Dr. Levi is a hand, wrist and shoulder surgeon in Glendale, California. He is the only doctor in the world that works alongside eSports teams and coaches. Dr. Levi answers video game related health questions on his social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter). He also takes questions live on his Twitch once a week. You can also check out Dr. Levi’s video game related hand exercise tutorials here.

What is it like working in the eSports industry? Is it a unique experience?

Well it’s very unique for me of course because right now I’m the only one doing it. There is no other physician in the world that takes care of eSports athletes and gamers. For me it’s a great opportunity to really use my expertise as an orthopedic hand surgeon, as a wrist surgeon, as a shoulder surgeon and specialist, and as a fitness guru. But more importantly, it’s great for me to work with other gamers. I love gaming also, but I don’t game as much as I used to because I just don’t have the time. I’m so competitive that if I don’t do it well I prefer to not do it at a mediocre level. I like perfection, I like excellence. It’s a great opportunity for me to work with pro, elite, and semi pro gamers, as well as the folks in my neighborhood who game with their kids because it gives me the opportunity to unify them together in respect to the knowledge of how to avoid injuries. What do you do to prevent the things that happen so commonly in gamers? What are the most things I see in gamers? It gives me a chance to educate gamers so they don’t come to see me, and more importantly that they can have a really long extended career in gaming without injury. That’s what’s key.

We know that the hands and wrists are the most critical components of an eSports athlete, and taking care of those is extremely important. But you also pride yourself on your nutrition and fitness plans for these athletes. Can you expand on that?

Oh absolutely. The issue I often remind eSports athletes and gamers is to really do the following: if you’re a gamer you have to stay very well hydrated. You have to eat well, and you have to work out daily. You have to not smoke, minimize any drinking, and not use any drugs of course. Now, the other issue that I remind them of so often is when they say: “oh Dr. Levi I have to have my coffee, I have to have caffeine.” You have to try to not drink things like that. The issue is with caffeine is that it will bring you up but then of course it will bring you down. I have one gamer I take care of right now who drinks 12 to 14 cups a day.

Wow!

Yeah, I know, that’s exactly what I responded to him. He and I always go into this real intense conversation about it along with his manager that he cannot do this. I think he’s down now to like 8 cups, but that’s still not enough. I want him to go to 1 or 2 cups a day. He’s been doing this now for 7 or 8 years, so imagine trying to break that habit. I have another gamer, and his is not as bad, but still not good. He drinks about 6 cans of soda a day when he’s gaming. Again, we know of course that there is literature that supports that if you drink about one can of soda per day, over the year you will gain 16 pounds. Imagine now if you’re drinking 3 to 6 cans per day, what is that gonna do for your cardiovascular strength? It’s not gonna improve it. What’s it gonna do for your chance of getting diabetes?  It’s gonna improve that. My goal when speaking to eSports athletes is to remind them that they are athletes. Just like when I take care of Olympic athletes, and pro athletes, and UFC guys, and wrestlers, and gymnasts: I remind gamers that they have to respect themselves and that “you are an athlete, and as such there is a certain decorum you have to have for your body.” You have to eat properly and you have to get proper sleep. It’s all about what I remind them so often: balance and moderation.

Another thing that I push with them, and I’m real intense about, is meditation. It’s so important that you have to find some time – just 15 minutes – once a day or twice day, to sit and simply be mindful and be in a state of gratitude. Gratitude for the fact that you woke up. By the fact that you have your health, which is our first gift. If you don’t have your health, I don’t care how much money you have, you don’t have nothing. Because if you have health, you can gain those other things that you want. So, it’s always, for me, about treating [eSports athletes] as I would treat my family. I love the athletes I take care of and they love what I offer to them in respect to being healthy and being fit. More importantly, my goal is for them to have an extended healthy career as gamers and eSports athletes. Meditation is critical to that success, make sure to note that.

I will. On a side note, I never realized how much soda was contributing to weight gain.

