ESL announces details of the anti-doping policy – My two cents and a bit of science

August 13, 2015

Yesterday the Head of Communication at ESL, Anna Rozwandowicz, announced details of their anti-doping policy, six days before their ESL One Cologne event on Reddit. I don’t know why this is not on their Press Site yet, but maybe it still objects to change. I’ll comment the as-is state of the Reddit post from 13th of August 2015.

First I have to say overall I’m very satisfied the ESL changed the testing procedures from skin tests to saliva testing, as Dan Buffington, an expert with 26 years of experience in forensic pharmacology stated in the latest Yahoo News article about the topic I was interviewed for:

“It would be an inappropriate application of a test for what the intended goal would be”

– Dan Buffington, CEO of Clinical Pharmacology Services in Tampa, Florida.

I’ll come back to that later, but it is already a huge improvement over the original announcement.

Let’s go through the announced details one by one.

What are the substances ESL will be testing for?

There is a list of prohibited substances which was defined by WADA and NADA use. We are going to refer to this list{.imgScanned}2to establish what is forbidden to use at our events. This means that no player should take drugs/medication that contain ingredients from this list, as this may cause them turning in positive tests results.

You have to give the ESL credit here, from the short timeframe between their announcement of the anti-doping guidelines at 23rd of July 2015 to the actual tournament in Cologne at 20th of August 2015 it’s a good choice to use the WADA prohibited list as a reference. With time, I’m sure they will thin out the list and create an eSport particular prohibition list.


There are a lot of substances on the list that are not beneficial to cyber athletes but as said the intention is good, and the saliva tests that will be used do not test for things like Steroids f.e.

How will ESL be testing?

While choosing the kind of test we want to use, we had to consider a couple of important factors. How invasive the method of testing is, and how reliable will the results be, and how quickly will we get them? We initially announced we will be working with skin tests, but upon further investigation and consultation with the authorities, we came to the conclusion that saliva tests are better fit.

Now it gets more interesting. Here is the problem with Saliva tests in general. First of all the WADA Prohibition list does not show the cut-off ( that’s the concentration level where a drug screening is officially positive). It’s important to know because these vary from test to test, and an athlete could still have doping substances in his blood / urine / sweat / saliva but not trigger a positive result.

For example, the German company Nal vonMinden with over 30 years experience in offering reliable in-Vitro Diagnostics is selling Saliva tests with the same quality standards also used by law enforcement in Germany.

Below are the Parameters for their  Drug-Screen-Multi 6GA Saliva/OF (Integrated) test.

AMP50 Amphetamine (50ng/ml)

COC20 Kokain (20 ng/ml)

MET50 Methamphetamine (50ng/ml)

MOR40 Opiate (40 ng/ml)

MTD30 Methadon (30ng/ml)

THC12 Cannabinoids (12ng/ml)

A competitor of Nal von Minden, Securetec is offering their Product DrugWipe® 6 S with different cut-offs stating:

The detection limit of the active substance  Δ9-THC in saliva is now ten ng/ml.

Now if we look at research in this topic, you`ll prominently find a paper from Professor Olaf Drummer, a forensic pharmacologist and toxicologist with over 200 publications in forensic science, medicine and biochemical pharmacology.


Feel free to read the whole article, I’ll quote a few important sentences here so you don’t have to read all of it if you don’t want to.

Oral fluid should not be seen as a specimen that replaces the use of other specimens. As discussed later the pharmacokinetic characteristics of drugs are more closely aligned to blood concentrations than, for example, urine or hair.

However, if evidence of recent use (or abstinence) of drugs is sought then either blood or oral fluid are preferred specimens.

Oral fluid has the advantage over blood in that it can be obtained non-invasively in a situation where adulteration or substitution is difficult.

A short look at the table below:

Table Anti Doping values

shows that the recommended minimum detectable concentrations of drugs in oral fluid (cut-off) differs significantly from what is suggested by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration in the USA (SAMHSA) , the European Union roadside assessment testing study (ROSITA) for impaired drivers and the Australian Draft Standard for the collection, detection and quantification of drugs of abuse in oral fluid.

Now if you compare that to the Parameters of one of the Saliva drug tests used in Germany above there is substantial room for the question what particular Saliva test is utilized by the ESL and what are the specific cut-offs used in that tests? 

I reached out to WADA and ESL to get clarification on this and will update the post accordingly when / if I receive an answer.

Now, why am I getting all sciency about this? Because you need to understand how/ when these tests work to understand the following.  As Professor Drummer noticed

In the case of cannabis, a study has found THC concentrations for a short period following high passive exposure in an unventilated room of up to 26 ng/mL. Ingestion of poppy seeds in food can cause a positive test result for morphine and exceed the 40 ng/mL SAMHSA cut-off for about one hour following consumption.

