Elliot Smithson ’13 wants to go to the gym near his office in Beverly Hills, California, but the squat rack will have to wait. Someone has a series of questions about Esports Health and Performance Institute (EHPI), the company he cofounded four years ago. The name of the company alone needs some explaining, so Smithson settles his well-conditioned self into a chair.
“People think of esports as strictly mental, which is far from the truth,” says Smithson, who earned an athletic training degree from UCF. “Players at the highest level need speed, precision and endurance to stay sharp for hours and hours at a time.”
Smithson knows what you might be thinking. “The stereotype is legit,” he says. “Guys like to stay up until three in the morning, drinking Mountain Dew and eating chips. It’s like any sport — you need to take care of yourself to stay on top.”
Staying on top can mean a six- or seven-figure salary. Major sponsors like Honda, Rocket Mortgage and Lexus have expectations as high as the salaries they fuel. That’s where EHPI’s sister company, 1HP, comes in, with trainers, nutritionists, chiropractors, sleep experts and sports psychologists who specialize in the needs of esports players — not gamers.
“This is sports,” Smithson says. “Poker and chess are games. There’s no mechanical skill required to throw a card out or move a pawn. But in esports, it matters how quickly you move your arms and turn your wrists.”
Smithson knows plenty about fitness. He always envisioned a career that would combine his interests in medicine, athletics and entertainment. As a teenager he considered using his martial arts background to be a stuntman.
For the next 10 years, Smithson learned about optimizing physical and mental performance while also narrowing his niche. At UCF, he stretched and treated players on the football, volleyball and cheerleading teams. He worked as an injury prevention specialist at Walt Disney World, where he kept dancers and stunt people limber. In grad school, he developed a training program to reduce repetitive-strain injuries among theater and music performers.
The big moment came late one night during his doctoral studies in physical therapy at the University of St. Augustine, when he clicked on a livestream of the Fortnite World Cup. Smithson noticed the players’ intensity and almost spasmic mouse moves, recognizing the biomechanical demand on the arm structure. He heard of the $30 million prize money and thought, “There might be something missing here.”
He did some research and got connected with Matt Hwu and Cait McGee, who had launched 1HP, a health and performance staffing agency for esports organizations. The trio co-founded EHPI to educate and train healthcare professionals to work with esports pros. It has already partnered with notable teams like 100 Thieves, Cloud 9 and Faze Clan.
“For some of these players, it’s the first time they’ve ever used a barbell or done a squat. Then I’ll hear them say ‘Oh wow, I feel a lot snappier and less tired. I’m a better player.’ The tide is changing. If you don’t pay attention to fitness and nutrition, you will self-select yourself out of the career you dreamed about. It’s that serious.”
Elliot Smithson ’13
A training platform for healthcare professionals to work with esports pros, with a staffing pipeline to professional teams.
A desire to merge medicine, athletics and entertainment, and help players perform their best.
For healthcare professionals and support staff: EHPI.org
For esports teams, players and organizations: 1-hp.org