How does psychology influence esports? Excel’s sports psychologist Fabian Broich is joined by Lara Lunardi at the second week of the League of Legends European Championship to explain the role of a performance coach in the esports field, and how working on human problems can set a team up for success.
Can you explain to us what your role with Excel is?
My role is Head of Performance. I have a sports psychology background and played professional sports myself, so basically I look for the well being and performance outside of the game, making sure the player is feeling well, get good sleep, good nutrition, physical activity and focus on their mental in order to perform. Everything outside of the game, basically.
Other than focusing on physical health, how do you provide mental support to the players?
The basics and the foundation is environment, but then we have a lot of one-on-ones with different aspects. I usually start with sleep, because it is essential, the biggest part of the day besides practicing, and then just here or there depending on stress, coping mechanisms, working under pressure, external issues because of social media, negativity, how do you deal with the feedback, all these kinds of things.
"The solution is not in the coach, the solution is in the player."
You mentioned that your background is sports. What is some of the work you have performed before coming to Excel?
I worked more with individual athletes, college soccer teams in America, volleyball teams and basketball teams on a higher competitive level. I get all kinds of different sports because in sports psychology you are usually self employed, so you work with coaches, with sports agencies, so it’s really diverse.
During the show today you talked about the similarities of sports and esports, so I want to know where is it that you had to adapt because you found yourself in a completely unique situation.
The good thing for me is that I am really knowledgeable about sports and I came in without any knowledge about esports. I played a bit (of video games) myself, but I didn’t know what the competitive environment was like, so I came here really unbiased, which was really good, I think I work way better and way closer with esports athletes because I can really see how their life is, from seeing them all the time, whereas in soccer you have one to two hour practices, so you don’t see too much because the players are always busy.
In esports we don’t have team academies, we don’t have coaching licenses so you work a lot with the coaches as well, and the players they just come from home to be in with the teams, they don’t know what team dynamics are, they don’t know that “it can’t be all on me, I cannot focus just on myself”. They learn to build a relationship and that there has to be a cohesion, different roles, and they have to accept that it’s not always about them. They are good players, but usually no one makes sure that they connect to each other, so that’s basically what I am focusing on now.
What is a common trait that you have found in the players that you actively have to work on?
If you’re a performance coach, players are obviously really negative towards you, because you’re someone who is telling them something that they had never thought about and they have been already really good at what they are doing, so why should they listen to you. It’s not as much of a common issue as it is an obstacle for the performance coach to create some awareness for them, that’s actually receiving this information, so it’s more about how do you approach them and how do you make sure that you create a relationship, because without a relationship, you can know whatever you want and know you can help them, but if he is not really open to it it’s really difficult, so it’s basically all about relationships.
The biggest problems with performance coaches is that they usually push someone towards a goal, where the solution is not in the coach, the solution is in the player. So I listen to the players and try to hear out what their struggles are, because otherwise, I am just doing what I think is good, but it should be what they need.
"We don’t want to see the player as a product, we want to actually see human growth."
Do you work with the players egos, how do you ensure that there is a balance with the way fame affects them?
When I work, I work on the human side first, so well being is the focus. Well being also means to understand where the stress is coming from, and also, as an example, they all have in-game names, like Nukeduck for example, well, Patrik is not a good example because that is his real name, but I want to make sure that I always talk with them as humans, because I don’t want to reduce them to the player, that is just one of their skills that they have. Of course you have to be cocky, you have to have high self-esteem because if you don’t believe in yourself, you’re not going to succeed, and that makes the difference between the players, because they are all on a really similar level, but the person who is the most confident and also ensures that they perform and focus on themselves instead of just focusing on the weaknesses, that’s the person who will stay in the league and get higher and higher.
It’s more about developing them also as human beings, which is one of the biggest parts we are wanting to work on. We don’t want to see the player as a product, we want to actually see human growth. In a professional environment like this there is a lot of narcissism, but to a moderate degree you have to be a little bit narcissistic to succeed. Some players have a completely different character outside of the game.
How does the use of an alias affect how the players see themselves on stage versus real life?
Most players just see themselves as the player, because this is what everyone focuses on them. If you sign a contract and you play for some organizations, they can just focus on “well, you have to get wins”, but it’s actually not what we focus on. Obviously we want to win, but we focus way more on the development because we highly believe that from a healthy lifestyle and healthy environment it will lead to peak performance, so first of all we have a person who is growing, which we have a responsibility for, and we also need the organization to have results, so that’s a good combination. I do think this is a really good question, and most organizations just look at them as products, or players, and nothing else.
Is Excel set to be ahead of other teams because of the presence of a sports psychologist in the team?
Definitely. No matter how good or bad you are at a sport psychologist, just having a focus outside of the game will make a huge difference, because what we do is stress management, and they are in a constantly stressful environment, so if you can lower the stress, specially at the end of the split, you will see that every team will start really low on stress but it increases with every week, where we kind of put a lot of stress on them in the beginning.
We had a pre-season of almost two weeks where we didn’t use the computers at all, we just got to know each other and do team interactions, and now we focus on the game. We believe in these two weeks we won a lot of time because we already know each other, so the difficulties, or issues that occur, we know the root of where it’s coming from, and we can relate on what we agreed on as a team, so over time, we outperform other organizations for sure, because we have a more holistic approach, not focusing on just the game itself. We gain time by losing time.