Louis Ross

Sport Psychology in eSports

Are you a current esports athlete, a member of a support staff within an organisation, or just interested in some of the challenges that arise for those competing in professional esports? You’re in the right place.
The rapid rise of esports has brought with it some comparable challenges to more “mainstream” sports, but it has also conjured up some new problems for competitors and support staff to deal with. The following blog outlines some (not all) of the areas where esports athletes can benefit from by working with someone on the mental side of their performance. There’s not only scope to work on performance elements within esports however, as you’ll find out by reading the 7 short sections below.

Performance Anxiety


Anxiety can often be experienced before competing whether that is remotely or at in-person events. Some research (Smith et al., 2019) has identified that the threat of criticism from teammates could exacerbate feelings of anxiety and cause some individuals to be more fearful of making mistakes in the future. Within esports competitors face several stressors that can impact them. These might include but are not limited to team dynamics, pressure to perform (from themselves and/or others), contractual pressures, social media response/criticism, in-person events and leaderboard/season standings.

Working to manage these stressors can involve a variety of different approaches. I try to work from the stance that we cannot change, alter, delete, or even avoid the thoughts and/or feelings that are bubbling away, but we can learn to deal with them.

Goal Setting


Setting realistic and specific goals is crucial for improvement in any sport, including esports. Sport psychologists assist players in setting both short-term and long-term goals, helping them stay focused and motivated throughout their training and competition.

A classic psychological skill! Setting appropriate and realistic goals is so important and sticking to the processes that underpin your outcomes is easier said than done, especially if you encounter some obstacles along the way. Understanding what motivates you is a good step to take, and a blend of external (outcomes, praise, trophies) and internal (personal development, making connections with others, learning new skills) motivators is helpful. Make sure your goals reflect you and the person you want to be – it’s hard sometimes to connect with goals that others set for you…

Next, consider the improvements you’d like to notice, and when you’d like to see them by. Give yourself milestones to notice changes, and don’t limit your view of progress by focusing solely on external motivators. It’s easy to fall into the trap of judging your progress towards a goal purely by an outcome or a result; there’s a number of reasons (many that are outside of your control!) why you may not achieve the result that you want, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t improving.

Focus and Concentration


You cannot keep your attention where you’d like it to be forever. You’ll often find your mind drifting and that’s okay. This section is important for long periods of time when practicing and for keeping your attention ‘switched on’ during crucial moments of performance (which could range in duration!). You might benefit from noticing where your mind has wandered to before you perform e.g. are you worried about performing badly, the overall result, or letting others down? If so, do you know how to bring your attention back to the present moment?

Think about your practice sessions, do you need to assess how long you are spending “grinding”? It’s easy to get stuck in a habit of thinking you have to continually practice in order to get better. You might benefit from taking regular breaks to recharge before practicing intentionally on a specific focus

Team Dynamics and Communication


Poor team dynamics, negative comments/criticism, and ineffective communication (sometimes due to different nationalities within teams) have all been highlighted as challenges faced within esports (Hummelstein et al., 2017; Murphy, 2009; Smith et al., 2019). Consider a team that is communicating effectively – they would likely have an appreciation of strengths of their teammates and how others might like information communicated before/during/after performances. They’d also probably be viewing challenges from different perspectives and working together to solve them. Feeling safe to share ideas, empathy for others, the importance of being a team, and building a shared language are important for increasing team cohesion (Swettenham & Whitehead, 2022). Sport psychologists can work with teams to improve communication skills, resolve conflicts, and build a strong team culture.

Rosters fluctuate, and the beauty of esports means that people from across the globe can be representing the same organisation. This of course has its drawbacks as well because communication and team dynamics can become an issue if this isn’t an area that is given some care and thought. Working with a sport psychologist can be beneficial for the “team around the team” (support staff) as well as the team themselves; this can look like working with staff at a systems-level and organisationally as well as working with the team to identify areas where communication can be enhanced (is it clear, is it effective, is it consistent – for example).

Recognition of different cultures and personalities within an organisation is vital. There are numerous ways of doing this to ensure that understanding is built, differences are appreciated, and so relationships can start to flourish. I have personal experience of using Spotlight personality profiling within an organisation which I have found to be extremely useful.

Burnout Prevention


The world of esports is unique and the demands placed on training and sitting down for prolonged periods of time staring at a screen can be tough. “Grinding” is praised and countless hours spent practicing can be beneficial but in the long-term can also be detrimental. Research has suggested that psychological wellbeing can be negatively impacted by the number of hours spent gaming (Banyai et al., 2019) and other studies have identified a link between number of hours spent gaming at overuse injuries (DiFrancisco-Donoghue et al., 2019). Another aspect to consider here is the balance between a potential job (not everyone is full-time but a lot are), the demands of one’s training/competition schedule, a social life, sleep, nutrition, exercise, etc. Getting this balance right is difficult and overtraining and “grinding” can lead to feelings of burnout and less enjoyment. Coaches, support staff, and the athletes themselves should keep a constant eye on this to ensure schedules are balanced, breaks are encouraged, and time is allowed to explore other parts of one’s identity.

