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Former Los Angeles Gladiators Performance Coach, Blake Panasiewicz, Weighs In on Player Burnout

Volamel 2019-01-04 05:12:25
  With the topic of player burnout hot on the anvil of the community at large, it’s time to hear from someone who has mental health first and foremost on their priority list. Former Los Angeles Gladiators Performance Coach, Blake Panasiewicz, took some time out to speak with Esports Heaven about some of his thoughts on the mental health of esports professionals,how becoming a performance coach impacted his own life, and three ways teams and players can start to work on their own mental well-being.
We’ve spoken before and you’ve mentioned other esports just in passing. Have you worked in other esports as well? How do they differ compared to Overwatch? Yes, I have worked in the collegiate scene with Heroes of the Storm and briefly with League of Legends. I also worked privately [in] League of Legends with Challenger and Masters players more extensively. I would say there are a lot of similarities as far as the people playing the games and their growing up and lifestyle development. As far as the game specifically, I think that doesn’t really matter, I think more importantly are the updates, structure of the game, and format of tournaments within the game. The more the game changes, the more an individual needs to focus on and learn. The more stability in a game, the more we can autopilot successfully some functions to focus on other aspects of the game. With Overwatch currently, I think the moments of stability at least related towards the last season were very infrequent. Every time a change goes through you need to learn how it affects a map, character compatibilities and mechanics. This requires an intense amount of focus on those things. Now add on top of that; strategies, teamwork and cohesion - it gives you have a majorly stressful situation. It felt like in other games the changes made did not have the level of volatility that changes in Overwatch have. I’m sure you inject many concepts and different practices into each team when you work with them, but what are some of the big things that you’ve learned through your years as a performance coach that you’ve adopted in your life? While people are different and have differences they also tend to have a lot of relatable or similar situations. I have worked with drug addicts, children, collegiate esports and professional esports. While they all have their differences there are also similarities. This is because they are humans with life experiences. The titles these people have does not mean they don’t have similarities. I think it is important to look past the titles we try to give each other and look at the person as an individual and develop special plans for those individuals. A one size fits all is probably not going to work for everyone. You have to meet the individual where they are currently at, not where you think they are at. You need to work to grow and be cognizant of what they want to achieve. If your goals are aligned then it makes it a lot easier to actually work with the individual and give them advice on improvements that they might not have thought about or considered before. From your experience, how seriously do Overwatch teams, and esports teams for that matter, take the mental health of players? In my opinion, not enough. I have a limited perspective of one team and an outside view of the rest. While I think Gladiators was better than most it is not the ideal that I think it should be and I think there is much room to grow upon. I would say mental health is not up to the standard it needs to be considering the job these staff and players have and the stress involved with it. How much would you say burnout is tied to the amount a team plays? Could the fatigue come from outside factors as well? You are hitting the nail on its head with this one. Burnout is talked about like an elusive creature that will magically sneak up on you. The truth is burnout is more so a cumulation of stressors that eventually break down the self. How much strain that the individual can take is highly dependent on what they are used to dealing with. Stressors are literally any event that causes stress on the individual. So, this is clearly not limited to just the amount of time a team plays and can include relationships, housing situations, how much privacy they have, how much free time to recover, etc. Time a team plays is one factor of many. Even looking at that one factor there is probably more factors within it. How stressful is this practice, what is being covered, how comfortable are the players with the situation? Some stress is beneficial, but too much is damaging. The level that everyone can handle varies. The best way to understand this is like doing mental weights. If someone has never worked out before, chances are they are not going to be able to handle a lot of weight right away. If someone has built up and worked out, they can probably handle more. If you try to handle too much, too quickly, you are going to tear something and there is a chance you are out for a longer period. We can talk until we are blue in the face about player fatigue, but how would you suggest teams combat the ‘burnout’ of players? I think there are three things teams can do in order to help combat burnout of players. 1.) Monitor the players' controllable stressors and non-controllable stressors. This would require someone who understands mental health, issues players are having, and keeping up to date on the players and stress they are under. 2.) If you notice stressors are starting to compile and the player is unable to handle them, work on the stressors you have control over. I think this one is hard. You have to understand with the players you have that you can only control the stress that you are putting on the player. Trying to control outside stress is not achievable and the best you can do is have someone work in assisting them with the problems they are having outside. This still puts the onus on them to accept the help. 3.) Work on slowly building the amount of stress an individual can handle by giving them responsibilities that are easier to achieve so they become norms. Looking at building more responsible individuals by giving them talks means they will be able to handle more stress. This needs to be easy to measure. So, for example, when you first graduate and live on your own you are underneath a lot of stress you were not previously used too. As you start to handle and get everything in order it becomes a norm that does not affect you any more or to a lesser degree. You now know you can handle this amount of stress that you are used too. You now can probably handle more stress than the 16-year-old who isn’t used to living on their own. If the same event were to happen to both of you, the person living on their own might see it as less stressful because they are used to handling more. A lot of these players and maybe even some staff are kids. They don't understand responsibilities like paying bills or setting up a place or living on their own. So you could assume some of these players have the stress tolerance of an individual who has never had a ton of responsibility. If you slowly start to add objective responsibilities that you can feel good about it grows the individual and over time will increase the stress tolerance they are capable of. If you look at players like a short-term commodity then I am not sure it makes sense to work on long-term goals, if you want players around for the long term than you need to grow them.
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLGs of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would like to know more or follow his thoughts on esports you can follow him at @Volamel.   Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

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