Kaiser Permanente just joined forces with esports team Cloud9. Here's why

The side of a building that reads "Kaiser Permanente"
Kaiser Permanente has teamed up with esports organization Cloud9 to raise awareness around youth mental health. (Sundry Photography/Shutterstock)

Kaiser Permanente has been trying to find the best way to address mental health among America's youth.

So the health system is turning to an unorthodox partner in esports giant Cloud9.

The two unveiled Wednesday a new initiative called Presence of Mind that aims to engage with the team's young audience on the need for mental health and how to reduce stigma.

“We are not aware of any other connection like this between a healthcare system and an esports organization,” Don Mordecai, M.D., Kaiser’s national leader for mental health and wellness, told FierceHealthcare. “If you look at the demographic, esports is attracting youth and young adults. We have been interested in mental health in that demographic for several years now.”

The first phase focuses on a partnership with Cloud9's top-ranked team on League of Legends, a video game with competitive events that draw millions of viewers.

The initiative will pair members of Cloud9’s League of Legends team and coaches with Kaiser Permanente mental health experts and clinicians to provide mental health training.

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The healthcare giant hopes to provide tools for the players and staff to hold open and honest conversations about mental health within gaming.

Another part will include a content series on the popular gaming livestream platform Twitch focusing on mental health. Kaiser Permanente will also have a training and engagement program for Twitch moderators, the people who regulate chats during a livestream.

The platform doesn’t just air major championships for popular games; some individual players on esports teams also have their own livestreams where they can chat with fans.

“We do assume the players are influencers and followed by millions of fans,” Mordecai said.

One of the topics the content series could focus on is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health, as the pandemic has caused a “bizarre and unprecedented stressor and a lot of people are turning to gaming,” Mordecai said.

Cloud9 founder and CEO Jack Etienne said gaming has become a refuge for many during the pandemic, and “we want our fans and our players at their healthiest, both mentally and physically.”

Another part of the series could focus on a prevalent issue among gamers and esports stars: burnout.

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Esports teams traditionally live together and practice for upward of 14 to 16 hours a day.

“One thing I can imagine is focusing on the players and how they maintain total health and address that and their mental health,” Mordecai said.

Kaiser Permanente notes the initiative comes amid growing concern about youth mental health.

“On average, 1 in 6 U.S. youth experience a mental health disorder each year, with 50% of all lifetime mental illness beginning by age 14, and 75% by age 24,” the health system said in a statement.