Are psychologists needed within the eSports environment?
To answer this question eSportspedia’s Víctor “Datkros” has done research on why psychologists are involved in mainstream sports and examined the current eSports atmosphere to reach a conclusion.
Professional players are retiring due to negative feedback from the community, and it makes one wonder: Can this problem be avoided?
Recently, Team Coast’s now-former jungler NintendudeX is taking a break from the competitive scene due in part to an alarming amount of negative "feedback" he was receiving via social media. It introduced him to a cycle of self-doubt which negatively impacted his play. While many who weigh in on such matters say that the solution is simply to “ignore the haters,” this has clearly proven itself to be an unviable option. It doesn't matter whether your mom is there to reproach you for failing half your classes in college or not; you know she’s disappointed. The same is happening in eSports: regardless of whether a player checks his social media or not, he knows that people are judging him for every misplay, for every missed smite. This breach of a person’s mental focus can and does break a player’s focus. The amount of pressure is immeasurable.
But if ignoring social media doesn't help, how can one deal with the numerous threads calling for benching that people are putting up on reddit? To be fair, there is no single miraculous solution. Perhaps a example can be seen by taking a look to at what our brothers in sports do: incorporating psychologists into their teams/organizations.
In mainstream sports, psychologists generally start out by studying the athletes' thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, training regimen, and so forth. Their main goal is to help athletes become people who don’t break under pressure. In football (soccer, for Americans), where thousands of spectators watch, criticize, shout, and even throw things at the players, the ability to keep one’s mind focused is highly valued. All this confidence is generally gained through training and the accumulation of experience---keep in mind football players tend to start training at a very early age. However, what happens when they miserably lose an important match because of one mistake? Some break down crying or even fall into depression. Psychologists are there to give a helping hand and mentor athletes. This is not their only role, though, in team games they also aid in the formation of a healthy environment for all players so as to promote teamwork.
One clear example for a sports psychologist is Marcelo Roffe, who used sports psychology in soccer to prepare Argentina’s under-20 squad for the 2001 Under-20 World Cup. In order to create a psychological profile of each player, he asked players easy-to-answer questions to evaluate the following:
[The player’s] motivation, goal-seeking, anxiety, competitive anxiety, focus, focus under pressure, fears, internal pressures, external pressures, self-confidence, decision-making, reaction to adversity, tolerance to frustration, self-concept, aggression levels, group adaptation, place on the group, interpersonal bonds, [the] bond with the coach, bond[s] with the staff members, tension indicators, etc. (translated from Roffe, 6).
This evaluation allowed for Roffe to create a psychological profile for each player. Specific methods used to help the team included performing visualization and relaxation exercises and playing in-house games together to improve their synergy and cohesion. He also created posters that stated the team’s and each player’s goals that kept them motivated. While training, they were allowed to be visited by friends and family, as visits were considered beneficial for their mental health. After this mental training, Argentina’s U-20 Club was able to win the 2001 U-20 World Cup.
How does this translate into eSports?
League of Legends and eSports as a whole is a land full of young adults who are still developing as people, with almost no prior experience of being the center of attention. They haven't trained for years, they haven't spent a year practicing without being drafted, and they haven't tasted the flavor of defeat in front of a large audience. While the processes in eSports are not necessarily bad at the core, learning to get up after you fall is essential. You can't expect to win every time. You will lose, and when you do it's going to be hard. That is unavoidable, especially when the League of Legends scene is fluctuating as much as it does, being able to handle losses is an ability all pro players must possess.
This is where psychologists come in: they help players handle those tough losses; they are a crucial stone in a player's path to resilience. And one must build resilience in order to keep playing at the highest level. In League of Legends, where trust, teamwork and harmonious relations are incredibly important factors, being able to talk to an unbiased individual who can identify communication issues and quickly fix them is vital above all.
In eSports, some of these motivational exercises are being used, specifically the poster exercises are already being done in eSports - a wall with several motivational phrases is present in the KT Rolster gaming house.
A couple of months ago, the SK Gaming squad revealed that they had hired a sports psychologist to help them out in their LCS road. While there is no tangible proof that his hiring was the main factor behind their first-place finish in the 2014 EU LCS Spring Split regular season, their confidence and consistency has surely improved.
In time, having a psychologist might become a necessity for every team in League of Legends, as it is a brutal game that can push anyone to their limits no matter how tough their skin is.
"La preparación psicológica de la selección Juvenil Argentina Sub 20 de Fútbol para el Mundial 2001: Un año de trabajo con futbolistas de élite" Online here