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Esports Talent Development

The outliers

There are professional esports players that are very good at the game. Other ones are just insanely good like “faker” or “caps” (baby faker) in LoL. In Counter-Strike players like “device” or “dupreeh” who are consistently good over the years. But the question here is, how do they do it? Why are they so good?

 To answer this question, I want to take you first through a small bit of the science of performance and some of the beliefs that circle the esports industry at the moment.

 We usually tend to use quotes to support our past or future behaviour or simply to reinforce our thoughts towards an idea. For example, there is a famous quote from Charles Darwin that says that “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” What our friend Darwin means is that if we can’t adapt to any given situation we won’t survive.

You may wonder what does this have anything to do with esports?.

This time our focus will be at the performance level and how players can develop their fundamental skills. 

 Nature vs Nurture

There will always exist the discussion about “nature vs nurture” in every performance domain. The science behind “nature” tells that there is an existing genetic inherent component that helps to perform better than his/her opponents at any specific task. This means that coming from a family who lived in specific environmental conditions (e.g., high altitude, extreme heat) or social structure (e.g., walk, run, cycle long distance) will have an impact at the biological level or better-called evolution.

This means that if you come from a specific region in Kenya and you want to dedicate your life to run, you may have an advantage at running over someone who comes from a family of artists. However, regardless of your Ethiopian or Kenyan genes, if you don’t nourish those initial conditions that you inherited from an early age you won’t have any initial extra advantage.

 But again, what about esports?… Some esports pro and amateur players in LoL are still saying that if you weren’t born Korean you won’t ever become a world champion. However, misfits in 2017 gave the first example that this “theory” could be challenged. Also, in LoL 2018 worlds, western teams Fnatic(2nd), G2 (3rd), Cloud9 (3rd) and Vitality confirmed that “nature” is not the only factor to succeed. Furthermore, at the individual level, in CSGO, how these guys “device” and “dupreeh” Astralis players, or “caps” and “faker”, in LoL, manage to improve and maintain their level year after year?. Are they genetically gifted? Were their parents the old-time champions of Space Invaders or Pac-Man?

 In comparison to traditional sports, esports is a new competitive domain, therefore there is not a large empirical supporting our knowledge. Though, we can learn from gaming research and other performance domains. Scientists can already tell us about the possible effects of esports games on the brain by demonstrating links between esports expertise and intelligence. Also, how esports games could help to improve cognitive abilities like memory and attention which are important for decision-making and creativity during competition.

Mistery of the 10.000 hours

Even though common knowledge to master a skill could tell us that the more I play the more intelligent and creative I become… well… not necessarily, as there are too many other factors to considered. Scientific studies on expertise in performance domains like chess and music have proven and disproven different theories. Initially, authors found that to master a skill 10.000 hours was the rule of thumb. However, it was also found that without deliberate practice (e.g., set goals, reflect, adapt) after 10.000 hours of grinding you couldn’t get close to the mechanical skills of top players. Therefore, I cannot grind 10-15 games a day and hope to improve in-game and cognitive performance to become the best player in the world.

 Another aspect that scientists have observed that is needed to achieve top-level expertise in performance is the age in which you get involved in an activity. The reality for me here is that I will never acquire the skills of top players, however, I could enjoy playing video games.

 To summarise the essential characteristics that we have mentioned so far that help you to master a skill and potentially become the best in the world are:

  1.     Genes
  2.     Age of engagement
  3.     Deliberate practice

 Although deliberate practice in esports is still in development (don’t grind for hours if you have the basic mechanical skills), If we look into the available history of the four players mentioned at the beginning, we notice essential aspects of nurture in performance. For example, some of them have siblings who were involved in video games, thus, started playing and competing at a very young age (age of engagement), high family support and a capacity to adapt to other countries and cultures. So far, this structure of mastery skills has considered individuals and not teams. We see every day, tons of examples where you could have very smart and mechanically talented players in your team but if the environment and culture are not seriously considered your team only will become a team of winning games and not tournaments. 

Take home message

 To wrap up, I would like to highlight three points:

  1. While it is important to acknowledge the factors that could put you ahead of the competition like genes and age, it will be worthless if you are not in the right environment and with the right attitude and mindset to facilitate that development.
  2. The current state of esports leads me to believe that there is no need to put too much importance on the genetic advantage in esports because we don’t know yet what the biological prototype of the ideal esports player is. Therefore, what matters the most is how you develop your skills through attitude and behaviour towards performance preparation.
  3. The role of coaches is important and still underestimated in esports. Possibly some coaches don’t have the same amount of knowledge of the game in comparison with players. However, if the coaches can bring the right environment, facilitating a proactive psychosocial atmosphere, bringing creativity and trying different strategies to improve players skills the highs of performance will rise enormously.


Credit: Riot Games • * Michal Konkol

Ismael Pedraza

Currently working with esports organization Rogue as their performance coach for the LoL team. He also has 8 years of coaching and performance counseling experience with different high-performance traditional sports like football, swimming, athletics, darts, etc. Best ADC in LoL and Clash Royale player of TMC.

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