GET HEALTHY AND REDEEM IN-GAME REWARDS.
Free agency has only recently closed its doors for League of Legends (LoL) organizations and as a result there’s been an increased spotlight on individual players through their year of performance. Succeeding the victory of Korea’s DAMWON Gaming at this year’s World Championships continues this pressure on North American organizations to find their path to success.
One of the most commonly discussed topics in competitive gaming regards practice methodology and efficiency, which is unsurprising in a space as young as esports. The question then turns to the core of the matter: professional players. Where do they stand right now, and what kinds of knowledge and practice are they implementing to improve more efficiently?
Golden Guardian Academy’s Darshan “ZionSpartan” Upadhyaya is a professional LoL top laner of almost a decade, previously competing for CounterLogic Gaming, Team Dignitas, and more. The Californian pro is the standing President of the League Championship Series Players’ Association (LCSPA), an organization serving as the voice of players in the LCS and advocating for important issues.
We had the opportunity to chat with Darshan directly and ask him how he stays on top of his practice and improvement methodology, and how things have changed since the beginning of the pandemic. Darshan spoke in great lengths to the importance of physical and mental wellness in his own performance, and the steps he takes to maintain such wellness on a day-to-day basis.
Darshan praised exercise as a key contributor to his consistency as a LoL pro, explaining that he exercises “almost every single day” through a combination of running and stretching. He believes that “there needs to be a component of strengthening, at least for your wrists and hands” and he regularly partakes in such a routine for his hands, wrists, and forearms.
He explained that it’s not easy to stay fit (or motivated at all) during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that for many it takes changing your routine to account for these unprecedented circumstances.
I used to do weightlifting primarily and I had to switch over to doing more cardio and body-weight stuff. I think for anyone struggling during COVID to find ways to exercise, it’s really good to reconnect with your why. The reason why you’re doing things.” He went further to say that he thinks “exercise serves a lot of value and benefit, so if you can find the motivation to do it even through COVID… I think you’ll be able to develop a healthy life-long habit.
MENTAL HEALTH & PERFORMANCE
Darshan went on to discuss the mental side of performance in all of its nuance and LoL-specific application.
I mean I talked about how important physical health is, but I think mental health is even more important… I think everything begins with mindset and perception.
Darshan spoke further to the importance of outlook and cultivating a growth mindset—one where failures are seen as opportunities for improvement—for improving not only at LoL, but as a person in general. He urges others to establish an internal locus of control and take more responsibility, learning, and growth out of every situation they encounter.
I believe that not only in terms of playing the game itself, but every scenario relating to the game, how you interact with your teammates, how you take criticism, how you review and how you reflect—all of that ties into how well you’re able to perform and improve. So I believe that it all begins and ends with your mindset.
Darshan’s sentiment is well-articulated and certainly agreeable, but it’s easier said than done to maintain all of this at once; recognizing that, he spoke to some of the methods he utilizes to maintain a high level of mental clarity:
Well, there you have it:
Darshan’s tried and true tips and tricks for achieving pro-level success. To conclude our conversation we asked him his thoughts on the treatment of health and wellness in the pro LoL scene as a whole, to which he spoke in lengths about the progress made so far, and how much more can still be done. He addressed that esports is a “relatively young field” and that his experience growing up as a competitor was largely gameplay-focused—a sentiment shared by many pros in a world where 10 hour practice days aren’t abnormal.
It will be interesting to observe how the industry changes over the next few years, as health and wellness professionals continue infiltrating practice processes. Best of luck to Darshan, who had this to say as parting words:
“What is the reason you’re doing everything you’re doing? What is your why, or your purpose… get very clear on that, and then realize ‘I’m going to make some steps to take better control of my health and my life so that I can be more successful towards that.’”
Good luck everyone—let's get healthy and redeem rewards in-game and out.
Read time estimate: 5 minutes
Q: How important do you consider physical wellness to your performance?
I think physical is just as important as actually playing the game itself. If you’re not able to be at 100% consistently then you won’t be able to play at your peak and constantly improve your game.
Q: What steps do you take to maintain your own physical wellness?
What I personally do is I exercise, almost every single day, right now I do a combination of running as well as stretching and I think there needs to be some component of strengthening, at least for your wrists and hands. So I do a strengthening routine for my hands, wrists and forearms.
