If you want to play at the level of pro players, you need to make optimal decisions & calculations under immense pressure. You must be able to play with an aggressive playstyle while maintaining smooth mechanics. And you need to sustain your concentration for hours on end to train hard throughout the entire day.
So how can you unlock the confident, aggressive playstyle of pro players? How can you make genius decisions and predictions while under pressure? And how can you maintain a state of pure focus for hours on end without getting tired?
Well, you might not be able to do this without first changing your brain.
Pro players can resist anxious thought patterns, process more information in their working memory, and stay focused without draining their energy. And they can do this because they essentially have more mental strength than you.
It’s kind of like a muscle. Those who have larger and stronger muscles can lift more weight without feeling overwhelmed and can do it for longer without getting tired. Similarly, those with more mental strength can resist heavier distractions and train for longer without getting tired.
So if you want to train and perform like a pro, you need to start building some mental muscle. But when it comes to our brains, we can’t lift weights to build our cognitive strength, which is why most of us assume things like our ability to focus or process more information are uncontrollable. So because there isn’t a clear solution, we typically think our genetics and environments have set a limit on our brains.
And quite honestly, a few generations ago, this was mostly true. Most people had no idea that their brain’s could be trained, and even those who did know had no idea how to do it. But with modern research and technology, we now have access to new ways of training our brains, which might just help us upgrade our mental muscle and achieve insane performance in-game.
How the Brain Works
As you likely know, the activity in your brain determines how well you do in a game. It controls every aspect, from coordinating muscle memory to making decisions under pressure.
But far beyond our performance in one specific domain, like gaming, the human brain also controls EVERYTHING we do in our daily lives. So it’s no surprise that humans have been curious about the brain’s inner workings since ancient times.
But of course, it’s not exactly practical to open up someone’s skull and start poking around inside without causing some sort of damage. So for most of human history, the human brain has remained a mystery.
But luckily, we live in an advanced age. With modern tools, we can get a glimpse inside a healthy individual’s brains, monitor the brain’s activity, and even decode it to understand what it means, all by just putting a few electrodes on their head.
But what if we could use this technology to not only understand the activity in our own minds but actually change and improve that activity? If that were possible, we might just be able to enhance our brain’s performance.
To understand how this might be possible, we need to quickly review a term you likely heard in your first psychology class, Operant Conditioning. Operant conditioning is a theory of learning proposed by B.F.Skinner in the late 1930s. At its core, it describes how animals learn through feedback. So whether we receive reinforcement or punishment, we learn through our actions what to do and what not to do.
For example, in Skinner’s experiments with pigeons, he taught them to read signs and follow directions to receive a food reward. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_ctJqjlrHA&ab_channel=jenningh)
Of course, a more relatable example is when we use a punishment and reward system to train dogs to become more obedient or perform tricks.
Now, around the early 1960s, a researcher named Dr. Sterman attempted to combine operant conditioning and EEG brain imagining technology to see what would happen.
He found that cats in his lab could be trained to increase their brain waves at a specific frequency when rewarded with food. This was an exciting breakthrough but was quickly forgotten as he pursued his other projects. But a few years later, Dr. Sterman was doing an experiment for NASA on whether rocket fuel caused seizures. And during this study, he found that the cats who had previously undergone his brain-training were significantly less likely to experience seizures than other cats. So Sterman didn’t only show that we could use operant conditioning to change the brain’s activity, but that doing so could have some profound benefits.
After this discovery, the human applications began to build momentum as it was successfully used for treating epilepsy, ADHD, and other cognitive conditions. And these days, it has grown beyond the medical setting to even help top performers, business professionals, and athletes to train their brains towards better performance.
And while it hasn’t become a staple of esports yet, it’s obvious how brain-training can have a massive effect on ambitious players. It’s the equivalent of advanced physical training that can help professional athletes run faster, execute skills better, and ultimately perform at the highest level.
But over the past 50 years, as interest, research, and application of neurofeedback grew, it was also matched with criticisms about its effectiveness. So it’s worth asking how effective it really is and how much it can be applied to esports. But to determine a reliable answer to this question, we need to dive a little deeper into the research ( and the best way to do that is to talk to an expert)…
FLAWS IN THE RESEARCH:
So I chatted with Glen, a cognitive neuroscientist who broke down how to identify reliable research vs. unreliable research.
– So, to understand if neurofeedback really is a powerful tool that can give us an advantage in esports, or if it’s just a false hope, we need to first understand what to look for in the research…
*Glen: Neurofeedback has been around for a while, more than 50 years. And there is a lot of research out there. But there is still a lot to do. There are some key criticisms of the research that’s been done.
It’s ideal if you can have an active control group that you can compare to the neurofeedback group, where what the active control group is doing is as similar to neurofeedback as possible but is not neurofeedback. And then show that the neurofeedback has a specific benefit, compared to that active control group.
Subjective symptoms are often the most important outcome. You want the individual to feel that they’ve gotten better, subjectively. But they are often criticized as an outcome because the individual is biased. YOu’d like to believe that you’re getting better. So things like a continuous performance task, a CPT, is considered an objective behavioral measure of performance improvement.
Here, Glen mentions two essential things; the first is having a placebo control group. Without it, we can’t identify if it’s really the neurofeedback that’s causing the benefits. The second key factor is having an objective measure of performance. While someone may feel like they’re improving or even feel like they’re not improving, it might not actually line up with their results. So we need a performance task to measure actual improvement.
The unfortunate truth with a lot of neurofeedback research is that these factors are often missing. And without a control group or performance task, it’s hard to rely on their conclusions. This is why so much of the research has been criticized in the past.