Think about this: imagine what it’s doing for your dentition, for your teeth. I love having great teeth, and I won’t do those things that will take my teeth away from me. I was talking to an athlete the other day who has an issue with chewing a lot of gum and eating a lot of hard candy while he’s gaming. I told him “you have to really be careful about all the candy that you’re eating every day. The bottom line is this: you have to be true to your teeth or they’ll be false to you.” He laughed, but it’s a true statement. Only brush the teeth that you want to keep.

Dr. Levi teaching a hand exercise

You work with other athletes too. What’s it like working with eSports athletes in comparison?

Well, what I find with eSports athletes above any other athletes –to be honest with you – they’re the most fun for me. We can talk about a lot of stuff that we have in common. We can talk about Overwatch, we can talk about this being the biggest and greatest game right now. We can Riot games and League, there’s just so much to talk about. With the other athletes, I’m super fit so we talk about fitness and we talk about health, we talk about diet trends, we talk about lifestyle changes that I want them to make. So, I mean, I have a lot in common with both types of athletes but with the gamers there’s just uhh. I can’t explain it. There’s a certain…

Like an atmosphere?

Right! There’s a certain love. A love and appreciation we have for each other. I’m dealing with a gamer right now who has incredible issues with gaming rage, which is something that I want to talk about. I remind him that it’s a game. Sometimes you have to step out, and say “OK, I’m playing a game that I love. I lost that time, I got killed. I’m gonna respawn I’m gonna be OK. This is a game, no one is being killed, no one is being hurt, when I turn off my computer everything is going to be OK”. I have to remind them of that, and it’s one of the major things. I have to remind them to meditate, to really go to that place of focal internal mindfulness and calm to know that “I’m going to play a game that I love”. Creatively, when you’re mad and stressed out, you won’t be as focused and you won’t play as well.

Where do you see eSports in the next 5 years? Where do you as an eSports doctor, see eSports medical professionals in the next 5 years?

I believe that the following will evolve with eSports: I believe that eSports will move on to more virtual reality type games whereby you’re really immersed into a virtual scheme of what’s happening. I believe that things will be focused more with the retinae. I believe that games will be focused more with the retina, where you can move your eyes and look to shoot things instead of constantly moving your hands. In time, I believe you’ll literally be able to game in a room of people who are doings things in a virtual reality together but they’re interconnected by what they’re seeing. That’s what I think is going to happen, but who knows? I also know that I have a lot of things that I’m going to continue to develop that will help gamers soon that they can use and will help to expand their careers. With respect to the part about eSports medical professionals I see several things: I would like there to be a foundation. If I have the time I would like to develop an international foundation of gamers, whereby gamers are given the following: 1: provided with health insurance. 2: given greater appropriate respect as athletes. 3: I think eSports athletes should be in the Olympics.

I think the Olympic committees need to wake up and understand that, you know, eSports athletes are not going away. We’re steady growing and they’re going to have to catch up with us soon. The Olympics, which are so longstanding need to evolve with the times, and learn about inclusivity. For myself as a gamer, it’s clear that we include everybody in gaming. No matter their race, gender, sexuality, height, eye color, whatever. None of that matters. What’s important is: can you game? If I’m playing Overwatch the only thing I’m worrying about is whether you’re going to avoid my ult or not. My thoughts are the following: what can I do hopefully with the foundation to bring greater inclusivity in gaming. Also, I’d like to expand on respect within the industry. Even now when I talk to other physicians in American and I tell them that I’m the eSports doctor, they really mock me. They laugh at me. They think I am less than them.  I’m tough enough and strong enough, and more importantly, I’m committed enough to the eSports community that I can roll with the punches. It doesn’t faze me that the medical community thinks less of me. Actually, I do more than those people.

Dr. Levi with players from NRG eSports

You’re essentially in uncharted territory in regards to eSports athlete health.

Yeah, uncharted. I’m pretty fearless too. This is a great market for me as a hand surgeon to really do what I love doing above anything in the world, that is being of service to people and being helpful. Using all of the skills that the universe has given me to help humanity: that’s the bottom line.

