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WSU researchers investigating impact of gaming on the body

By Ryan Aston - | Mar 23, 2024

Photo supplied, Benjamin Zack/Weber State University

Weber State University’s new esports lab in the Wildcat Center, photographed March 12, 2024.

OGDEN — Weber State University’s Department of Exercise & Nutrition Sciences has begun working with the school’s rising esports program to study the effects on the body of playing video games.

The project, launched by Bryan Dowdell, assistant professor of exercise and sport science at WSU, is being run through one of the school’s esports labs, which is now part of the department’s recently renovated Human Performance Lab.

Dowdell has been conducting this kind of research for some time; his dissertation at Kent State examined cardiovascular stress reactivity with gamers playing Fortnite.

“We found that gamers tend to have a higher heart rate and blood pressure while gaming in multiplayer modes compared to non-gamers, and we found that their heart rate and blood pressure in general was elevated for the entire gaming session,” Dowdell told the Standard-Examiner.

He’s collecting similar data now through the esports lab that’s used by the junior varsity team, one of three labs at the university.

Currently, the relationship between gaming and things like cognitive ability, cognitive capacity and multitask ability is being studied. However, Dowdell and his research crew also will be looking at the cardiovascular impact of high-level gaming and the potential health risks associated with it.

“We are going to be tracking changes in continuous heart rate, continuous blood pressure, continuous postural changes,” he said. “Right now, maybe there’s a negative connotation with some of these stress responses and risk factors, and that’s definitely what is important and something that we’re investigating.”

As Dowdell sees it, the gamer population is one that’s ever-expanding and fertile for this kind of research. Meanwhile, WSU’s esports program has grown by leaps and bounds since its own inception two years ago.

The program primarily competes on titles like League of Legends, Rocket League, Valorant and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. And Tyler Oelling,  WSU’s esports coordinator, has been impressed by the progress that has been made in its relatively short history.

WSU recently won the fall championship for the Elite Division of the Eastern College Athletic Conference’s League of Legends competition.

“If you think about that from the view of traditional sports, if a person came in as an athletic director with no teams, established teams in two years and won a championship, that’s kind of absurd,” Oelling told the Standard-Examiner.

Oelling is working to build WSU’s program into the state’s preeminent esports outfit. To that end, current team members are required to coach other students as part of their scholarship agreement with the school.

“It also lets people on our campus learn from those players and get better if they want to pursue esports themselves, which is a really good way to develop new talent on campus,” Oelling said.


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