How To Handle Gamer Rage, With Science

Image: Alex Walker

Dealing with gamer rage can be tricky. No matter what you do, sometimes you'll just end up with someone on your team who happens to be a giant arsehole. And it gets even worse if you're a professional gamer. One Australian Counter-Strike player, who'd already received death threats after his team had lost matches, ended up quitting social media entirely just to shield himself.

But even if you're not flying overseas for tournaments, it can often be difficult just to have a bit of fun without a torrent of abuse being flung your way. So what's the best way to deal with that? Dr Michael Martin, a sports psychologist who has worked with the League of Legends team for Legacy Esports, has a few ideas.

Dr Martin started his career as a traditional sports psyche, touching just about every major sport in the country — sailing, AFL, NRL, diving, both national hockey teams, Australia's under/21 squad for netball and mens soccer, athletics, triathlon and a hell of a lot more.

Lately, however, he's been consulting in the world of esports. And given that gamers tend to be the targets and distributors of abuse — to themselves, and each other — I asked: how do you coach players to keep their cool, and how do you deal with the torrent of criticism that inevitably flows your way?

As far as Dr Martin was concerned, it's all about focus. "If you don't know how to play well, if you don't have your system and process in place, then that stuff [online criticism] is going to blow your mind," Dr Martin explained to me in a phone interview.

"It really comes back to that same sort of point — what makes you good, and being aware of that, focusing on that. Because when you lose your cool, what you're really doing is, 'Did I let my teammate down,' and so you blow up. Or you embarrassed yourself, so you blow up. And all of those things are a normal reaction to have, but in high performance competition situation, when you are disengaged on what makes you good, then you aren't performing to the best of your ability."

At the time we spoke the semi-finals for the Oceanic Pro League, the pinnacle of competition for League of Legends locally, were still in progress. And that's where Dr Martin liked to focus: the players, the things they need to do to win, and the particulars of the environment that they play under.

He repeatedly emphasised a concept about being "unconsciously competent", which most gamers will have encountered even if they're not aware of the term. And for him, dealing with esports is no different from the litany of athletes he's advised over the last few decades — it comes down to whether you're focused, or whether you're distracted.

"You read all that stuff and go, 'Yeah, it's right, I really don't know how to pull this together,'", the psychologist continued. "But if you say, 'I'm going to call missing on the bot lane, I'm going to make sure that I tell the team about when I'm supporting them and when I'm not, I'm going to provide encouragement, I'm going to be thinking about what I need to do next,' if you have a system or process like that, all that stuff can come in and it all just slides off again."

"[Otherwise] you continue to perform poorly and you get chucked down this negative stress spiral. So it's your ability to go, "Yep, OK I stuffed that up, but I'm letting go of that, and now I'm refocusing on, what's happening on the map here, where do I need to be next," that type of thing."

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