GUNNAR’s own Dr. Zilnicki and Georgina Petrie recently joined Mitch Reames on the Esports Network Podcast to discuss the importance of healthy eyes when it comes to gaming and the danger of prolonged exposure to blue light.
Read the transcript below for the full discussion!
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An Optometrist and GUNNAR Talk Importance of Eyes in Esports, Dangers of Blue Light and the Myths Surrounding 20/20 Vision
(0:06) Mitch Reames: Hello, and welcome into another episode of the esports network podcast in partnership with Reuters. As always, I’m your host, Mitch Dreams. And today we’re talking about your eyes. They’re arguably the most important part of the body for any gamer, especially one who wants to go Pro or is already a professional. To talk about eyes, w e have two guests. The first is an optometrist, that means eye doctor for the people unfamiliar, from Twin Forks Optometry and Vision Therapy in Long Island, New York, Dr. Miki Zilnicki. Dr. Zilnicki welcome to the show.
(0:38) Dr. Zilnicki: Hi, I’m so excited to be here today.
(0:41) Mitch Reames: Excited to have you on the show. She’s a true expert Dr. Nikki graduated honors from the SUNY College of Optometry in New York. She has a ton of experience in family eye care with a passion for pediatrics, vision training and neuro rehabilitation with traumatic brain injury patients. It’s safe to say she knows a lot about vision and about your eyes. She’s working as a doctor, consultant and advisor to GUNNAR one of the leading companies offering glasses to gamers. The primary concern for many gamers when it comes to their eyes is blue light blocking. There’s a lot more to be aware of. And we’re going to be covering all the different issues that face gamers when it comes to their eyes. And that also brings us to our second guest GUNNARS Director of Marketing Georgina Petrie, Georgina, welcome to the show.
(1:25) Georgina Petrie: It’s a pleasure to be here.
(1:27) Mitch Reames: Did I pronounce your last name correctly?
(1:28) Georgina Petrie: Yes, Petri Petri, whatever you like.
(1:32) Mitch Reames: Well, Petri, my apologies should have asked before we started recording. But regardless GUNNARs director of marketing, Georgina, happy to have you here. Georgina has been with GUNNAR for almost a year now. And during that time, the company which has been in this space for a long time, has pursued partnerships with Ubisoft, ESL and Razor to create custom blue light blocking glasses as well as other benefits. In addition to being an important aspect of protect of protecting players and maximizing performance. Eyewear is also a really interesting branding whitespace given the nature of player cameras in most eSports. But before we talk about sponsorships of the brand aspects, Dr. Zilnicki when I interviewed you, I actually interviewed the two of you for an Esports insider article a few months ago, you had a passionate soapbox about the misunderstanding of 2020 vision. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the word count in that article. But I want to make up for it here and turn the mic over to you to explain what most people don’t understand about the idea of 2020 vision.
(2:27) Dr. Zilnicki: Oh, well, you hit the nail on the head when you said it was my soapbox, because this is sort of my life’s mission is to bring awareness to my community and to the broader community, that vision is so much more than 20/20. Everyone thinks, “Oh, can I see clearly right?”, That’s the first question. “Oh, do you need glasses?” No, can you see 20/20. And that’s the end of the conversation. But it’s actually just the start of the conversation, we have to also consider our ocular health, right, that’s first and foremost, we need to make sure that everything is functioning the way that it should. But from a gamer standpoint, we have to look at vision, way further than just being able to see clearly we have to understand how the two eyes turn in and turn out and maintain that convergence for a long period of time, especially while we’re on a device. And then we have to look at the focusing system. How well can that muscle again, maintain focus at a near point for an extended period of time? But also how quickly can it switch focus from different points? And then how can our system track and scan accurately. And all that is sort of how our visual system gathers visual information. And it doesn’t stop there, either, we then have to process all of that visual information and integrate it with all of our other systems, our auditory system, our vestibular system, and it is an incredible process that is cut short when we say, “Oh, I can see 2020. That’s it”. So the visual system is super complex and super important to understand that there is just more division than 2020. And I encourage anybody that is listening that does see clearly and has never had an eye exam to go in and get one and to say, “Can you check how my eyes work together and how I see in 3d?”, because there it gives a lot more understanding to how people function by really exploring their visual system more than just if they need glasses or not.
