Holistic Esports Performance

The grind mentality is the assumption that results are only produced by the amount of hours worked. Science tells us a different story.

Person coaching another player in front of a computer monitor

Performance in esports has been dominated by the "grind" mentality ever since the inception of the industry. The grind mentality is the assumption that results are only produced by the amount of hours worked. We hear this message echoed all the time in traditional sports and the corporate world. "No days off!" "Successful people wake up at 5 AM every day!” In esports, this mentality results in players believing the only way to the top is to play the game as much as humanly possible.

Science tells us a different story. Science tells us that overtraining exists, that our mind and body have limits, and that rest is actually essential for growth. What is the point of working excessively hard if it you get injured before you get to compete on the big stage? What is the point of working non-stop if you get burnt out and quit a few years into your career? Not only is this behavior unhealthy, it is simply inefficient for improvement. Research shows that people who take vacations will be more productive [1]. Research shows that learning physiologically occurs during moments of rest, especially during sleep [9].

At Esports Performance Academy (EPA), we pride ourselves in providing holistic coaching. We acknowledge the many different factors outside of in-game practice influence esport performance and that esports participation presents several dangers to physical and mental health [11]. Esports competition relies heavily on cognitive performance. Unlike in traditional sports where one can train to be physically stronger or faster than their opponent, advantages in esports come from cognitive abilities like reaction time, decision making, and concentration. Therefore, the healthier the brain, the better the brain functions, and the better the brain functions the better the esport performance.

Cognitive Function

Cognitive function is the primary determinant of esport performance [8]. The mode of competition in esports is typically a seated position with either a computer mouse and keyboard or a console controller. The motor skills utilized, therefore, are mostly quick and controlled hand and finger movements. How quickly and accurately a player can input the appropriate sequences, and thus how skilled a player is, is dependent on cognitive processes like reaction time, attention, memory, and more [4]. Several key factors to ensure that these processes are functioning at a high level include sleep, nutrition, exercise, and mental training.

Sleep

Sleep is the most important facet of cognitive function and performance. Insufficient sleep negatively affects cognitive functioning across the board, including reduced reaction time, emotional regulation, and alertness [2]. One of the main benefits of sleep is memory consolidation, the ability to store information [9]. Memory consolidation is the foundation of learning new information, and it applies to both intellectual knowledge as well as motor skills through muscle memory. Therefore, how much a player learns and improves his skills relies on their quality of sleep. Having a poor sleep schedule will decrease the likelihood of the effects of practice appropriately engraining into long-term memory.

Nutrition

Nutrition is another vital component for brain health and cognitive performance [3]. Essentially, our brains grow from what we feed it, so we want to make sure to feed our brain properly to foster healthy growth and optimal functioning. Beyond the developmental scope, there are certain nutrients that provide instantaneous cognitive enhancement that should be carefully selected and scheduled for the demands of competition. We can only output at the level of our input, and thus we need to fuel our mind and body effectively to produce high performing outcomes.

Exercise

Physical activity is well known to provide improvements in cognitive function, mood, physical and psychological health, and more [6]. The cognitive benefits alone warrant that anyone pursuing esports should be attaining recommended levels of exercise. However, the physical demands in esports are not the same as traditional sports and therefore do not need to share the same level of intensity. Since attributes like strength and speed have minimal impact on esport performance, one can then focus on specific exercises for cognition or injury prevention that do not require exhaustion in the weight room or on the field.

Mental Training

Each of the holistic factors discussed so far (sleep, nutrition, and exercise) have a highly beneficial but indirect impact on esport performance through non-specific cognitive functioning. There are, however, particular mental skills that directly influence esport performance that can be trained. These mental skills include concentration, emotional regulation, visualization, and more in which training and theory is typically founded in the field of sport psychology [10]. Mental skills and sport psychology need to be trained throughout a career for the effects to be realized when it matters and is necessary for the achievement of optimal performance.

