Psychological challenges facing professional Esports players
Over the last few months, I have been fortunate enough to be able to work with the players of a professional Esports organisation based in the UK. While based in the UK, their players are spread across different countries in Europe, so video and remote consulting has been a core part of how I have been able to fulfil this role as a performance coach.
For anyone who is not aware Esports is big business, it is a form of computer game-based competition where players either compete as individuals or as an individual and as part of a multiplayer team depending upon the game. From Fortnite and Call of Duty to FIFA and Rocket League there is the significant earning potential for professional Esports players. For example, 18-year-old Kyle Giersdorf (Gamertag of Bugha) is estimated to have earned around £2.3 million in Fortnite tournament winnings.
Unsurprisingly, there are similarities between Esports and other performance domains (e.g., the military, emergency services and the performing arts) in the factors impacting upon psychological performance. In particular, lifestyle challenges are a key consideration in maintaining higher levels of Esports performance. Many players in my experience do not have well developed sleep routines, and as a result I have ended up doing quite a lot of work on enhancing both sleep quality and quantity. More broadly, this issue can also be attributed to an overall lack of structure or routine on a daily basis. Both of these factors (sleep and routine) also then have the potential to impact upon both the timing of mealtimes and the quality of the food and drink consumed. The other challenge I have come across quite a lot relates to exercise behaviour. With many Esports players being social as well as professional gamers there can be a risk of not getting away from the screen and engaging in regular physical activity, so ensuring this is planned in the day / week is also important to maximise wellbeing and cognitive performance.
By the time Esports players turn pro they have often evolved techniques and tools that help them to perform effectively. Key psychological challenges that I have come across that players relate to include emotional control, focusing effectively, and also maintaining confidence. A lot of confidence in Esports is linked to the readily available data and stats relating to gameplay, which can make players very dependent on this one source of confidence.
Another challenge that is increasingly experienced by pro Esports players is having to cope with online abuse. Esports events can attract very large online audiences, and the nature of the platforms and links to social media profiles makes it easy for players to receive feedback, suggestions and also abuse from other online users (trolls). Coping with this sort of online activity can be a challenge for players and can impact upon their ability to perform.
Finally, the concept of Esports teams is something I have become increasingly aware of. Esports organisations often put together talented players to operate as multiplayer teams, but historically there has not been a particularly structured approach to the development of the team’s ability to function effectively and cohesively at a team rather than task-focused level. In this regard many of the core concepts underpinning team performance in sports teams can be applied such as enhancing role clarity, developing shared mental models, enhancing communication and developing shared leadership structures.
While the context is different, many of the challenges experienced by Esports players at a social and professional level are similar to those facing other sporting athletes. There is a real desire in Esports for organisations to further support their players growth and development. As a result, sport psychologists are well played to make a positive impact upon psychological performance in this exciting and growing sporting arena.
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