The pinnacle of professional esports can seem like an impossible goal for your average fan. The technical skill, flashy plays, and lightning fast reactions of the best players in the world look almost superhuman to the casual player. Although, it’s true that these incredible physical feats are essential in the making of an esports star; it is also true that there’s a totally different battle playing out that viewers never see. This is the mental game.
Equally, if not more important than technique, the mental game often separates the casual player from the pros – and the pros from the legends. Not everyone can become an esports star, but we can all try to adopt some positive mental attitude (PMA) into our own play. A good mentality will help you improve faster and enjoy the game more!
Online play can be very tilting (or frustrating), and it’s easy to fall into a downward spiral if you don't stop to check yourself. Below, you’ll find a list of 5 ways to help you stay positive during your online play sessions and improve faster.
It’s easy to understand PMA as an abstract concept. The idea of playing to improve, and not to win, is great in theory but in practice it can be hard to implement. When the bullets are flying mid-match it's tough to remember that the win is not the only thing that matters. It’s hard to remind yourself that losing doesn't make you a bad player and winning doesn't mean you're a good player.
Emotions are at play and they can easily hamper your improvement. For this list, I want to offer some tangible tips that you can use to help check yourself before you tumble too deep into the salt mines.
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If you want to play like an esports pro, you have to understand and assess your strengths and weaknesses honestly. Setting goals before your play session is a great way to shift the focus away from wins and focus on tangible achievements that actively help you improve. For newer players, your weakness or bad habits will be much simpler and more fundamental; whereas a mid level player will have more specific problems.
If you're a new player, this is especially important! You can help yourself by establishing great habits early on. Mid level players, with ingrained bad habits, will have to work a little harder here.
Every high level FGC player approaches their sessions with small goals, creating a focused practice environment. The purpose of this is to move away from the “play to win, at all costs.” mentality that many of us fall into.
Here are some examples of goals to set for yourself while you play:
As you progress as a player, the goals will become more specific and you can cater them to your play. Setting goals is a great way to improve faster and have more fun!
Here is a video of Top Players breaking down some bad beginner habits you can try and improve:
We all have an internal monologue as we play, but you have to be careful how you use it. It can be a harmful habit if you start ranting out loud when things don't go your way. Negative thoughts compound upon themselves, and it can be hard to recover once it starts.
I’d offer this tip. Fighting games are a battle between two players, and sometimes your opponent will get the better of you. Instead of making excuses like, “Oh, this character is braindead,” or “Why did he press a button there, what a moron!” Simply compliment the opponent on doing something that worked. Or laugh it off and move on.
The goal here is to keep the internal narrative positive. After all, it’s a game and it’s supposed to be fun. Another option is to keep your internal monologue strictly analytical. Focus on the situation and what adaptations you have to make to overcome that in the next match.
Adaptability is an essential skill that all top players are constantly trying to improve upon. If you can stay positive, and actively analyze and adapt to the match, you will improve immensely.
Watch players like Sajam or Romolla, and listen to how they talk while they play. Emulating them is a good place to start:
This next tip pairs well with the last. Owning your mistakes in fighting games is an essential step in improvement. Fighting games are hard, and the execution and decision making required to play them is a challenge. It’s important not to make excuses when an interaction doesn't go your way or you drop a combo.
At the end of the day, the fault always lies with yourself. A good way to implement this idea is to simply acknowledge that you made the mistake, brush it off, and try again next time. You’ll be surprised how far a simple, “Oh I messed up,” can take you.
This line of thinking will prevent you from falling down the spiral of excuse making. If you watch any esports pro stream their game, you’ll notice they constantly acknowledge when they make a mistake. Doing this will allow you to isolate your weakness and set better goals for your next play session.
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Sometimes the tilt is inevitable, and you find yourself falling through the abyss. That's ok; remember to take breaths and take breaks. Taking a moment to compose yourself is something that esports pros do on the biggest stages in the world, so there’s no reason we shouldn't do it at home.
Whether it's a quick breath or getting up to stretch and walk around, taking a break is a good chance to reset and come back fresh. A practice that I like to use is keeping a bottle of water or drink near you as you play. A quick sip can really refresh you and help to stay calm if you're easily tilted.
When you approach a play session try setting aside an allotted amount of time to play. Limiting your play to an hour or two at a time can really help you focus your gameplay, and make sure you're always playing at your best. Burnout is real, and playing tired can lead to developing bad habits. Keep your match count limited but focused, and you’ll improve much faster.
When you're really trying to improve at a game it can become easy to obsess and pour all your time into the thing. To a certain extent this is good, a lot of pro players are obsessed with their games. But it's important to build a foundation of PMA as well.
Building this foundation takes time and if you're someone who is prone to getting tilted it can be a long process. What I really want to stress here is: don't obsess over it. If you get tilted one day that's fine; you didn't fail, just try again.
Even the best in the world get angry from time to time, mentality is incredibly tough to master. All the above tips should help you foster a healthy mentality as you play, but it's important to remind yourself that nobody is perfect. Obsessing over any part of the game will inevitably lead to burnout and kill your enjoyment.
When you're going into a play session, just try to remind yourself of why you love the game and what drives you to improve. Passion is an incredible force when channeled positively, and can push your play to the next level.
For more videos about healthy mentality look here:
The road to an esports level mentality is a challenge, but by implementing some of these tips hopefully you’ll be helped on your way. Competition can teach us a lot about ourselves, and it offers lessons that can be applied beyond the game. That's just one of the many reasons I love fighting games, and hopefully you’ll find that same value somewhere along the way.
By: Simon Mancuso