Professional video-gamer, 25, hangs up controller over thumb injury

A professional video-gamer aged just 25 is hanging up his controller and has announced his retirement, due to a thumb injury.

American Thomas Paparatto who goes by the name “ZooMaa,” was known for competing in “Call of Duty” — a best-selling warfare game series — and said in a heartfelt note Thursday that he would bow out for the “foreseeable future” due to a wrist and thumb injury.

“It breaks my heart to step away from a game I put my heart and soul into every single day for eight years,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter.

“Unfortunately, the injury has returned making it really hard for me to compete at the highest level against some of the best players in the world. Playing through the weakness and pain in my hand just isn’t possible anymore.”

Paparatto, who has almost 360,000 Twitter followers, said he could no longer “enjoy competing when I can’t be the ZooMaa everyone knows and loves.”

Professional video-gaming or “Esports” have soared in popularity in recent years, while many locked down under coronavirus social restrictions are spending more time playing.

“We’re at a really exciting point with games in our societies now. They’re no longer seen as a pursuit of social outcasts, they’re now part of the mainstream,” said Professor Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute.

Przybylski led a study published late last year that found time spent playing games and experiences of competence and social connection with others, could contribute positively to wellbeing.

Professional gamers, like Paparatto, often spend 10 or more hours a day honing their craft, distinguishing themselves from casual or everyday players, said Professor Mark Griffiths, director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University in England.

“In all sports you’ll find people who put in the hours, unfortunately some will be injured … and this also applies to Esports,” he told NBC News.

However, “excessive gaming” can cause wrist and thumb injuries as well as calluses and repetitive strain, he warned.

Psychologically too, although “the vast majority of people” who play video-games will face no negative consequences, gaming disorders and addictions are genuine, he said.

With symptoms of addictive gaming disorders including neglecting work or personal relationships, using gaming to modify moods, or experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea or panic attacks — similar to drug, alcohol or gambling addiction, said Griffiths.

At the professional level, it can also be financially rewarding.

“Fortnite,” a popular adventure game, held a World Cup tournament in 2020 with prize pool money of $30 million.

Paparatto plays with an official Call of Duty League team, the New York Subliners, who wished him well as he stepped back.

“We are thankful for everything that ZooMaa has done for the Subliners,” the organization said on Twitter. “His incredible talent as a teammate and competitor has always made him amazing.”

Paparatto told his fans he would continue to support the gaming scene. Leaving the door open for the future, he said, “I love this game too much to walk away completely.”