Emotions can play a big part in our ability to perform. Many times they can assist in pushing a person to victory and at other times they may be the reason why we lose. Properly handling emotions can be difficult both after a loss as well as a win if we are left feeling emotionally drained. A couple of examples of this would be during the World Cup when Brazil talked about how difficult it was for them to play the Dutch after the horrific loss to Germany. The other would be when Derek Jeter asked for the first time to sit out a game against the rival Boston Red Sox after he had the game winning hit in his last appearance at Yankee Stadium. The roller coaster ride that emotions give can happen in esports as well, and in watching the final TSM vs SK Gaming match in Group B of Worlds this year I wondered if it was an example of this phenomenon.
TSM had just beaten Royal Club and had the potential to set up a tie breaking match for the number one seed going into the quarter finals. SK was the final game they needed to win for this to happen and as I watched the game I began to wonder if the positive emotions TSM was experiencing from the win against Royal Club contributed to what I perceived to be sloppier play than what they had shown earlier in the day. The stress to win and the difficultly of finding a way to cope with emotions within a short time frame when playing League of Legends can lead to losses that normally would not take place. Now I do not believe that what I am presenting is the only reason for the loss as I do not want to take away the positive things that SK did in that game, however it was clear to me as someone who watches TSM on a regular basis that they were not playing at the level they normally do.
An emotional reset button
What is needed in the type of situation that TSM found themselves in is the ability to use coping skills that are both quick to implement and effective when used. Being able to cope in stressful situations can allow a person to access the abilities that they have and here are some of the ways that this can be accomplished. This will not be an exhaustive list but rather highlight some of the skills that can be applied before and during the event as ways to cope.
Before the match
The first two I will note are what one can do by planning ahead, and they are eating right and getting a good nights sleep before a match. If you have had a test or a job interview those may have been times when you have focused on getting a good nights sleep prior to that event in order to have a clear mind and body. The same is true when trying to perform at a high level in an esports setting as a split second can mean a kill or a death; being alert and responsive can provide the edge you need.
During the game
The next coping skills are related to things that you can do in the moment when you need that quick change in thinking so that you can refocus and perform at your potential. The first is deep breathing and while this may seem like too simple of a response let me explain what Four Square Breathing is as it is a specific technique that has been shown to reduce anxiety and other unwanted emotions. First you breathe in for 4 seconds, then hold that breath for 4 seconds, followed by exhaling for 4 seconds, and lastly waiting for another 4 seconds before repeating the process. This can be done while playing a game and can be repeated as often as needed.
Something that can be done along with the deep breathing or on its own is mental imagery where a person will create an image in their mind that is peaceful and serene and imagine themselves in the world that they created. It can be a real or imagined place such as being on a beach or in a post-apocalyptic shelter depending on what is the most relaxing place for that person. Another aspect of the mental imagery that can be included is positive self talk as it can enhance the quality of the relaxation.
The last coping skill that I will note is progressive muscle relaxation where a person will tense a muscle group and then relax those same muscles followed by repeating the process as often as needed until reduction of the anxious feelings occur. Everyone has an area(s) of their body that they will often hold anxiety and tension such as the shoulders or neck and focusing on what you know to be that place for you is a where you would want to start. This is another skill that can be used without needing a lot of time to set aside for it or even right before performing in esports at a high level.
Possible outcomes when unable to cope
Being able to cope with high levels of positive or negative emotions can be the reason why a person is or is not able to perform regardless of their skill. The League of Legends support player Gleeb stated that he was not able to cope with the anxiety that he experienced when he played in the LCS, and TSM decided that they needed to bench Gleeb because of his inability to perform when it mattered. Having the skills to deal with these situations can not only have a positive effect on a person’s ability to perform in esports but it can be applied to other areas of their life as well. It takes practice to know when and how to use the techniques that have been shared in this article but the rewards that a person can experience will open up opportunities that may not have been there otherwise.
Chris is a practicing therapist from the US. For more information or to contact him, visit his author page here on the site. This is his debut article on Mind Games! If you are interested in writing for Mind Games please contact us.