Since PONG was released in 1971, video games have included sound as a main component in the enhancement of the gaming experience. Since then, the role of music has only expanded with music becoming part of the wider esports ecosystem and experience. I wrote a paper on how Riot leverages music to enhance the experience of Worlds for virtual and non-virtual attendees (see: Febrer Coll, 2020), and here I present some insights on how music can enhance the play experience itself, with a sample playlist for League of Legends players.
When referring to esports, we can no longer restrict our understanding of music to what is developing on-screen, but we can rather refer to a wider ecosystem that utilizes sound in an array of ways that go beyond the gaming experience itself –from opening ceremonies in competitive events to music streaming channels that feature esports-related content. Likewise, music has progressively permeated towards the social and performative experiences of esports players, regarding their goal attainment and well-being.
In this sense, and following the growing evidence in sports science that proves the increased performance of athletes exercising at specific musical inputs (Terry et al., 2020), we can affirm that music has a powerful capacity to bring e-athletes –and amateur gamers– towards an improved practice. Musicologists and music psychologists such as Justin Sloboda or Patrik Juslin have been especially eye opening in their summary of the diverse parameters that play a role in how we perceive, process, and exteriorize sonic inputs.
There are eight mechanisms that summarize these parameters (BRECVEMA: Juslin, 2016):
- Brain stem reflex (a response to specific music characteristics, which are taken by the brain stem as a signal of danger or urgency. I.e. loud or dissonant sounds).
- Rhythmic entrainment (a process by which music’s rhythm interacts with our internal body rhythms, such as heart rate).
- Evaluative conditioning (occurs when a piece of music is paired with other stimuli, as associated with specific events and experiences).
- Emotional Contagion (a response to music in which the listener emotionally mimics music’s expressive characteristics).
- Visual imagery (refers to the evocation of visual images through music listening. I.e. ascending melodies are linked to upward movement).
- Episodic memory (a process in which personal memories of specific events are evoked, and linked to the predominant emotion associated with the specific episode).
- Musical expectancy (related to the confirmation or denial of the listener’s expectations about the continuation of music, such as the resolution of a musical phrase on its tonic).
- Aesthetic judgement (linked to the evaluation of the aesthetic value of a piece by the listener and, as such, to individual criteria).
These can be applied in the creation of personalized music experiences, to improve one’s gaming performance or other specific goals, when taken into account for the curation of gaming playlists.
Although music taste and personal experience play a strong role in determining which music will help each player on a specific game, there are three main stages that may be tackled when addressing which soundtrack would work better at each time. These stages are no different from other sports or, more extensively, what may be found in further ritualized activities (Till, 2010).
If we take League of Legends as an example, we could differentiate between:
- Pre-game: This includes the full psychological development of the player from the decision of opening the game to champion selection. This stage is preparatory and it must set the mood for the game. As such, it should include steady beats per minute, at a medium pace (60-70bpm), which should help control both our heart rate and breathing without losing focus.
- In-game: The development of each match comes with a pre-set soundtrack that can serve as a pattern to follow when constructing our own OST, since it includes a tripartite structure which is adaptative of the diverse stages of the game itself (early, mid, and late), and presents an increase in intensity (a progressive layering of instruments). This stage calls for pieces that can keep the player stay alert –not agitated–, so heart rate and other parameters remain steady. Avoiding songs with a strong imagery or memory-related content, as well as potentially distracting lyrics, is recommended.
- Post-game: When victory or defeat are achieved, reflective music may help integrate the experience and evaluate one’s performance in detail before getting into a second match. As such, introspective and/or slower paced music (>60bpm) may be helpful –specially if wrapping up one’s practice.
These three stages can be potentially adapted to fit any esport and specific user, as long as the curating process includes awareness of personal preferences, life history, and general psychological gaming profile. In the following link, you may access a Spotify playlist that has been delineated for a jungle-profile League of Legends player in mind — although it could work for other lines or games, specifically if the listener is self-described as a mildly-aggressive player.
(For reference: In this playlist, the first 5 pieces correspond to the pre-game stage, the following 10 to the in-game stage, and the last 5 to the post-game stage)
Although specific research in music and esports performance is yet to be developed, references from musicology, music psychology, and sports science offer a point of departure and promising perspectives for future application. If you would like to hear more on how to curate your own playlist to enhance your gaming experience — or if you would like me to suggest one for you — while contributing data to this field of research, do not hesitate to contact me at email@example.com.
Febrer Coll, E. (2020). Living like Giants: ‘League of Legends’ from the screen to the stage. Journal of Sound, Silence, Image and Technology, (3), 71-88.
Juslin, P. (2016). Emotional Reactions to Music. In Hallam, S., Cross, I. & Thaut, M. (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology. Oxford University Press, 197–2013.
Terry, P. C., Karageorghis, C. I., Curran, M. L., Martin, O. V., & Parsons-Smith, R. L. (2020). Effects of music in exercise and sport: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 146(2), 91–117.Till, R. (2010). Pop Cult: Religion and Popular Music. Continuum International Publishing Group.