Mental stress is an unspoken part of the game for esports athletes — The

Pinned to the top of his Twitter page, Brad “Scar” Vaughn, a professional Mortal Kombat 11 player, sends a pertinent message to his followers: “Mental health Everything else.”

Some might conclude that professional gamers live a dream, getting paid to play video games. But Vaughn, who most recently finished 9-12th place at the Final Kombat 2020 competition in Chicago, has dealt with depression as a gamer.

He warns against the idea that the dream comes with no costs.

“Basically, for me, gaming before the esports thing was something that I did as a hobby,” Vaughn said, “and something that I fell in love with ever since I got a Super Nintendo in ’96. But it’s different once you start doing it as a job. Like anything, it becomes too repetitive. It can kind of mess with you mentally, and I think that’s what happened to me.”

Gamers like Vaughn, no matter the type of games they play, grind for hours, perfecting their skills. “You have to do that because you’re always in competition with hundreds of other people,” Vaughn said. “And when you’re taking a break, the other guy might not be taking a break. You can’t take a break away from the game too long because one, you can get rusty and two, while you’re taking a break, the other guy is working twice as hard.”

This constant grind can take a toll, and the mental health of gamers is top of the mind in May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month.

Gamers have to play games that will make them money. Sometimes they don’t like those games, and, unlike a normal job that has both gratifying and aggravating aspects, playing unenjoyable games can feel wholly unrewarding.

“Injustice 2 was a game that I didn’t like,” Vaughn said, referring to the fighting game that features characters from the DC Universe. Like the Mortal Kombat franchise, Injustice 2 was developed by NetherRealm Studios. “I felt like that’s really like my home,” Vaughn continued, referring to NetherRealm Studios, “even though it might not be a Mortal Kombat title, my peers are playing the game, so I stuck it out with the game even though I didn’t like it. And I think that took a huge toll on me as well. And my passion for grinding and playing professionally.

“Injustice 2 was the worst I’ve been in my life,” Vaughn said of playing the game, which came out in May 2017. “I was in a relationship at the time and it suffered because of that. Things went downhill.” Around this time, he lost both of his parents.

“I fell into a deep depression. My real life clashed with the gaming side. The gaming then becomes a reminder of what went wrong in your personal life, or a reminder of the bad things,” said Vaughn.

“From my experience, gamers aren’t dealing with their mental health at all. Many of them are young…

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