With the rapid rise of video gaming and, with it, the competitive eSports scene, improving gaming performance has become an important field of study for many in the industry. Some gaming tournaments are now offering staggering prize pools of $20 million every year, and maintaining the players’ physical and mental health to keep them at peak performance has driven many large teams to hire specialists for the task.
Hoping to understand what state of mind is best to beat your opponents, researchers from Stanford University and Adam Mickiewicz University recently published a study in the journal Emotion on the role emotions play in eSports, and their findings are pretty interesting.
When playing football simulation game FIFA 19, one of the most popular console franchises out there, the researchers discovered that eliciting positive emotions before gaming made the players perform significantly better than after having negative emotions, and they felt better during the games too. The findings contribute to a growing understanding of how emotions regulate sports performance.
“Before entering a competition, players may think of various issues that cause them to experience different emotions, either positive (eg amusement) or negative (eg anger),” said the authors in an email to IFLScience.
“We found that eliciting positive emotions (and especially enthusiasm) before the game translates into an improvement in the gaming results.”
The study involved 241 men between 18-37 years old completing five matches of FIFA 19. Before each match, the players completed stages in which they watched a short movie designed to elicit specific emotions and were then asked to report how they felt afterwards. Examples included a clip from the movie American History X, in which a racially-motivated attack sees a black man killed by a neo-Nazi, which was aimed to create anger; and clips from the Summer Olympic Games, to inspire enthusiasm.
Following these stages, the participants battled in a match vs a mid-level bot difficulty ("Professional" difficulty) and their results were recorded.
The results showed some fascinating correlations between the players’ performance and the emotions they felt beforehand. During the matches where the players felt amusement and enthusiasm, the largest improvement was seen over the neutral emotions, with goal difference, shots on target, ball possession, and more showing better results. The researchers found this to be due to an increase in approach tendency, which means the individual would strive towards their goals (in this case, both figuratively and literally) whilst blocking out negative cognitions.
Speaking about the positive emotion correlation, the researchers said: “This occurs thanks to the extra motivation that comes from positive emotion. In addition, we observed that players who have greater confidence in their abilities and get more physiologically involved in the game achieve better results.”
Unfortunately for all you hardcore ragers out there, the gamers that entered the game angry performed poorly compared to the happy crowd. The team now hopes the research can contribute to understanding the role of mental attitude for eSports competitors.
The authors do note some limitations of the study and a need for further research in the area. Firstly, whilst using a short video to elicit a desired emotional response was successful, emotions are subjective and eliciting just one specific emotion is near impossible. They also caution readers in how applicable the results are to other sports, as context and body position can all play roles in performance.
Still, the research adds to previous studies that agree with emotions being a key indicator of performance. So, next time you are ready to throw the controller at the wall, maybe reconsider if you truly want to take home the trophy.