(4:32) Mitch Reames: Absolutely, it’s a passionate touch point for me as well, for no real particular reason other than I have one of those core memories, you know, those memories that stick with you for 20 years and there’s no real good reason why. When I took an eye exam in elementary school and I remember asking the doctor be like, “Hey, I could go another level down”, when they stopped people. They’re like, “Oh, okay, we’ll read the next slide.” and I read the next slide and they’re like, “Oh, you have, it was like 1320 vision”, because I read a little bit past 2020. And all my classmates were arguing that that bit, I didn’t have perfect vision that my eyes were bad. And I was like, no, it’s actually not that. And I could not explain that when I was seven or eight years old. And so now finally, I get the pure knowledge that I was correct in that argument, and that’s great.
(5:24) Dr. Zilnicki: Yeah, yeah, the thing is, is, it really is just a static measure, it just is how small can you see a letter at 20 feet? So for you, the benchmark with all the studies that have been done was that 2020 was the average resolution that the majority of people could see. So you by seeing it was probably 2015, not 2013. But that’s okay. 2015 meant that you had a the ability to identify a smaller letter than the average person at 20 feet. So you were definitely better than your classmates. For for certain there.
(6:04) Mitch Reames: I’ll go find them on Facebook and let them know.
(6:10) Dr. Zilnicki: Little Billy Madison action, right? Just go back to it (laughs).
(6:12) Mitch Reames: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, you got a really got to get the get the win when you can. It’s a great point. Think about something as complex as eyes are, and how really basic the tests we take for them, like the standard test that everyone takes for them is it’s okay, read these letters out, your eyes are good. Like there’s not a ton of consideration that goes into that. And it feels like something that really needs to evolve. Georgina, from your perspective, as you’re working for GUNNAR in a class at a company that is designed to help people protect their eyes. How much of gunners job is to help educate people about hey, this is actually why this can be bad because like, Oh, I have 2020 vision, I’m fine. You know, how’ve we seen people’s thinking about their eyes evolve? And is that something that you know, GUNNAR is also working on to try and maximize just from a company perspective, big like, not only do you need glasses, you need GUNNAR glasses and here’s why.
(7:10) Georgina Petrie: It’s funny, you bring that up, actually, because in 2021, I have a personal crusade on education. So Dr. Zilnicki has her soapbox about 2020 vision, and I have my crusade on educating gamers primarily, you know, I’ve been working in the video game industry for over 20 years, and I’ve seen the rise of Esports and eSports players. I’ve also seen the rise of increased game time, particularly over the last year, as we all know. And gamers generally, particularly younger gamers, they actually, you know, they think oh, I don’t need glasses to Dr. Zilnicki point, I don’t need glasses, I don’t need to wear gaming glasses and it’s a misconception which we need to turn around. Because people only have one visual system. And if the increase use of digital screens, it’s unavoidable these days. As you use digital screens more and more, even our kids, as well as gamers, we do run the risk of impacting our visual system negatively. There’s lots of different symptoms we all have experienced, right? Even for me, I don’t game heavily anymore, but I’m on my computer a lot of the time throughout my workday and I do get dry eyes, tired eyes, like I feel, you know, unable to focus at times. And that is, that is not just me talking as a GUNNAR representative that is a personal experience that we’ve all had. So after, you know, turning things around and actually wearing gaming glasses or computer glasses for over two years now. It’s a vast difference on how I can function and perform and how long I can you know, be be focused in on the work I have to do. So with GUNNAR glasses, I think these days everybody is on the blue light wagon, right people it’s becoming a household topic, if you like with parents and gamers and, and everybody particularly eSports athletes, because they’ve been aware of this for a number of years. But it’s not just about the blue light and that is where you know our partnership with Dr. Zilnicki, and our partnership with our licensing partners and ESL and Ubisoft, and Razor. They’re all on board to help us spread the word and educate people and make it fun and interactive as well because it’s not just about blocking blue light as I said, it’s about as Dr. Zilnicki will say getting regular eye exams taking breaks and then if you want to exceed and level up and play competitively in eSports you have to start looking at vision performance and and enhancing your vision skills because the Pros are doing it. And they’ve been doing it for a while. So you know that there’s that added fun factor of training your eyes and your eye skills like you would your body muscles if you’re an NFL player.
