At the 2015 Intel Extreme Masters in San Jose, Matthew Hwu decided to take a chance.
Moving through the packed SAP Center, the Southern California native searched for people to talk to, wandering past the concession stand lined with flickering TVs, aglow with shots of a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive match. He approached dozens of people, looking for a way to lend his skills to the esports community. George "HotshotGG" Georgallidis, the owner of Counter Logic Gaming, was one of the people who responded.
"I was talking to anyone," Hwu said. "I was like -- hey -- this is what I'm about. I had already been writing things, and had an idea of what I wanted to do. But yeah, I really approached so many people, and he was the one that responded favorably."
In January this year, after many emails back and forth, Hwu officially became part of the team as CLG's first head of physical performance and esports medicine. In his intro video, Hwu smiles as he stands next to a sweat-drenched Zaqueri "aphromoo" Black, and laughs through planking exercises with Darshan "Darshan" Upadhyaha (guess whose arms gave out first?).
Thanks to his work with CLG, Hwu has started to track the minor variations in injuries across titles (according to him, StarCraft players tend to rely on quick clicks, while Counter-Strike players make more sweeping gestures with their mice). Predominantly, esports injuries depend on individual preference and body structure (the length of our bones varies) and tend to affect the same areas of the body, which makes them difficult to spot but easy to treat. Hwu wants to be a health care ambassador, to lead the conversation around the importance of a well-informed and well-equipped support staff, to direct the community's focus toward long-term preventative measures and to encourage those entering the field to continue to strive toward a holistic perspective.
Two years ago, Hwu was working in the outpatient section of Congress Medical in Pasadena, California, to complete his doctorate in physical therapy. There he spent his time treating patients with spinal cord injuries and neurological problems. The work was often emotionally taxing. Some days, he'd clean up a patient's waste. Other days, he'd listen to a patient's heartbreaking story about their family. Breakthroughs were glorious, sudden windfalls.
Today, Hwu runs his own site to help those in esports without access to specialized care, providing free advice on everything from managing an existing injury to fixing bad posture.
"I think we're like the barbers of the health care industry because we spend so much time with our patients," Hwu said. "It's definitely unique. There's a bio-social aspect to treatment, where you have to address any stressors that might be contributing to their pain. There's a lot of problem-solving, and you really have to be active and know what you're doing to always be up to date on what's out there. "
"I really want to raise awareness about the types of injuries in esports, and the infrastructure of health care within the community," Hwu continued. "For organizations, having a support staff as a prerequisite to compete. That gives the impression that health comes first, then the game. For tournament organizers, having matches structured around these periods of rest."
Currently, Hwu visits CLG headquarters two to three days a week, and the rest of his time is spent completing an orthopedic residency at Kaiser (he hopes to one day travel with the team to competitions). The organization has given him a lot of freedom to do his job, and he has already implemented some big changes (in a collaboration with CLG's chef, Hwu overhauled the team's diet) and he even introduced the players to Olympic trainers.
"It's fun. I get to spend a lot of individual time with them, whether I'm training them or relieving some sort of pain, and then I work with them in the treatment room," Hwu said. "I can really talk to them and get their perspective on various things, and share my perspective and help them develop a more expanded perspective on certain situations. Mike -- the player development coach -- and I, we really believe in bringing in people from all sorts of industries, so they can learn and apply different concepts from different fields and use that as a way to help them grow as people."