What makes an esports pro so great?
Well, some would argue that it’s their innate intelligence, the kind of intelligence that can be measured by IQ – that makes them excel in say, an academic setting, or causes them to impress others with this amazing cognitive brilliance. Now, of course, every competitive game requires a ton of brainpower. And so it makes sense that IQ can lead to better performance.
But does this mean that those with an average IQ are stuck being average players?
Well despite the hopeful messages of this channel, and my desire to tell you that IQ doesn’t matter at all, I do believe there is a case to be made for it.
In fact, in some research on young chess players, it suggests that IQ does play a role in their skill. And it’s hard to deny the science…
But in that exact same study, it also hints at something that’s much more powerful and allows non-geniuses to surpass those who seem to have higher IQ.
So while it’s natural to assume that players with an average IQ are doomed to average skill level, this doesn’t have to be the case – because with the lessons learned from research on Chess players and what it takes to become a master, we can learn about the advantages that average esports players can use, to become masters.
So let’s break this all down, and see how someone with an average or even below-average level of intelligence can rise up the ranks, surpass everyone else, and make it to the pro scene!
What is IQ?
IQ or Intelligence Quotient is a score that determines one’s cognitive ability – it often is thought of as one’s innate and fixed brain power.
To determine your IQ, you’ll typically take a test. And a score on this test between 90 and 110 is considered average. Anything above this range is considered to be a sign of brilliance, but anything below it is considered to be a sign of incompetence.
But what are these tests REALLY measuring?
IQ tests are designed to measure your general ability to solve problems and understand concepts by evaluating things like your spatial intelligence, your logic based skills, your language ability, and even your memory.
So what does this mean for esports performance?
Well, think about it… having an advanced memory could lead to making faster connections between real-time variables in the game and past knowledge.
Having enhanced logic could mean better problem solving and decision making, like determining how to best counter an enemy’s strategy on a particular map.
And better spatial ability would allow you to do things like accurately identify patterns, see new opportunities based on the distances between in-game variables – for example, timing the perfect flank based on an enemy’s positioning.
All of these variables can undoubtedly lead to better esports performance, so it makes sense that a higher IQ would make you a greater player.
But this would mean that those born with a higher IQ typically have an intellectual advantage over other players, allowing them to climb the ranks faster and excel farther, right?
Well researchers in the UK wanted to see if this is actually the case…
Their focus was on the game of chess, a game that seems to universally signify intelligence.
So in 2006, three British Researchers chose 57 kids from chess clubs in primary and secondary schools. Now, of course, their goal was to discover what role IQ plays in how good of a chess player they could each become.
So they measured IQ, spatial intelligence, memory, verbal intelligence, processing speed, and they even measured how much each player practiced.
Unsurprisingly the biggest factor for explaining how well they played was their amount of practice. But still, the other significant factor was, in fact, having a higher IQ…
But while this finding seems disappointing for those of us with an average IQ, it’s hard to deny it. We’ve all been in the classroom during a new lesson, and noticed how the smart kids seemed to immediately understand the material, while others seemed to just get lost on the easiest parts.
But here’s where things start to get interesting. When we see those who just seem to pick up a new game like Apex Legends and appear instantly good at it or we see those who understand course material easier, we just naturally assume that they’ll have, not only an initial advantage, but a long-term advantage – we assume that they’ll master the skill much easier and much farther with it than everyone else.
But this understandable assumption is wrong. Once you take a look at the entire journey – from beginner to expert – a very different story starts to emerge…
In the study on young chess players, they decided to focus in on the “elite” players. Among this group, the IQ advantage seemed to disappear. In fact players in the elite group with lower IQs, on average played better than those in this group with higher IQs.
And this study mimics the findings from other studies that found higher IQ was linked with greater skill in young players but not in adult tournament players and not at all in grandmasters.
Even recent studies on experts in the Chinese game Go have found that their typical IQ is if anything, below average.
But how does this make sense? How can higher IQ go from an advantage to a disadvantage as players become better?
Well here’s exactly what happens.
