As the skill and team play at the top of CSGO continues to grow and develop, teams and orgs are looking for anything to get an advantage over each other. This includes factors from both inside and outside the game. It seems like more and more, professional players are talking about getting on regular sleep schedules, watching what they eat, and exercising regularly, things almost unheard of in the gaming world. Perhaps one of the most interesting and viable options to be thrown into the discussion is the addition of a sports psychologist to teams.
It’s no secret that having hundreds of thousands of people watching you may affect your performance. When you combine this with the pressure that fans place on you, the anxiety of just winning a match itself, and all the other problems you have in your personal life, it sometimes sets up the perfect conditions for underperforming and “choking.” One such team that was known for choking was Astralis, but after their major win it would seem they choke no more. But what changed. What made the difference between losing yet another semifinal and finally picking up the trophy?
Many would point to the addition of gla1ve, the new genius fragging in-game leader, as the reason for Astralis’ recent success. Although gla1ve’s addition is significant, another recent addition to the Astralis team may be helping as well, in the form of sports psychologist Mia Stellberg.
In an interview with Mashable.com, Stellberg talks about how she works with both the team as a whole as well as individual players. She goes on to say, “In general, I think eSports is very demanding. It’s a hectic, stressful sport, and you can’t lose your concentration for one second.” Kjaerbye talked about the effect Stellberg had on the team with Mashable.com, “We really liked her way of thinking and her mentality on how to win. She really helped us with the team spirit and everything. And I think that’s what made us beat most teams right now.”
Kjaerbye brings up an interesting point. Team spirit is definitely an important part of the winning formula, but it’s something that a lot of teams seem to be missing at times. In CSGO, in general, in-game leaders are tasked with every role that has to do with leadership, not just coming up with strategies. They are responsible for pre-game strategizing, preparing, planning, calling, and being the emotional leader of the team. This is different than traditional sports in that in traditional sports you can have different people be responsible for different tasks, resulting in the best person for each role fulfilling their job. In CSGO, it’s all put onto one person. By getting a sports psychologist, the emotional leader role is taken off the back of the in-game leader, and placed into the hands of someone whose specialty is getting a team into a winning mentality.
Getting a sports psychologist has seemed to work out for Astralis, so what other teams could benefit from getting one of their own? Ninjas in Pajamas is known for being a sort of roller coaster of a team, being great at times and average at others, but recently they’re in a fairly bad slump. It started at the ELEAGUE Major Main Qualifier, where for the first time ever, NiP failed to qualify for the major. This was followed up by their disappointing results at Dreamhack Masters Las Vegas 2017 (5th-8th), and at IEM Katowice 2017 (9th-10th).
I think it’s safe to assume that after so many losses, team morale may not be at an all-time high. To add on to this, individual players seem to have fallen on hard times as well. For example, GeT_RiGhT’s performance seems to have taken a sharp decline.
This decline may have been started by the breakup between GeT_RiGhT and his girlfriend, Anna Nordlander, who gave him the famous teddy bear that he used to take with him to every event and place on his monitor, but alas the teddy is no more. Having a sports psychologist could help players through difficult problems such as these, and help get NiP back into the winning mentality.
There seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the Swedish team. In an interview with Betway eSports, NiP Founder and retired CS 1.6 player Emil “HeatoN” Christensen announced plans for NiP to acquire a sports psychologist at some point in the near future, saying, “Yeah we’re planning on getting one as well because we’re trying to be one step ahead of our problems all the time – we’re trying to think big picture here and we need to have an edge.” He clarified his thoughts on the benefit of having a sports psychologist later on, saying, “I think actually what the mental coach will help out with is – being able to focus on your game not being affected too much by the outside – or if you’re in a dip helping your mental strength to get out of that again because going into a dip from tournament to tournament it gets in the back of your head –.”
Time will tell if NiP actually get a sports psychologist and if so the level of impact that they will have on the team. But if they do get one, and they prove to be just as impactful as Astralis’ Stellberg, we may be looking at a very scary NiP yet again and have another proof of concept case for sports psychologists in eSports.