Some rambles about mental health and careers in eSports
Today I want to write about a subject in eSports that applies to myself and it is one I have had to address in my own life several times. It's about stress and other psychological strain in an eSports career. As such it is heavily influenced by my own experience in the scene and completely opinion / observation based.
A balanced life requires a good balance between work, free time and personal relationships (think friends, family and significant others). If one breaks the balance in their life, his/her mental and physical health will suffer. For example: if a healthy person were to suddenly start working their job 10+ hours a day for 3 months while ignoring personal relationships and hobbies, they will suffer from psychological strain and stress symptoms: loss of passion, motivation issues, unhappiness (even depression) to name a few.
In a long term eSports player career, the player is not simply playing the game for fun times with friends or because it is their hobby. It is a job and their paycheck. This means all of a regular career's factors apply. This includes work environment (in eSports often just plain bad to mediocre at best in even the best organisations).
Player success is based on talent and practice. A more talented player has to put in less practice than a less talented player, but even a lack of talent can be overcome to a certain personal skill ceiling with more hard work. A motivated (or addicted as is often the case) player will have an easier time putting in heavy practice hours than a less motivated player. If you want to be #1 you have to both be talented and put in hard work. Just talent doesn't cut it, as often your opposition is similarly talented as you making practice hours often the determining factor in who is better.
In anything extremely competitive, as is League of Legends, participants will do whatever it takes to be the best and beat their competition. League of Legends is a mental sport and as such it's training requires 99% mental work. Players can train however many hours in a day they choose to as they lack regular physical constraints that would apply to regular sports and physically based labor.
Putting together the information contained in the previous paragraphs you can visualize a problem: the lack of physical constraints to practice combined with the drive to be the best both allow and forces top eSport athletes to play an alarming amount of hours per day in an effort to overcome their peers.
In Europe, players regularly play 6-8 hours of scrims, but that is not enough as without daily solo queue practice, mechanics and situational awareness are not at peak level. As a result, many solo queue hours have to be made on top of scrims to train. This results in daily work hours of 10-12+ with barely any break days (no weekends) while living in a frat style gaming house located in a foreign country (neglecting personal relationships in home country) where the player both knows nobody and doesn't speak the language. On top of all this, many important matches have to be played every week and organisations often have required monthly streaming quotas and other sponsor obligations such as vlogs, blogs and videoshoots.
Often a player finds themself negatively affected by all of the psychological strain and as a result, becomes stressed and has their performance negatively impacted. They lose motivation and passion negatively spiraling their performance further often causing retirement or breaks. Often players feel unfulfilled with the amount of sacrifices they have to make to stay in and on top of the scene. This causes talent to cycle at an alarming rate, players often stay in the scene for a few years max. If talent retires too early, new talent does not come in fast enough and the scene deteriorates as a whole. I believe that any player up to ceiling age of 30 is still physically capable of performing top level eSports, but before mentioned factors cause the scene to be youngster-centric.
The solution? I don't truly know currently, as the virtually unrestricted practice possibility is somewhat of a dilemma. I do think the key to success in sustainable eSport careers lies in the scenes infrastructure. Wealthy organisations that can take good care of their players help them keep a good balance in their lives more easily and increase career longevity reducing the speed of talent cycling.
Thanks for reading, hope you had as much fun reading it as i had writing it.