What e-Sports professionals can teach us about high performance.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Red Bull, Sam Wright, 2017. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Red Bull, Sam Wright, 2017. 

...What defines a sport? 

I find myself caught up in another conversation discussing more abstract aspects of performance consulting. Mainly, why do we give such a shit for sports such as football, basketball, and baseball? Sure, it's the money. We live in a world where NFL players near the max salary are belly-aching over the recent signing bonuses of bench players in the NBA. Is it the action? Probably to some degree. But then again every sport has it down moments. Football only adds up to about 10 minutes of actual gameplay. And there was that famous Flyers and Lightning game. And it seems every year fans grumble more and more about the lackadaisical officiating in professional basketball. So is it the competition? A throw-down between the best in the business? Sometimes. But you do have a multitude of other crafts that lack a direct human opponent. Like golf. Or composing a symphony. Or parenting. Or extreme sports such as big mountain snowboarding where you're only competitor is your mindset and whatever the mountain throws at you that day. So again, what defines a sport?  More importantly, do video games fit into this definition? 

There are many who might resist calling vide games an authentic sport but E-Sports gaming is building a very strong case for itself. The industry is projected to gross over 1 billion dollars this year, that's right...a billion dollars. It's population is rising on a daily basis. There's a ton of content and resources out there- ...everything from live game streaming services to professional league infrastructures to E-sports strength and conditioning coaching. Even Red Bull is getting in on the action. So in the words of Antonio Brown, "business is boomin." Thus it begs the question, is the sport and performance field, mainly the psychological vein of performance, evolving right along with this? A quick google search pulled up some great articles including this one from ESPN on how Finnish practitioner Weldon Green is attempting to invigorate the E-sports community with sport psychology and performance principles. Or another on how many professional teams are seeking our psychologists and performance consultants for their full-time expertise.  I hear what you're saying, "is that reallllly necessary?". Well, let's ask this question. Would a Halo or DOTA competitor benefit from having the bonafide confidence of someone such as New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr? You're going into the last quarter of the Madden Championship down by two scores, wouldn't it be clutch to tap into flow and ignite your inner Reggie Miller?! I'd like to think so. 

So let's explore more of how E-sports can fit into the performance equation, for it's just one of many unorthodox arenas that demand an equally high attention to mental-skill development. And not just for professionals, but for amateurs and enthusiasts alike. But first...let's learn a little more about professional gaming and how e-sports fits into the high performance puzzle. 

  "Players are generally in competition by their mid- to late teens, and most are retired by their mid-20's, which is often due to burnout or fatigue: The intense lifestyle and constant hours of work it requires to be a professional gamer just aren't realistic for decades-long spans.", (Stanton, 2015). 

 "Players are generally in competition by their mid- to late teens, and most are retired by their mid-20's, which is often due to burnout or fatigue: The intense lifestyle and constant hours of work it requires to be a professional gamer just aren't realistic for decades-long spans.", (Stanton, 2015). 

 

1) Physical Preparedness is still necessary. 

Getting in shape to play video games? I heard many of you snicker. Even in a craft where a majority of its action takes place in the sitting position, being physically fit still counts for something. If we're able to think this through a bit, uncover what actual happens in the daily life and competition of a professional gamer, it becomes immediately clear how necessary this is. Similar to all flavors of performance, the better you feel...the better you play. The tighter your nutrition, fitness, and sleep hygiene game is, the better you'll feel. 

Performance Tip: 

Take advantage of effective goal setting to properly manage your time, exercise regiments, and nutrition plan. 

 

2) Focus and Concentration is Key. 

Like in football, hockey, or sprinting, it's usually the athlete with the fastest reflexes and agility that comes out on top. Usain Bolt. Connor McDavid. Le'Veon Bell. That's why these sports invest billions into the physiological development and injury prevention strategies of its athletes. But what about gaming? We talked about how being physically fit is important, but is there an overarching skill that separates the great from the elite? There is evidence to suggest that focus and concentration is that skill. And that makes sense. You must be in absolute control of your fine motor skills, visual gait, and reflexes. For games like Halo, DOTA, Overwatch, and Call of Duty the shooter who lands the most shots the quickest is the winner. Makes you think about gamers who up their controller sensitive. If you're gunna jack the settings to a point where your crosshair covers the screen in a few milliseconds, than your focus needs to be on a whole 'nother level my friend.  