Q: How do you stay fit and motivated through COVID? Do you have any advice for people during COVID?
I used to do weightlifting primarily and I had to switch over to doing more cardio and bodyweight stuff. I think for anyone struggling during COVID to find ways to exercise, it’s really good to reconnect with your why. The reason why you’re doing things. I think exercising is a great way to not only take care of yourself and have a healthier and happier life, it usually also helps towards your career or whatever purpose you serve. I think exercise serves a lot of value and benefit, so if you can find the motivation to do it even through COVID, it’ll show how.. Let me rephrase that.. If you’re able to find motivation during COVID, I think you’ll be able to develop a healthy life-long habit.
Q: How important do you consider mental health and clarify to your in-game performance?
I mean I talked about how important physical health is, but I think mental health is even more important because I think everything begins with mindset and perception. So if you’re able to have the right outlook and cultivate more of a growth mindset and internal locus of control you’re able to take more responsibility and more learning and growth out of every situation you encounter. So I believe that not only in terms of playing the game itself but every scenario relating to the game, how you interact with your teammates, how you take criticism, how you review and how you reflect— all of that kind of ties into how well you’re able to perform and improve. So I believe that it all begins and ends with your mindset.
Q: What steps do you take to maintain your mental wellness and mental health in your daily life?
Yeah, so meditation has been really big for me. I meditate for 30 minutes every single day and I have a consistent morning routine. I think there’s a lot of ways of achieving success, and a lot of methods of setting yourself in a good mind state, but if you have a routine every morning (and it doesn’t need to be something complex) but if you have a routine every morning that gets you in the right headspace then I think you’re putting yourself in a great position to succeed so I kind of have a morning routine every day that ends in 30 minutes of meditation, and it really allows me to be more calm, focused, and centered. Focused on really differentiating the signal from the noise. Focusing on the things that actually move me towards improvement instead of the things that I believe are moving me towards improvement.
Q: Do you think that pro teams and orgs are doing enough right now to prioritize this subject matter of both physical and mental wellness? If not, how can they improve?
I think there’s a lot more that can be done on physical and mental wellness and the conversation is just getting started. I think it starts with interviews like these, it starts with creating more conversation and education around the importance of physical and mental health. I think that esports is a relatively young field, and growing up in it myself a lot of the focus is just on the gameplay related aspects, the gameplay related aspects of playing hours upon hours of the game. I think it’ll develop more like other sports where you realize that it’s not necessarily about the quantity of time, it’s about the quality of time—and the quality is directly correlated to the mental and physical aspects of yourself. I think as research about that comes out, as more people start the conversation on the importance of things, the conversation will shift and I think that organizations and players and the whole space will utilize physical and mental health education and resources more.
Q: Do you think that the general public, or fans of League understand what it takes to maintain this pro level of play? Whether it’s specifically in reference to physical/mental wellness, or the practice schedule and time commitment that it takes?
Huh. I mean, I’m not exactly 100% sure what the public opinion is but I think it’s one of those things that until you’ve been living as a pro it’s hard to understand how taxing it can be, and I think there’s still many strides that can be made to kind of help understand the significance of what it means to be a pro player and I think what it means to be an athlete in everything. I really believe that video game competition is something that should be seen as a type of sport, it doesn’t need to be exactly a sport, but I think it’s something that really takes a lot of passion, determination, grit, and dedication to your craft. I think people are realizing more and more what that means, but that there’s still a ways to go.
Q: Do you have a message to any aspiring League players or esports players in general who aren’t sure how to incorporate this into their lives or where to begin with all of this (the physical and mental wellness side of things, personal maintenance, self-care etc.)?
Yeah, my advice to those aspiring gamers and anyone in life who wants to enjoy a more, I guess, successful quality of life is to ask yourself: what is the reason you’re doing everything you’re doing? What is your why or what is your purpose, and get very clear on that, and then realize that I’m going to make some steps to take better control of my health and my life so that I can be more successful towards that. And also, realize that it’s gonna take some time. Realize that you’re just going to have to work on taking it one step at a time, and slowly incorporating things, and that success doesn’t happen overnight. But I genuinely believe you can do it, and to do that you have to get in touch with your passion and then take it one step from there to work on all the other aspects of your life, to get it in alignment.