Maintaining a Strong Player Mindset
by Jordan “TheJordude” Hong Tai
Hey everyone, TheJordude from compLexity Gaming here. In this article, I wanted to touch the topic of a player’s mind set when queuing into games, and how significant this is to their performance and overall deciding the outcome of the game. As I specialize in Hearthstone, I will be referring most of my points to this game, however you may see this topic applicable to anything in life so I will try to broaden my words accordingly. This also does not only refer to new or amateur players, even pro players relate, or even relate more to this topic than the average person.
Hitting legend is a goal many Hearthstone players aim to achieve. While over 20 million players play Hearthstone, only 0.5% of them actually reach legend. Why is this? Well, as we all know, from rank 25-5 you can go on win streaks where you get 1 extra star if you win 3 or more games in a row. However, once you reach rank 5, those win streak bonuses end, and you are forced to grind every game and really earn every single star. You only have to win 26 more games than you lose to hit legend from rank 5.. but obviously this is a lot harder than it sounds. I can go in depth about win rate statistics and how every percent of your win rate makes a huge difference in the amount of games you have to play, but there are many articles already released by great players detailing this and if you are interested in reading up about it, I can provide you with the links.
Here is a link to an article written by “Nocturne”. He goes into great detail about the Hearthstone ladder system and shows us how every percent in your win rate makes a huge difference in the amount of games you need to play to hit legend.
So why is all of this even relevant to the main topic of the player’s mind set? Well, when you are grinding the ladder from rank 5, trying to hit legend, every game is crucial for the reasons that:
You only get 1 star per win
If you lose, you have to win a game just to get back to where you started
Every game takes time away from your day
Now you may not be thinking about these reasons when playing the game, however they stick in the back of your mind subconsciously and trigger when the game comes to an end. I’d like to help demonstrate my explanation on the outcomes with a visual scale, balancing mental frustration, and relaxation/calmness.
Figure 2 demonstrates a balanced scale. This is normally seen when you first start your ranking session. If nothing else happened in your day, good or bad, then mentally you will be indifferent. You can even say that the scale will be more tilted to the “Relaxed” side as you have no worries and are ready for some good games. Once you start playing, it will be hard to rebalance this scale. If you win, you will tilt towards the relaxed, if you lose you become more frustrated. However you can rebalance the scale by taking breaks away from the game. Having a breather, not thinking or worrying about the events in the game tends to help.
Figure 3 demonstrates the scenario when you are mentally more relaxed. This results when you win a game, or are on a win streak. When you win, or win multiple games, you become excited, and you gain momentum to carry into the next game. When you are in this state, you are well focused and make correct decisions for your plays. This goes back to the reasons you subconsciously think about when playing. You feel accomplished and proud to earn the star. You are 1 game closer to hitting legend and are in a better position from the previous game. 1 more win means 1 less game to legend which means you do not have to commit more time of your day to achieving legend.
Figure 4 shows our last scenario, where you are mentally frustrated. This can also be referred to as “tilted” which I will get into in a bit. This happens when you lose a game. You start to become anxious, or panic because you have just lost a star. This means you have to win a full game to get that star back and get back where you started. To do this, you also have to spend more time playing where if you didn’t lose in the first place, you wouldn’t have to do this. The idea that your time was wasted and you have to play more may feel frustrating and this will affect your performance for the worse.
What is Tilt?
As mentioned previously, a player that becomes in a state of mental frustration is likely to have fallen to “tilt”. Tilt is a term that originated from poker that is defined as a state of mental or emotional confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in the player becoming overly aggressive. One may become tilted by many different reasons. They may be on a losing streak, have made mistakes that are costly, or have been taunted by their opponent. All of these are possible reasons for tilting the balance of the player’s psychology and have become frustrated. If you ever watch tournaments, casters will often call players out on being on tilt after losing a game or things do not go their way. I admit that I will also go on tilt easily by making mistakes or by having a losing streak.