Performance Tip: 

Close your eyes and see how many slow, deep breathes you can count before a thought pops into your head. 

 

3) Resilience may be just as Important as it is for running a marathon. 

Some matches can go on for over 2.5 hours. Sure, it's no Ironman, but that's a hell of a long time to operate on the razor's edge. Especially in a sport where a single match can be defined by the smallest fraction or misstep. But imagine the practice.. It's gotta take a solid mindset to meet the demands of professional E-sports organization, where some players have reported playing over 12 hours a day. Or take this in account, "Players are generally in competition by their mid- to late teens, and most are retired by their mid-20's, which is often due to burnout or fatigue: The intense lifestyle and constant hours of work it requires to be a professional gamer just aren't realistic for decades-long spans.", (Stanton, 2015). So on second thought, I'll think I'll take the Ironman. 

Performance Tip: 

Next time you're feeling the pain, take a moment to truly feel the experience. Both on a physiological and emotional level.

See how long you push on until your mind refocuses on the craft. 

 

4) Fatigue and Injury Can Happen

All that practice comes with a lot of wear and tear. Soccer players it's the knees. For gamers, its the hands and wrists. Imagine over 10,000 hours of straight gaming. Oh my, "My finger's hurt...."

Performance Tip: 

Ensure you're getting proper rest, working in some physio and taking intermittent breaks from the tv screen. 

 

5) Talent identification and development is still Tticky

Identifying an E-sports elite? Similar to most performance arenas, it's a tough business. Physical prowess and dominance can be seen with the eye. Virtual skill on the other hand must be sussed out. And just like many other high performance arenas, early success doesn't necessarily lead to world-stage success. 

 

6) Social anxiety and depression are rather prevalent. 

Upon searching for any links between e-sports, high performance, and sport psychology, I was surprised to come across a number of articles and research journals that discuss the prevalence of depression and social anxiety disorders in professional video -gaming. I mean there is a ton of articles and reddit threads to discover on this topic. Some highlight the potential benefits of the craft because how stressful can sitting around playing video games be right?  Well that doesn't seem to always be the case as many discuss how the lifestyle of a professional gamer, ie. being enveloping within a virtual world over 10 hours a day can become so taxing that players are experiencing burnout, stress, and even depression. Just like the rigors of an Olympic athlete, a professional gaming career is no picnic. With the rising number of users per day and considering its a largely overlooked aspect of the video game community , this shines a spotlight on the importance of developing a sound mental skill-set. 

 

7) Cognitive optimization is the foundation and flow state is the still the peak. 

The best players have a rock-solid cognitive foundation. Laser Focus. Cat-like reflexes and decision-making. The spatial awareness of Tesla's self-driving car. But not unlike the NFL, NHL, or NBA, the greatest players have the ability to tap into a passive form of flow that pushes their gameplay to an entirely new tier. 

Performance Tip: 

A regular mindfulness practice can be a valuable tool to stay "in it", while promoting a higher likelihood of igniting flow. 

 

REFERENCES: 

Campbell, N. (May 18, 2017). Pros explain how e-sports careers have affected their mental health. Retrieved on Aug, 13, 2017 from http://www.takethis.org/2017/05/pros-explain-how-esports-careers-have-affected-their-mental-health/

Jenny, S., Manning, D., Keiper, M., & Orlich, T.  (2016). Virtually athletes: Where E-sports can fit into the definition of sport. Quest, 1 -17. 

Mitchell, F. (Aug 18, 2016). Performance Coaching in the world of E Sports. Retrieved on Aug, 13, 2017 from: https://esportsobserver.com/performance-coaching-world-esports/

Partridge, J. (June 18, 2014). Mind game: how e-sports psychology can help you win. Retrieved on Aug, 13, 2017 from https://www.redbull.com/int-en/mind-game-how-esports-psychology-can-help-you-win

Sacco, D. (May 14, 2017). Let's talk about mental health in e-sports, 10 individuals share their stories. Retrieved Aug, 13, 2017 from http://www.esports-news.co.uk/2017/05/14/esports-mental-health-experiences/

Toril, P., Reales, J. M., & Ballesteros, S. (2014). Video game training enhances cognition of older
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