Tilt is one of the most destructive forces in gaming. It causes the best players in the world to fall apart under pressure and causes you to lose control and throw easy wins.
Just think about the last time you got deranked after a vicious losing streak, or when you kept making dumb mistakes and suddenly had toxic teammates screaming at you.
Slowly that frustration surged inside of you. And when it heightened past the point of return, you ended up losing your focus and ability to perform. And when your rage and tilt steal your focus and ability to make good decisions, you spiral farther and farther into the pit of defeat and tilt.
But this is only one side of tilt. It’s easy to look at these experiences and label frustration and anger as your enemy. But what about those players who are insanely good at the game yet get frustrated easily?
Surely if tilt was so bad, then every pro player would be chill, relaxed, perhaps in a constant monk-like state. Yet there are many of the world’s greatest players who seem to be easily triggered into frustration, constantly balancing on that verge of tilt.
So let’s dive a bit deeper into how you can gain control over your emotions so you don’t spiral out of control. But let’s also look at the positive side of tilt and see how you might be able to harness its emotional energy and potentially use it to get an advantage.
Why its a problem/why we’re prone to it
Let’s start by addressing why tilt is such a common problem in esports.
I’m sure you can tell from your own experience how you’re far more vulnerable to rage and tilt while gaming than during most other activities. Just think about how many times you’ve screamed at your screens, yet how to chill you are throughout your day-to-day life.
And you’re not alone; even pros at the top of esports require special training from performance psychologists to help them overcome their own emotions.
But why is it so easy to get tilted while gaming?
It’s easy to form emotional connections to your performance.
There’s nothing like the joy you experience when executing perfect mechanics, when your team wins a clutch round, or when you finally reach that next rank.
But then there’s the darker side. The pressure and competition in Esports can be cruel and unforgiving. Consider the feeling of losing that hard-earned rank, falling behind to a team that’s easy to beat, or just getting unlucky over and over again.
Now the frustration from these experiences can quickly cloud your mind and lead you into a state of complete tilt. But where exactly do these feelings come from?
Well, according to Psychologist and emotional intelligence expert Dr Susan David, emotions are our body’s way of communicating our deepest values to ourselves.
She outlines 52 core values that most people gravitate towards. Now each of us holds a handful of these values at the highest of priority in our life. And it’s those values that ultimately guide and effect your emotions.(1) .
This is why you’d typically feel strong emotions toward certain things that others don’t feel as strongly about. For example, you’d likely feel emotional while playing competitively because competition is one of your core values. But your teammate might feel certain emotions toward the gaming experience because he values wealth and sees his gaming career as a way to fulfil that need.
But let’s answer the big question; how do you gain control over your bad emotions, so they don’t lead to losing control or losing your focus during the game?
Well, according to Dr. David, there’s no such thing as a bad emotion. There are pleasant and unpleasant emotions, but all of them are useful at helping us understand ourselves (4). It’s unrealistic to strive to always feel excited or euphoric while practicing or competing because you’ll inevitably have experiences that make you feel angry, overwhelmed, stressed, or disappointed.
In the past, sports psychology focused on reframing negative experiences through forceful self-talk exercises and thought-stopping techniques. For example, if you felt nervous or discouraged, coaches would train you to shut out those feelings and focus on the positive. This can be helpful in the short term.
These techniques focus on emotional control, which can be helpful in the short term. Unfortunately, it’s not a sustainable method. New research shows that controlling or forcing emotions can actually cause stress and emotional burnout. Psychologist Ed Deci’s work backs this up. He concludes that we can’t create our emotions because they are responses to stimuli (3). We can, however, control how we respond to those feelings and how we prepare for them.
In other words, you should stop asking yourself: “How do I stop feeling this?” You should instead be asking, “How do I best respond to this feeling?”
Emotional Functions: Joy, Disappointment and Anger
So how can
Now you might be thinking that it’s really impractical to emotionally analyze yourself so that you can respond appropriately to the emotions you feel while in the heat of competition. It’s not like you can just pause the game for a quick meditation session if you feel angry.
But this is why it’s critical to prepare your mind.
First, it’s important to understand that strong emotions whether pleasant or not can be useful or distracting. Anger, anxiety, and disappointment are obvious distractions as they can cause us to overthink, second guess ourselves, and lead to playing impulsively. This is likely to hurt our confidence.
Joy and euphoria can also distract us through making us feel complacent. You, along with many other competitive gamers have probably at some stage fallen into the trap of thinking, “This isn’t so hard. We’ll win easily.” Only to lose that game because you let your guard down.
Next, let’s explore how three different emotions can be useful to your competitive experience. Every emotion can serve us if we understand them. Ask yourself, what is the function of this feeling.
Joy is a pretty obvious one. You probably feel joy while competing in Esports because you’re experiencing something which brings you close to your values. You might value competition, autonomy, community, or teamwork. All of these needs can be met by the gaming experience, so it would make sense that you enjoy gaming if these are your values. Joy is a fundamental ingredient in experiencing flow as well. If you want to learn more about how the flow state can help you, check out this other video I released a while back.
