If you want to compete with the best in Esports, it’s obvious that you need to make the most out of your training to improve as fast as possible.
Top competitors in all esports are always looking for the latest methods and techniques to grow their skills. They constantly need to stay one step ahead of other teams, and as a result, are always seeking new ways to optimize their training. This is why most pro teams now prioritize things like diet and fitness plans. And the result is an ever-increasing level of performance.
But one of the greatest optimizations that pro players have discovered is Sport Psychology. Top teams have hired psychologists to help their team stay more level-headed during training and performance. This is not just with regards to maintaining mental health, but also enhancing their rate of improvement and results in competition.
But you don’t need to be a pro to benefit from performance psychology. With one simple tactic, you might be able to boost your performance results by as much as 14% in just five days (1) .
But before we dive into it, let’s consider how important reaction time is when it comes to your performance. Every team fight, gunfight or 1v1 battle comes down to speed. How quickly and accurately can your mind respond vs the enemy? Of course, if you’re even a few milliseconds too slow, then your enemy will completely destroy you. Fortunately, we can use this tactic in a specific way to improve your reaction speed, so you can get the advantage and come out on top of more fights.
But before we learn how to do that it’s important you know why this tactic works in the first place. What I’m referring to is visualization. Researchers have found that by simply closing your eyes and imagining yourself in game-specific scenarios, you can significantly decrease your stress levels, boost memory, and improve competitive performance. And it’s not just researchers who believe in it, 70 to 90% of all elite athletes already use this technique. (6) This includes Gold medal Olympians like Michael Phelps, UFC fighters like Conor McGregor and Basketball stars like Lebron James, who all use this method to get an advantage.
But it’s not easy. Many who try to use visualization tend to do it wrong, and thus never experience the full benefits of it. But if you can learn to apply it in your own practice, you can use it to learn faster and prime your brain for better performance in ranked games and tournaments.
So let’s dive into performance psychology’s best-kept secret.
Boost confidence and Manage Stress
So how exactly does visualization work? How can it lead to faster reaction speed and make you an overall better gamer? Well MRI studies show that when we imagine seeing specific objects and imagine ourselves performing specific tasks, the parts of the brain responsible for those activities behave as though we are really seeing those objects or performing those tasks (2). So how might this apply to your performance when you’re playing a high-stress ranked match or tournament?
Well, why is it that we get nervous when playing in a new environment, or playing at a higher level? Why is it that intense rank games can get you so stressed? Why is it that playing in that online tournament causes you to get jittery and anxious?
Psychologists believe that experienced players will typically have developed coping mechanisms for dealing with the pressures of playing in high-pressured games (4). These coping mechanisms allow them to keep their cool and maintain laser-like focus during almost any competition. But this ability can take years to develop! Fortunately, it doesn’t have to for you. Researchers found that athletes who use visualization and imagery skills regularly can develop these coping mechanisms faster and typically had 15% lower stress levels overall. (5)
So before an intense ranked game or tournament, use visualization to mentally prepare yourself. Using Imagery, simulate the feelings of anxiety you’d experience during the competition. Immerse yourself in the competitive environment through your imagination and five senses, then really try and remember those feelings of sweaty palms, clenched shoulders, fast heart rate, or how you’d typically experience that mid-game anxiety. You can then train for those situations by calming yourself through breathing slowly and deeply, using affirming self-talk, and running through your game plan in your mind. Being able to lower those anxiety levels in your mind will allow you to do so easier during the real competition.
Automate responses and improve reaction time
But visualization isn’t just used for reducing anxiety and making you more confident, it can also be used to improve your reaction time.
Now consider pros who seem to have inhuman reaction time. They’re able to dodge attacks with lightning reflexes, able to click heads before the enemy even sees them, and seem to outplay almost anyone. It’s obvious that those moments of insane reaction speed can make all the difference between winning major competitions and falling short.
