Neil Robertson: I’m a recovering addict, video games seriously damaged my snooker
Neil Robertson opens up to Desmond Kane about his addiction to computer games and its effect on his form and personal life.
He is already part of snooker’s league of legends, but Neil Robertson has revealed how the computer game of the same name threatened to burn his career after it became more important to him than his sport.
Australia’s greatest player - world champion in 2010 - has admitted he has been forced to go cold turkey after becoming addicted to online computer games including League of Legends and World of Warcraft.
Robertson, 35, became only the third non-British winner of the World Championship after Cliff Thorburn (1980) and Ken Doherty (1997) at the Crucible Theatre seven years ago.
He has made good on his burgeoning talent as one of the game’s greatest attacking threats by lifting the Masters title in 2012, and the UK Championship in 2013 and 2015.
Yet the Melburnian – who faces Noppon Saengkham of Thailand over the best-of-19 frames in the first round on Wednesday and Thursday – admits his form has deserted him in recent times due to his obsession away from the green baize.
“I’ve had really good application in my practice after dragging myself away from playing too many video games,” Robertson told Eurosport.
"I’m two months sober if you like from playing them. My friend said to me: ‘you don’t get to choose the crack you are addicted to’. And the multi-play online ones I can’t touch because I just get too hooked on them. "
“One of the games, World of Warcraft is an MMO (massively multiplayer online) role playing game.
“I was part of a raid team, and we played a few nights a week. When we got out to China for a tournament, I was trying to make the raid slot. When I got out there, the connection was so bad that I couldn’t get access. I was furious for four or five days.
“All I was thinking about was getting back home for a connection from China. I lost my spot on the team, and all of a sudden that became more important than the snooker which is absolutely crazy.”
Robertson said he knew he was in trouble when he was staying up all night long to play video games rather than focus on snooker practice the following day.
He started this season strongly winning the Riga Open, and reaching semi-finals at the World Open and European Masters.
But his results have been indifferent by his own standards with quarter-final appearances at the Masters, the Gibraltar Open and the Players Championship the best he has managed as the titles have dried up.
Robertson concedes his partner Mille has been less than impressed as he juggled video games with fatherhood.
“Those kind of games are designed to take over your life really,” said Robertson. “You find yourself sitting in front of the computer screen for six, seven or eight hours straight. Which is obviously not healthy.
“It is a bit like Football Manager, but probably worse. The referee Brendan Moore jokes that he knows a few people who have got divorced over that game.
"I’ve been playing some video games, and end up playing it through the night. One of them was League of Legends which is the most consuming game of all time. Many people agree with that. "
“In fact, my partner Mille was talking to one of the designers of the game. She met him in Cambridge, and he said they are trying to make more games that don’t ruin people’s lives.
“In the past, I’ve been staying up and playing it. Then all of a sudden, it is 6am, the birds are tweeting and I’m thinking: 'Oh my God, I’ve got to get up in a couple of hours to take my son Alexander to school. Then I’ve got to practice.
"Mille absolutely hates it. League of Legends is banned in my house. And rightly so. It is just awful.
“If you are a single guy, and work in a normal job, you can get around it. But you can’t win professional snooker matches when you are tired.”
Robertson says he is not the only snooker player to suffer from the affliction with China's leading Ding Junhui a fellow recovering addict.
“Ding used to be hooked on League of Legends too. We used to talk about it,” said Robertson.
“I think it is one of the reasons he had a poor season two or three years ago. We were both playing it non-stop, both glued to our laptops playing League of Legends."
The ninth seed, nicknamed 'The Thunder from Down Under' completed his feat of 100 centuries in a season in a 13-11 win over Judd Trump in the quarter-finals here three years ago.
He feels he would have made more than 100 centuries if he had not become fascinated by FIFA 14.
“The years I had the 100 centuries, I should probably had around 120 because I got addicted like hell to FIFA 14,” said Robertson.
“I was obsessed with winning the title against other players. I’d get up in the morning to take Alexander to school then turn on the Xbox, thinking 'I’ll just have one game with a cup of coffee to wake myself up'.
“Before you know it, it is 2pm in the afternoon. It is then too late to go to the club to practice because I’ve got to pick Alexander up from school.
“That really affected the second half of my season. I wouldn’t say I would have won a lot more tournaments if it wasn’t for video games, but I think I would have given myself more opportunities to go further in other events."
Robertson is more interested these days in "Warhammer 40,000 where you paint models" but has taken a life lesson out of it all.
“I’ve never been one to neglect my son. It sets a bad example too. He comes back from school and is talking about YouTubers when he is far too young to be talking about that sort of stuff," said Robertson.
“I’ve made a point of taking my son outside after school. We go to the park, and kick a football around every day.
Neil Robertson celebrates world title in 2010. Imago
“It is really sad to see that there is no longer any kids playing at the park. Empty goals, empty basketball courts and empty snooker halls when you think about it.
“They’re all at home playing computer games. They’re designed like that for the kids and on a sidenote, I think it is important for parents to keep the Ipads away from kids if you want them to develop healthy life habits."
Desmond Kane at the Crucible Theatre