Sports Psychologist Weighs in on the Mental Health Toll of High-Stakes Esports and Its Impact on Performance

Sports Psychologist Weighs in on the Mental Health Toll of High-Stakes Esports and Its Impact on Performance

Esports is an extremely competitive field with some important prerequisites including intense focus, concentration, and impeccable reflexes. Just like most other fields of sports where individuals face pressure to perform at the highest level, esports players too can face stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout during competitions. It is essential for these athletes to take care of their mental health to perform well. Considering the nascent state of esports in the country, most upcoming esports players and fans may not be aware of the importance of mental health.

To start the conversation around mental health in esports, Asus organized a masterclass with sports psychologist Dr. Janki Rajapurkar Deole. This came at the end of Season 6 of ROG Academy, its esports training program for up-and-coming esports talent from across the country. The purpose of the masterclass was to provide support and advice to gamers.

The Season 6 Asus ROG Academy roster.

For some context, Dr. Deole is a renowned sports psychologist. She is also the director and co-founder of Samiksha Sports, India’s first sport and performance psychology consultancy. It provides mental training support to over a thousand athletes in India, including esports athletes.

India spoke to Deole about the importance of addressing mental health concerns to success in esports. Here is the complete conversation with Dr. Janki Rajapurkar Deole around the importance of mental health in esports and more.

Q: Can you tell us about your background, the journey that led you to co-founded Samiksha Sports, and how you became interested in sports and performance psychology?

A: As a professional junior tennis player, I was constantly battling the odds of numerous challenges, mental hurdles being one of them. I knew I was not alone in this battle, there were several others who were going through the same experience as I was, and I was determined to learn how one can overcome this obstacle. This led me to pursue BSc, MSc, and PhD in sport science and psychology from the UK.

I wanted to introduce a platform within the Indian sports ecosystem that empowered Indian athletes to become mentally strong in the face of competition, therefore, I along with my partner Gayatri Vartak, founded Samiksha Sports, an initiative that aims to strengthen a player’s mental core, to promote their optimum performance and well-being to deliver a winning performance.

Q: How do you describe your role as a sports/esports psychologist, and what do you see as the most important aspects of your work supporting athletes and esports players?

A: The role of an esport psychologist is multifaceted. It is not only essential to help esports players with concerns that are directly related to performance (for example, managing pressure) but also address the challenges that may be in-directly relevant, such as communication and trust within the team.

Additionally, along with having a curative approach, it is also essential to have a preventive strategy in place, to guide players how they can equip themselves better for the upcoming challenges.

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An ongoing session involving esports athletes with Dr. Deole.

Q: Can you explain the relationship between psychological skills training and other mental training techniques, and how they contribute to enhanced performance and self-confidence in esports?

A: Techniques such as visualization, breathing, and positive self-talk have been scientifically proven to enhance one’s performance in sports and esports. These techniques help develop confidence and handle pressure, thus improving the overall performance.

Q: What is the significance of sessions and masterclasses like the one you led for ROG Academy participants in supporting the development and well-being of esports players?

A: Such sessions benefit the players and teams in several ways. At the outset, the sessions help players become more self-aware. Basic mental skills are essential for any player to thrive in a competition. Further, it provides a direction of their mind to achieve their goals strategically.

Moreover, when such sessions or masterclasses are done regularly, they help players learn how to build a winning mindset. It’s a great initiative taken by ROG Academy to help equip their players with a 360-degree understanding of themselves, their teams, and the esports industry.

Q: How do mental health and performance intersect in esports, and what steps can be taken to address any potential challenges in this area?

A: Over the years, we have come across several examples of where players struggled and even dropped out of a sport due to poor mental health. We believe it is essential for every athlete/player to screen themselves once every year to assess their mental health. At Samiksha, we conduct mental health assessments regularly and players can reach out to us anytime for the same.

Even at ROG Academy, the focus is first on realizing the full potential of an individual, and then building synergy and finding the right playstyle that everyone is comfortable so that all players can come together and work as one unit.

Q: Can you address some common myths or misunderstandings about mental training in esports and explain the true value and importance of this practice?

A: Today, a strong myth that is associated with mental training is that it is for the weak, whereas, the truth is that mental training is for everyone, regardless of whether you perceive yourself to be weak or strong, a novice or an advanced player, a young or an older player.

Another myth I believe is that mental training will demonstrate results overnight. The truth is that mental training is a long-term and a regular process, just like any other form of training. A player needs to commit 10 to 15 mins each day towards his/her mental training to see results.

Q: How do factors such as performance, potential, and team dynamics interact and potentially impact each other in esports? Could you also talk about improving as a team in esports, and why consistency and sticking to a specific process are important in this context?

A: In competitive team tournaments, it is very important to ensure that individual goals are aligned with team goals. And hence having specific processes in place is crucial for the individuals and teams to have clarity and set realistic expectations. Goal setting is an important process that ensures consistency and helps players stick to defined processes.

Q: How can confidence be built or improved in esports, and what role does it play in an individual or team’s success?

A: Confidence is key, and building confidence is a multipronged approach. One being the overall confidence to perform to one’s potential, and the second is the confidence to handle specific situations and challenges during the performance. Another dimension is to not only build individual but also team confidence. There are several techniques, skills, and exercises in mental training to build confidence based on which type of confidence one is trying to build.

Q: Are there any specific challenges or issues that are unique to the esports industry in terms of the mental health and well-being of players, and how do you address these challenges in your work?

A: Similar to other athletes, esports players too experience sleep-related challenges, stress, pressure, and burnout. However, what is unique to esports is that there is no typical “off-peak” season; thus, their minds do not get proper time off for recovery from the high cognitive load. Therefore, we implement several interventions for mental recovery, to improve the quality of sleep and address other factors that may lead to poor mental health.

Q: How do you stay up to date on the latest research and developments in sports psychology and apply these findings to your work with esports players?

A: We take several measures to stay up to date. At Samiksha, we have a research team working efficiently to keep us abreast with the needs of Indian athletes in sport, para-sport and esports segments. Additionally, we also make constant efforts toward continued professional development. For example, my PhD was based on a western concept of “pressure and stress in athletes” and to establish its applicability amongst Indian athletes and coaches. Both Gayatri and I have spent several years in the UK, we have a strong network of colleagues in the West which even today helps us stay up-to-date and informed about the latest developments.

Q: What role do parents play in helping the mental health of esports players? Could you share some tips for parents across the country, especially given the rise of esports and gaming?

A: Parents play a critical role in the development of their child’s mental health. Three simple tips for parents would be:

  1. Screen your child typically once every six months to ensure positive mental health.
  2. Always keep your channels of communication open with your child.
  3. It may not be easy to be a parent of an esports athlete, and hence do not hesitate to get aid from the right experts for yourself or your child.

Q: What changes do you want to see in the esports and medical space in India? What can the government do to help the situation?

A: A change that may help is perhaps the role of sports science becoming more prominent in the arena of esports in the coming years. Both players and parents will benefit from more and more sports science experts rising to the top to provide the correct support system and help them advance and develop in suitable ways to succeed.

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