Study: Esports gamers face just as much psychological pressure as pro athletes

CHICHESTER, England — Esports, or professional video game tournaments, are here to stay. This relatively new category of sports has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity over the past decade or so. So much so that its effects are beginning to be studied and analyzed in the same way that researchers would investigate other, more traditional sports. One such recent study finds that gamers participating in some of esports’ most prestigious tournaments, where top prizes routinely eclipse seven figures, deal with the same amount of psychological pressure as professional soccer and rugby players.

The study was led by Rob Black, co-author and Chief Operating Officer at leading esports company ESL, and is the first to examine the psychological factors that impact esports players in a serious way. Black’s co-author was Dr. Phil Birch, a senior lecturer in sport and exercise psychology at the University of Chichester in the United Kingdom.

Black and Birch’s findings reveal that elite esports players face 51 stress factors while participating in high-profile tournaments. Such factors include communication problems with their teammates, as well as worries over how they’ll perform in front of large live audiences. It’s worth noting that many observed stressors among esports athletes echoed common traits found in pro soccer and rugby players.

“Esports has become a multimillion-pound business attracting audiences worldwide, but there is little research into the psychological factors that influence players,” says Dr. Birch in a media release. “We have discovered that gamers are exposed to significant stress when competing in top-flight contests. By isolating these stressors, we can help esports players develop effective coping strategies to deal with such stressors and optimize performance while playing at the highest level.”

Among the numerous stressors examined, poor team communication was cited as a key factor that commonly affects performance in pressured environments. Players tend to try to alleviate this stress by being overly aggressive with their teammates, or avoiding communication with them altogether. Most of the time, both of these strategies usually result in a poorer performance.

For the study, Black and Dr. Birch interviewed high-ranking esports athletes known for playing the first-person shooter video game “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.”

Based on their findings, the researchers recommend that elite esports players be provided with psychological training. This would help gamers develop practical coping mechanisms for the pressures and stress of performing in front of huge audiences.

“As an industry we’ve known for a long time that stressors on top level players can negatively affect their performance,” Black says. “This study proves this and reinforces what we have been saying for years. Further developments are needed in this area, and that will be key in ensuring the number of professional players continues to grow worldwide.”

The study is published in the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations.

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