(10:19) Dr. Zilnicki: So I just wanted to jump in and say that GUNNAR- again I know I’m the consultant for GUNNAR, but the reason why I agreed to consult with them was because they as a company, are so far ahead of the game and understanding the visual system. And it’s, you know, it’s not just the buzz, let’s block blue light, it says, hey, let’s look at digital eyestrain and what are the factors that cause digital eyestrain? Okay, it’s the increased focus for a long period of time, what’s the solution to that, let’s add a little focus into our glasses to help the the user not have to work so hard, the glare and the blue light, okay, we’re going to cover that we’re going to block the glare and block the blue light. And even considering dry eye right, we tend to blink about half the amount of times that we’re supposed to when we’re on a device, even they have even thought of there, the shape of their glasses to help with airflow and humidity to really try and offset those dryness symptoms for people using their glasses. So GUNNAR really is a unique company in the sense that they are not just dedicated to, you know, making a good product, they are also working towards helping their, their consumers and protecting their consumers. And I think that’s really important in this conversation with eyes and blue light, because as Georgina had mentioned, we only have one set of eyes. And we really need to protect them at every level and every layer and glasses like GUNNAR glasses do just that. And it’s really important not just for gamers, but for anybody that utilizes a device, which is unfortunately everybody in this day and age. Even my two and a half year old is like can I go on the computer, you know? And it’s a conversation that says with my husband and says like, okay, we need to get her in a pair of glasses to protect her eyes because she’s young, and this is going to be her whole life.
(12:23) Mitch Reames: Absolutely, yeah, these screens are not going away. And definitely during this pandemic with a lot of work from home, the issues that the screens have caused is really being accentuated, suddenly you don’t talk to people in your office, you’re not going through a commute where you’re off screen all the little 30 minutes, 15 minute pockets of time you are off the screen seem to have sort of fallen away is everybody’s working from home. But now we have a whole added consideration of like, oh, wow, I’m on the screen all day long. It’s just screen to screen, sometimes two screens at once, three screens at once. That’s me sometimes I’m ashamed to admit it. But that’s some of the relaxation time I have, which is a whole other issue. Georgina, over to you. You know what, as you think about you know, GUNNARs mission, how important is it to really have be focused on health and wellness first, and then doing some of the branding partnerships as an additive to that.
(13:22) Georgina Petrie: Um, yeah, so so health and wellness is is why the original founders of GUNNAR got into it, because the one of the founders actually was experiencing issues years ago. So you know, GUNNAR has been around for 15 years. And the reason why gamers gravitated towards us in the first place was because of the innovation and Dr. Zilnicki touched on three of our key features in the patent that we have. So that’s the blue light protection, the lens curvature, and then also, you know, the additional focusing power. But that there’s other things and so we we recognize, like back in the day, when we first got our patent that as our digital screen use evolves, we have to continue evolving and innovating in what we offer to people because our habits have changed over the last decade for sure. So you know, there’s a couple of things. So it’s educating people is one thing, and gamers care about their performance. They’re not so interested in you know, us telling them by the way, you have to take care of your vision, you know, for to protect your eyes, they don’t really care about that. But with the lens innovation and the frame design innovation that we invest in, we keep adding every single year, certain features to the lenses or the glasses that really help people as their habits change as I mentioned. So things like lens coatings to reduce the glare, things like smudge resistant coatings and also in the design of the glasses headset compatibility. I don’t know anyone within my close circle of friends or gaming industry, you know, colleagues that doesn’t wear a headset all the time. So we’re starting to roll out glasses now that are headset compatible that has a temple, which is very comfortable to wear the headset, so you don’t get that behind the ear pressure and so these are the the innovation things that we focus on first and foremost. And then as we innovate, you know, we preach our, our, our message, you know, in order to help our we call them tribe members in order to help our gamers and our computer users do the best they can possibly do at work or when you know, an amateur eSports competition even, this is how we can help you get to where you want to go without you having to suffer your visual system, having just suffer. So, you know, innovation first, absolutely. Education second, and then how do we spread the word? How do we use our partnerships, even with charities, to help educate people that this is a simple thing that they can do to perform better overall.
