Mental Skills in eSports

“We have a huge advantage above a lot of teams mentally now, and it’s funny when people think it doesn’t make a difference having a sports psychologist and they feel they don’t need one. Well, sure, go ahead and believe that, but look where it took us. We’ve learned so much about professionalism and how to function as a team in such a short time. I’m confident that a lot of teams will pick up this method.(1)” – Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen (Astralis)

After winning the ELEAGUE Major 2017 in Atlanta, Peter explained that the key difference that separated their teams’ performance from the rest of the competitors was their mental preparation and readiness. Performance in any sports setting is determined by a combination of three elements: physical preparedness for competition, skill level, and psychological readiness to compete.(2) In eSports, psychological readiness plays a pivotal role in competitive success and it shouldn’t be neglected. For instance, when there is a BO1 scenario and you need to bring your A game in order to win. It is perfectly normal to have bad days. Mental performance is highly individual and it can vary from day to day. It is not always stable and there are many reasons for that. However, each player should aim to gain that stability and be consistent at performing, because that is often a key difference between winning and losing. Whether you are a professional player or someone who strives to become one, being consistent means to always perform at your optimal level rather than having ups and downs all the time. This is where a performance coach jumps in – we can help gamers control the controllable and be consistent at performing.

In the world of esport, the performance coach profession can be viewed in many different ways, but from an applied perspective our core role is to:

  • Educate gamers on the mental skills necessary to reach their highest potential
  • Evaluate and help gamers understand their strengths and weaknesses, and how to improve them
  • Prepare gamers for competitive success

It is a common misconception that a performance coaches only works on a gamer’s performance within the game context, but our responsibility is much greater. A good performance coach equips players and coaches with tools and skills that can be helpful in many different aspects of their lives. At their disposal, performance coaches hold different techniques that players can utilize to enhance performance and improve personal well-being. Remember, psychological performance can and needs to be trained as much as physical performance. Characteristics like confidence, anxiety, concentration, and motivation can be controlled in some form or another, in order to reach peak performance, to be the best you can be.

Sure, but how can we train them?

Through the decades, sports psychology as a science has advanced quite a lot in terms of applying theories to practice. Different frameworks and models have been developed to help players and coaches train their mental skills. In particular, one model has been used as a foundation for mental skills training.(3)

There are two main goals in mental skills training: 1) to prepare players for competitive success and 2) to improve players’ personal well-being. This model emphasizes that performance coaches should treat players not only as mere sport participants but also as human beings constantly seeking and striving for personal growth. Foundation skills are considered as a basic set of skills, one’s that every gamer should possess, like motivation, goals, and having an optimistic mindset. Performance skills are the actual in-game mental skills that are essential for competitive success. Personal skills are those skills that can influence personal growth and development, such as life skills. Competitive success is impossible to achieve on your own, so a good set of team building skills is required to be a good team player. Therefore, mental skills training is about empowering players and coaches to improve their performances in the sporting arena while also enriching their lives.

Nowadays, there are many different ways to train a player’s mental skills, and it largely depends on what kind of approach and philosophy a performance coach prefers. Despite each model and strategy being different (e.g. self-regulation strategy, cognitive-behavioral model, mental toughness, perceptual training model), they all share the same goal, to achieve peak performance.

One example of mental training is the Big Four toolbox. The Big Four is only one of many ways to enhance player’s performance in high-intensity and fast-paced games like League of Legends, CS: GO, Overwatch, Dota2, StarCraft and many other similar games. Techniques like goal-setting, imagery, self-talk and relaxation are taught through this training to achieve better control and regulation. Professional gamers use these techniques on a regular basis to reach peak performance and prepare for upcoming competitions. Arousal control and mental preparation can be achieved with regular practice of imagery, a technique also known as visualization or mental rehearsal that involves using all of the players’ senses (e.g., see, feel, hear, taste, smell) to rehearse a performance-specific situation. Self-talk can be used to build the necessary self-confidence prior to the game. Every player experiences an inner dialog with themselves. These dialogs can either be productive (positive self-talk) and enhance self-confidence and motivation or if not handled properly counterproductive (negative self-talk) and harm self-belief. Goal-setting can be used to separate what’s important from what’s irrelevant. This technique helps players to identify the things that they want to accomplish and achieve in a specific timeframe. Relaxation helps players to relax and attain a state of calmness and clarity prior to the match.

Now you know a bit more about mental skills and how can players benefit from it. We at TMC are always willing to hear you out, so don’t be shy and send us an email if you have any questions or a good story to share. See you soon!

References:

1. theScore esports: Top News. Retrieved from: http://www.thescoreesports.com/csgo/news/13264-astralis-dupreeh-it-s-funny-when-people-think-it-doesn-t-make-a-difference-having-a-sports-psychologist

2. Karageorghis, C. I., & Terry, P. C. (2010). Inside sport psychology. Human Kinetics.

3. Vealey, R. S. (2007) Mental Skills Training in Sport. In Tenenbaum, G. & Eklund, R.C. (3rd Ed.), Handbook of Sport Psychology (pp. 207-309). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.