Research on visualization and imagery shows us that after just two weeks of practising it for just 15 minutes per day, athletes showed improvements in reaction time more than seven times that of those who didn’t use it (3). Their performances also showed improvements 137 times greater than those who didn’t visualize. Imagine just how quickly you could improve your game by making it a regular habit for yourself?
The reason this works is that Imagery stimulates and strengthens neural pathways associated with gaming. The more neurons in these pathways fire together, the more you’ll be wired to execute difficult plays with less effort.
This is great news because if your competition isn’t using this technique and you are, you put yourself in a great position to rise up those rankings.
One Last Thing
But before we dive into how to visualize most effectively, there’s one last question that we need to answer if you want to get the full benefits of visualization. When should you use it?
This question is much more important than you might think. For example, most visualization research focuses on using it before a performance in order to reduce that pre-game anxiety, or boost confidence. Thus it makes sense that you should use it before your games, right?
But research on meditation might give insight as to why we should use it afterwards. In a study on motor skill learning they found that participants improved their reaction speed over 20% better when they meditated after their training. The reason this seemed to be so effective is that after we practice something there is a period of time when our brain attempts to solidify that learning in our mind. It’s kind of like giving wet cement the time to dry.
And other research on memory shows that our mind consolidates new skills and memory by replaying that same memory over and over again. So in order to speed up your learning speed, what if you combine this research on meditation with a visualization practice? The result is likely far better reaction speed and skill development!
So what’s better, before or after? Well, it depends on your goal. If you’re engaging in high-intensity competition and want to prime your brain for optimal performance, then visualization before is a great idea. But in all cases where you want to learn and improve your skills, consider doing it afterwards as well, the benefits are far worth the time!
How to visualize
But like I said earlier, most people don’t visualize properly. And the unfortunate truth is that if don’t do it right, you’ll miss out on all of its amazing benefits.
So here’s a quick crash course on how to visualize effectively. First, sit somewhere comfortable in a quiet room, preferably your bedroom so that you can be alone. Secondly, close your eyes and imagine a gaming scenario using all five senses.
Use your imagination to picture the screen in front of you, the colour of the lights in the room, and the other fine details you see on the lobby menu before launching a competitive round.
Next, imagine the things you feel physically while you play, such as the feeling of the mouse in your right hand and the feeling of the keys under your left. Feel how your headphones lightly hug your ears as well.
After that, focus on imagining the things you’d hear just before starting the round. Would you hear your coach or teammates going over tactics just before the round starts? What do their voices sound like and what kinds of things would they say? Do you listen to a particular song just before every game? If so, then play it in your head in as much vivid detail as you can.
It’s unlikely that you’d associate a specific smell or taste to your gaming experience, but if you do, be sure to imagine that as well. The key to using imagery is to simulate real-life performance experiences using your imagination as accurately as possible. FMRI studies show that when we do this, the motor cortex in our brains fires almost exactly as if we’re performing in real life (6). This suggests that we can practice and improve our motor skills for competition by simply imagining them in realistic detail.
It isn’t enough to do this just once though. By visualizing for just a few minutes per day, you will further strengthen the neural pathways your brain uses for your esport. This is why visualization training leads to difficult skills becoming automatic and accurate even while under pressure.
The best Esports athletes are usually the ones who are the best at preparation. It’s very rare for high performers to be able to just jump into games and dominate on the big stage without having put in insane hours of preparation in the months leading up to events.
Anyone who’s fought their way to the top will tell you how much of a struggle it was to get there and that they needed so much more than their natural talent to carry them.
If you’re aspiring to be just like these guys and you think you have what it takes to make it on the pro scene, then you owe it to yourself to invest just a few minutes per day into this basic habit.
As soon as this video ends, I want you to close your eyes and dive into your next big match using only your imagination. Spend just five minutes mentally taking yourself through making plays, overcoming possible challenges, and winning with laser focus.
If you do this and repeat it daily for the next two weeks, you’ll already be a step ahead of most other players. And as you continue to reap the benefits of pre-game and post-game visualization, you’ll develop a greater and greater advantage against most other players.