Esports BAR+ Americas 2020 examined two sensitive but crucial topics impacting society at large that esports stakeholders are encouraged not to ignore: mental health and education.
The first was the subject of the panel called “Mental Health and Performance in Esports”, while the session on “The Importance of Investing in Education Through Gaming” was the focus of a presentation by Spain-headquartered technology company GGTech Entertainment.
Speakers advised esports decision makers to place the wellbeing of players, without whom there is no business, and gaming-in-education at the core of strategies to build an enduring international competitive-gaming sector.
Panellist Taylor Johnson, Chief Performance Engineer at Spacestate, a venture that uses neuroscience to train and educate aspiring and professional esports players, summed it up when he said:
The opportunity that we have here is to engage the current esports organisations to think about the players as the biggest ROI. When you take care of them, they will take care of you.
One way of doing that is to encourage long-term careers in professional competitive gaming, added Landon Gorbenko, a performance-coaching specialist: “How do we give 16-year-old kids that want to play League of Legends a full career for the next 15 years and not just dump them after two?”
Esports, mental health and education – the issues
For those unaware of why mental-health issues have become entrenched in the esports conversations, Fabien Paget, 17 Sport’s CEO/co-founder and moderator of “Mental Health and Performance in Esports”, referred to the reported suicide of Byron Bernstein, the popular and professionally successful Twitch esports streamer called Reckful.
There are similar tragic stories in the media as prized gamers start feeling the pressure of the celebrity culture, the close scrutiny on social media and the psychological impact.
With similar mental health issues already being addressed in the world of high-performance traditional sports, industry observers are asking for similar safeguards for elite esports.
A professional esports player’s experience
Despite more than 10 years as a professional esports player, Richard ‘Shox’ Papillon admitted that for a long time he did not have committed emotional and psychological support until he joined France’s Team Vitality.
He gave an honest account of the challenges and anxieties that could paradoxically wreck a career with prospects, if not addressed in time and appropriately. “We just focused on being the best at our game and we didn’t do our best to be healthy, or know how to mix the professional and personal life,” he said during “Mental Health and Performance in Esports”.
Mental coaching is really helping because there are many things we do not know and we need help with. You can be in competitions that last one to two weeks and if you do not have proper food or drink or sleep, you will get tired after four or five days. That can make the difference to whether you’re going to get to the play-offs or the finals – Richard ‘Shox’ Papillon
He added: “You are going to need help to face this because the depression can come really fast when you have a lot of comments on the internet about you. And if you do not know how to handle it and don’t put your focus on the right things, you can go down as quickly as you were high in a short space of time.”
A professional-esports performance coach’s experience
Gorbenko, whose resumé includes performance-coach and psychologist positions at organisations like Gscience, explained how his own mental-health experiences as an obsessed gamer encouraged him to enter a career that helps others. “I became a gamer even before I began to walk. It has been an integral part of my life forever. But I did it in every single possible way wrong. I was morbidly obese. I had no social skills. I was depressed. I was angry. I was always upset. I was addicted,” he said.
“I got a degree in psychology and got my Masters in sports and performance psychology. I slammed those things together throughout my education, and looked at how to prolong the career span of esports athletes rather than them burning out after a couple of years of overtraining.”
Gorbenko emphasised how the mental-health problems of only one player can hurt the performance of his or her team too.
We need to be able to work on the skills and also help set up boundaries,” he said. “Our goals should not be to always be performing at 100%. The goals are about being aware of where we are that day. It could be 60% and be about gaining the most out of that 60% – Gorbenko
Unless those issues are resolved, the consequences could be detrimental to a gamer’s performance, he argued: “That emotion is going to bleed into your decision making, it’s going to bleed into your behaviour and game, your performance, the way you communicate with your teammates, or the way you act in-game.”
Why mental coaching matters: Tips for esports organisations
On the same mental health panel, Spacestate’s Taylor Johnson advised esports organisations and other investors to treat players as precious assets to keep safe.
He mentioned the acronym P.A.C.E., which stands for stand for Purpose, Authenticity, Creativity and Execution. It acts as a guideline for his work as an esports-performance counsellor and provides a framework that players at esports organisations can work within.
When you hone it on what that purpose is and you are authentic in who you are and how you express yourself, you are going to be way more creative in how you view your game, your conversations with your teammates, with your family and friends, and that is going to steamroll into the execution – Johnson
Here are some tips he offers esports organisations on how to nurture their players’ careers:-
- Never take players’ need for sleep, relaxation and nutrition for granted; set up an environment that ensures players understand why they are vital.
- Get to know your players and develop the tools for how you communicate with them as individuals and as a team.
- Understand that each player has different levels of in-game skillsets when competing, such as the mechanical skills of playing, the ability to make tactical decisions during competitions and the way to communicate with teammates.
- Develop the kind of in-house culture that encourages an open dialogue among the players and their coaches: “It allows players the psychological safety to know it is OK to speak about not being at their best.”
- Help players understand not only the creative aspects of what they do, but also the business aspects of their careers. “Dealing with contracts and social-media obligations and streaming and all that stuff – that in itself is a huge stressor.”
Esports’s importance for education… including the brand’s perspective
On the other side of the mental-health psychological coin, experts like GGTech’s CEO America César Roses argued that conventional education and other aspects of academia can benefit from skills acquired for esports and gaming.
In his “The Importance of Investing in Education Through Gaming” presentation, Roses noted that many courses at today’s academic institutions were stuck in the 1980s and were not preparing students for future professions. He said future careers would need the interactive skills inherently developed in gaming. These included jobs in video games, animation and 3D content, content and marketing distribution, multimedia production, Information Technology development, selling programmatic advertising, telecommunications and more.
Furthermore, brands are intuitively investing in esports because they recognise that tomorrow’s consumers will instinctively be drawn to interactive media.
In the coming years, the vast majority of education will incorporate elements of gamification and game-based learning, trends for which many companies around the world have already adapted,” Roses asserted. “Video games are a good way to reinforce teamwork. In this area, the concept of erious games becomes important – Roses
It is the entertainment element, however, that pulls students into the learning. “The strategies of serious games, games-based learning or gamifications allow teachers to hook their students in educational content,” he added.
We have used Overwatch to teach physics; Minecraft to teach natural science. You can’t imagine how rewarding it is to see a lot of highly motivated students. We believe that the integration of video games and educational software will significantly transform the way we approach learning – Roses
Roses’ views were supported by GGTech business partner Intel Corporation, the micro-chip giant that is also a major sponsor of esports events like the IEM (Intel Extreme Masters) tournaments. After spending 15-plus years using its tech to power elite professional esports events, Intel recognises that gaming in education is a major growth area, said Ignacio Jiménez, Intel’s Gaming & Retail Sales Manager.
He said Intel is partnering GGTech and its gaming-in-education activities at hundreds of European universities and its plans to expand into North And Latin America.
From us as a brand, that is a business opportunity. This is a phenomenon that is growing so fast and we’re delighted to be a part of it – Jiménez