From the professional eSports tournament competitor to the casual online connoisseur, improving their skill level tends to be a common but avid goal among dedicated gamers. Titles like Fortnite, Overwatch, the Battlefield and Call of Duty franchises, Madden, and a plethora of other popular genres require a certain amount of commitment and determination to play competitively at the highest levels.
However, as with all endeavors that require a particular set of skills (not the kind Liam Neeson possesses), there comes the point when trying to improve may hit a diminishing return. The cure for hitting that frustrating wall comes with a dose of self-awareness and cliché advice: moderation.
Every athlete, in both physical sports as well as eSports, is susceptible to overexertion, reaching a point after a long day of training where marching on can be self-defeating. The brain gets taxed, heating up like a computer’s CPU before eventually shutting down to protect itself and recuperate. With every quickmatch and competitive foray, the gamer’s brain gets closer to its limit. Reaction times slow down, accuracy wanes, and even patience is at risk of plummeting and becoming replaced with a sense of anger that gets directed at the opposition (known as becoming “tilted”), leaving players less productive than they feel their actual skill level suggests.
When players smash into that wall, it might be time to put the game down for a little while. An hour could suffice, perhaps a day, maybe just a few minutes. Fill that time with something else, such as physical exercise, reading, watching TV or a movie, or take a shower (everyone loves a hot shower, even if they don’t need one).
Engaging in a different activity gives the brain time to recalibrate and absorb everything it witnessed during the earlier gaming session: mistakes, accomplishments, etc. This time can be used to reminisce and develop a strategy for fixing aberrations and increasing achievements.
Using Overwatch League (OWL) teams as an example of hardcore practicing with moderation, specifically the team New York Excelsior (NYXL), focus on the player Jjonak (2018’s OWL MVP)—who mains the team’s Zenyatta. Jjonak can be seen in videos sitting by a pool meditating for at least three hours.
This is a professional Overwatch player who, while he does practice playing about ten hours a day with the rest of his team, also has been seen away from the screen meditating or practicing martial arts. Moderation doesn’t necessarily mean spending just as much time doing other things as playing the game in question, but rather knowing one’s limits and giving the brain a break for a while.
Everyone has different limits, and being self-aware is the first step to identifying those limits to know when it’s time to take a break. Many coaches will suggest that it may be time to take a break after losing two games in a row or winning six in a row.
The elation from winning several games can be almost as self-defeating as the aggravation from losing two, giving one a presumably false sense of confidence (not always false). It’s when stepping away for a bit and returning to achieve the same success that skill can be the determining factor.
Even recording one’s gameplay and taking the time to watch a few matches to identify strengths and weaknesses can be construed as a break from playing. Consider it is studying and then trying to apply the skills. Watch one’s self, watch players who are better, and compete against better players. People learn more in defeat than they do in victory as long as they pay attention, and eSports are no different in that regard.
Spending too much time doing any one thing always leads to languishing in irritation and resentment. A tired mind expedites the journey to raging on opponents, and an angry gamer is more likely to underperform.
To quote Michael Jai White’s character in Never Back Down 2, “An angry mind is a narrow mind… [anger] just makes you feel like you’re working harder. You’re actually burning out your mind.” So, step back, don’t overreact to whatever is happening in a game, and understand that getting mad at the enemy team (or teammates, for that matter) isn’t going to solicit improvement.
Instead, it’s going to result in the devolution of one’s gameplay and may even spill over into other facets of life.
Moderation is essential to maximizing a skill when it comes to anything. eSports and video games, in general, are no exception to this rule. Passion is useful, commitment even more so, but addiction—playing with the mindset of “I can stop whenever I want” often leads to getting stuck in a rut and can annihilate even the most profound gamers and streamers.
Just as everyone needs a work-life balance, gamers also need a play-life balance. Reflect, take a break. Give the brain time to absorb and come back better than before.7