It is fairly easy for anybody to fall into a state of tilt. For viewers, it can be quite obvious when somebody else becomes tilted as there are many signs that show it. Some symptoms of tilt are:
One of the biggest symptoms of tilt is irritation and aggression. If a player falls to tilt, it is because things are not going their way and they are frustrated. They go into a bad mood, and try to take their frustrations out by doing aggressive actions towards the game or in real life. This is the reason why their decisions in game become far from optimal as they try to make the quick, risky play rather than the logical and calculated play. This relates to the other symptoms of tilt; anxiety and impatience. Players on tilt want to regain what they lost as fast as they can, so they will try to rush everything. Again this causes sub-optimal, risky fast play, rather than the safe but long-term value play. If you are on tilt, you may seem that you are the unluckiest person on Earth. Everything doesn’t seem to go your way and you blame every possible reason for your lost. It may be that you are just unlucky, but there may be small flaws in your tilted play that leads up to the bad luck, or snowballs the bad luck into a bigger problem, which pushes you more in tilt. Finally when tilted, you may find your plays to be inconsistent. Inconsistency lies in with all the other symptoms as it is a change in your playstyle that is not normally common for you. You may be an aggressive player by nature, but when tilted you may play overly controlling and vice-versa. You may also constantly change what you’re playing, and no longer play what you are best or most comfortable with, skewing your win ratio.
This is an extreme case of tilt that happened unfortunately to a pro player at a tournament. He faced some bad luck which caused him to go on tilt. Being frustrated resulted in many more mistakes and he ultimately lost the match. Normally I would not want to call out players like this, but this clip spread out to a lot of people already and this is a very good example of what you want to avoid.
What to do when you’re on Tilt
Tilt can seem like an endless vicious cycle that tears you, and your ranking apart. The best thing to do when on tilt is simply stop playing. Although it sounds simple and easy, it actually is very challenging for players on tilt to do this. Since you are frustrated about everything and want to win games to get back what you lost, ceasing to play does not seem like much of an option. Players with strong will power and having the ability to identify when they are on tilt have the advantage of those who don’t have these characteristics as they will be able to cut their losses. Hopefully by reading this you will know more about tilt and learn to be able to identify when you are on tilt so you can force yourself to stop playing and losing more. I might as well add that if you refuse to stop playing while on tilt, your win ratio will fall, and from the statistics provided in the article link in the beginning, a couple percent off your win rate can result in hundreds of more games to play. The good news is that you do not have to stop playing for long to get yourself on tilt. Take a breather, listen to some music, watch some videos, or go outside. Do something that can either relax your brain, or stimulate it in a different subject. Taking your mind off the games you lose takes you off tilt. Once you find that you are no longer upset, or thinking about the games you lost, you should be able to rebalance your psychological scale and resume playing. A good example of a player that knows what to do in a tilted situation is Reynad. A lot of people do not give enough credit to Reynad as they think he is just extremely salty when it comes to bad luck and losing games. However, Reynad is actually managing his tilt very well. Instead of continuing to stream and play more games after a bad loss, he ends the stream and does something else or at least takes a breather before going back into ladder. Reynad understands when he is in a bad situation where he is vulnerable to, or is facing tilt, and he knows when to stop so that the tilt does not snowball further.
Here you can enjoy some salty Reynad. However I wanted to show you this to help you visualize a player understanding that it is just not his time to play and that he needs to stop before going further on tilt and losing more games.
What is Mental Fatigue?
Practice makes perfect right? The answer is yes… to some extent. Although it is proven that repetition leads to better results, it is also proven that there is a thing called overtraining. Overtraining/fatigue can be a result from practicing or playing anything, whether it is working out, studying, and even playing video games. No matter what it is, if you have too much of it, your body becomes tired of it. Mental fatigue is defined as a subjective feeling of tiredness that leads to a decrease in maximal cognitive performance. You become mentally fatigue when you use your brain power for an extended period of time. So tying this into Hearthstone. Sitting in front of your computer for hours playing high ranked games, constantly making the best decisions, predicting your opponent’s plays, calculating lethal, etc. will eventually make you mentally fatigued.
