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Mental Performance: Insights from a Sport Psychologist working in Esports

In the fascinating discipline of esports where pixels meet passion, where reflexes and quick-thinking excel and where teenagers have the chance to make millions, sport psychologists are beginning to lend their expertise and support to teams and player alike.



A man with crossed arms smiling at the camera.
Callum Abbott, CPsychol

My name is Callum Abbott, a registered sport and exercise psychologist practicing in the UK and I often get asked ‘what is it like working in esports?’. So today I thought I’d share some of the unique challenges and experiences I’ve had in the discipline and explore the characteristics that make working as a sport psychologist in gaming so rewarding.


Why do I enjoy working in esports so much?


There are so many reasons that I enjoy working in esports, including the fact that I’ve been an avid gamer for many years starting with Spyro and Tomb Raider. But the core reason I’m so passionate about the discipline is that it provides a space and opportunity for some of the most skilled players to demonstrate their talents and achieve their dreams, where this might not have been possible mere decades ago. I’ve talked to many players at various levels who discuss how competitive gaming provided a space where they could excel, where they might have had less success and opportunity in more traditional sporting environments. For me, seeing people go from enjoying gaming to realising their potential, and then even becoming professional esports competitors is in my opinion one of the most rewarding parts of the discipline.


Unique challenges


There are so many positives to working in esports, but there are also some unique challenges to contend with. In terms of my experience, one of the best stories which encapsulates a challenge which you don’t find in many other sports is one where a few years ago I attended an in-person ‘bootcamp’. Here I worked with players and coaches of an esports team over a few days in the run-up to their tournament on the final day. On this final day the players were due to play in an online tournament which, if they won, would secure them a sport at an in-person event in the USA. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the facility that morning, two hours before virtual kick-off, the internet line to the facility was down.


Fortunately, the team had contingencies for this, and a second line was ready to take over for such eventualities. Unfortunately, however, this line was also down. It turned out that the internet from these two separate providers had gone down for a significant part of the town we were based in.


Full credit to the team and coach here, rather than panic they weighed up their options and decided the best course of action would be to drive cross-country to get to the team owner’s residence and set up there. And so began an experience I never thought I’d have in sport psychology, where I had to strap four PCs and monitors into my little hatchback and follow the coach in his car around London hoping to reach our destination before the tournament started. Thankfully traffic was kind to us, but the 4 flights of stairs to get up to the apartment were less kind. Lugging all the gear up these stairs repeatedly and providing impromptu tech support whilst the players got set up reminded me that the role of a coach, and sometimes sport psychologist, can often be unpredictable and wide-ranging and that you’ll have to support teams sometimes in less predictable ways.


So finally, all set up in the team owner’s living room on his dining table, the team was ready to play. I can safely say the performance environment wasn’t ideal in terms of internet connection, heat, and proximity of staff to players (our knees were effectively in the back of their dining chairs). Despite this, the players managed to focus and play well enough to qualify for their in-person tournament. The story now serves as a great memory and testament to each player’s resilience, adaptability, and ability to perform under pressure in less than ideal circumstances.


I often discuss this story when asked what it’s like working in esports as it perfectly encapsulates the often unpredictable and unique nature of performing in a sport where the physical world meets the virtual, and it leads nicely into the next challenge which is what happens when you’re on stage expected to perform in front of thousands, instead of your own room?



A competition arena filled with spectators.
Our team facing the crowd getting ready to watch a Rocket League Esports Competition

If you’re luckier than we were that day, the chances are as an esports player most of the time you get to compete and play from your room or somewhere very comfortable and familiar to you. One of the biggest challenges in esports however is preparing for and taking these skills away from the comfort of your own home and transferring them onto a stage where people are watching and shouting for you. Thousands might have been watching at home, but it’s possible to block this out as it’s just numbers on a screen via an online stream and you never see their faces, but it can be much harder to block the out the shouts, movements, and emotion of the crowd when you’re competing at the top level. This is a core area I often find players seek support with when they are making the leap from semi-pro status to pro and attending in-person competitions.


There are so many more unique challenges but to prevent this article being more dense than a dictionary I’ll focus on one more fascinating part of esports, which is the live updating system and ‘meta’ changes. What this means here is that the publishers and developers of a game can update core parts of the game itself, as time goes on, as quickly as they like which can directly change the best approach to playing the game (the meta). This means that things like in-game rules, abilities, characters, damage levels, respawn timers and many more aspects of the game can be altered.


Whilst in other sports occasionally we’ll see rule changes and new technology implemented (such as VAR), the changes seen in esports can be monthly or even sometimes weekly occurrences. This means players must keep on top of not just their skills in game, but patch-notes, update lists, and core knowledge of the game’s mechanics which could change with any update at any time. There is even the risk for some players that their favourite characters or abilities might be significantly changed, rendering their usability in-game moot. It adds another layer of complexity to an already demanding discipline and requires competitors to be flexible, and always looking for a competitive edge.  


So that’s just a few of the reasons why I love working in esports and what some of the unique challenges are from me perspective. I am always grateful to work in such an exciting environment, and one that is rapidly evolving as the years go on and new games are created with their own thriving competitive scenes.


If you’d like to hear more or have any questions and experiences, you’d like to share then feel free to message me on any of my socials, via the website at www.abbottsportpsy.com or via email at abbottsportpsy@gmail.com.


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