“Team environment/morale was at an all-time low since Worlds 2014. We didn’t have the most spectacular 2014 Summer Split and our run at Worlds was not the best we could’ve done. We tried very hard to figure out how to get back into shape for winning Worlds but we struggled and the team atmosphere started to decline. Winning IEM San Jose brought back a bit of that Cloud9 feeling that we know and love, but it left as quickly as it came.”
-Cloud 9 Hai on team morale.
A critical component to staying motivated through adversity in competitive gaming is a widespread support structure. While reading Hai’s reasons for stepping down from the Cloud 9 roster, it occurred to me that the rapid run of success achieved by C9 upon their introduction to the NA LCS came at the price of properly developed motivational support skills and networks.
Hai was lucky in that his initiation into the LCS was uniquely filled with success and positive feedback. The average player is forced to take the good with a lot of bad, but the abrupt trend of success for C9 left little need for an iron forged defense mechanism. The experience of playing was motivation enough, without having to build an underlying motivational support structure. In a situation like this, winning games is enough of a reward and by nature reinforces the time and effort put in to succeed. To bank on this sort of reinforcement can be a very dangerous game.
There are two types of motivation you draw upon when playing league, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is what makes you play just for the sake of playing and for enjoyment. Extrinsic motivation is when you play to achieve some sort of reward, or to avoid a negative outcome. When too much focus is but on extrinsic means of motivation, like winning games or winning the World Cup, the skills that maintain intrinsic motivation can begin to diminish. By getting used to being rewarded with wins and with such an intense focus on winning Worlds, it is easy to see why staying motivated during a slump could be difficult.
When the going gets tough… the mentally tough get motivated.
“I want to make this clear to everyone. I am NOT stepping down due to community criticism for my play or myself. I would be lying if I said I didn’t care about it, but I was able to brush it off thanks to my teammates’ confidence in me.”
-Cloud 9 Hai on his response to criticism in social media.
Having to deal with losing streaks and harsh criticism is a tough issue to deal with at all levels of play. For this reason, support structures should be developed and implemented alongside your gaming strategies and mechanics. This will allow you to maintain motivation when morale and/or confidence is low. In the above explanation, Hai puts great emphasis on his ability to mentally combat harsh critics on social media due to strong support from his teammates. In this way he cultivated his teams existing cohesion as a supportive resource that he could rely on to protect his self-esteem. This was an excellent use of available resources to create a supportive structure. The error was in allowing team cohesion to be an exclusive support:
“Over time, my teammates started to lose confidence in my abilities as a player and a shotcaller. That’s what really hit me hard. I don’t think that is an obstacle I was able to overcome and it really got to me.”
-Cloud 9 Hai on confidence and team cohesion.
Because Hai relied heavily on team cohesion to offset the negative feedback on his performance from the greater league community, he lost his primary defense mechanism against criticism when team cohesion began to falter. Without the full support of his teammates, he struggled to get back the confidence he needed to succeed.
So what can we learn from Hai’s experience?
Many professional teams use team cohesion as the primary, and often only consistent emotional support for players. As a result, when cohesion begins to breakdown there is no other recourse, contributing to the mental collapse of players. The same could happen when climbing in ranked queue. It can be truly demotivating when suddenly your favorite duo partner prefers to queue with another player at a higher elo. To combat this effect, proper support networks should consist of at least 3 basic components:
- The Cheerleader: This is someone who appreciates you win or lose, because they admire your tenacity in pursuing your goals and dreams. When you are down, this is the person you know will always believe in you.
- The Mentor: This is someone you admire and view as a successful person in eSports or life. When you are feeling lost, this is the person that can help you reframe your thinking to get you back on track.
- The Journey Partners: These are the people most players rely on solely…your teammates. These are people you identify with because they are pursuing the same goals you are. Remember, these people change over time, coming and going as you change in skill or direction in your career.
Even the most talented players need support. The loftier the goals, the more people we need to keep us moving toward our goals. Having supportive teammates on your side is a great start, but these relationships a meant to be transient. They are meant to change as you change your goals, change as a player, and change as a person. So even though these relationships are important to your success, they are only one of three parts to your support network. Do you have all three components? If not, get out there and find yourself some OP supports!
For more on building your support network, check out the free Mind Games training video on supporting success. Click here to get started.