How Psychological Stress Affects eSports Gamers: A Study

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    a new A University of Chichester study into professional esports has revealed the significant impact of pressure on player performance.

    The study, a collaboration with the University of Bath, takes a closer look at the psychological and physical challenges faced by top-level esports athletes. Now a multi-billion dollar business, this fast-growing industry has online and in-person tournaments attracting audiences around the world, and players are under intense scrutiny.

    Also read: Advanced national qualification for esports launched in UK

    weight of expectations

    Esports has developed into a multi-billion dollar industry, with professional players like Johan Sandstein (N0tail) and Jesse Vainicka (JerAx) potentially earning millions of dollars. However, this lucrative career comes with its own challenges. Players contend with audience expectations, competitive leaderboards, and team demands, all of which can intensify symptoms of anxiety.

    The University of Chichester has been continuously researching the relationship between stressors and performance in esports since 2019. Their latest research builds on previous research to explicitly explore the effects of high-pressure situations on players at the national and university levels. These insights are crucial for coaches and sports psychologists to optimize athlete performance at critical moments.

    The study's first experiment involved 90 participants, both male and female, who played Counter-Strike under varying pressure levels. Research shows that high-pressure scenarios lead to increased anxiety, threat appraisals, and suboptimal eye gaze behaviors, which negatively impact performance. This effect was more pronounced for collegiate-level athletes compared to national-level athletes.

    In a second, more intensive experiment, elite-level competitors received a live audience and real-time feedback. Despite increased cognitive effort, players showed higher anxiety and decreased performance under pressure, as measured by pupillometry. This reveals a clear correlation between psychological stress and poor esports performance.

    The science behind performance

    The study's lead author, Dr. Benjamin T. Sharpe, emphasizes the importance of this research in helping esports players. Understanding the mechanisms of anxiety and performance can help develop strategies to strengthen players' coping abilities and maintain focus during critical moments.

    “We hope this research will contribute to the scientific pursuit of helping esports players improve their performance at critical moments.”

    In addition to this, Dr. Phil Birch highlights how this research deepens our understanding of the impact of pressure on esports performance using subjective and objective measures. According to Birch, the results of this study have important practical applications in the training and coaching of esports professionals. Additionally, he will discuss these implications at the European Sport and Exercise Psychology Congress next year.

    “Our study utilizes both subjective and objective psychophysiological measures of stress to advance our understanding of the effects of pressure on esports performance.”

    Educational and other meanings

    The University of Chichester doesn't just research esports. We are actively incorporating these findings into our curriculum. The BA (Hons) eSports and BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Psychology degrees integrate research insights and prepare students for the multifaceted challenges of the world of eSports. From understanding the psychological underpinnings of performance to practical applications in coaching and strategy, the university is setting precedent in esports education.

    As the esports industry continues to grow, it will be important to understand and mitigate the effects of pressure on players. But he has one very important question remaining. Could this research be the key to unlocking the full potential of his eSports athletes around the world?


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