Developing resilience


Contrary to existing beliefs, resilience is NOT something you have or do not have and if you’re interested in wanting to understand more about it, I’d encourage you to read the work of Mustafa Sarkar. Resilience is something that can be developed over time rather than being a fixed trait (Sarkar & Page, 2020) and is essential in helping us determine whether we can bounce back from a variety of challenges. LAN events, remote events, being isolated from your team, dealing with social media, and contract pressures can all challenge our resilience, and that’s not even the full list of stressors that exist to those operating within the esports world!

Developing resilience on a team and individual level should be extremely high on the priority list of every esports organisation because not only can it help the individual and the whole team from a performance perspective, it is also being found to have a positive link to mental health (Bryan, Kegalaers, & Sarkar, 2023).

Pre-Game and Post-Game Routines


Pre-performance routines are defined as “a set of task-relevant thoughts and actions an athlete systematically engages in prior to performance execution” (Anton et al., 2021). Applying this to the world of esports will mean different things depending on what you’re competing in and this could even change depending on whether you’re at a LAN event or competing from home. I’m maybe not giving you many answers here! But, working with someone on a pre-performance routine will help you to understand your own preferences (do you need to be ‘hyped’ up or relaxed for example). I have noticed a wide array of preferences within client’s pre-performance routines ranging from focuses on: imagery, self-talk, connection with values & values-guided-behaviours, connecting with staff/teammates, and a focus on present-moment-awareness and acceptance.

Have you considered how you process a performance? Do you slip into critical mode? Do you only focus on the bad? Are you punishing yourself or forcing yourself to practice for even longer when you need a break? Taking the time to decompress from events whether they’re big or small is really important and if done properly there’s so much development to be found through good reflection processes and a chance to switch off from competing.

Hopefully a glimpse into the 7 areas above shows you how important sport psychology can be in the holistic development and success of esports athletes by taking care of the person as well as the performer and not to mention the wider team and organisation. The growth of esports isn’t slowing down, and just like other sport and performance disciplines, we think sport psychology has a big part to play in the development of better people and performers within this field.



Bányai, F., Griffiths, M. D., Király, O., & Demetrovics, Z. (2019). The psychology of esports: A system- atic literature review. Journal of Gambling Studies, 35(2), 351–365.

Bryan, C., Kegelaers, J., & Sarkar, M. (2023). Resilience and Mental Health in competitive sport: A narrative review of the literature. In Routledge Handbook of Mental Health in Elite Sport (pp. 45–61). essay, Routledge.

DiFrancisco-Donoghue, J., Balentine, J., Schmidt, G., & Zwibel, H. (2019). Managing the health of the eSport athlete: an integrated health management model. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 5, e000467. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjsem-2018-000467

Mustafa Sarkar & Abigail E. Page (2020): Developing Individual and Team Resilience in Elite Sport: Research to Practice, Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, DOI: 10.1080/21520704.2020.1861144

García-Lanzo, S., & Chamarro, A. (2021). Basic psychological needs, passion and motivations in amateur and semi-professional esports players. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 36(2), 59–68. https://doi.org/10.51698/aloma.2018.36.2.59-68

Himmelstein, D., Liu, Y., & Shapiro, J. L. (2021). An exploration of mental skills among competitive league of legend players. In Research Anthology on Rehabilitation Practices and Therapy (pp. 1607-1629). IGI Global.

Hong, H. J., Wilkinson, G., & Rocha, C. M. (2022). The relationship between basic needs satisfaction, self-determined motivation, and burnout in Korean esports players. Journal of Gambling Studies, 39(1), 323–338. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10899-022-10132-8

Smith, M. J., Birch, P. D. J., & Bright, D. (2019). Identifying stressors and coping strategies of Elite Esports competitors. International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 11(2), 22–39. https://doi.org/10.4018/ijgcms.2019040102

Swettenham, L and Whitehead, AE (2022) WORKING IN ESPORTS: DEVELOPING TEAM COHESION. Case Studies in Sport and Exercise Psychology, 6 (1). pp. 36-44. ISSN 2470-4857

Anton G. O. Rupprecht, Ulrich S. Tran & Peter Gröpel (2021) The effectiveness of pre-performance routines in sports: a meta-analysis, International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/1750984X.2021.1944271

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