(16:12) Mitch Reames: Definitely, and I absolutely want to discuss some of those partnerships, some really big brands that GUNNAR has partnered with recently, we mentioned ESL, Ubisoft and Razer. But Dr. Zilnicki, before we get into that, you know, we’ve mentioned how pros at gamers especially need to take care of their eyes because of how important they are. And it’s crazy, because when you think about a professional eSports player, it’s often not thought about as a physical activity, and much more mental one, but when top players are tested, they test really highly in a few areas. Those are reaction times and eye spend to things that both really start with the eyes and how quickly the eyes process information and relay that to the brain. It’s safe to say I hope that protecting your eyes and improving your eyesight to make sure your vision as best as possible can truly impact and make you a better gamer overall. Is that correct?
(17:08) Dr. Zilnicki: Yeah, 100% Absolutely. So I’m a little bit of a different eye doctor. For those that are listening, I do something called vision Therapy and Rehabilitation. So what that means is, let’s go back to what I had talked about initially, right, I talked about how I look at how the two eyes work together, how they focus, how they track how they process all of that information. So if there are any dysfunctions in those processes, we are able to rehabilitate and improve upon those visual skills, that’s the best part about vision is that it honestly is a skill, right? When we first are born, we actually can’t really see anything, and we have to develop those skills and it improves based on our visual environment and our sorry, our visual environment and exposures and experiences. So vision therapy aims to initially improve upon how the two eyes work together and gather and process the visual information. But then there’s a whole subset of vision therapy, that is called really sports vision enhancement, where we can take someone with above average skills, which is typically those professional athletes, both in your traditional ball and bat sports, as well as in the esports space that are professional, they have above average visual skills. And we can enhance those skills even further. Small enhancements, even at tenths of a second of picking something up faster than the your opponent that can make or break and be the difference in winning a tournament right. So we are have the equipment now to one test for these as well as train on devices to improve eye hand coordination, tracking speed and we actually even check visual acuity, not just in a static situation, right not just on a white background with a black letter. We do it in a dynamic way where the target is moving right, because that gives us more information for athletes, especially eSports athletes because it is not a static screen that they’re looking at. There is so much movement and dynamic information coming in on a screen that that’s how we have to be testing these patients. We have to understand how they’re seeing in their sport environment and we are able to do that. And there is like I said there is a ton of technology coming out that really is able to do this one of them. A very popular one is synaptic, they have these strobe glasses. I don’t know if you’re familiar with them. A lot of professional athletes use them, you might have seen like Steph Curry used them. And if you even if you just Google strobe glasses, you’ll see it and the purpose of the stroke glasses is that it actually blocks out visual information and the idea is that you have to make a visual determination with less visual information. So it speeds all of your visual processes. And then when you take the strobe glasses off, your system reacts faster and faster and faster. So it really can be the competitive edge for the esports realm of players if they are interested in kind of taking that next step.
(20:38) Georgina Petrie: Yeah, and if I, if I may just add on to that there, I didn’t realize this and started until I started researching it a while ago, but there’s actually 10 key vision skills that you can train in to help improve your performance. And again, like to Dr. Zilnicki point, it doesn’t matter whether you’re an Esports player, or you’re actually professional, NFL or, you know, tennis player. So it’s kind of crazy, that we just don’t know this stuff, right? That is so in depth and so involved. But yet, so simple. Um, so it’s yea, 10 key vision skills, I was blown away.
(21:19) Mitch Reames: Absolutely and as so many gamers and young people want to become professionals, you think about what a kid who wants to be a professional athlete goes through weight room training, running, taking all these different cares for their body tried to improve their body, and now we have gamers and they’re just gaming, and they’re not taking the same level of care as maybe they’re playing some aim lab stuff. But there’s a definite level of self care that can be approved upon for people who are 13-14 years old, who are really good at the game and want to go Pro. Eyes and eye care is one of the one of the ways that they might be able to get a little bit of an edge. And before we get into sponsorships, one last question. You know, Dr. Zilnicki, given your background in pediatrics, are there special considerations parents should be giving to kids who game a lot, you know, for developing eyes? Is there special things that they should be on the lookout for?
