Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Physical side of Counter Strike

this article examines the physical aspects of engaging in competitive Counter Strike. Although there is no immediate connection between grueling physical exertion and computer game play (excluding the kids that play DDR at Mach-4 in the mall of course), there is a connection between sound physical health and sound mental health, and both (yes both) are necessary to perform at your highest levels.

In the state of Texas, students in elementary, middle, and high school are required to take standardized tests every few years (TAAS / TAKS test for all you Texans), and the first piece of advice the instructors give to the students prior to exam week is to eat a healthy breakfast in the morning before the exams. This promotion of physical health has direct correlation to better exam results. Researchers have found that eating a good meal in the morning stimulates the brain during the day. This logic is congruent for all activities -- if you’re physically prepared, there’s a higher probability you’re mentally prepared.

In an article published in the Mental Health Journal in November of 2000, Dr. Jennifer C. Panning explains that “physical activity has been shown to help with being emotionally and mentally fit.” Dr. Panning uses an example of overcoming depression via exercise and continues by explaining how improving one’s physical health is a sure-fire way to improve mental health and emotional stability. One of the more prominent examples in Weenus’ article described an irate personality that brought down the team. Dr. Panning suggests that exercising regularly is an effective method to overcome stress and anxiety problems. Could exercise be the solution to a fighting team? No, that’s not very likely. However, exercise would help alleviate some of the tension (Panning).

One of the more important factors in individual Counter Strike development is reducing reaction time -- the faster you react to an event, the greater chance you have to make the correct play (be it frag, dodge, etc). In the March 2006 issue of Neuroscience Literature the article “Physical exercise facilitates motor processes in simple reaction time performance: an electromyographic analysis” examines the impact exercise has on reaction time. At the Universit√© de Provence in France, scientists put a group of people to the test and found that “exercise improves simple RT [reaction time] performance.” The study went on to state “physical exercise improves late motor processes” and found that reaction time was at its peak during exercise. With that in mind, I don’t recommend anyone doing cardio in between (or during) rounds of a Counter Strike match; however, the information provided suggests that adding exercise to your daily routine will improve your play

One of the paradigms associated with gamers is a lack of sleep. It’s not uncommon that you’ll find a team practicing from early in the afternoon until the wee hours of the morning. When it comes time for tournaments you might see a team play their first match at 9:00AM in the morning and be forced to wait around until 10:00PM at night for their second match. That waiting period is draining on a person wishing to play; one’s intensity drastically changes as the day comes to a close. Even more common is the team forced to play into the early hours of the morning as a result of their success at a local LAN tournament. When was the last time you heard of a local LAN competition concluding before 2:00AM? Whatever the case may be, all of this playing (or lack thereof) requires a lot of mental strength and energy. With a strong physical foundation, a player has a better chance to endure the lengthy hours required for competitive gaming. Essentially, the better physical shape you’re in, the better chance you’ll have at fragging someone as he crosses the double doors at four in the morning.
several examples of players and teams taking it to the next level by practicing sound physical lifestyles to promote better Counter Strike play.

Perhaps the most prominent (and publicized) example of this self-improvement concept came about nearly two years ago when Johan "Vesslan" Ryman, a very popular figure in the eSports community known for his tactical genius roles in NiP, Team9, and Adrenaline, was commissioned by Mibr to help the team overcome their struggling Counter Strike play. Instead of just looking at the team’s in-game problems, Vesslan decided to take the project to the next level and improve on the team's overall feel, including modifying sleeping and eating habits for a healthy lifestyle. Despite Vesslan’s efforts, Mibr experienced mixed results and the duo eventually outgrew each other as Vesslan failed to keep the team motivated; likewise, the team was uncooperative to Vesslan’s requests. With all of the new professional hype eSports has generated over the past 6 months (i.e. players and teams take this seriously), I believe a relationship between coach and team such as what Vesslan had with Mibr would be successful, whereas 2 years ago eSports was not ready for it.

The most comical example of improving physical health for the benefit of better Counter Strike play surfaces in the stories I’ve heard about the days when Michael “Hare” O`Toole was the captain of United 5. Anybody familiar with that era knows Hare demanded perfection from his team and this stance sometimes resulted in extraordinary means. Our beloved Bootman told me about Hare asking (requiring) the team to run laps before a match to stimulate their mind and body. In theory, exercising lightly before a match would speed up reaction time and result the players' minds being alert and active. However, doing light cardio before a match seems a little over the top to me. I can see it now: JaX Money Crew running laps inside the CPL BYOC prior to a big match against Complexity, after reading this article.

My favorite example of physical health awareness in Counter Strike occurs between Mark Dolven and the Pandemic players. Mark advocates positive lifestyles and insists that all of his players get a good night's rest and remain sober during LAN competitions. Mark went as far as stating that in order to join the Pandemic roster you must agree to a strict (yet professional) schedule during LAN competitions, including the aforementioned requirements. When was the last time you saw a professional athlete (excluding Bodie Miller) go out and party late into the night prior to a major competition? It just doesn’t happen. Professional players in Counter Strike should take the Pandemic approach and take it easy during competition. After all, what do they have to lose?

Next time you find yourself reaching for another Bawls late at night, or some Jolt caffeine gum to keep you going, think back to this article and how exercise and improving your physical health could keep you up those extra few hours you need to win the match.

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