Overcoming Nerves in Competitions

By Conan “Suppy” Liu of Evil Geniuses

I believe that there are many ways that a player can improve their performance in competitions or tournaments. There certainly is a specific skill that must be developed in order to compete at your highest capacity in a pressure-filled situation. Just look at all the people who do so amazingly in practice, ladder, or scrimmages with other teams, only to fall apart when it really counts. So what are some of the ways that we can improve our performance and not go into games like this?

Experience is obviously one of the first factors. The more you do something, the better you will get at it. The more that you put yourself in stressful situations, the better you will be able to cope with them in the future. Someone who wants to perform well has to get out of their comfort zone. They need to seek out opportunities to play in tournaments, even if it’s just a small online cup or a small showmatch. Make bets and play in money matches with rivals and friends. One of the biggest motivating factors for me to improve was in Broodwar when I consistently played one of my friends and tried to beat him. We always had some light banter beforehand that put a little pride on the line when we played. I wanted to put myself in a situation where I was forced to play under a little pressure, which helped develop my skills at playing in real tournament environments. I strongly encourage you to get out there and leave your comfort zone.

comfort zone
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How can we as players, who have tons of tournament experience, explain this yet we still get nerves just like them in tournaments? I do think that after some time, failing to perform in tournaments can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The expectation that you will perform worse at a tournament will cause you to doubt yourself, even if it’s subconsciously, and will adversely affect your play. I think that it is important to never perceive a tournament, or LAN play, as an obstacle to your play. On the other hand, it is useful to acknowledge that others have the perception that they will play worse, but not believe it yourself. This switch in mindset can only serve to boost your confidence, because you know that others will be expecting to play worse. Since you don’t believe you will be affected, you will feel like you are playing from an advantageous position. I really believe that the mindset you have going in to a match will actually determine how you actually play in that match – and if you believe you have an advantage, you will simply play better and actually gain a tangible advantage. I always am delighted to hear when my opponents complain about being too cold, the LAN setups not being ideal, tiredness, jetlagged, etc. While I often must face the same problems, I don’t view them as major hindrances to my play. Everyone must deal with differing conditions, and it is truly your response to them that will determine how they actually end up affecting you.

Perhaps the biggest tip I like to give my friends and other people is that you must view nerves and adrenaline as a boost in performance, rather than a hindrance. This goes hand in hand with the positive mindset I talked about above. This topic, however, actually has some scientific logic to back it up as well. When you are playing in a pressure-filled situation, your body responds by releasing adrenaline, which can cause you to become anxious, have shaky hands, sweat, etc. Most people call these nerves, and complain about how it negatively affects them. However, you don’t have to view it that way.

When adrenaline is released, it activates the sympathetic nervous system in what is known as the fight or flight response. And the response is exactly that. Either you can choose to fight, or you can choose to flee. If you view the situation as dangerous and scary, it is more likely that the “flight” response will kick in and cause you to lose focus, become shaky, hesitant, etc. – the characteristics of fear. What if you viewed adrenaline as something that is helping you? When you feel the adrenaline pumping through your body, recognize the feeling, and address it as a benefit. It is part of the “fight” response. If you simply have a change in mindset when you get this feeling, you will be able to utilize it to become hyper-focused and determined. This will increase your performance, all due to a simple change in perspective.

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I believe that my successes in the collegiate scene, particularly, were vastly due to my teammates using adrenaline to help them play better. I always told them this concept that I had read about online and studied about in my neurobiology of stress class at UC Berkeley. I believe they all performed the better for it. It was one of the most important factors that separated us from the rest of the competitors. Although we may not have always been the favorites, like the time we faced off against Chunnam University from Korea, we had gained an advantage in mindset.

Of course, performing better requires more than just changing your mindset. Your base skill level still needs to be up to par in order to do well, which means you must always work to maintain a good skill level. However, once all the preparation has been done, and all that’s left to do is execute your task on the big stage – practice through experience, creating a positive mindset, and viewing adrenaline as a boost, will help you immensely to perform to your best. These techniques work not only for competitions and tournaments in gaming. They can be a benefit any situation in life that have pressure on you to do well. Thus, I urge people to change the way they view high-pressured situations, and see if they can improve by doing so.