Renowned sports physician Dr Melita N. Moore has become a global pioneer in esports medicine. She is Chair of the GEF Health & Wellness Commission and has just been appointed Chair of the Coordination Commission for the 2023 Panam Esports Championships in Santiago.
Dr Melita Moore had her life planned out pretty early. “Ever since elementary school, I wanted to be a doctor of athletes,” she says. “I’ve been an athlete my whole life, it’s in my DNA, and I went to Hampton University on a volleyball scholarship.
“When I graduated as a doctor, I kept my eye on the prize. My specialty is now in four areas – rehabilitation medicine, sports medicine, brain injury medicine, and lifestyle medicine.”
Moore is a trailblazer. In 2011, she became the first black, female physician to work in the NBA (for the Sacramento Kings). She has won a WNBA championship as doctor for the Washington Mystics, and has consulted with the NFL on concussion-related issues. During the WNBA games of 2020, she was the lone physician inside the Covid bubble, tending 12 teams and 144 athletes.
“I’ve worked with pro athletes for my entire career, and I love it,” she says. “It is my joy and passion. I accomplished my dream early. The bubble was the wildest thing I’ve ever done, being responsible for so many athletes. But it also illustrated the inequity in women’s sports. In the NBA they had a doctor for every four teams, while the WNBA had me for all 12 teams. We need to keep pushing for equity.”
Moore is looking to help achieve that through her company, Levels Unlocked Enterprises, which aims to promote and elevate women of color in esports. Her own learning curve in the sphere has been sharp.
“I was introduced to esports in 2019, because my hospital in Washington D.C. included taking care of all the athletes for Monumental Sports, and that included the NBA 2K team,” she says. “I thought, ‘esports, what the heck is this?’
“I was told they were part of our umbrella, on paper, and needed a doctor, but my attitude was ‘what for?’ And nobody knew.
“So I took it upon myself to learn about what gamers would need from a physician. There was very little information out there. I pulled together a team from our hospital, and we created a full physical exam for gamers.”
Moore is now a leading authority on health and wellness for gamers, and co-edited the first medical handbook on the subject, Esports Medicine. “We coined the term esports medicine, and we knew very little,” she says. “I don’t think there was a team doctor for a professional esports team anywhere else in America. It was pioneering.”
They discovered that many gamers have issues with sleep, exercise and nutrition, but research has since skyrocketed, says Moore, and the narrative around health and gaming is changing swiftly and positively: “We have a lot of streamers showing their workout routines, what they do outside gaming, and a lot of professionals, and team owners, are learning a lot.
“We have to have global understanding, and create awareness. Gamers haven’t come up in a pipeline like traditional athletes, knowing how to make their performance better or themselves healthier. But our projects with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNESCO are helping to change that.”
Her role with GEF as a Board Member and Chair of the Health & Wellness Commission is integral. “As soon as I took my first call with Paul J. Foster, CEO of the GEF, and then Chris Chan, President of the GEF, I loved what they said, and what they wanted to create,” says Moore.
“My purpose is to nurture people, and the GEF’s values aligned with me personally and professionally. We are looking at mental, physical and social health, which all tie in – vision health, brain health, cognitive wellness, hearing health, sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
“Gamers are starting to think, ‘if this is going to help my performance, I’m doing it’. And we all live in a digital world, so this is not just for gamers.”
Her leadership in this area has seen Moore receiving the prestigious appointment to Chair of the Coordination Commission for the Panam Esports Championship in 2023.
“I was shocked, but now I’m euphoric, nervous – and confident,” she says. “I know I’m a good leader, and a good listener. I’m excited to take this on, and I feel so much gratitude for GEF, Paul, and our President, Chris.
“It means a lot to me, as an American, a woman of color, a physician, to have such a distinguished Pan American role.
“Sport is my first love, but I’ve also fallen in love with esports, so to merge the two passions at an event as big as the Panam Games is special. GEF moves swiftly, but with precision – so I am buckling up, and also brushing up on my Spanish!”
It’s another challenge for someone who has never shied away from them. “I’m excited, because I reached the pinnacle of my career with a WNBA championship, but esports still feels like it is emerging, so this is something young I can help to mould.
“We can shift it, live in it, create its essence. When in your lifetime can you get involved in an emerging sport?”
It’s something she experienced on a recent visit to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Esports Championships. “I was in tears during the medals ceremonies, seeing winners standing under their flag for the anthem, seeing that pride,” she says.
“You can be a pro gamer, but to represent your country means something different. This is what GEF can provide. Helping to create a blueprint for the movement. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”