So with Saliva tests there is a good chance that you will test positive on THC if you never even smoked a single joint in your life, just by socializing or having someone smoke marijuana for a medical condition he / she might have in your direct vicinity. You think coming to that conclusion because of a single research paper from 2006 is a bit ambitious?

Well, the brilliant scientists in Germany did a research paper on the concentrations of THC in Blood and Urine after passive exposure to Cannabis Smoke in a Coffee Shop (the Dutch equivalent of medical marijuana dispensaries in the US).


Again if you are not that interested in research on that topic or, in general, the short version:

The scientists couldn’t measure a concentration in the blood stream high enough to justify a positive blood test for THC, but the Urine test showed a value of 16ng/ml that would have already triggered the 12ng/ml or 10ng/ml of our Saliva tests up to 14h after being exposed to the cannabis smoke.

The concentrations increased between t0 and t2 and reached a maximum average of 16 ng/mL between 6 and 14 h after starting the exposure to cannabis smoke.

Unfortunately, they didn’t do any Saliva testing but I imagine that those would have been far beyond the cut-off tested for as well if the Urine samples already got a concentration that high. I’m no scientist tho if you think I’m totally wrong or even better can explain to me why, please feel free to send me a message and I’ll update the post accordingly.

The same goes for a simple thing as eating the wrong food. Six days ahead of the Tournament I doubt the ESL has instructed players of those risks and how to avoid false-positives like that.

Tests will be performed at our discretion at any time during tournament days, and will take place in a designated testing area. Naturally, player’s privacy comes first.

This leaves for speculation who will test the players? ESL Admins? NADA / WADA inspectors? What if a player refuses to be tested?


Will everyone be tested?

ESL One Cologne will only see randomized tests, however we don’t want to exclude the possibility of performing a larger number of tests among all/majority of players at a later stage. Should the testing policy and method change, we will inform the players accordingly.

I think that top three finishers in any tournament need to be tested besides randomized tests. The other statement is just PR. Nothing more to say here.


What if a player has a legitimate prescription for medication (such as Adderall) containing one or more of the banned substances?

In this case, they have to disclose this to us as soon as possible, but no later than the first match is scheduled to start. They will be required to provide proof (a letter from a physician, for example) that they need this specific medication.

Seriously? You inform players that might already be in Germany to practice six days upfront of a big Tournament to bring written approval from a physician that might be on the other end of the globe at the moment?

The ESL is lucky there is no players union at the moment. You can see how helpless players feel if you look at the latest tweets from Ninjas in Pyjamas star player Christopher Alesund, who helplessly tried to find out if his medicine he takes is allowed or prohibited now, six days ahead of the Tournament he wanted to take place in.



Is ESL prohibiting the usage of marijuana?

During the competition, we are. Marijuana is on the list of prohibited substances for during the competition. This means that recreational use of it outside (before) the event days will not be punished. Using it during the tournament – from the start of the first day until the end of the last day of competition – is strictly prohibited.

The way this is worded is ridiculous. Dear ESL, in the country of Germany possession, sale, transport and cultivation of Cannabis are illegal unless you have permission from the Federal Institute of Drugs and Medical Devices that only less than thirty people in Germany have at all. I doubt any player I ever met had such a permission because usually people who get those are dead sick and using cannabis as a matter of last resort to gain a bit of quality of life back.

Tournaments should have a zero tolerance policy on drugs and remind players and spectators of the legal aspects if they make such statements. What this statement is saying is.

“Hey guys, it’s totally okay to bring your weed as long as you don’t smoke it in our venue and during the Tournament.”

What happens if a player tests positive?

The punishments range from getting prize money/tournament points deducted, to disqualification and up to a two year ban from ESL events. We will look at each case separately and once again ensure player’s full privacy.

This is also a joke. The only proper punishment for a positive doping test is a lifetime / permanent ban of the player in question. Without blood test tho, the evidence of a saliva test will not hold up in any court, and the ESL knows about this.

Also, full exposure is the only way to prevent further cases. But again without blood tests players / organizations will sue the ESL to hell and back to avoid getting publicly shamed by the ESL.  So what will happen is punishments if at all will be done behind closed doors and the ESL events will still be marketed as doping free.

You promised transparency. Where is it?



I reached out to ESL and got a very fast reply back from their Head of Communications. I totally understand that their PR department is busy with preparations for the ESL One Cologne Event and, therefore, they told me they might not be able to answer my questions until after the Event.

I’ll update the post accordingly as soon as I get a response with the answers.

Bjoern Franzen

Personal blog of Bjoern Franzen
Marketer, eSport consultant and Developer

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