(22:13) Dr. Zilnicki: Oh, this is a hard question. And I’ve talked to Georgina and the team at GUNNAR a lot about this, because our children are sort of the guinea pigs because they are exposed to devices from when they’re born and no other generation has had that. So we really don’t know the long term effects of device use and exposure to blue light, we really don’t know. But the most important thing that I say to parents is that extended near work and extended time on a device can have really negative effects on children’s eyes and developing eyes. Pre COVID, the worldwide pandemic that was sort of rumbling in the eye care community was that myopia, or nearsightedness, or needing glasses for the distance was becoming a global pandemic, there’s projections that more than half of the world will need glasses for the distance by 2050, which is absolutely crazy. And they are making the connections with all of this device use and extended time that we’re spending at near, you know, our eyes are honestly still way back in a time that they’re supposed to be hunters and gatherers. So as a parent, these are a few things that I always recommend to parents is first and foremost, get your child an eye exam to make sure that there are no small prescriptions that needs to be corrected for that their visual system is able and ready to be utilized in a way for I know we’re talking about gaming, but for academic success, and athletic and professional success as well. They need to make sure that all of those visual skills are intact. And then I always say to parents, look for signs and symptoms in your kid, you have to be very you have to know your kid best if you see them getting a headache, or rubbing their eyes or closing an eye while they’re on their devices. Make sure that you explore that. Kids don’t do things for no reason. You really I always say that kids show you the answers and you have to figure out the question of why are they doing that? So my, like I said, that my best piece of advice for parents is don’t completely eliminate screens that’s not realistic, but just use them in moderation and really try to be as involved in your child’s use of these devices as possible. And we did a whole podcast with one of Georgina’s gamers named Wootystyle and we talked about of all the benefits of gaming because there are so many and I really want parents to know that it’s okay for your kid your child to game, but within moderation, don’t let your child sit on a device for 12 hours. If you can not do that, that would be fantastic, but definitely let them learn and explore all of the benefits that our devices can offer.
(25:21) Mitch Reames: Absolutely, yeah, the understanding gaming and understanding the games that your kids play, I think is super crucial and being able to set healthy balances. And I’ve seen a couple parents talk about this, I had a professor on this show a few a month ago or so. And he talked about how his mom so the, the grandma of his kid, just took out a ton of switches, just rip the cord out, I was like, that’s going to be the least helpful thing you could possibly do to prevent your kids from playing video games, got to create healthy balances. But you’re Georgina I wanna be conscious of your time and I want to talk about branding and sponsorship, you know, health and wellness is most important to me, and I think most important to everybody else. But there is a really interesting aspect of branding here. And as you’ve looked for partners, and as you’ve created these really interesting partnerships, you’ve grabbed one major tournament organizer in ESL, one game publisher in Ubisoft and one gaming product brand in Razer. And I’m curious if that was an intentional choice to diversify, or is there something that all three companies had in common that drew GUNNAR to those partnerships?
(26:29) Georgina: Oh, yes. Well, so. So we pride ourselves on being number one in gaming, you know, we were the first to market and we really are the pioneer in this space. And we just launched our first ever pair of gaming glasses for teenagers. And we have other launches for early next year for kids. So our partners, we consider number one in that space as well. So you know Razer, ESL, certainly one of the number one eSports organizations in the world, and now they’ve merged with Dreamhack. That’s a match made in heaven. And then Ubisoft, you know, we just recently launched Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Yes, it’s not a competitive eSports title, but it’s just it’s a fantastic opportunity to get really creative with with the branding, you know, for both GUNNAR and also Assassin’s Creed, but we’re also partnering with them on 6 Siege, which is a very top tier competitive game. And these partnerships, particularly going into 2021, and this this crusade on education that I keep talking about these partnerships allow us opportunities to use these events as platforms to get our message across. So it’s not all about just branding and innovating on glasses designs and, and selling it’s these platforms really help us and as I said, we’re all in this together, we all understand what we’re trying to do. And I think they, I think they they certainly like and they appreciate the benefits of gaming glasses. And now that we’re able to offer it for all eyes. So you know, all ages and all uses, I think it’s just it goes from strength to strength as far as you know, partnerships are concerned and that the broader crusade that we’re all trying to get to.
