Mental health is a matter of vital importance in the modern world, but how does it apply to simracing? We spoke to an esports psychologist to find out.
No matter who you are or what games you play, there are always times when frustration, either at yourself, your opponents or your teammates becomes a factor. In esports racing, issues like collisions with other racers, simple mistakes that send you into the wall, hardware issues and in-game bugs can all cause mental strain and anguish.
As such, it’s very important to take stock of your psychological approach to racing games, so as to ensure that you’re accounting for your own mental health. We spoke to esports psychology expert Jolina Bering about the psychology behind esports and simracing. With a masters in psychology and years of experience working in the fields of sports and esports psychology, who better to ask?
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What unique psychological challenges do racing games bring with them? What should esports racers be doing differently to ensure positive mental health? What is the best way for people to mentally deal with disappointments such as lap one crashes in a race? Jolina gave us the answers to these questions and many more.
OverTake: How much overlap is there between esports psychology and clinical psychology/CBT?
Interestingly, there’s a pretty big overlap especially intervention-wise. If somebody has troubling thoughts no matter if it’s about the performance in an upcoming match or a job interview, we can analyse these thoughts and try to find other ways to think about the issue at hand. This then lets us come to a more wholesome, more positive, view of the situation.
In the end, we might all have different views and different life stories but we still all have a brain. While there is neurodiversity, the basic mechanisms of the mind stay the same: We feel frightened by some situations, we feel unhappy if we don’t fulfill our needs and we have troubling thoughts – what’s up to us is how deal with it.
OverTake: What makes esports psychology unique when compared to sports psychology, for instance?
In general, esports psychology and sports psychology have very similar approaches. The clearest difference between the two is the way in which human bodies are used and the mental responses to that. Athletes in traditional sports work mainly with the muscles in their bodies and therefore have stricter limits to how much they can train. If they overdo it, they might pick up an injury, which can end their career. But in general, participating in sports yields a lot of positive effects for both body and brain.
Esports athletes on the other hand work mostly with their brains and the limits of brain usage are less clear than the limits for muscles in the body. That’s why in esports psychology there needs to be a higher awareness of what constitutes effective training routines and what contributes to a healthy lifestyle. Eventually, there can be mental ‘injuries’ from maintaining an unhealthy amount of training in esports, too, which is called burn-out.
OverTake: In sim racing, it is often the case that players will become frustrated due to races that they’ve put a lot of practice in for coming to an early end due to an accident or collision. How can people approach these issues from a psychological standpoint?
Being frustrated about a race that you put a lot of effort into is understandable and normal, especially when it’s a careless mistake. The psychologically appropriate reaction to bad things that happen to you is to be sad about and grieve missed opportunities. When it comes to grief there are a lot of rituals you can do. For example, you can write down what makes you sad or angry about it on a note and burn it. The rule of thumb here is that if you give your bad feelings enough space and channel them in a functional direction they will pass faster. Acceptance is key here.
Suppressing emotions is like pressing a ball underwater. You can do it, but it will get harder the longer you do it and, in the end, it snaps in your face. Of course, sometimes there are situations where you don’t have the time or space to come to terms with your emotions, maybe because another race is coming up. In times like this, it can be helpful to engage in a little self-talk which can look like this: “I’m frustrated that I messed up this race. I really wanted to win this one and show off my skills. Sadly, I couldn’t, but I need to focus on the next race now. I will give it some more room after the next race. For now, I need to focus on the next race. The track will be…”
OverTake: In general, esports racing is far less of a team effort than other major esports such as League of Legends. Does this provide any unique differences in terms of psychological approach and techniques?
Yes, it makes quite a big difference, as team performance is a very complex matter with lots of variables affecting the outcome. So, at first glance, it might be easier to focus on just one person, but it also requires this one person to be even more mentally prepared.
In teams, other players can give you structure, remind you to properly engage with the game, and hype you up. In racing esports, you have to do this all by yourself. You have the sole responsibility for your performance, which can be seen as a benefit or a burden. In single-player esports, it’s even more important to help the player to interact with themselves, give them tools to handle thoughts and emotions, and maybe even train to get in a flow state or “the zone” as some people call it.
OverTake: What are some big advances you’ve seen in the world of esports psychology since you started?
To me, one of the most important advances is the awareness of mental health and professional support for the players. I think most organizations realize that having a sports psychologist is an important factor in the success of the team and that implementing a beneficial training environment and schedule is helpful to the consistency and longevity of player performance.
OverTake: What could be done better and what should more players be doing?
Of course, there are a lot of things that could be done better or implemented more. That’s good for psychologists in esports: there’s a lot to do. But jokes aside, the most important issue is the training routine. Don’t just play mindlessly if you want to get better. Set yourself goals for what you want to train and be specific about it.
What are your weak spots? How can you train them? How can you measure your success in training? Developing these kinds of goals is very important for growth if you have reached a certain level and feel like you’ve hit a plateau.
OverTake: What is one of the most common pitfalls you see in terms of the psychological approach of esports players?
While there certainly is interest in sports psychology and mental coaching, there is still not enough committed action. Often I see players just “consume” mental coaching without actually interacting with it. An important part of psychology is to change thought and behavior patterns that are not helpful or dysfunctional as we tend to describe them.
Changing them requires effort, it is not enough to just listen, you have to do something for a change to take effect. So before engaging in mental coaching ask yourself: Am I ready and willing to invest time and effort into it?
OverTake: How big of an issue is ‘grinding’ in the world of esports?
I think grinding is the biggest issue there is in esports. When somebody starts playing a game, they tend to think: “The more I play, the better I get”. And while this is completely true for the early phases of getting into a game, it becomes increasingly less so as the player improves. However, most players cling to this belief, because they are afraid of getting worse as a result of training less.
So, they play 10 to 12 hours a day, losing all the resources they have in life outside of the game like friends, hobbies, and sports. And when the day comes when the winning streak ends, and it always comes, they lose the one thing they have sacrificed everything for. At that point, depression is pretty much right around the corner as we have seen it in many esports professionals.
But it doesn’t even have to be that way. The solution to this problem is training differently. As an experienced player, you will only marginally improve by “spamming” the game. To make further progress you have to make use of a different training approach, which actually requires you to take less time. It’s called deliberate practice.
OverTake: And finally, could you provide our readers with 3-5 handy tips for improving their approach to gaming and sim racing in their day-to-day lives?
1. Ask yourself “What do I want to get out of playing the game?”. Do you play for fun or do you play because you want to be successful?
2. Set yourself goals that fit your needs. If you want fun, then play the game in a way that’s fun to you. If you want to improve, you might want to specifically work on the things you need to improve on. Get feedback if needed.
3. Train smarter not harder. You don’t need to mindlessly repeat things. Write down things you want to work on. Do them one after another. If you want to get better on a certain track or with a particular car, specifically train that. Go into detail: What makes it hard for me? What skills am I lacking? And then specifically work on them.
4. Don’t overdo it, take breaks. Our concentration is limited, and the human brain consolidates knowledge and new experiences during breaks. So take a break at least every 1 ½ to 2 hours and move a bit. You could go for a walk, do the dishes, tidy up the room, or do something that doesn’t require you to think much or means more informational input.
5. Build up and preserve your resources. Things like hobbies, meeting friends, doing sports helps our body and mind to feel balanced and ready to perform. Keep at it or try to build up these kinds of resources to enable stable performance.
Do you have any more questions regarding mental health in esports racing that we missed? Let us know by tweeting @OverTake_gg or leave a comment down below!