Our minds are the main reason why we do things and the main reason why we quit them. Recently, I’ve been reading quite a bit about mentality in sports training, learning environments and esports.
Many times, we think of practice as pushing through the rough days and “putting in the hours”. This however, is only partially true.
Having a well-structured practice routine is one thing. Having the right state of mind to approach practice, is its own brand of challenge to tackle.
There are many resources out there than can help reduce anxiety within the game. (I highly recommend watching Maynarde’s video on overcoming ladder anxiety.)
But seldom do we think about how to mitigate the issues generated from outside factors. Sometimes, pushing through is not the right answer. But in order to make wise decisions regarding our mindset, we must first acknowledge that it is indeed a factor that plays a key role in our performance.
It all depends on how we approach the game to begin with.
For some, playing StarCraft can be a way to detach from everyday life troubles; just like most games we play.
But for others, StarCraft can be quite a competitive experience. The stakes are higher and so are the pressures and strains that come with it.
Know What Triggers You
In order to keep disruptive emotions from messing with our performance in the game, we must first learn what they are and what triggers them.
For me, anxiety is probably at the top of the list.
As someone who struggled with anxiety unknowingly for many years, managing it is still challenging. During the last couple of years I’ve learned a lot about the nature of my anxiety, it’s origins and the situations that can spark a significant influx of it. (This is that moment in the article in which I recommend you to seek help and try therapy. We’ve all dealt with some hardcore stuff. There is no shame in asking for help.)
Most of the time, the issues that ail us have nothing to do with StarCraft and more so to do with everything that happens in our lives.
Identifying and naming the emotions that get in the way of achieving your state of flow can be of great help when trying to access it.
What does it look like in-game?
This one is a bit trickier. Watching my stream VODs has definitely helped me identify those moments of distress. If you don’t stream, I suggest recording yourself in the background during a ladder session. But don’t immediately jump to watch it after. Specially during a particularly triggering session. Your judgement is more likely to be clouded. Take a break, unwind and come back to it later.
By speaking to other players and watching other streamers’ content, I’ve learned that, for the most part, these heightened emotional states translate to either:
2. Tunnel vision
3. Micro blunders/over spamming
Have you ever done your daily commuting from work back home and suddenly realized you’re not entirely sure how you got to your destination?
This is what autopiloting feels like. You start the game, queue up a worker, set the rally point, build that barrack and suddenly realize you meant to go gas first. Ultimately, this seemingly minor error makes you lose the timing to get that refinery after the barracks by a few seconds. In the end, you decide to wing it and hope for the best.
It is true that there comes a point of proficiency in StarCraft when you don’t even have to actively think about what you’re doing, but developing a strong understanding of the game along with solid muscle memory, look and feel very different from autopiloting.
For me, autopiloting comes from physical and mental exhaustion. Lack of proper sleep, hydration, feeling of hunger or being preoccupied by other matters can throw me into autopilot.
The proclivity to fall into this state becomes apparent when you ask yourself the following question:
How many times have you started a brand-new ladder session feeling like you’re already defeated?
Your life comes before StarCraft. If you use the game to cope with life’s perils, that’s completely valid. But if that is the case, surrender to the fact that your joy can’t come solely from winning, but rather from experiencing the game itself.
Same rule applies if you’re exhausted and are just looking to have a good time. If StarCraft is not that game for you, -a game of leisure and relaxation-, then go play something that is.
Personally, games like Moonlighter and Stardew Valley have helped me as a way to take a break from StarCraft. But there are plenty of activities besides gaming that can help you achieve this.
This is so frequently mentioned in the StarCraft improvement communities because of how common it is amongst players. This feeling of trying to look away from that battle and to stop queuing up even more marines which you don’t actually need. But you just can’t stop looking at those four hellions that are about to die while your economy is being neglected.
Tunnel vision in my experience, is related to frustration. More specifically, frustration built up over time.
Tunnel vision is not that big of a problem in the first game I lose. But, ask me again on my 5th game of a losing streak and the answer will be very different.
There are many ways in which you can identify and manage these upswings in frustration if you know how frustration manifests in your body.
Shoulders bunched up against your ears, difficulty maintaining a steady breathing pattern (sometimes even breathing through your mouth in irregular patterns), a feeling of general discomfort in the upper body (feels like you want to jump out of your chair but something is holding you from doing it). You may even develop a fixation with jumping into the next game without even taking a breather.
When your mind and body are locked on and engaged in such a state, the best thing to do is to break the lock on. Much like a cyclone, you have one of two options:
1. Perform an action that breaks this state or
2. Slowly distance yourself from the target. In other words, taking a break.
Breathing helps us refocus on the present moment, what some would call a mindful state. Stretching will help your body disengage. This is not only about your arms, your entire body could be affected by this tension without you even knowing. Look to stretch your entire body before you continue. You can accompany this by trying to find a rhythm to regain a consistent and calm breathing pattern.
This might seem simple to do, but often times players will stubbornly queue up more and more games to realize an hour and a half later of losing or winning by the breadth of a hair, that they’ve driven themselves to such a state of frustration that makes everything seem like a waste of time and where the most likely outcome is uninstalling the game all together.
Over spamming and micro blunders
This is a big one for me. Back in early 2020, I would still feel exhausted after just an hour of playing StarCraft. The reason? I was hitting those keys like my life depended on it. I wasn’t really warming up, but rather anxiously tapping my keyboard in the hope that this would make my anxiety go away.
Much like with biting your nails or other objects like pen caps, over spamming your keyboard can be a way in which your body projects that feeling of restlessness onto the game. And it is exhausting.
The biggest problem with this habit is that it over saturates your capacity to perform effective actions in the game. It forces you to try to squeeze making the right units, cycling through your structures and controlling a large army in between anxiety bursts.
Having an inner dialogue is something that has worked a lot for me during the game. Talk to yourself about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what is its purpose. This dialogue can be silent or recited out loud. The idea is to bring your mind back to the present moment and reduce the level of uncertainty within your own head.
You can’t control what your opponent does, but you can most certainly regain control of what you are doing.
Does all of this even matter?
Yes and no. It matters to the extent to which you have made StarCraft a prominent part of your daily life. At the end of the day, it is us who decide how important this game is to us and how much we’re invested in getting better at it.
It’s only fair that we don’t compromise our physical and mental health in the process. We’ve all witnessed time and time again how pro-players and amateurs alike will drive themselves to a breakdown point by playing StarCraft. I, for one have found myself binding my own sense of self-worth to my success in the game. Specially at times of great emotional distress, which for the most part, have little or nothing to do with the game itself.
The most important questions to answer are what do you want in your life and what role does StarCraft play in the bigger picture.
If these things are clear to you, giving the game its proper weight and measure in your life will make balancing out your emotions towards it, much easier.
What are your personal struggles in the game? Share it on the comments below!