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How to Get Ahead in eSports

This content is brought to you in association with OMEN by HP.  

As eSports continue to grow at the brisk pace of a Korean Starcraft 2 pro amassing a Terran army, they’re finally starting to gain credibility in the world at large. Just as football has shed its stereotype of hooliganism and cheese-and-onion pasties, so too are eSports emerging from their image of introverted teenagers and heart-attack-in-a-can energy drinks. And with that, eSports players are starting to be regarded as real athletes. 

Looking to reveal the unsung rigours these competitors go through, OMEN by HP has put together a nice neon-tinted video (like a Winding Refn movie, but less violent) showing what it takes to succeed in eSports, while highlighting their OMEN by HP range of gaming machines.

And, dear readers, there’s rigorous science to back it up too. Professor Ingo Frobose, specialising in injury prevention and rehabilitation at the German Sports University, Cologne, has been studying eSports athletes for over five years. He says that the mental strain of executing the 400 asymmetrical keyboard/mouse movements a minute that eSports athletes are capable of is unlike that in any other sport. Meanwhile, the hand-eye coordination required to compete is comparable to that of table tennis. No wonder that eSports have got their own section on venerable sports site ESPN, and they’re going to be a medal event at the 2022 Asian Games.

But as with any sport, eSports require you to get into healthy habits to reach the zenith of your gaming potential. Here are five tips - all used by pro gamers - to set you on the right path.

Find warm-up and training routines for each game 

You know how boxers are doused in sweat by the time they enter the ring, and footballers spend a good half-hour stretching before a match? Well, we’re not saying you should be dripping hand-sweat between the keys of your precious mechanical keyboard, but you don’t want to get caught cold either. Pros in each game have their own training methods, and are happily sharing them online. It’s easy to find them. The hard part is establishing your own training routines based on them.

For example, pro Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player Nifty has an excellent six-minute video on YouTube showing his warm-up routine (even in practice mode, those diagonal-aim kills are a joy to behold). Another CS:GO player, Spencer ‘Hiko’ Martin, also has a training regimen for the game, along with some sage, matter-of-fact words: 

“Deathmatching without a distinct goal or regimen is pretty much useless. You’re just trying to have fun. Unfortunately, practice in anything isn’t usually the most fun. It’s very boring, it’s very repetitive. You need to do your best to muster through it”.

A thousand talented but lazy gamers’ dreams of eSports glory just dissipated…

Deal with pre-match nerves 

Most of us who have played online are familiar with that burst of tension and paralysing adrenaline at the start of a match. Dr. Frobose’s research shows that an eSport athlete’s pulse is comparable to a marathon runner’s, which is testament to how much stress they’re under (just the thought of my every gaming move being projected to thousands or millions of fans worldwide is enough to give me heart flutters).

To deal with this, a growing number of sports psychologists are working with eSports players, applying the same mental rituals as they would to regular athletes. One of these is ‘centring’, which entails a focus on steady deep breathing combined with mantras to relax. This can take all kinds of forms - be it Buddhist meditation, or exercises such as the Jacobson technique and autogenic training - whereby you isolate and relax individual parts of your body. These all are different ways to the same serene end, and it’s a case of finding one that works for you.

That doesn’t mean you can just sit down at a computer, chant some ‘Ommmms’, then play in a monk-like trance for the rest of the match. Like gaming itself, these techniques take practice, but with time you can get to a point where even a minute of focused centring can have a positive impact on your performance.

Visualise your Path to Victory 

Another exercise that’s crossing the virtual bridge from sports into eSports is visualisation, or mental imagery, whereby you teach yourself to create vivid images in your head of how you’re going to pull off specific moves or shots, and ultimately how you’re going to win the game. Like the relaxation techniques, this takes practice, ideally before and after every match or training session, during your bowl of morning porridge, and in whatever moments of downtime you can spare.

Legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus is a big proponent of this practice, and summed up his process in this now-classic quote:

"I never hit a shot even in practice without having a sharp in-focus picture of it in my head. It's like a colour movie. First, I "see" the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes, and I "see" the ball going there: its path, trajectory, and shape, even its behaviour on landing. Then there's a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality and only at the end of this short private Hollywood spectacular do I select a club and step up to the ball."

Your hands are your most valuable appendage. Treat Them Well

If you follow eSports, you’ve probably seen pro players fiddling with what appear to be teabags between games. These are actually hand warmers, keeping the blood circulating efficiently around their five-fingered money-makers. It’s easy to forget that, for your hands, gaming is a seriously physical activity, so you need to pamper them.

Hand warmers are one option. Alternatively, during your hourly gaming micro-break (which you definitely take, right?), run some hot water in the sink, and let your hands sit there for a minute. As well as refreshing sticky fingers, it will relax the muscles and rejuvenate them for your next game. 

(Eucalyptus-scented essential oils and generic Spotify ‘Chillout’ playlists optional…)

For God’s Sake, LOOK AFTER YOURSELF 

"I think in the beginning of my career, I just thought if I played 16 hours every day for a whole year, I'd be the best player. But I think these days that's one of the worst things you can do." Martin "Rekkles" Larsson, Fnatic

Ideally, this heading would be accompanied by a firm but well-meaning double-slap to the face so we know you’re really listening. The idea that simply gaming ad nauseam and keeping your eyes intact by way of wholesale quantities of eyedrops will lead to gaming supremacy died sometime in the noughties. Today, healthy diets and physical exercise are part of every eSports team’s itinerary, and you should make it part of yours.

There are plenty of good gaming-oriented fitness sources out there. One is eSports Performance Lab, which offers an array of free and paid workout regimens with a focus on muscles that are affected by gaming (the Yoga ‘cobra pose’, we hear, is great for posture, as is much of Yoga for that matter). Frank Maas of YouTube channel JaKaTaKtv, meanwhile, offers a 15 minutes worth of handy tips on posture, exercises, and dealing with psychosomatic pain.