esports performance: a pro coach's advice

Read time estimate: 7 - 10 minutes

in the wake...

of its 2020 Season World Championship, League of Legends (LoL) lives on as the most watched and played esport title in the world, showing no signs of fatigue. Worlds 2020 was centered in Shanghai, China and succeeded in delivering a thrilling viewership experience despite everything COVID-19 has thrown its way. Korea’s DAMWON Gaming took home the gold.

LoL debuted in 2009 and boasts a since-popularized freemium model, enabling players to start playing for free and purchase optional cosmetic upgrades should they desire. The multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) has grown extraordinarily and developer Riot Games detailed a concurrent daily playerbase of 8 million in 2020, with an overall player base of over 100 million. That’s more than triple Canada's population in 2020.

what can i do besides playing the game to get good?

For a title requiring exemplary decision-making, reaction speed and muscle memory, it’s unsurprising that professional teams and players have increased their focus on optimizing skill through intensive practice and coaching; therefore, the natural evolution of conversation around player performance turns to that of health and wellness—something that has lagged behind in a rapidly maturing esports industry.

Most teams are taking [this] quite seriously... I know most teams have nutritionists, sports psychologists, mental coaches, and physical therapists available to their players.  I think there is more room for improvement in that area, but most teams are taking steps in the right direction.
Off the top of my head, Cloud 9 has mandatory morning exercise, TSM has a gym in their facility, etc.

Those words are the exclusive property of Tim “Timkiro” Cho, professional League of Legends coach of 6 years who has coached for Cloud 9, Echo Fox, Evil Geniuses and more. Tim also boasts a Kinesiology degree and sees value in proper sleep, diet, and exercise routines for competitive players.

Coach Tim estimates that 10% of players in the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) partook in physical exercise back in 2014-2017. He predicts a number closer to 60% for today’s LCS players. If you’re wondering what’s changed, Tim explains that “the resources have since been made available to the players and teams in question” and believes that the ball is in their court to take initiative and utilize them.

This line of thinking...

is common in the professional space, where modern research continues to evolve and support the positive impacts of health and wellness on performance. Jake Middleton, an Adamas Esports performance coach with extensive history in both exercise science and competitive gaming, offers similar testimony stressing the importance of such factors.

Jake speaks to the essentiality of exercise, nutrition and sleep in esports performance—echoing coach Tim’s opinion. He explains further that “we know from the scientific literature that [players] will have more optimal cognitive performance and motor skills” under optimal levels of exercise, proper eating, and quality sleep. Those things your mother nagged you to do? They were to help you become a pro gamer.

They become primed for learning through improved neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is defined as the capacity of nerve cells to adapt to circumstances, increasing intake of new information and sensory stimulation. Jake explains that this translates to “better mechanical skill development as your brain better consolidates memories and motor skills.” 

tldr; get healthy & learn better.

Roping the conversation back to LoL, Middleton affirms that in a competitive setting where decision making under pressure is paramount, “being in better physical condition can help you better cope with these stresses to be able to perform when it matters.” 

Coach Jake researched the effects of exercise programming on competitive gaming performance through his controlled study where LoL players competed in a pre-trial and post-trial tournament. Succeeding the pre-trial tournament, which established benchmark performance figures for the players, Middleton split them into two groups: an exercise group, and a no exercise control group. The exercise group participated in three weekly workout sessions including moderate-intensity cardio and full body-weight lifting exercises, while the latter group did no exercise. The trial period was 4 weeks long.

“We found that the exercise group significantly outperformed the no exercise group in the post-trial tournament.”

Middleton’s full study can be found here.

so what's next?

This emphasis on establishing health and wellness practices at pro-level play is only beginning to ramp up, and it’ll be interesting observing the extent of which this research pushes the industry. 2020 has sentenced much of the population to an increasingly sedentary, computer-bound lifestyle—something professional gamers are well acquainted with. This change in the space serves to dissipate stereotypes of gamers dwelling in family basements, by reminding non-professionals to stay healthy and reap benefits of heightened performance in-game. 

“For aspiring league players, I think the most important thing is to enjoy the game and see how high you can climb. Once you can climb high (Grandmaster/Challenger) then you should start to consider playing professionally. Be realistic with your expectations.”
- Tim “Timkiro” Cho



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