High Level E-Sport Gamers Stress Like Pro Athletes

Top-level e-sports gamers are athletes, too! Or at least, they apparently feel the same levels of stress and pressure as pro athletes when competing in top-flight tournaments. Performance anxiety, communication tangles and even “brain farts” are common among these competitors under the stress of tournament play.

University of Chichester researchers looked into the psychological challenges e-sports pros face when they are competing in high-stakes tournaments and competitions. This is the first time these competitors have been studied this way.

It was revealed that e-sports players dealt with similar mental conditions as those of professional soccer players and rugby players during high-level tournaments. 51 different stress factors were identified, including communication problems and fears generated by competing in front of live audiences.

Dr. Phil Birch, study co-author and a senior lecturer in sport and exercise psychology at the University of Chichester, said this: “Esports has become a multi-million pound business attracting audiences worldwide, but there is little research into the psychological factors that influence players.

“We have discovered that gamers are exposed to significant stress when competing in top-flight contests. By isolating these stressors, we can help esports players develop effective coping strategies to deal with such stressors and optimize performance while playing at the highest level.”

Stress-response patterns common among athletes in many sports and across all levels were observed among the e-sports gamers as well. For example, poor communication was frequently observed among teammates and identified as a key stressor in high-pressure environments. Like other athletes, gamers commonly either shut down, avoiding communication with teammates or became aggressive and demanding, ignoring input from teammates. Both behaviors negatively affected their performance.

High-ranking players competing in the increasingly popular first-person shooter game Counter-Strike:Global Offensive were interviewed for the research. The findings were published in the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations.

Providing e-sports gamers with psychological training in order to help them learn useful coping methods for the pressures of high-level play was recommended by the research team. This will help them prepare for the rigors and pressure of elite-level competition, according to Dr. Birch and his team.


Rob Black, the Chief Operating Officer at ESL, the world’s leading esports company, said: “As an industry we’ve known for a long time that stressors on top level players can negatively affect their performance.

“This study proves this and reinforces what we have been saying for years. Further developments are needed in this area, and that will be key in ensuring the number of professional players continues to grow worldwide.”

The University of Chichester is one of a handful of universities with academic expertise in the area of e-sports. This study further builds that expertise and provides material to be studied by students taking Chichester’s new BA E-sports degree. The degree studies the impact of gaming via scientific study.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex recently opened a new £35 million Tech Park at the University of Chichester. It allows students on the three-year course to learn in an immersive gaming environment. Degree students will also study the psychological and physical impact of e-sports, including areas such as strategy, coaching and nutrition.

Course leader Rams Singh, himself a former esports European champion, said: “esports is a developing area, but it is essential that it remains grounded in traditional academia to help us understand immersive gaming and its impact on mind and body.

“This study is important for the industry. We must understand how we can best support the health of our gamers and keep them performing at the top level — just as any other professional athlete.”

Scientific studies on e-sports gamers. A degree program at a well-respected university in England. Facilities whose openings warrant royal visits. E-sports have come a long way from a little white ball bouncing back and forth between two white lines.

No idea what I’m talking about? It was called Pong, and it was the original e-sport. Go look it up!

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Journal Reference – Matthew J. Smith, Phil D.J. Birch, Dave Bright. Identifying Stressors and Coping Strategies of Elite Esports Competitors. International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 2019

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