Psychological and Physiological Stress in Esports

Playing esports can be considered a motivated performance (e.g., Pedraza-Ramirez et al., 2020) that if played competitively should lead to a psychophysiological stress response (e.g., Leis & Lautenbach, submitted).

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In general, stress is an interactive psychophysiological response that includes cognitive appraisal and physiological changes to threatening or demanding – but relevant – stimuli. Whereas the subjective response can be experienced as unpleasant, the physiological response involves a complex reaction of the neurohormonal (e.g., cortisol and testosterone) and autonomic nervous system (e.g., blood pressure and heart rate). Several studies have recently indicated that competition, which is a key element of esports, is related to change in psychophysiological state (e.g., Abad-Tortosa et al., 2017). Although the details might differ, both the competitive and stressful environments within which esports players perform are similar to other competitive sport environments (e.g., Hallmann & Giel, 2018; Smith et al., 2019). Given the increasing popularity of esports, greater numbers of players regularly participate in high-level competitions.

Therefore, a better understanding of stress in the esport environment and its effects on (motor and cognitive) performance is needed to inform sport psychological training and intervention strategies in the future.

The aim of this project is to investigate stress in esports through the following questions:

  1. Is playing esports related to psychological and/or physiological stress?
  2. What stressors, coping strategies, and associated stress responses do players experience?
  3. What impact do specific coping strategies have on players’ performance and well-being?

Therefore, we provided a first overview of the current state of research on psychological and physiological stress in esports (see review by Leis & Lautenbach, submitted), highlighting various (theoretical as well as methodological) limitations and the urgent need for in-depth, high-quality research. In a quantitative study – that takes identified limitations into account – objective stress responses related to playing esports will be investigated. A qualitative approach will be used to gain insights into stressors, associated (subjective) stress responses, and coping strategies of professional players.

Achieving a greater understanding of players’ subjective and objective stress responses and associated coping strategies will then form the basis of an intervention that focuses on investigating the impact of specific coping strategies on performance and well-being.

This research is still in progress and we will share the results in the future, if you want more information, please contact Oliver Leis (University of Leipzig)

References

  • Abad-Tortosa, D., Alacreu-Crespo, A., Costa, R., Salvador, A., & Serrano, M. Á. (2017). Sex differences in autonomic response and situational appraisal of a competitive situation in young adults. Biological Psychology, 126, 61-70. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2017.04.008
  • Hallmann, K., & Giel, T. (2018). eSports-Competitive sports or recreational activity? Sport management review, 21(1), 14-20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smr.2017.07.011
  • Leis, O. & Lautenbach, F. (submitted). Psychological and physiological stress in non-competitive and competitive esports settings: A systematic review.
  • Smith, M. J., Birch, P. D., & Bright, D. (2019). Identifying stressors and coping strategies of elite esports competitors. International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 11(2), 22-39.