Carl Leone attended Chicago's Robert Morris University, going to class till noon--stretching tired hands when the lectures got boring--and then heading to practice from 2 to 9 p.m. Some nights, he continued at home for hours after his team's clubhouse closed. He wanted to go pro, you see. At League of Legends.
Yes, the wildly popular game owned by Inc.'s former Company of the Year Riot Games. In 2014, Leone was one of 35 students who won the nation's first e-sports scholarships offered by RMU. Around 40 schools offer them now. "There are unbelievably skilled kids," says RMU's executive e-sports director, Kurt Melcher. "Why not bring them on the way we do with any other sport?"
RMU gives its e-gamers standard jock accoutrements, including uniforms and medical help for ailments like those Leone picked up. "I definitely have eye issues," says Leone, who's 22. "That's a real thing."
He's hardly alone. As the interest in e-sports rises--SuperData Research expects the e-sports industry to grow from $1.1 billion this year to $1.7 billion in 2020--so too have player injuries. Thankfully for gamers like Leone, several startups have created tools that aim to prevent the onset of common e-sports injuries. Here are three:
1. Eyestrain: Gunnar Optiks, for example, makes safety glasses designed to eliminate eyestrain and block a computer's blue light. (Leone uses similar glasses, but they aren't made by Gunnar Optiks.) The San Clemente, California-based company appeared on Shark Tank in February, when co-founder and CEO Joe Croft agreed to give Lori Greiner 5 percent of the business in exchange for $750,000. At the time, the startup boasted a $16 million valuation and Croft told the Sharks it sold $6.5 million worth of merchandise last year. The company is hoping to reach $7.5 million this year.
2. Wrist pain: Computer ergonomic company Kinesis, which launched in 1991 in Bothell, Washington, created its own gaming division in 2016 to focus on products made specifically for e-sports fanatics. Its Freestyle Edge keyboard--imagine a conventional keyboard split down the middle--lets users adjust the space between their hands (read: good for people with broad shoulders) and the incline of the device. By tinkering with the position of the $219 keyboard, and accompanying devices like a joystick or mouse, users will strain their hands and wrists less.
3. Gamer's thumb: Similarly to Kinesis's keyboard, Evoluent has created a vertical mouse that lets the hand rest in an upright, handshake position. The Valley Stream, New York-based business launched in 1994 after founder Jack Lo experienced discomfort using a conventional mouse. Several models of the mouse have been released since the product's initial inception and range in price between $80 and $110.
"In football, you can only practice so much physically, but with e-sports, your body doesn't get worn down as fast," Leone says. "But my eyes are incredibly sensitive to light right now because I was putting in so many hours in front of a screen."