What if I told you the secret to a successful and long career in esports didn’t rely on your skill in-game? The grind mentality has cultivated a negative culture in gaming and esports, and placed an unnecessary burden on competitors, content creators, and nearly every other role that exists in the industry. When self-sacrifice is placed on a pedestal, everything will eventually crumble.

When you rip away the pressure of the grind mentality, it’s easy to realize that the secret to success is balance. The next is to talk about the issues and barriers and find a way to embrace positive mental and physical health.

Cris Reed, Host of The Level Up Experience, is one of the voices speaking out about the hardships of poor health in esports. His background and experience in personal training and esports has exposed him to the faults of the industry and allowed him to help spread awareness.

“[My life] has been an interesting ride with a lot of turns,” Reed stated. “I have an undergrad degree in Exercise Science from the University of Louisville which led to personal training and eventually owning a gym in 2012. I also coached middle and high school wrestling for nearly 10 years.”

In 2016 he transitioned his career to “found a SaaS-like financial market platform” where he began following gaming companies and learned more about esports. His brother Austin “Reeve” Reed was working his way up the ranks in Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Cris closely followed his competitive career.

He continued: “In 2019 I created The Level Up Experience podcast to have discussions with guests around esports and gaming, startups, technology entrepreneurship, etc. My first interview was with my brother and have since had on esports pros, organizations, and startup founders. I really enjoy learning from the OG’s and how esports has changed, especially over the past 10 years.”

The Level Up Experience has allowed Reed to approach subjects that are often danced around in the industry, mental health being one of them. Like many others, he has experienced how heavy mental illness can be.

“Mental illness has hit my family very hard,” he told Ritual Motion. “My father was diagnosed with paranoia/schizophrenia which led to my parents’ divorce. My uncle, who I was very close with, committed suicide at 49.” He continued, “Fortunately, I haven’t received any diagnosis personally, but knowing what my family has been through has forced me to be more aware of how I’m feeling at any given time.”

That self-awareness is something that he hopes to spread to others in the industry.

“I try to bring up mental health awareness in the content I make, but I know I can do a better job sharing my story and connecting with others on the issue,” he added. “One of the companies I work with, PowerUp Academy, is really trying to bring these types of conversations to light on No Tilt Mind Podcast by interviewing esports athletes, coaches, medical professionals, etc.- hoping to help equip those in the space to be aware of their mental health and how to improve [their] quality of life.”

These conversations are slowly starting to trickle through the esports industry, but it’s a topic that requires a constant stream of awareness. Sometimes, it’s all about talking through your own personal barriers, and figuring out ways to help others.

For Reed, it’s about putting the spotlight on the good and maintaining an inner balance. “Identify blessings in your life. It’s very easy to see the negative when there isn’t positive in front of you. [Also] surround yourself with positive people that uplift you and get rid of people that bring you down. I know that’s easier said than done, but it is life-changing. With my competitive nature I have to watch out for keeping balance. I tend to obsess on certain things and neglect others in the process.”

It’s a personal battle that nearly everyone struggles with, but shining the light on those struggles could potentially shift the “work hard, sleep less” culture esports maintains. Balance is a requirement, and it’s time for more esports organizations to adopt healthy schedules for their staff and players. Larger organizations are already starting to implement strict schedules for their players, but how can smaller organizations work toward the same goal?

“[They have to] develop a regimen,” Reed stated. “A number of the top-tier esports orgs have deliberately designed a set schedule for their players that incorporates balance. The ‘grind culture’ and lack of sleep mentality is not sustainable long term.”

The data surrounding health and wellness in esports is starting to appear, but Reed believes 2021 will deliver a ton more info that will uncover the “positive physiological effects and performance when players practice proper sleep hygiene and incorporate physical fitness protocols.”

Once this happens, more esports organizations will begin to adopt this mentality for their players. For now, the conversation continues.