When new players are just beginning to learn chess, Go or perhaps even an esport, their intelligence and IQ plays a role in how quickly they can learn the basics. Those with higher IQs typically find it easier to learn and remember the core rules and basic strategies of the game. This provides these players with an initial advantage when just applying their limited and abstract thinking directly to the game.
But as players begin to really study the game, things become less abstract. They begin to understand cohesive patterns which act as mental shortcuts. Things like pre-aiming specific areas of the map are no longer conscious thought, but automatic behavior. And the more mental patterns these players develop, and the more they practice them, the better their memory and processing speed becomes, within the game.
So we like to think of having high vs. low IQ like racing against someone who has a bike while we’re just stuck running on foot. It’s almost like they have a permanent advantage that lets them go farther and faster with less effort.
But in reality it’s more like we’re both on a bike, they just started the race a few seconds before us. That initial head start doesn’t mean they’ll go farther or even faster then us, because with a bit of extra effort we can catch up.
But why does higher IQ sometimes become a disadvantage?
Well as we just discovered, the mental patterns developed in training become so useful and powerful when playing, that the major thing separating two players is not their intelligence but rather the quality and quantity of those mental patterns.
And researchers found that those with lower IQs tend to practice more – they tend to develop those patterns and improving their skills to the point where they played better than those with higher IQ. The likely explanation for this is that players with lower IQs have a desire to “keep up” and thus they develop better practice habits, and training techniques.
So this sheds light on the most important factor – the holy grail for esports success. It’s not your innate intelligence, but the characteristics that shape your mindset and approach to improvement and thus influence how much and how effective your deliberate practice is.
Now 3 of these key characteristics will include things like your
– Passion and love for the game. The kind of thing that drives you to naturally play and practice more.
– The second of these is your determination to be great – that internal fire that burns hot through both wins and losses and maintains your constant motivation despite any setbacks.
– And the third is your discipline to have structured practice routines, to constantly challenge yourself day in and day out.
And unlike some innate intelligence, these kinds of attributes are not fixed – you can actively choose to cultivate the mental skills and habits that allow you to improve at a much faster pace. You can do this by setting goals for yourself, signing up for local or online tournaments, creating disciplined practice routines, and reminding yourself everyday of how passionate and ambitious you are.
So while some people seem to have an innate intelligence that puts them a step ahead of you. You can use this to your own advantage by cultivating the habits and characteristics of passion, determination, and discipline. With this kind of unstoppable drive, you’ll be able to surpass nearly any obstacle or plateau, surpassing players who thought they were better than you and achieving mastery in your game of choice.
Believing too strongly in genius or intelligence can be extremely unhelpful – believing you can’t be great because you aren’t smart enough can create psychological barriers that create self-defeating belief a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Even if you seem to be great at something, or you seem to pick up a new skill easily, this belief in higher IQ can be just as detrimental – it can cause you to be lazy while others begin to work harder to surpass you.
Now the key to esports success, the Holy Grail of true mastery is the mental skills, beliefs and habits that you develop – things like your passion, discipline and determination. In fact, these are the skills that are so much more important than innate intelligence, because they allow you to practice more, to be more creative and effective at developing your skills. And the more you practice, the more mental shortcuts you’ll develop, the faster your brain will become, the better you’ll be at every aspect of the game – thus giving you an advantage over those who seem to have some innate intelligence.
But of course, these are things that you must continuously cultivate and improve upon – Make these a conscious effort – to focus on maintaining your passion, becoming more disciplined in your practice routines and cultivating a level of determination that motivates you through thousands of hours of practice.
As you develop your skills and become a better player, you’ll notice some who just seem better than you, or seem to be picking up certain abilities a bit faster. But don’t let it discourage you, because what matters the most is your endurance, and passion – your ability to work harder and practice more than everyone else. Soon enough you’ll be the one surpassing others, you’ll be the one with the secret strategy.
But what will be different is that it’ll be harder for anyone to catch up to you because they won’t have the determination or discipline to keep up. Soon enough they’ll be so far behind, watching in awe and labeling you as a genius, as someone who has some hidden talent. But in reality, your true talent will be your passion and effort, that fire inside you that fuels you to do things most players won’t, the burning passion and discipline that turns average players into pros.