Avoiding Competitive Burnout

It's been about two weeks since LAN Mob's vacation, and before I get into the meat of this blog title, I really got to say I'm still feeling some great positive effects from our week off. Overall I feel like I have more energy, more focus and generally a better disposition since our return, and I've been feeling much more positive in general. Even as I type this, my family is going through a hardship, and I feel very capable of coping with it on almost every front. I digress, there was many reasons for our pre-vacation burnout, and one of my own personal contributions was a bit of a struggle with balancing competition/casual gaming. In this beautiful day and age of eSports opportunities and gaming careers, the competitive side of gaming is extremely easy to get completely absorbed in. Now don't get me wrong, being absorbed in competitive gaming is amazing, in fact I have an immeasurable amount of respect for people out there grinding away to forge their own careers in this gaming renaissance, but if this passion is unchecked sometimes it can cause some pretty serious burnout.

"The Summoner's Cup" - the most prestigious award to earn in League of Legends eSports. Every year many many teams compete to take home the Cup, and every year only one team can succeed. 

Whatever level you may be playing at, striving to be the best, or even just better takes a lot of energy, focus, time and a very strong mental game. I believe this to be a blanket truth across any and all competition, whether it be Street Fighter, League of Legends, bowling or chess. I think applying yourself with the ultimate goal of greatness can take a lot out of you, especially with more and more time invested. As you spend more time looking to achieve your goals, I think our pure enjoyment of the game can be lost as a result, due to our own mindset of playing the game from a purely competitive perspective. I recently read an article about a really staggering number of competitive swimmers quitting due to simply no longer enjoying what they do, and that got me ruminating on the subject. Using myself as an example, I've always played League of Legends pretty casually. I distinctly only really played with my friends, who take the game at various levels of competitive seriousness. However, even playing pretty casually with the occasional competitive itch along with watching competitive League of Legends for so many years has left me with a good amount of game knowledge, and I'm not too shabby of a player myself. I've always had a bit of balance when it came to being a good League player, while still maintaining a good amount of competitive chops and knowledge. When I started coaching for Rome Revolution, I sort of leaped down the rabbit hole and began to look at League in a purely competitive sense, and in a way I think I started thinking about the game in a way that really sucked the fun out of it, which was my initial reason for ever playing the game. This was all at the time where I was also trying to level up my play in a competitive sense in countless fighting games, which I was taking pretty seriously. It got kind of bad, to the point where I really wanted nothing to do with the game and I didn't even enjoy watching high level play of League, and that's when I knew somewhere down the line I made some errors in my pursuit of higher level play and allowed myself to burn out. I'm happy to say I'm back and feeling better than ever, not just as a player but as a coach, for me the secret lies in balance.

Enjoying the game = OP

I used my week off to pretty much cut myself off from almost all competitive gaming. I played in our weekly fight night but with the full aim of having fun, and dialed back on absorbing League of Legends resources. I spent a lot of time playing games like Monster Hunter World and Stardew Valley, and just took some time to decompress. In short order, I felt 100 times better and started having genuine fun again, and that's ultimately my first tip to avoid the same burnout I encountered - have fun. It sounds so simple, but for me it made all the difference, and enjoying the game that I love so much is really the key to succeeding in it. This epiphany led to some stellar games, both with my group of friends and with the Rome Revolution team, and I'm ecstatic to say that I really understand and, more importantly, love the game again. I want to stress that enjoying something is not synonymous with not taking something seriously, quite the contrary. I've been playing more seriously than ever before, but whether things work out or not, I am enjoying the time I spend playing the game. I think this lesson is a hard one to teach specifically, because when I was in my spiral of competitive fog, the last thing I would want to here is somebody coming along and saying, "Oh just enjoy the game BRO", but that doesn't make it any less true. I think there are a few ways that can help you reach this perfect level of competitive drive, or to maintain it.