In my opinion, it is much easier for you to know when you are mentally fatigued than tilted. When you are mentally fatigued, you will actually feel tired! This feeling of tiredness is very similar to when you need to go to sleep. It will be hard for you to focus and concentrate on the game. When you do try hard to focus, your brain may feel pressure or you may actually feel a headache. You will also start to lose motivation of playing, and no longer care about the results of the game.
What to do when you have Mental Fatigue
Like any sort of fatigue, the best treatment is to just rest. Unlike tilt where you can do other activities to take your mind off things, it is best to not use your brain power when mentally fatigued. It also takes much longer to recover from fatigue than tilt. This is because your brain is physically tired, not just presently frustrated from an unfortunate event. Your brain actually needs rest, so do mindless things like watching videos, listening to music, or the best option; sleep. Do not continue playing until you feel completely rested and your psychological balance has been reset. If you are not completely rested, it is much easier to go back into a state of fatigue.
Speaking of mental fatigue, you are probably fatigued a little from reading all this talk about psychological mind states… here’s a little bit of brain breather : )
What is it?
In an airplane, cruise, etc. auto-piloting is when the computer system takes over the controls and functions automatically without the need of a human’s manual controls. Similarly, when a gamer goes into auto-pilot mode, their sub-conscience takes over and makes the decisions and plays for them, without the gamer thinking through them critically. A player’s mindset can go into auto-pilot as a result of 2 situations. The first being that the player is very used to a certain matchup through a lot of experience and practice that they usually already know what the correct decision is and what is the best way to win. The second situation is when the player becomes tilted, or mentally fatigued. They either are blinded in frustration or their brain is going into a tired phase so that whenever the player makes a decision, they are not actually evaluating if it is correct or not. Auto-piloting is not necessarily bad, however you may be less observant of what is happening and may miss crucial information or considerations that can cause you to lose the game.
The symptoms of auto-piloting is similar to mental fatigue. You will seem to be less focused, and you won’t have that inner voice in your head when making decisions. You will make your plays fast and not consider your decisions and any other possibilities. To others your plays will be considered “the obvious play” rather than any strategic or tricky one that is planned out for the best outcome in the long run. You can also be feeling tired, and your head might feel cloggy. Sometimes it is hard to tell if you are on auto-pilot, so when the game is over, try to evaluate what had happened in the game. If you can’t remember a lot of details of what happened, you are probably playing on auto-pilot.
What to do when you’re on Auto-Pilot
Like mental fatigue and tilt, the best thing to do when you find yourself on auto-pilot is rest and take a break! Just like when pilots turn off auto-piloting in an airplane when they need to manually handle and do human calculated decisions, your brain needs to be off auto-pilot so that you can make calculated decisions and win games. Your brain is tired or frustrated and does not want to think anymore, that is why it turns into auto-pilot mode. Going for a walk or doing another activity helps your brain rest up so that when you return to playing the game, it will be ready to make critical decisions. An example of this is when I am grinding the ranked ladder. After so many hours or long, hard games, I become mentally fatigued and begin to just sling my cards onto the field. I notice that my head gets warm and heavy and I feel like I am just staring at the screen. This is when I shut off the game and walk around, get something to drink, or play a different game. Only when I know that I have the capability to make decisions every turn, I go back into Hearthstone and continue playing.
There are also quite literally outside factors that can affect your mindset while going into game. Humans are easily distracted by their surroundings. If you are not playing in an ideal environment, your gameplay will be hindered.
Good vs Bad Environment
So what is the ideal environment to play in and what is a bad environment? An ideal environment is one that is quite, and with as few distractions as possible. When you are playing seriously, all you want is your game and your brain. You want to be able to put all your brain power into concentration of the game you’re playing in and not worrying about anything else. If your surrounding is noisy with a lot going on, your focus can be distracted and cause you to make mistakes. You also want to make sure you have strong equipment and connection to the internet. The last thing you want is your mouse, or your internet to die out on you causing you the game. It’s happened to all of us, and it’s extremely frustrating to lose a game due to an outside mechanical failure. Make sure that you have the appropriate gear and stable connection to avoid these problems. You also want to make sure that you have the time to be able to commit fully into your game. If you have to leave or are in a hurry, you will be rushed into making sub-optimal plays that will not only tilt you, but lose you the game. Knowing that you have all the time you need relaxes you, and helps you make the correct decisions.
