being awake for 35 hours after being initially benched only to spend 32 hours awake in the days following.
Haddad wrote about what he believed to be bipolar disorder after he started seeing a psychiatrist. In the end, he expressed his trepidations with talking so openly about mental health, writing:
“I’m still a bit unsure about posting this because I rarely see people talk about mental health in e-sports but I feel like it’s worth discussing and raises some good points. LCS puts a ton of pressure on teenagers who mainly come right out of school and are not always prepared to deal with such a drastic lifestyle change. I think going forward I’ll be much more aware of how LCS can affect my mental state and manage it in a healthier way.”
In a Reddit thread posted to the /r/leagueoflegends subreddit, Haddad received praise and support for coming out and addressing his own personal issues without much hesitation — as if this was indeed a completely universal and “normal” issue, not something that could ever be stigmatized.
But after his initial comments about how his mental health took a dive while on TSM (which he later addressed in “First Blood” had nothing to do with the management staff or the players), like it does in the general public, the topic slowly dies down and until we’re faced with its ugly consequences again.
And then, Lewis asked Haddad about it. And he showed his wristband, with what looked to be a little hesitation. Haddad reiterated that he has “anxiety issues,” that he goes to a psychiatrist and therapist, and takes anxiety medication regularly.
It would be naive to think that even if a discussion about mental health happened again out of his comments on “First Blood,” it would have more staying power. It would be naive to think that it might preempt teams to not only add coaches to their management and support staffs, but also sports psychologists or therapists to help foster healthier environments and allow players a better outlet to cope with the savage bombardment on social media that follows a poor performance.
The best we could hope for is casual reminders in a few minutes of conversation over the span of an hour-long talk show. The conversation deserves at least that much time for a player to casually display proof that he made it to the opposite side of an ER visit.
That’s why Haddad is so important to the greater eSports community, because he embraces his scars.