To offer my own comment in regards to the lack of respect and mocking of eSports athletes: they just don’t understand the intensity. They think that it’s just a bunch of dudes sitting around a couch twiddling their thumb for an hour or two a day. They don’t understand that these are literally professional athletes that spend 8-12 hours a day mastering their sport. Nobody else is better at their sport than them. You can’t just hop into their game and beat them. That takes a toll on the body, you need a professional training regimen, you need nutrition, and especially you need to take care of your hands and wrists.

And your mind! You need mindful balance. I love that comment, I agree with you. A lot of doctors feel differently, they say “Levi you take care of these [gamers], but they don’t really do anything.” I remind them that they can’t judge the athletes that I take care of, and they can’t judge me for taking care of them. But they do, and the bottom line is that I don’t care. I was a nerd as a kid and I’m a nerd now. Most likely I’ll be a nerd when I die, so I don’t care what they say.

Is there one feature about eSports that surprises you the most? If so what is it?

Well, I’d say that the thing that surprises me the most about eSports in general is the extraordinary commitment that the athletes have to their games. So, if I’m taking care of someone whose specialty right now is Overwatch, they are committed to Overwatch. They’re not gonna talk about League of Legends, they’re not gonna talk about a first-person shooter game like Call of Duty. They are committed to that game. It’s interesting, I’ve found now as I’ve evolved in my career, I loved playing earlier: now I prefer to watch. I prefer to really just sit there, and see them play. For example, I was at Blizzcon, and there at the Overwatch tournament… I was there for the World Championship. For me when I’m watching someone play, I’m trying to get in their head, and think well, why’d they make that move? Why’d they use their ultimate there? Why did they do that?

The other thing that I love is the manual dexterity of how fast your hands have to move. You have to be communicating to the other people you’re playing with, you have to be looking at the whole field of play: it’s just extraordinary. The thing that I’m most amazed about is that when I talk to an athlete, they are committed hook, line, and sinker: to their game, to their teammates, to their manager, and to the sport. I love the fact that they’re as committed as I am, because I’m committed to this. I’m in for the long haul. That means I’ll be in it ‘til I take my final breath. I’ll be gaming and a part of this community. That’s my life.

Then hopefully, when eSports expands even further (because it’s already huge) you’ll be recognized: your passion and commitment to these eSports athletes will be recognized.

That will be great if that happens, but you know what? If it doesn’t happen, my legacy is that I still helped a significant part of humanity that will benefit. If I’m dead tomorrow Shawn, the videos that I’ve shot that are on YouTube, those are evergreen. Those are exercises that gamers can do while they’re using their hands forever. This will help you.

One final question. If you had to offer a tip to a young aspiring eSports athlete, what would it be?

I’d say be committed. I would say if you really want to do this, it’s all-in. You can’t jump in today and then make a change tomorrow. I’ll give you an example. Last week, my girlfriend and I were at dinner, and the lady who was waiting on us came up, and I said “what do you do?” She said, “oh, I’m doing the acting thing right now.” I said, “what does that mean? The acting thing.” She says, “well I’m just trying it.” I said, “you might want to consider a different attitude. You’re an actor, or you’re not. I have so many great friends who are actors, and if they heard you say “the acting thing” they’d be so offended.” She said, “you think so?” I said, “I really think so.” We talked about it, and when I left the restaurant, she said “thank you for telling me that, because I have to really commit right?” I said “exactly, you have to commit.” Commitment is the thing; if you really want it, you commit and circle yourself with a group of people who are as committed as you are, have long term goals, and then you just go for it.

You make your life happen without any apologies, that’s the thing. You have to live life unapologetically, and understand that as you’re living your life, if you’re not losing friends and family then you’re not growing. Everyone’s not going to come on that journey with you. It’s going to be some close people in your family even, and a lot of your friends: they’re going to think that you’re better than they are, they’ll be jealous, all kinds of drama. Just bless them from a distance, but keep on going. Never stop: never, Shawn.

Good words there, thank you.

It was a pleasure.