The Frozen Sea
Recently I found myself in Vaasa, Finland, and for the first time in my life I have encountered the frozen sea. Of course, I know that the sea does freeze, but somehow I always imagined it as the far North, where the seals and an occasional polar bear milled about. Here is a bustling city filled with humans, some of whom walk out on the frozen sea and fish off the edge. Being from Minnesota I’m familiar with ice fishing the lakes through holes. Why drill a hole when there is a large expanse available? Still I feel as though it should be classified as risky behavior.
All of the cold has had me reflecting on some recent memories. The first came from when I was listening to interviews players gave after IEM Guangzhou, and the overriding theme was about the cold and generally inhospitable climate in the convention center. More recently at IEM Kiev, Riot Gaming’s Phreak commented that most successful ladder players do not do well at their first LAN event simply because they aren’t accustomed to the environmental side affects, such as cold hands, bright lights, and loud sounds.
I believe this comment came to light a bit when I was watching the Feast vs MMA match that I wrote my previous article about. After the first game MMA put on a down-filled jacket. Because of the adrenaline of that game, he was most likely actually sweating. However, adrenaline is also vasoconstrictive and causes your extremities to become cold. MMA is aware that being overly sweaty does not affect performance, but having cold hands does. And living in Finland I can testify that the fastest and most effective way to warm your feet or hands is to cover your legs or arms and torso.
Pre-performance’s Role in Success
Most athletes end up with pre-performance routines because they want to increase their consistency. What if you could play every game like your best game? A lot of the factors that go into creating that “in the zone” feeling are mental or emotional. So discovering the routine that gets you in the best shape mentally or emotionally before you play gives you an edge. Federer is a famous tennis player because of his consistency; he wins on his good days and his bad days. When he was still young he took an anger management course, which he credits for helping him start developing the mental skills he uses to cope with his game. Tennis is a game filled with pre-performance routines. Aside from the obvious pre-competition time, there are breaks in play that allow for mini-routines between games and even between serves. Tennis is a game that truly represents mental toughness.
Of course, I’m not encouraging you to go out and enroll today in an anger management course, although if you play League of Legends regularly like I do then you know that it certainly couldn’t hurt. 🙂 However, there are some steps you can take right now to strengthen your own pre-performance preparation. Even though most eSports have continuous play during games, there are still pauses between matches and the all-important pre-competition period.
Although I may have harped on the mental prep just above, the best place to start with pre-performance is actually not mental, but physical. This is because the huge affect that physical preparation can have on ones emotional and mental readiness in a tournament.
Step one is the incidental things like down coats, snacks, appropriate clothing, and backup gear. If you are on a team with a manger then you already have a huge advantage, because he can take care of lots of little details and free you to focus on the big picture. If not then lists are your best friend! Having everything you may need is a simple first step to avoiding distractions during an important match.
After the ‘things’ are taken care of the next step is the body. For your body take focus on the ‘big three’, that is nutrition, sleep, and arousal state. Nutrition and sleep are fairly self-explanatory. Sleep has a large impact on, well, everything: mood, reactions, blood flow, hormone levels, concentration, etc. Nutrition is important, although not as important as in more physical sports. I don’t recommend trying to excessively over-hydrate. For one, eSports athletes don’t need as much water, and secondly the symptoms of dehydration manifest themselves long after the desire of thirst arises, so if one just drinks or eats a little when they are thirsty then it should be fine. Also having to use the bathroom badly during a match is quite detrimental to concentration.
Arousal is probably the best way to instantly improve your mental and emotional capacity. A simple 15-20 minute yoga routine can massively increase blood flow to the brain, divert blood to the extremity muscles which leads to faster responses and warmer hands and feet, as well as loosen up the shoulders and upper back which, believe it are not, are largely tied up with the lower back and lumbaric system. There are a lot of other good options like walking, stretching, pilates, etc. As long as it lasts longer than 10 minutes and is at least low-moderate intensity then it will be beneficial.
The benefits of a good arousal routine can be emotional, physical, and mental. Studies have shown increases in confidence, concentration, social cohesion with teamates, and reflexes as well as decreases in negative anxiety, willingness to quit in a losing situation, and detrimental emotions (like overconfidence and frustration).
The Next Step
After tackling the pre-game time slot, physical preparation can be extended up to a week before any important competition. However, the most important times are directly prior, the morning-of, and the day before a match.
I think the biggest difference between a good player and a great player is not whether or not they can win one tournament, but whether they can win consistently. Pre-performance preparation is a big step on the way to bringing an A game to every competition. Next week I’ll move on from the physical side of prep to the mental side and share some common practices that have developed in sport psychology.