BECOMING PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES Two Years in Esports as a Performance Specialist

Two Years in Esports as a Performance Specialist
By: Edward Cleland, Performance Specialist, Renegades
October 5, 2019
In August of 2017, I received a fortuitous call from the Renegades management. I had prepared various sports professional athletes with mindset, nutrition, and performance improving strategies for nearly a decade yet was unfamiliar with Esports. The organization expressed an interest in improving the mental and physiological wellness of their Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) team.

While working closely with the Renegades for more than two years, I have gained firsthand understanding of the mental and physiological health conditions and needs of Esport athletes. Undoubtedly, professional Esport gamers and teams are uniquely different than other professional athletic organizations and their players. In order to improve the environment and health of these athletes, professionals must be sensitive to the uniqueness of their journeys from amateur to professional ranks.

Esports is not as health-focused when compared to other sports (I can hear “the boys” saying “no kidding, Edward”, sarcastically). It is well known sedentary positions, late hours, inconsistent travel, practice, event, and life schedules, considerable screen time, visa-issues, living far from home, organization dissimilarities, consumption of packaged products, jetlag, hotel living, and chaotic sleep practices are simply part of the job. Despite these aspects certainly requiring attention for improving athletic performance, they are perhaps but symptoms of what being a professional Esport athlete entails, for now.

Collegiate and professional athletes come to athletic performance-related specialists such as myself with already having spent considerable years examining self-confidence and perceived pressures. They have acquired and practiced positive communication skills, prepared and trained their physiological bodies, and adhered to rigorous, health-supporting schedules. Professional athletes have navigated their ego and developed emotional-regulation and confidence-building strategies within a live group setting overseen by some form of coach or mental-health professional. This, of course, is not the same path or experience of becoming a professional Esports athlete, to-date.

I have met numerous parents who discuss wanting to support their young child towards Esports as a potential profession. With time, the path to the top of professional gaming will evolve. The next generation of gamers may experience similar opportunistically supported paths to professional gaming as seen now within basketball, futbol, or baseball.

In competitive sports, the physiological body may be prepared through skill, strength, stamina, and recovery efforts. Esport-athletes should be focused on food, movement, and mindfulness practices impacting reflexes, eye-hand coordination, concentration, body-mind response, inflammation, recovery, and breathing. Through these practices, the mind is trained as well.

In sports neurology, we try to understand how to improve brain reaction, prediction, speed of mental processing, emotional regulation, resiliency, and messaging of the physiological body. The brain and body are wired together – it is 2019, this is accepted science, not a spiritually-rooted concept. Individual mental and bodily training coupled with team-communication and empowering practices are commonplace in professional athletics.

This gap between preparing traditional athletes and gamers is about more than providing Esport athletes similar amenities such as access to health improvement services. Addressing the lack of performance enhancing tools and individual developmental learnings acquired on the path to professional gaming requires skillful support. To expect professional Esport athletes to be self-directed in a health-positive way is to disregard their journey to the professional ranks.

Cultivating both the individual and team, mental and physiological health of an Esport athlete is the gap separating “onliner” from winning LAN (Local Area Network) teams, sporadic contenders from champions, and teams with profitable staying power from just another team that tasted success but could not sustain it as a unit. When Esport athletes ascend from childhood homes into professional environments unprepared and poorly supported, the mechanisms which offered them confidence previously no longer exist. Esport athletes must be willing to change and grow, have a desire for input, and develop individually, as well as collectively to succeed.
Edward Cleland is the Performance Specialist for the Renegades and founder of Mind-Body Medicine of Michigan. He has consulted General Motors, McLaren Hospital Systems, and Comerica Bank executives and staff on various wellness initiatives and been the performance specialist for numerous professional athletes. Edward has lectured on mindfulness, functional nutrition, and holistic health education at the collegiate and graduate-levels as well as to the public. In his spare time, he is completing a PhD, runs marathons, is opening an organic health bar, and loves being in nature with family.

Author’s note: I am proud of the tremendous individual and collective growth I have witnessed in each and every one of the men who have represented the Renegades during my tenure. #YTB
Edward Cleland
Mind Body Medicine of Michigan, LLC, All Rights Reserved / Copyright 2019

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