Friday, February 22, 2008

playing with Consistency in counter strike source and 1.6

I’ve always been curious about the consistency of players, and how we can go from outstanding to just plain miserable within the space of a few rounds. I myself have been a helpless victim of this for as long as I can remember, and am trying to figure out what it is that makes me play on top form.

Everybody is affected by consistency in some way, but the gamers who are most affected by consistency are those who really care about the game, and are truly determined not to let their team mates down. Unfortunately it is these qualities that make them so dependable and likable in a team situation. I’m certain there are exceptionally skilled players circulating every gaming community that are just unbearably rude and unreliable in a team. While their skill may help win easy games, their attitudes will cripple those around them which will destroy the team during important games. Hopefully the contents of this article will benefit you whichever category you fall into.

This article was researched from large selection of websites varying from performance in competitive sports and coping with stressful situations, to scientific dissertations of the brain and heart which admittedly were beyond me, but I extracted morsels of comprehensible information. I was surprised just how relevant the research was to gaming, and decided it would be a perfect topic for my first article under my new Audacious tag.

The subject matter of this article isn’t all undisputed scientific proof. However there are a large number of companies capitalizing on this research with various hideously expensive courses and software packages for performing under pressure based on similar principles. Furthermore these techniques are being incorporated into military, police and firefighter training for dealing with intense situations. While these situations could involve risks of actual injury or worse, the heart and mind’s response is not dissimilar in a round of your favorite game.
When playing important matches or enduring vital clutch rounds, the pressure on players can be overwhelming. Some players thrive on this pressure, and it fuels them to an outstanding performance, however this is significantly lesser the case. More often this anxiety cripples game sense and aim, leaving the player a helpless wreck depending on dumb luck to salvage the outcome.

During these situations, the functionality of the brain is severely compromised by chaotic electrical and electromagnetic signals entering it; known to scientists as cortical inhibition. When cortical inhibition occurs, the player suffers a severe loss of coordination and decision making skills, and an impaired ability to access previously learned information. Instead of dealing with the situation at hand, the player will begin a subconsciously established automatic response. Hopefully this automatic response will resolve the situation, however if it does not the individual will regurgitate the routine in the hopeless effort that it will be successful a second time. These automatic responses can be trained by continued exposure to similar situations, and this is what gives a veteran player such an edge; however the alternative, more effective but more difficult solution is to deny cortical inhibition.

These signals affecting the brain are generated by the heart and are always being exchanged, however when a player’s tension and anxiety erupt, the signals become out of sync creating a distortion and noise similar to a radio station with static. These signals are measured by the beat to beat variation in the heart rate, known as the heart rate variability or HRV. The pressure of competition can cause your heart rate to increase dramatically to prepare your body and mind to deal with the situation, however if the heart rate becomes inconsistent and chaotic it will not only cause cortical inhibition, but also excessive muscle activity affecting precision.
It has been discovered that your emotional state is what determines the coherency of the HRV. This is best described in a diagram:
It is important to maintain a positive emotional state while playing games in order to maintain a steady heart rate. It is also important to try and encourage positive emotions in those around you. Unfortunately if mistakes happen, or important rounds are lost, it’s easy to get frustrated or depressed. However with the right support from those around you and the correct outlook on the game, it’s possible to self-induce positive emotions creating a surge of neural, hormonal and biochemical events that benefit the entire body and ensure that the only detriment to your performance is your ability.
It is not uncommon to be overwhelmed by personal criticisms of yourself, your team mates, or external factors such as your peripherals. When you are beginning to feel this pressure from a match, take control of the situation by taking control of your emotions. Emotions like frustration, depression and embarrassment are neural nuclear bombs. Keep your goals clear in your mind, and have confidence in the fact that you are capable of managing any conflicts. Always stay assured that things will be alright. By remaining optimistic no matter what the situation, you retain the sense of control. The perception of control is a huge resource in times of stress.

Another common occurrence is for players to become very aware of physical changes that occur under stress such as blushing, increased heart rate, jittering, or muscular changes. Unfortunately these are the body’s natural reactions to stress and are unavoidable, but their impact on performance is minimal provided they don’t occupy your mind. The reassurance of this alone is enough to shrug them off and focus on the game. Confront any problems actively and directly, and seek the support of your team. If you are in a clutch situation and are in a position to win but your nerves are getting the better of you, confess it: “guys I’m shitting myself here!” Not only is the comic intermission enough to flip the fear to fun, the reassurance they can offer even when dead could be enough control those nerves and win that crucial round. If you are losing rounds, process the reasons that you died, come up with a plan of action and make changes to your play. If you are a caller and have made a decision, let the team know your reasoning; if it’s good their confidence in the tactic will soar. Consciously tackling problems makes you feel productive, and those around you feel secure.

Taking steps to ensure you don’t emotionally butcher your team mates is arguably more important than performing yourself. Under no circumstances you should flaunt arrogance or criticise team mates. It is essential to build self-esteem but if you derive it at the expense of those around you then you are effectively sabotaging the team. Your team mates have most likely demonstrated adequate ability to get into the team, so disregard any fickle criticisms of them unless you have something constructive to say. If they are struggling to perform it may be down to you. Criticising, patronizing or displaying a lack of faith in team mates, even as mild witty comments can have devastating effects on their performance and can even have long term effects on their ability. Furthermore it can degrade your own sense of control and can make you feel excessive pressure to perform.

The best thing you can do for yourself and your team is to actively promote the positive atmosphere that keeps the mood friendly and the games exciting. When losing, try continually changing things. The excitement of the game will persist and you can turn the game around. The best emotion is feeling supported, knowing someone has your back. The absence of this is what makes clutches so intense, but they need not be. Team mates can lend support even when dead, although it is important not to talk over critical sounds, or instruct the player on how to play. Always discuss problems rather than letting them escalate out of proportion because persistent aggravations cause performance to gradually deteriorate and end in team members leaving. Removing these general sources of stress can increase your ability to induce positive emotions and keep on top form.
Emotions are controlled by a part of the brain called the amygdala, the same part that maintains reactions – both very important for winning games. The amygdala is less erratic when the brain is kept healthy, so here are some tips:
  • Regular exercise ensures a healthy blood flow, which encourages new brain cells.
  • Exercising the brain by reading, writing, learning and doing brain puzzles.
  • Feed you brain by eating less fat, and more antioxidant-rich foods such as dark skinned vegetables (eg. Spinach, broccoli, onion), and fruits (eg. Raisins, strawberries, raspberries, red grapes).
  • Always wear a seat belt!
There are also a number of steps you can take to reduce vulnerability to rogue emotional tantrums:
  • Avoid over-scheduling, but make your team aware that you find the schedule too intensive. Don’t just neglect showing up at will, leaving the others waiting.
  • Accept that nobody is perfect, including yourself and your team mates. Expecting perfection from yourself and others adds enormous pressure to perform.
  • Getting a good night sleep makes your brain better equipped to deal with emotions and gaming itself.
  • Consider your outlook on life and always try to see the glass as half full!
Although these may seem like extreme measures to take for a computer game, some people enjoy taking the game seriously and playing to win. I hope you have found this an enjoyable and interesting read, and that you will give some thought to how you treat yourself and your team mates. With some consideration of behavior, we can all begin to consistently perform at our best and push e sports to the height of competition.

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