One of the biggest traits that separates an elite esports player from the rest is the ability to be clutch in pressure situations. Novice and intermediate players often choke under the pressure of having a match come down to one final move. This might mean being the last one alive on a map in a shooter game. It could also mean you and your opponent are hit away from a KO in a fighter game. Regardless, the knowledge of the match is on the line causes many people to perform worse than they normally do. While the best option is to find a mental skills trainer to get to the root of the cause, here are some performance enhancement skills that will help you start working towards being more clutch.
The first and most important step to becoming more clutch as an esports player is learning mindfulness. Mindfulness at its core is being completely present and aware of the present moment, without judgment. The benefits of mindfulness in pressure situations are that it helps one approach the situation with a clear mind. That in turn helps a person have maximum focus.
Mindfulness practice usually starts with deep breathing. You can place one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Take a deep breath into your nose and let the air fill your belly. Your chest should not move. Hold the breath for a second or two, and then release it through the mouth. Typically the exhale is longer than the inhale. You can do this multiple times, for various time increments. Or, you just do it once to help get focused back into the moment.
However, being mindful means making an effort to become more aware. Pay attention to how you feel before a performance. Are you lethargic or pumped up? Are your thoughts positive or negative? And then see how that transfers over to playing. Do these thoughts and sensations help or hurt your performance? Are you able to stay focused on the game? Then, after playing make sure to also do an inventory. Becoming more aware of yourself will help you become more aware of how to be more clutch.
Over time of practicing mindfulness, you will start to figure out what feelings and thoughts correlate with good and poor performances. The next step is to start using positive self-talk to help to get out of the mindsets that hinder performance. Use the thoughts that you have during great performances and start to use them to replace the negative thoughts in other instances.
Instead of something like “there are too many enemies,” tell yourself, “if I use spacing correctly, I can at least put myself in a position to make something happen.” Even if it isn’t successful, instead of “I knew I was going to lose,” say, “I can learn from this to get better for the next match.”
The key to effective self-talk is using phrases and language that resonate with you. Make sure it is something you would actually say and believe. If not, it is ineffective. Even if it means you might adapt your self-talk as your confidence grows. You may not tell yourself something like “I know I’m going to win” when you don’t actually believe it inside of you.
Combining mindfulness and self-talk can help a person go from choking under pressure to starting to be more and more clutch.
The biggest cause of choking is getting tilted. This means not letting your emotions get the better of you while playing. During high-pressure situations, many people get too emotionally invested in the outcome. Rather than thinking about the task at hand, people often start thinking about winning or losing the game. While the results of your immediate actions will lead to the outcome of the game as a whole, thinking about the outcome will not be conducive to it.
Not only that, but when the result ends up not going your way, this creates a downward spiral of negative thinking that makes performing even worse. Logical thinking helps you remember to stay in the moment. It helps you keep your thoughts positive and relevant to performing.
When you get tilted, thoughts move away from the game. You might start thinking about how much you hate your opponent, or how bad your teammates are. You might start getting down on yourself and using negative language to describe your play. This takes valuable attentional resources away from performing at your best. Instead, remaining composed will help when it comes to crunch time.
Something to keep in mind is that focus is like a muscle. You have to work on it to strengthen it. Even in a good state of mind, focus can wane after being zoned in for a certain amount of time. There are a few techniques to help improve focus. One is called the Pomodoro technique. Here, the person sets a timer for 25 minutes where they do their best to keep complete focus on their task. They do not look at their phone, or get up for any reason. If their mind wanders, catch it and bring it back.
Another technique for more intense bursts of focus is working with a number grid. The grid goes from 1 to 99. The person sets a timer for two minutes. The goal is to start from 1 and go consecutively to the next number and get as far as possible in two minutes. With practice, you will get further and further in the sequence as your focus improves.
It is also important to find opportunities for practicing focus in various situations. It is easier to stay focused in a quiet bedroom with no one else around. Headphones can usually be enough to block out the sounds of people in other rooms. But once you get into huge tournaments there is so much more potential for distraction. There are people screaming and cheering, people mingling around. flashing lights and screens.
One should find ways to manipulate these types of settings in their living space in order to be prepared for them when they get to a larger stage. Adding these techniques to the rest above like mindfulness will help to keep focus, and easily refocus when things go awry. This will help in those pivotal moments when matches are won and lost.
One technique to help become more clutch that starts to bring all of the above techniques together is imagery. Imagery is much more than just pictures though, involving all five senses. You can use imagery to visualize success. An example is imagining yourself performing well, successfully pulling off moves, and winning the match.
The first step is to create a script. Write out the situation you want to imagine. It might be the end of a match and it is down to the last two people – you and your opponent. Write out what the environment looks like. What sounds are happening in and out of the game? Imagine what the touch of the controller or keyboard and mouse feel like. Do they make their own sounds too?
The other two senses are sometimes tougher to incorporate but try to get them in the script. Is there a favorite drink you usually have while gaming? Imagine yourself taking a sip before the match or situation. Is there a particular smell associated with your gaming area? The more vivid you can make your imagery script, the more effective it will be.