Physical Health

While the lack of physicality in esports is evident, it is certainly not favorable. Physical inactivity, or sedentary behavior, is associated with an array of health risks including cardiovascular disease, obesity, muscle weakness, and all-cause mortality [7]. With the nature of esports requiring players to sit for long periods of time, it is easy for players to fall into a sedentary lifestyle and overlook their physical health. Furthermore, the movements that players do perform along with the lack thereof present specific complications and injuries, specifically pertaining to the hands, wrists, neck, and back. We all know the stereotype around gamers being lazy, overweight, and unhealthy. Fighting this stereotype will not only provide a higher quality and longer lasting esport career but simultaneously improve the potential of their esport performance.

Injury Prevention

The most common complaints of esports athletes include pain and discomfort in the hands, wrists, neck, and back [5]. The associated disorders and dysfunctions are often caused by both the specific movements being performed and the lack of overall movement. In esports, players are typically conducting successive small and repetitive movements with their hands and wrists which can cause irritation and damage to the nerves and tendons. Additionally, sitting for extended periods of time puts stress on the body parts that fight gravity and maintain upright posture such as the neck and back. Many of the resulting injuries are difficult to heal and often chronic, as evidenced by many professional esport players retiring due to such injuries. Unfortunately, the onset of symptoms like pain and numbness often indicates the injury has already occurred. Therefore, proper injury prevention to reduce the chances of complications arising is key to ensuring longevity and satisfaction.

Conclusion

Esport performance is still in its growing stages; the best theories and practices for improving skill and performance in esports have yet to be determined. The most advantageous option, therefore, is to look to the decades of knowledge around traditional sports, mastery, behavior change, and relevant sciences. This is an important time for esports players, coaches, practitioners, and organizations to take pioneering steps for establishing scientific foundations of esport performance. At EPA, we are extracting the existing scientific literature and carefully designing what we believe are the most evidence-based practices for optimal esport performance. Our mission is to provide the skillsets for the highest levels of performance for the longest amount of time through comprehensive and holistic coaching.

References

1. Achor, S., & Gielan, M. (2021, August 27). The Data-Driven Case for Vacation. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/07/the-da...

2. Goel, N., Rao, H., Durmer, J., & Dinges, D. (2009). Neurocognitive Consequences of Sleep Deprivation. Seminars in Neurology, 29(04), 320-339. doi:10.1055/s-0029-1237117

3. Gómez-Pinilla, F. (2008). Brain foods: The effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(7), 568-578. doi:10.1038/nrn2421

4. Hisam, A., Mashhadi, S. F., Faheem, M., Sohail, M., Ikhlaq, B., & Iqbal, I. (2018). Does playing video games effect cognitive abilities in Pakistani children? Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences, 34(6). doi:10.12669/pjms.346.15532

5. Lindberg, L., Nielsen, S. B., Damgaard, M., Sloth, O. R., Rathleff, M. S., & Straszek, C. L. (2020). Musculoskeletal pain is common in competitive gaming: A cross-sectional study among Danish esports athletes. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 6(1), 000799. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2020-000799

6. Mandolesi, L., Polverino, A., Montuori, S., Foti, F., Ferraioli, G., Sorrentino, P., & Sorrentino, G. (2018). Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509

7. Park, J. H., Moon, J. H., Kim, H. J., Kong, M. H., & Oh, Y. H. (2020). Sedentary Lifestyle: Overview of Updated Evidence of Potential Health Risks. Korean Journal of Family Medicine, 41(6), 365-373. doi:10.4082/kjfm.20.0165

8. Railsback, D., & Caporusso, N. (2018). Investigating the Human Factors in eSports Performance. Advances in Human Factors in Wearable Technologies and Game Design Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, 325-334. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-94619-1_32

9. Rasch, B., & Born, J. (2013, April). About sleep's role in memory. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p...

10. Röthlin, P., Horvath, S., Trösch, S., Holtforth, M. G., & Birrer, D. (2020). Differential and shared effects of psychological skills training and mindfulness training on performance-relevant psychological factors in sport: A randomized controlled trial. BMC Psychology, 8(1). doi:10.1186/s40359-020-00449-7

11. Yin, K., Zi, Y., Zhuang, W., Gao, Y., Tong, Y., Song, L., & Liu, Y. (2020). Linking Esports to health risks and benefits: Current knowledge and future research needs. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 9(6), 485-488. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2020.04.006

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