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It’s Virtually the Same: Psychological Challenges of eSports Athletes

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Sports are now included in the diverse range of social interactions that can happen in a virtual space. Electronic Sports (eSports) refer to games where individuals or teams compete against each other on an electronic platform. As of 2018, 30% of the people in the world (2.2 billion) played eSports (Chung et al., 2019). Viewership for eSports culminated in 2019 with around 100 million viewers for the League of Legends eSports tournament. For comparison, in the same season, the National Football League attracted 180 million viewers. Along with comparable viewership, eSports players also share some of the difficulties of traditional sport athletes.

Himmelstein et al. (2017) identified psychological challenges for eSports players that are similar to their traditional sport athlete peers:

  • Confidence issues
  • Inadequate coping strategies
  • Past achievements and mistakes
  • Harassment
  • Lack of self and team development
  • Difficulty in separating gaming and life 

Along with these challenges,  one of the unique psychological challenges which eSports players experience is stigma. 

Breaking the Stigma

Stigma is a major psychological challenge for eSports players as individuals and sport governing bodies continue to ask: Is this really a sport? In “A New Hero: The Rise of College eSports (2016)," players give personal accounts of lack of support from their families. Apart from families, some larger organizations have also responded negatively. Notably, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) argued against the inclusion of eSports in the Olympics. The IOC cited reasons such as lack of athleticism, lack of physicality, and too much violence. Home or away, eSports players have to constantly justify the legitimacy of their sport.  

There are larger concerns about eSports which surround the stigma. Some concerns include obesity, social isolation, poor academic performance and sleep disruption. However, these issues are associated with addictive and unhealthy gaming behaviors (Chung et al., 2019) rather than all of eSports. Moreover, the players need support to address these issues rather than a dismissal of eSports themselves.

The issue of stigma can also lead to other challenges, such as exhaustion. Aspiring eSports players who experience rebukes at home, might prefer to spend more time in the virtual world. The players already have another motivation to play long hours—competitiveness. The accessibility of the eSports platform makes it highly competitive. In a BBC documentary, “The Supergamers,” an eSports player stated that “everyone is competing for your job.” This has meant that professional eSports players practice for an average of 10-12 hours a day with little time for recovery (Chung et al., 2019). To address issues like exhaustion, addressing the larger stigma associated with eSports is important.  

Some strategies to reduce stigma for parents, family and friends include:

  • Avoid dismissive comments when talking to eSports players or about eSports.
  • Ask eSports players about their concerns.
  • Help young and aspiring eSports players understand and anticipate challenges.
  • Support eSports players through their challenges. 

The support of parents, friends and institutions is important for the well-being of e-players. Further, Certified Mental Performance Consultants® can understand the players’ motivations and help them develop better coping skills. Mental skills training might be particularly beneficial for eSports players who are expected to sustain focus and exercise their minds for 10-12 hours a day.

eSports will be a medal event in the 2022 Asian Games (Chung et. al, 2019) and the number of eSports players is increasing. In the future, it will be important to enhance our understanding of eSports and the players' perspectives. Screens are, after all, everywhere.

References

Chung, T., Sum, S., Chan, M., Lai, E., & Cheng, N. (2019). Will esports result in a higher prevalence of problematic gaming? A review of the global situation. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 8(3), 384-394.

Himmelstein, D., Liu, Y., & Shapiro, J. L. (2017). An exploration of mental skills among competitive league of legend players. International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 9(2), 1-21.

photo of Dhruv Raman

By Dhruv Raman
Boston University

Dhruv Raman is pursuing his Master’s degree in Counseling and Sport Psychology at Boston University. He completed his undergraduate degree in Psychology at Ashoka University, India. He has worked with youth athletes in India, which is where he gained an interest in sport psychology through his experience as a cricketer. He played internationally in England, South Africa and UAE. Presently, he works with athletes in and around Boston as part of his training. His other interests include philosophy and soccer. He can be contacted through Facebook, LinkedIn or via email: draman@bu.edu.

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