Make sure to use the above techniques in the script. Incorporate positive self-talk statements. Use environments that can test your focus and concentration. When practicing the script, use mindfulness. Do a little breathing immediately prior. Make sure to keep your concentration throughout. When your mind wanders, bring it back. You may have to read the script for a while practicing. However, eventually, you will memorize it and not need it anymore.
Studies have shown that using imagery can be just as effective as actual practice, as long as imagery is not the only practice you do! This brings multiple mental skills techniques together and helps you win those tough matchups.
Once you start learning all of these mental skills, the most effective way to put them into practice is through proper goal-setting techniques. The first step with that is to use the SMART goals acronym. This means that you make sure all of your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It’s not effective to say something like “I want to get better at getting headshots.” Instead, a more effective goal is one that says, “I will get three more headshots a game within three months.”
In performance psychology, we break down goals into three types: outcome, performance, and process goals. An outcome goal is the one most people make. As the name implies, it usually has to do with the outcome of a competition. Concepts tied to outcome goals are things like winning a championship, getting 20 kills in a match, etc.
A performance goal is one that looks to improve on prior performances. The goal of getting three more headshots a game would be considered a performance goal because it is specifically focused on getting more headshots compared to past matches. The final goal type is process goals. This is where we would have to think about the specific practice we need to do to get to three more headshots a game. The goal for this might be “Use an aim trainer application for two hours a night for three months focusing on getting headshots.”
The goals don’t just have to do with specific gaming skills either. They could relate to how often and where you do your breathing technique, setting parameters to check in on how often you get tilted and trying to reduce that, and more! Proper goal setting can help you transcend to the next level!
Proper pacing is extremely important in gaming and competition. This is a multifaceted skill that means different things to different people. Oftentimes a gamer might take on too much and get burnt out before the competition even starts, practicing too many hours a day, not getting enough sleep, and not eating right. It can also mean that someone comes out in a match too hot, letting their adrenaline get the better of them. This could cause them to fizzle out later on during the performance, especially in a tournament with many consecutive matches.
On the other hand, some come out too slow. It can take them a while to get warmed up. This could cause them to go to the loser’s bracket, where they finally flip the switch and start playing their best. However, at this point, the margin for error is much smaller. If they came out playing this way they might end up winning it all.
Breathing techniques are one of the best ways to work on pacing. This allows you to get your body and mind in a state of optimal performance. Combine that with imagery. For those that come out too hot, imagine yourself slowed down. Get your breathing and heart rate to be at a healthy pace – not too fast, and not too slow. For those that start slow, you may want to imagine a faster pace. You may even combine your imagery script with upbeat music to get your energy levels up.
Be Flexible and Adaptable
Once you start learning and implementing all of these mental skills, it is important to be flexible and adaptable with them. Remember that there is not a lot in the world that is in our control. We can’t control our opponent’s skill level. We can’t always account for technical issues with our equipment. Sometimes there may even be unexpected traffic on the way to the competition. We need to be able to change our strategies to mold to the environment around us.
Being overly firm in things like preperformance routine, the length of your mindfulness exercise, or when to use your imagery script will get you into trouble. Try coming up with backup plans for when things go wrong. It could be a shorter breathing exercise, a quick imagery script, or even just some positive affirmations to tell yourself.
The facts are that unexpected situations are where mental toughness is truly tested. It is much easier to perform when you can control all the variables. Although practice can have many of the characteristics of a laboratory where you can experiment with what works perfectly, life does not work this way. Make sure that you remain flexible so that you will be ready to take on any unexpected situation that arises.
Learn From Your Mistakes
The facts are that even when you implement all of the skills gone over so far, mistakes are going to happen. The key is to see those mistakes as opportunities. This is a key concept in performance psychology. Failure doesn’t mean that you are worthless, unskilled, or lazy. It means that you pushed yourself to be uncomfortable. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is the only way to truly go from good to great.
When things go awry, take some time to reflect on what could have been different. However, don’t harp on it too much. Remember that the moment has passed. Know that there were areas to improve upon, but that moment does not encompass your entire worth.
Whenever possible, look over videos of past performances. These are great opportunities to look back on things you may have missed while in the heat of performance. Additionally, you may even be able to have a second angle at a mistake you knew you made. The new look might be a valuable perspective to learn a new approach for when put in the situation next time.
Bringing It All Together to Be a Clutch Esports Player
The first step in becoming a clutch esports player is to work on improving your mindfulness. This means becoming more aware of ourselves and our surroundings, as well as being more present and attentive. Breathing techniques are a great way to start practicing mindfulness, as they help you stay in the present moment. From there start incorporating positive self-talk into your gaming, especially when you are feeling negative. All of this takes practice, and using some focusing techniques will help to be able to go longer and longer staying in the moment of peak performance.
From there, start to combine mindfulness, focus, and self-talk into imagery scripts. Make sure they are as detailed as possible, using all five senses. Make sure they are in your control and practice them often. Use goal setting to make SMART goals of all types: outcome, process, and performance. Make sure to set goals on when and where to use mental skills, but also on how to improve specific in-game skills. Finally, pace yourself. This is a lot and won’t happen overnight. Becoming elite, and then staying elite is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t burn yourself out. And of course, make sure to constantly reflect and take inventory of your successes and failures. Consider hiring a mental skills trainer to help. Before you know it, you will be a clutch performer.