Pro esports players ‘face same psychological pressure as physical athletes’, study reveals

Esports players competing in top-flight tournaments face the equivalent pressure and stress as professional athletes, researchers have revealed.

A study at the University of Chichester examined the psychological challenges encountered by elite esports professionals when competing in major contests, in what’s described as the first investigation of its kind.

Researchers found that esports players faced 51 different stress factors, mirroring the mental conditions experienced by professional physical athletes including footballers and rugby stars in high-profile tournaments. These stress factors included icommunication problems and concerns with competing in front of live audiences.

Poor communication between teammates was identified as a key stressor among players when exposed to pressured environments. To manage the situation, said the research team, players either became overly aggressive to one-another or attempted to avoid communication altogether, which negatively impacted their performance.  

The investigation, published in the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, interviewed high-ranking CSGO players.

Researchers also recommended that top esports players are given psychological training to learn practical coping techniques, in order to help them more effectively prepare for the pressures of competing at elite levels.

The study builds on the University of Chichester’s academic expertise in esports and its newly-launched BA (Hons) esports degree, which examines the impact of gaming through scientific study.

Students on the three-year course learn at the University’s new £35m Tech Park, which was recently opened by The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. The course covers the physical and psychological impact of esports, including nutrition, coaching and strategy.

Course leader Rams Singh, who joined the University of Chichester earlier this year, and is 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.”

Rams Singh, University of Chichester

Study co-author Dr Phil Birch, a senior lecturer in sport and exercise psychology at the University of Chichester, said: “Esports has become a multimillion-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 optimise performance while playing at the highest level.”

Rob Black, COO at ESL, commented: “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.”

Authors of the study included Dr Matthew Smith, Dr Phil Birch and Dr Dave Bright.

You can read the study in full here.

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