THE RELIABLE RESEARCH:
Fortunately for us, neurofeedback, especially related to improving performance, does have some quality research…
Glen: “I took the liberty of pulling what I consider the best, most comprehensive review of optimal or peak performance studies in their feedback. This is a study from 2014 from John Gruzelier (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0149763413002248). And in that review, he talks about 23 studies in healthy participants that report evidence of neurofeedback learning along with beneficial outcomes.
And you can see a list there of, you know, of the types of outcomes that have been linked to successful neurofeedback in peak performance, and it’s it’s quite a list: Sustained attention, working memory, mental rotation, motor procedural learning, psychomotor skills, fluid intelligence and anxiety in performance.
In the field of peak performance, there seems to be much more consistent and stronger evidence for the benefit of neurofeedback.”
So the evidence of neurofeedback is obvious for improving many areas of our brain performance, from sustained attention to better working memory and more.
But as we combed through the research, I noticed a lot of it was tied to a very specific type of neurofeedback called SMR neurofeedback. And I wondered how training one specific brain wave could have so many benefits. And his explanation for it was quite inspiring.
Glen: And what the authors of the review conclude in terms of SMR and why SMR is effective in inhibiting somatosensory and sensory-motor processing. And in doing that, conscious processing is reduced, and automatic processing is increased, leading to superior sport performance. So you kind of go to automatic mode, you kind of bring yourself into an automatic more automatic pilot mode when you do the SMR enhancement training.
Braeden: Like, I guess a big term in sports is getting into the zone. Is that more or less what it helps them to do?
So, training this specific type of brain wave may ultimately teach our brains how to get into the zone or into a flow state. And if you’ve seen any of our past videos on this topic, you’ll understand how amazing this is.
But this really just scrapes the surface. There are several types of neurofeedback that may work in other completely different ways, targeting different brainwaves in different locations of the brain and leading to entirely different benefits. And this is why it has been adopted by so many top performers… In fact, it is already being used by NASA astronauts, Olympic gold-medalists, and football clubs like AC Milan, Real Madrid, and Chelsea. And these are just a few examples.
And in esports where the main factor for success isn’t physical fitness but mental fitness, it’s obvious how much more potential it has.
DO ESPORTS PLAYERS NEED NEUROFEEDBACK?
But in the context of esports, is neurofeedback just a nice to have, or is it necessary if players want to succeed?
Well, remember when I brought up the concept of Operant Conditioning and how it’s used to train pigeons and dogs to do specific tasks? Well, Operant Conditioning isn’t limited to other animals; it’s a critical part of how we learn as well. As an example, think back to when you were learning to ride a bike.
You’re on the bike, trying to balance and ride forward, but of course, you struggle and fall. As you keep falling and trying again and again, you feel frustrated as if you’re making no progress. But inside your brain, a lot is happening. With each attempt, your mind makes new calculations and learns from the operant conditioning. Every time you make a physical adjustment and mental calculation, you either receive the sensation of balance as a reward or the feeling of falling as a punishment. Through enough practice and trials like this, your brain eventually learns how to maintain optimal balance.
During neurofeedback, your brain is trying to do the same thing. Most neurofeedback will give you a cue to let you know when your brain waves are at the optimal level, making you feel rewarded. Then when your brain leaves this optimal state, it will let you know, making you feel punished. Over time your brain learns to make the right corrections consciously and subconsciously as it did when you learned to ride a bike. And with enough training, your brain learns how to maintain balance and snap into an optimal mental state at any time.
But when learning to ride a bike, what would happen if you never got the punishing sensation of falling or the rewarding feeling of balance? For example, let’s say you try to learn how to balance on a 2-wheeled bike by riding one with 3 wheels. Since it does all the balancing work for you, you would never get the conditioning feedback. No matter how hard you tried to keep your body in the center of the bike, you’d never learn how to properly balance.
This is what happens with our brains. Since we don’t get immediate feedback when we are falling out of focus or losing the optimal brain wave patterns, we can never learn how to balance our brains.
This is why neurofeedback has so much potential. It can give our brains immediate feedback as it goes in and out of the optimal state of mind. It finally allows us to learn balance. And for this reason, I believe it is an indispensable tool that all serious esports players will begin to use.
As of right now, neurofeedback in esports is still a mystery. Most players don’t even know it exists yet. But since it has so much potential, why hasn’t it become the standard yet? Well, until recently, the barrier to entry was too high. If you didn’t want to buy clinical-level equipment but wanted to spend a few months training your brain, you’d have to actually go to a clinic multiple times a week and pay $4,000-$5,000 for a 30-session program. For a team of 5 esports players, that means up to $20,000.
Now, thanks to more recent innovations, we can get twice as many sessions in the comfort of our own home for a fraction of the cost. While it’s still quite expensive for an average player, it’s now a no-brainer for someone who plans to make money throughout their esports career. And for that reason, I believe neurofeedback is about to explode into the world of esports. And those who catch on to the trend early will get the greatest advantage.
If you just want to hear more about neurofeedback, I’ve posted the full conversation with the neuroscientist Glen on our second channel; the link will be in the description below.
And if you want to try it out for yourself, you can check out the brain-training we now offer on the website. Admittedly it’s expensive for an average player, but for the select few of you who are playing competitively, I recommend it. Neurofeedback is a hidden gem that’s on the verge of exploding into esports, so high-level players who get to it first will have a huge advantage.
If you’re still trying to get to a competitive level and want to rank up a lot faster, then check out our esports elite course and coaching plans. One way I like to think of it is that the Esports Elite program is for those who want to get from the top 50% of players to the top 5%, and neurofeedback is for those who want to go from the top 5% to becoming the best.
So feel free to check out links to any of those in the description below…
And of course, don’t forget to let me know what you think about this topic in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!
So keep on grinding, and I’ll see you all in the next video!