Esports is a true test of mental strength! It is brilliant and dynamic and wonderful but also can be stressful and exhausting. How can we optimise performance to enjoy our esports experiences fully?

I completed a master’s degree in Performance Psychology and I am currently a student in Training and Performance Optimisation in the 3A2P laboratory (physical activity, learning and performance support) at the University of Western Brittany. Through my work, I wanted to follow the research work that has focused on the physical and mental well-being of players (1). The objective was to offer training in basic mental preparation exercises to the player so that they could build their own performance routine before a game session, between two sessions and after a game session. During my second year of Master Degree in Performance Psychology at the University of Dijon, I set up a protocol with about twenty players from different games. The objective was to train with them in the use of exercises such as controlled breathing, mental imagery or mindfulness mediation. The important thing was that the players could understand and test the exercises in their practice to adapt them to their needs, so there was a lot of work to exchange on these practices and to educate them on their own feelings and needs.

Figure 1- an example of a routine built and implemented with some players

When we talk about mental preparation, the player is the first person concerned. They are the one who feels fatigue, positive or negative emotions, frustration, stress in a potentially stressful environment (2). If they do not have the capacity to determine the reasons for their fatigue, or the reasons why they are stressed before training, they will not be able to voluntarily act on these causes to remedy them. A big part of the work has therefore been to draw on theory and scientific literature to provide rational explanations of what is going on in their heads and bodies, to put into words what they are feeling at play.

Then it was up to the player to do the work (or not to do it) on their own and to give me as much feedback as possible so that we could adapt the exercises. For some players, it goes very quickly because they already have a certain culture of their own feelings. Some Valorant players already knew what kind of mindset they needed to be in to perform well (relaxed, physically warm, clean hands…), some Guilty Gear players were already used to focusing on a technical mistake they had made beforehand, to visualise it mentally and propose strategies to correct this mistake in the future. For other players, this was partially or totally new. In this case, you have to be patient and not try to progress at the same speed as everyone else, at the risk of missing the most important point of this training : the individualisation of the routine (3).

An example of the need to personalise your routine is the management of stress levels. For a given situation, for example a scrim against a team of a higher level, two players of the same level playing in the same team may need a different stress level. The first one, who easily gets tense in high-stakes situations, will probably need to be very relaxed physically and focused on the different actions they have to carry out during the game. The second, on the other hand, is naturally relaxed and will need an energy boost, to feel the excitement and to concentrate on the objectives to be achieved before starting. Two different levels of stress so that each player is in his or her optimum performance zone.

In order to reach the desired level of stress, we use relaxation to become aware of our current state, in order to assess our level of muscular tension, our thoughts and the situation. Then we use controlled breathing (relaxing or energising) to influence our autonomic nervous system (4), mental imagery (mental rehearsal, relaxing or energising image, positive internal dialogue) to increase the perceived level of control over the situation (5) and some physical warm-ups to feel ready for action.

This first training course allows players to become aware of some key points of their performance, whether it is their level of fatigue, their stress management or the management of their emotions. For me, it is very pleasant to work within the teams and the staff in a complex competitive environment. In France, the media coverage of esport makes it a privileged means of communication to encourage the healthy practice of video games. In my opinion, it is the best opportunity to show that players are professionals who demonstrate important qualities for everyday life, such as teamwork, emotional intelligence, or the ability to solve problems. But it is also important to show that nothing can be taken for granted and that you can’t perform for long without maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Currently, I continue to work with the Bretagne Crazy Esport team, as well as DeathroW for a fixed period. I am dedicating my Master 2 year at the University of Brittany to the preparation of a thesis (I am looking for funding from October 2022) on the psychophysiological markers of esports performance, which will be based on the analysis of the practice and the accompaniment of professional players in their daily training. This will involve an analysis of practice and the creation of a protocol for measuring the training load of professional players. There is still a lot of work to be done, but in the meantime I would be very happy to exchange with you all ! I will be present to communicate at the Esport Research Network Conference 2021. Until then, one last piece of advice to apply on a daily basis to strengthen your self-awareness: “Listen and see how good it smells”.

Watch the Esports Research Colloquium talk here: 

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1(a). Yin, K., Zi, Y., Zhuang, W., Gao, Y., Tong, Y., Song, L., & Liu, Y. (2020). Linking Esports to health risks and benefits: Current knowledge and future research needs. Journal of sport and health science9(6), 485.

1(b). DiFrancisco-Donoghue, J., Balentine, J., Schmidt, G., & Zwibel, H. (2019). Managing the health of the eSport athlete: an integrated health management model. BMJ open sport & exercise medicine5(1), e000467.

  1. Piccone, A. (2021). Understanding Stressors and Coping Strategies in Collegiate Club eSport Athletes(Doctoral dissertation, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville).
  2. Dixon, J. (2016). Pre-Competition Mental Preparation Routines and Performance in Hockey(Master’s thesis, Graduate Studies).
  3. Bordoni, B., Purgol, S., Bizzarri, A., Modica, M., & Morabito, B. (2018). The influence of breathing on the central nervous system. Cureus10(6).
  4. Pearson, J. (2019). The human imagination : the cognitive neuroscience of visual mental imagery. Nature Reviews Neuroscience20(10), 624-634.