(28:30) Mitch Reames: Definitely and it you know, all the marketing materials, all the ads in the world are great, but the best way of getting kids to emulate it is by putting it on the top level and seeing “Oh, everybody in this Rainbow Six patch, everybody in this ESL tournament is wearing glasses, or at least the vast majority of them are I should be looking at that”. You know, that’s what the top players are doing. I should be doing that too if I want to be where they are to tie modern strategy for athletes as well. Like I remember it shot milk sales up like an absolute absurd degree with all the athletes started say ‘Got Milk’. That’s a completely random non sequitur, but it works to have the top players say something like that or emulate something and then it trickles down to everybody who wants to be like them. The other really interesting aspect is the whitespace and I found that branding and sponsorships is one of the biggest areas of innovation for brands. We see brands like League of Legends put banners in game, we see a ton of different brands getting involved in Esports in some way or another and when you look at the actual broadcast, you know banners in game are one way to appear on the broadcast. But when you think about the player can sometimes you might get a jersey patch visible but what’s really visible is the players faces and it feels like a great opportunity to showcase a brand or maybe be a potential sponsorship whitespace on players actual faces through their eyewear. Is that something that people are looking into, you know, we have the ESL glasses are branded, the Ubisoft glasses are brand new. But could it be a place where third party brands start to find some sort of ad space there?
(30:13) Georgina: Absolutely. It’s any, any area of that screen. When there’s a big match going on, or there’s there’s a certain, you know, top athlete playing. It’s all good whitespace. And I think we’ll see a lot more of that going into 2021. Given that the popularity and the messaging has already, you know, taken off this year with COVID, I think we’ll see some big lifestyle brands jumping on, you know, Team Liquid has already partnered with Marvel. And so yeah, that there’s going to be more and more interesting and exciting sponsorships like that, purely because of what you said about about the whitespace. And the face is definitely the main focus on the camera. And if it’s not on the actual gameplay itself during any tournament, so you’re spot on.
(31:07) Mitch Reames: Well, I’m excited to see that and excited for more people do protecting their eyes. Dr. Zilnicki, I believe last time we talked to you equated us to guinea pigs, because we just don’t understand the effects screens are having on our eyes. And I want to wrap up the show here. But I want to give you each a chance for some closing remarks. Dr. Nikki, let’s start with you. Do you want people looking out for following or just watching out for about their eyes?
(31:32) Dr. Zilnicki: My biggest thing is just because you see clearly doesn’t mean your eyes are functioning well. So make sure that you get a yearly eye exam, it is so critically important for all of us as we are utilizing these devices more and more for ourselves for our children. And it really doesn’t take very long and it really is just so important. Our eyes are so precious to us, and we need to protect them in any way that we possibly can. And they really are the thing that makes our world go round. We cannot do much of anything without our eyes. It gives us so much information to enjoy this beautiful world that we have. So please, please take care of your eyes and realize that your vision and like I said is a skill and if you want to enhance it, there are ways to do that.
(32:23) Mitch Reames: Absolutely. It’s a great piece of knowledge. Just care for your eyes. They’re so important. And if they don’t if they start going bad, it’s very hard to get them back right at least I think so I’ve got an expert like Dr. Zilnicki Georgia over to you, what do you want people looking out for, following or thinking about when it comes to their eyes and GUNNAR?
(32:45) Georgina Petrie: I just want people to be a good example for the younger gamers or their kids growing up because you know a lot of us are older now. We’ve been around for a while I’ve been playing games for a while. But as Dr. Zilnicki said, our kids are the first generation that will really truly see the impact of digital screen use. So for a very minimal cost, like a pair of sunglasses, you know, you go outside in the sun, you buy sunglasses to protect your eyes, right? Or you put SPF sunscreen on your skin to protect your skin for very low cost. You can protect your visual system as well. And it can benefit you and make you perform better. So why not do it?
(33:26) Mitch Reames: Absolutely. It’s not just sunglasses. It’s also for all the screens we consume on a daily basis. If you’re like me just sitting in front of a massive desktop for eight to 10 hours a day, get some eyeglasses, I have them and they have made a whole world of difference. So Georgina, thank you for joining the show. Dr. Zilnicki, thank you for joining the show. This is one of my favorite episodes we’ve done in a while I think it’s a very important topic. And to our listeners, I hope you enjoyed their thoughts on your eyes. Go check out GUNNAR there’ll be links below this show. If you’re into protecting your eyes a little bit better. I can’t recommend it enough!