I like Idra. I liked him in Brood War and I liked him in SC2. The events that have transpired around him and his current situation will be remembered as a cornerstone in the history being created not only around his personal story, but the history being created around this great game of ours as a whole.
Idra is an institution unto himself and none of this will change that.
When the discussion around Idra being released from EG boiled down to journalists stroking their respective egos, I was a little disappointed that was the dominant topic, because the dominant topic is very, very clear - to me, at least.
Let me take you on a journey - bare with me, it’ll take awhile to get there, but there are refreshments at the end.
Progamers tend to start young, relatively speaking - from their early teens and on into their mid-20s generally. If the great 1985 classic ‘The Breakfast Club’ and various TV series from the 90s taught us anything, it’s that these are quite formative and turbulent years, no matter who you are.
Drinking, drugs, love, broken hearts, listening to sad songs, angry songs, you hate your family then love them again, you go to parties that change your life and everything you do seems to carry the weight of the world. As much as people pushing 30 like myself can look back and scoff at the triviality of it all, we were all there once, and all these personal problems were our entire universes.
Now, anyone who pursues some form of sport professionally at such a young age does so at the sacrifice of a lot of these experiences - not entirely, of course, but they definitely experience them at either a diminished rate or quite differently to the rest of us. The difference between physical sports players and progamers is that there’s definitely a stronger sense of isolation, particularly if they’re not in a team house. Their team-mates aren’t with them, their coaches aren’t with them, they’re practising 10+ hours a day while other people their age are out drinking cheap beer and fumbling around members of the gender they’re attracted to.
What’s all this got to do with Idra?
A common trait amongst athletes in their 20s who started in their respective profession in their teenage years is that they seem to come with an interesting set of attributes, at varying degrees - a sense of entitlement, difficulty in dealing with negative emotions, and a sense of loneliness. These are fucking huge, sweeping generalisations, but allow me to bring you to my point:
The mental health of progamers is an issue and needs to be, at the very least, acknowledged.
Now, I’m not saying Idra or any other progamers are crazy.
When you throw words like “mental health” around, people get a bit weird.
And I promise I’m not trying to Dr Phil all your faces.
Just come with me on this one.
Effective conflict resolution, dealing with anger, maintaining personal/professional balance while still being competitive - all of these small life skills that are an important foundation to good mental health are absolutely vital to success around here.
And we never talk about it.
Even RIGHT NOW, when the result of someone not dealing with some of these elements is right in our faces, we don’t talk about it. We’re too busy naval-gazing and calling each other crappy journalists and whatnot.
Idra’s not an asshole, as far as I can tell - he was just an angry, unhappy dude who hated losing, who didn’t like SC2 as much as BW, and he couldn’t control saying stupid shit. He’s not unintelligent and he’s not a bad person.
About a year ago, Idra revealed in an interview with HotBid that he was seeing a sports psychologist. We all cheered at how forward-thinking that was of EG, and it was. It was an acknowledgment that it was his mind holding him back from success, not skill. Although spoken of quite highly at the time, Idra revealed in his Real Talk with JP that he only attended one session with this psychologist, she had no idea what competitive gaming was and it was just a bit of a fizzer in general.
EG are in a somewhat-unique financial position to provide this kind of support and should be applauded for taking this initiative, despite the fact it was fruitless. In fact, the fact it was fruitless could even teach us something - maybe it was over-thinking the situation.
Everyone gets unhappy and there are ways of dealing with it. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes it’s as simple as making sure we exercise every day, making sure we meet friends for drinks once a week, making sure we’re getting enough sleep. Sometimes we need to go a step further and talk to a professional about it. Sometimes it goes even further and we take medication for it.
I’m not privy to whatever else EG has done to help Idra’s mental health, nor should any of us be, really - it’s fairly personal and they weren’t going to tweet a link to a press release every time they tried something new. But we can assume it didn’t go from zero to sports psychologist.
Idra’s story is at a positive point, I think - I might be imagining it, but he seems much more relaxed and happy now. Sometimes unhappiness can just stem from being in a situation that’s no good for you - eg: playing a game you can’t stand playing purely because your contract was awesome - and being released from that situation lifts a weight from your shoulders. Idra will always be Idra - intelligent with a sarcastic, biting sense of humour, mixed with an entertaining level of BM. Hopefully now he’ll have more strength to control going overboard.
Team Liquid went through something similar with Nony when he revealed his battle with depression. When Nony left Team Liquid, Nazgul said in a statement: “I won’t deny that it wasn’t always easy to support Tyler in the battle he fights with himself. I’d like to think we tried our best, but I still wish we had been able to do more. “
This is what he was talking about - it’s hard managing mental health in the real world, let alone in a strange world such as ours.
I see Nony and Idra’s stories as fundamentally rather similar.
Professional sports, like football, have to deal with similar issues. There’s always some player wrangling their ego, messing themselves up on drugs, lashing out at reporters, hitting their girlfriend, whatever. They have huge resources to deal with these sorts of problems and have programs in place to treat suffering players. But even they can’t stop it. And even though our issues are on a smaller scale, nor can we, with our economically fragile industry. But we do need to start talking about it.
I’m not saying every player exhibiting poor behaviour needs an intervention, hugs and yoga classes. All stories need villains and I wouldn’t trade BM and rivalry in our world for anything. But Idra was clearly next level in that regard. We could say Naniwa is at that level also, having been booted from numerous teams for his behaviour, remaining teamless for a long time for his efforts, before being picked up by the ever-silent Alliance.
Their silence is part of the problem.
ESL milking Naniwa’s reaction to losing is part of the problem.
Don’t milk it, ESL, it’s not going to increase your viewership - people will just watch the GIF on Reddit.
And let’s not forget the progamers not exhibiting this kind of behaviour, but who still may be just a little unhappy - the lonely progamer leaking his lucrative contract with a new team to a female online he shouldn’t trust, the broken keyboards, the poor sleeping patterns, the social isolation, unhealthy diet, whatever it may be.
Training, dedication and skills are important, but they are not separate to a healthy mind - they are one and the same. Progamers give up a lot to be the best, to do the best job they possibly can for their fans.
I don’t have a solution. If I did, I’d sell it to EG for dirty, filthy money and a year’s supply of Monster. But THIS is what we should be talking about, not how journalists should or shouldn’t have reacted because they’re undervalued, for fuck’s sake.
Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, don’t make idiotic decisions out of loneliness. If you’re overreacting to losing, angry as all hell even though you’re PAID TO PLAY VIDEO GAMES, work out what it is that’s actually bothering you and deal with that crap. And if you’re in a situation that will simply never make you happy and you’re doing it purely for the money, just get out and save us all the trouble.
Now, if we can all join hands, we’ll sing Kumbaya and do some trust exercises.