Mental Health in Esports

An introduction to mental health in e-sports by Skybox.gg partner, Henrik Kamstrup Nielsen. Created in colaboration with Rasmus Hansen from Skybox.gg

Originally posted on Skybox.gg/blog on Feb. 17th 2022.

Introduction to some of the challenges with E-sports Athlete’s Mental Health and how to solve them.

As it is now, most teams and organizations do believe that they take care of the E-sports athletes´ mental health. Granted, they do more than ever to help the athletes, but the support system is not nearly enough, and we risk hurting the young people more than helping them in the long run if we continue the current praxis. Let us dive a bit deeper into what these young athletes might be dealing with and how to help.

Let us start by defining mental health:

”Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”

Definition from mentalhealth.gov

This is how most major E-sports teams handle their athletes mental health:

  • They have a coach.
  • They have a sports psychologist.

This is definitely a good starting point and it is better than “doing nothing”. Many years of coaching have shown that coaching is improving performance in the short run. For the lucky ones this might extend to their whole career. The sports psychologist is down the same alley. But both are, most of the time, solely performance based, so that the individual will perform at top tier levels. For the good of the team. Well, good for the team. Not very good for the individual. Let me elaborate.

There is no doubt that E-sport is a highly competitive and a highly exposed world with attendance passing beyond millions worldwide for the mayor events. It is a world with extreme peer pressure and extreme pressure from the outside. Everybody has an opinion about the team’s performance and people are not afraid to call out individuals, especially if they perform below their normal standards. This is EXTREMELY stressful for the athlete. Many of whom started out gaming as a hobby and suddenly find themselves in a totally different environment than their home bedroom – or the local E-sports club. Today, you can go from an almost unknown player one day, to superstar the next. It is a fantastic opportunity but it has its downsides.

One mayor issue is stress handling. As mentioned in the mental health quote, stress handling is a mayor part of mental health. As the human brain works, there are many things in a modern world that are stressful, especially for young people and especially when you are exposed to the public. Your brain simply is not ready to handle this. And more and more are having” out of game” periods, sick with stress.

But the teams and organizations have mental coaches, they have sports psychologists. Still, this is happening. Why? Because we tend to treat the athletes not as humans, but as robots that needs to perform – nothing else matters. When they do not perform any longer, they are out to find their own ways from then on. Like racehorses becoming too old – you are out. Some people have, by coincidence or life circumstances, a more natural mental hardiness than others, but mostly it is more by luck than anything else that we see this in top performers. They are the few chosen ones that just seem to be unshakeable. The rest manages for a while and finally gives in when_their body and mind cannot deal with it anymore. When you get sick with stress, this is what is happening; the signals from the body have been ignored for too long, and then the body says:” Okay, if the idiot keeps ignoring my signals, I will then send one he / she cannot ignore.” Full system shutdown.

So how do you prepare yourself or E-sports athletes for the extreme pressure? How do you give them the tools to handling other people’s opinions? How do you make them more mentally hard to be able to handle all of this? Throughout their careers and beyond? The answer is psychotherapy in combination with coaching. Psychotherapy is quite overlooked today as a method of self-development. When most people think about self-development, they either think coaching or going to a psychologist. Psychotherapy is a quite powerful tool if you are willing to work with yourself. Where psychotherapy is most powerful is, that you get to re-explore your past, and by talking and get emotional relief, you will end up with acceptance. I use a variety of techniques to help a client. Knowledge and acceptance give you a choice. You will get to influence your now, both emotionally and behaviorally. Moving forward, in collaboration with Skybox we will provide many examples and ideas as to how this can be done.

The reason it is so important to work with our past is, that most of our behavior and feelings are formed in very early childhood and adolescence, forming our resistance to some “bad” feelings, and developing coping strategies to try to avoid these feelings. And if we do not take a good look at these feelings and process them in therapy, you are basically running around with behaviors and emotions suited for a 1–15-year-old child. Some of the developed strategies might make sense as an adult, but many of them needs to be updated.

When the person has become aware of what they have learned emotionally and behaviorally, they can start forming the emotions and behavior they want as an adult. How do you form emotions as adult? By training new behaviors. The ONLY way to gain new and mature emotions is by training new behavior. When you are here, you can begin coaching regarding the athletes´ (could be yourself) and/or the teams wishes. Moving forward they will be so much easier to gain and sustain. The world of E-sports is a very tricky one. There will be ups and downs. However, these ups and downs will be so much easier to handle if the athlete is emotionally mature with a great understanding of where they come from and where they want to go. It is basic personal leadership – and you are only able to be a good leader in your own life with age-appropriate feelings and behavior.

The advantages of competent psychotherapy

  • Psychological robust athletes with great resilience to pressure.
  • More stable performance over time.
  • Less swing in the up and down curve.
  • Athletes that will be able to stay sharp in their chosen line of work for a longer time, as they will get the tools to free themselves of the matches when they are finished.
  • Better sleep.
  • Less stress.
  • A great toolbox to handle expectations and other peoples opinions.
  • A whole human being.