I think one of the reasons I was especially burned out in a competitive sense was was on top of my coaching responsibilities I was also taking a plethora of fighting games very seriously. I was putting in a lot of time trying to learn how to play Tekken 7 and DBZF at competitive levels, on top of learning UNIEL, improving in Injustice, Rivals and even a little bit of Street Fighter V. For lack of a better term, I put too much on my plate and I think juggling too many games can have a negative effect on your improvement in each of them. I think once again, every person will have their own limits and plate size, but I really needed to dial back and take a look at my priorities. Ultimately, I have narrowed down my focus to playing one or two fighting games seriously, and devoting the rest of my competitive game time to League of Legends and LoL resources. I would stress anyone else juggling a whole bunch of competitive games to dial back and examine your place on all of them and make some decisions. This doesn't always mean that you need to quit playing those extra games, I guess my best advice would be to play a bit more casually, and even delegate some of those games to a "cool off" game, but more on that later. Once again, I want to stress that every player can have different limits, so do your best to understand your own and create fair expectations for yourself.

Another tactic that's used by even the highest level of players in any game is simply having a "cool off" game. If you check out some high ranked League of Legends players' streams, in between queue or after a tough game they'll typically spend extra time playing a completely different game unrelated to the game they compete in. More often then not these games are distinctly not competitive in any way, and usually single player. Obviously I can't tell everyone reading this what game would be best for cooling off, everyone is different. Rome Revolution's Kolunas has been playing a lot of Mega Crit Game's Slay the Spire, which is an excellent example of a great game to play between matches of whatever you may be playing. Each run takes less than half an hour and challenges your decision making abilities, but without all the ego and focus of playing a game competitively. While I would certainly recommend Slay the Spire, take some time and find a game that works for you. My personal favorite cooldown (at least for right now!) game is Stardew Valley. Some people like to cool off by completely getting away from gaming for a short time, taking a walk, watching an episode of a TV show, etc etc, and that can be just as effective. I think it's important to understand when the best time and place is for these breaks, which feeds into the last topic I'd really like to touch on - raging.

      At Touyuken 2017, an Ontario IJ2 player had a bit of a breaking point out of pure competitive frustration.
Raging at video games has always been a well known joke, as much as it is a well known truth. I can't say I've ever truly RAGED at a game, at least nothing beyond turning a game off and leaving for a short amount of time, which is what I would actually recommend. However, as a coach and a player I understand that "raging" comes from a place of passion, more so than anger. This thought process may be giving some players the benefit of the doubt, but in my experience it rings true. Raging in a competitive environment, even just practice, is pretty harmful in a lot of ways, and is NOT always related to burn out, which tends to be a popular excuse. I think more often than not, raging in all forms comes from an incredibly raw feeling of frustration, which like I mentioned, is born from a deep passion for the thing that has you so frustrated. When you're so frustrated to the point of exploding in a fit of rage, you need to take a moment and ask yourself a few questions, the most important being "What has me so frustrated?" Once you can answer this question for yourself, it's much easier to reach out for resources and grow as a player, instead of allowing yourself to enter the nasty fog of frustration and anger. I feel confident in saying that despite how this frustration may not be born from burn out, it will almost certainly be followed by it if you don't keep yourself in check. Thankfully there's more resources than ever before when it comes to frustrating match-ups across a variety of games, how to do X tech and even threads of players dealing with the exact same frustration you are. If you're playing a team based competitive game, it's pretty nice to have those people to reach out to when you're frustrated with your own play and (assuming these teammates are good teammates) get the feedback you're looking for to help get over the hump. Just raging without any real vocalization or focus is just going to feed into more negativity and more frustration, so it's incredibly important to understand and vocalize these frustrations and grow from them. They don't say top players have amazing mental games for no reason!

I'm happy to be back and refreshed, especially when it comes to League of Legends and my role in the Rome Revolution team. It's important to take care of your mind when you're striving for improvement and greatness, and maintaining a good schedule and keeping yourself in check is essential. I'm happy to provide any and all advice I can to the Rome Revolution players on their respectable quest for improvement, and to anyone else who may have found some of this helpful. I think it's easiest to teach from a place you understand, so in a way I'm kinda glad I burned myself out because I feel more balanced than ever before, and hungry for personal improvement in the games I have prioritized, as well as helping to improve others. Thanks for reading everybody! 
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