Believe it or not, the pain of disappointment can also be useful. Losing intense rounds, especially when the stakes are high, can really sting. This pain can serve as a reminder that competing and proving yourself at a high level means a lot to you. It puts things into perspective, so if you find yourself feeling like this, take the time to process the loss, and use that feeling of conviction to move toward a strategy that sharpens your focus and gives you the motivation to work hard to earn the next win.
Anger is really useful, but it needs to be handled with care. Legendary Basketball trainer, Tim Grover, explains in his book, that many of the great players he’s worked with were so dominant and competitive at the highest level because they embraced their “Dark Sides”.
He explains that his clients, such as Charles Barkley, Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan were all able to use anger as a tool to fuel their motivation and give them an unstoppable energy to outplay others (2).
So how does this work? I’m sure you’d agree that, when you’re angry, you’re very certain about your beliefs. I mean, have you ever tried to change the mind of an angry person? No because their anger reinforces their beliefs. This is how anger can be useful. It serves as a reminder of how important a win is to you and gives you the energy to do whatever it takes to win.
For example in the Rainbow 6 Grand Finals in 2018, Penta found themselves in a 2-0 deficit to Evil Geniuses. In an interview, Pengu described how the team was completely tilting at this point, screaming at each other and getting all their emotions out. One loss away from losing it all it was easy for them to spiral out of control. But rather than letting it take over in game 3, they regained focus, built back their momentum, and pulled off a reverse sweep, defeating evil geniuses, and becoming the world champions (5).
How did Penta do the almost impossible by breaking Palomaki’s Tilt Cycle? The answer likely comes from research into the flow state. Flow science expert, Jamie Wheal, explained in his 2013 TEDx Talk (6) that its not uncommon for periods of Flow to be kick-started by feelings of struggle and suffering. He explained that feelings of being backed into a corner, like Penta being 2-0 down, can put us into a fight or flight response. If players can respond to this fight or flight response with confidence, determination, and intense focus, then its likely that their brain can activity change.
But when it comes to harnessing your anger in a productive way, control is of absolute importance. Letting anger get the better of you is not helpful. So to use your anger as a tool, you have to be in control of your behavior, and you need to know how to calm yourself down if the rage becomes too much to handle.
Remember though, that emotions are very personal to each individual and that certain emotional states can be more useful for one person than another. For example, some players play better when angry and riled up, but others play better when calm and in a friendly mood.
It’s important to note here, that emotions, while they can serve specific functions to help us, that they shouldn’t always be seen as a means to help us get better at gaming. Emotions are complex and should always be handled in a way that is healthy to you and those around you.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with emotional trauma, intense bouts of anger, sadness, or anxiety, I recommend that you seek the right help through therapy. Please also don’t force yourself or your teammates to purely view their emotions as performance enhancers. Like I mentioned earlier, emotions are a lot more complicated than that and should be handled in a personal and honest way.
Here are some practical techniques from Performance Psychology that you can use to better handle your emotions while competing.
Visualization and Imagery is a fantastic tool you can use to prepare for games. This technique involves closing your eyes and vividly imagining the performance experience. Research shows, that when we do this, our neural pathways light up similarly to when we’re actually playing. So, the more you prepare mentally for games, the more automatically you can react and make decisions while competing.
This goes for emotional experiences as well. Because strong emotional experiences can strongly influence our decision-making, if you visualise potentially emotionally charged experiences, you’ll be well equipped to perform well despite those feelings. This is perhaps why gamers who practice this regular habit can see performance improvements by 14% within just five days of trying it.
If you’re the type of player who prefers to be emotionally unattached while competing and see these strong feelings as a distraction, then you can use focus exercises to overcome the internal distraction of irrational thoughts that emotions can bring up. I did a video on concentration techniques for FPS players a while back, but you can easily apply those drills to your practice schedule.
Speaking of irrational thoughts, strong emotions while playing can cause us to think in ways that make us do things we later regret or can cause our self-esteem to take a beating. I recommend that you regularly see a Sport Psychologist or therapist if the competitive scene is harming your mental health or making you feel “less-than”. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to spend regular time with friends and family to discuss where you’re at emotionally, and have good, uplifting conversations whenever possible. If you want more information as to how your social life can even improve your performance by 16%, check out this video I did.
I’m so grateful that we now live in a time when, more than ever, it’s appropriate for people to start discussing and exploring what emotions are and how they affect us.
Any top performer in any field needs to know and understand not just how they think, but also how they feel at certain points in the competitive process. Like I mentioned earlier, these people are the ones who make the best decisions most often, and I’m sure we’d all agree that decision making under pressure is an essential part of any gamer’s skill set.
If you want to start making better decisions and be more in control when competing, then I strongly suggest that you explore what your core values are. After that, write down some goals that can help you achieve your ambitions as a gamer while simultaneously holding on to your values.
Go into your pre-game preparations with your emotions in mind and start to explore which emotions would be useful in game, which ones would be distracting, and how to proactively handle those feelings when they come along.
Share this with your teammates, as it could make all the difference in your next competition.