A Competitive or Pressured Environment
This may not relate to everybody in terms of gaming, however everyone can relate to a pressured environment in some way or another such as a job interview, a presentation, etc. I want to briefly talk about a pressured environment that competitive, or full time gamers have to face. This refers to environments where you are playing in front of an audience, such as LAN tournaments like Blizzcon, ESL Legendary, Gfinity, etc as well as online streaming. When a player is playing in front of an audience, their mind set will normally be different, especially when they are new to the scene. The player knows that they are being watched and judged on every move they make. Additionally, money is usually involved, as well as their reputation for their career. Overall a competitive or pressured environment adds a lot of stress and additional thoughts into the players’ mindset. For example, when I got hosted by Dog, increasing my stream viewers up to 2,500, I was overwhelmed and felt a lot more pressure to not only perform well in my plays, but as well as maintaining a good presence to the audience. Another example would be when Firebat was playing in one of his first broadcasted tournaments. He was playing Druid and opened up with an Innervate, however he mulliganed it away which everyone calls it as a misplay. Playing in front of an audience or with a lot on the line can be difficult for anyone, even veteran pros slip up. However this is just something that you will have to get used to from experience. After you go through the first few butterflies of playing under a lot of pressure, you will be able to have a better grasp of your mind set in such situations. This is simply because you just get used to the experience, it is not something you can really mentally prepare yourself, you just have to do it! Once you actually have the experience it will become better, and you will develop a stronger mindset going into a pressured environment.
Past and Future Events
It is not only the present environment that can distract your mindset. Events that has occurred in the past or that is coming up in the future may linger in your mind and affect your gameplay. Whether it is something good or bad that has happened to you, or will happen, can change your mindset going into the game. If it is something bad, you will go into game balanced more towards the frustrated side of the scale. You may even be on tilt before even playing! This is result in all the negative consequences of playing on tilt. If it is the situation was, or is going to be good, then it can result in you being relaxed going into game. However, you may be too relaxed where you are not seriously paying attention what is happening in the game. You cannot avoid events happening before or after you play, but the best thing you can do is make sure you are going into game as balanced mentally as possible.
How all of this relates to the player’s mind set
I’ve just talked briefly of a couple mental states and factors a player may face when playing their game. Those topics can each be an article in itself as there is so much material to cover. However I’d like to summarize it all up and get back to my main idea, the player’s mind set. How does all of this relate to a player’s mind set going into a game and how does this affect their performance?
Like I’ve mentioned previously, if you either go on tilt, or become fatigued over a long period of time playing, your plays will become significantly worse. Obviously this is bad for many reasons. You now have to play more games to recoup the ones you just lost and spend more time doing so. You will no longer enjoy playing the game, which defeats the overall purpose of playing in the first place. As a result you will have a negative mind set as a player which not only results in losses on your record, but as well as flat out ruining your entire day.
What I want you to take from reading all by gibber jabber is that I want you to try to evaluate and recognize your mind set going into games. I recommend recording your games and results. If you notice losing sprees, try to look back and figure out why you lost those games; if they were your mistakes or was it out of your control? Try to pay attention to yourself. Are you relaxed, or frustrated? Do you find yourself going on tilt, or do you feel tired? Being able to identify these is one of the few significant differences that separate good players from great players. If you can evaluate your mind set in all stages of your games you will be able to take advantage of win streaks and carry your momentum into more wins, or you will be able to cut your losses and go out and take a break to relieve yourself from mental fatigue or to remove your tilt.
It doesn’t take much to rebalance your mind set, but the fact that you are able to is very important in the ranked grind. Having control over your mind set is a big mental advantage that will allow you to play at times you are at your best, and reduce the amount of losses you incur. In the long run, you will find that you will be able to rank up faster by winning more, and ultimately you will enjoy playing the game more. Always try to stay positive, everyone losses a game, but keeping a look on the bright side will take those losses and use them to make you a stronger player.
About the Author
My name is Jordan “TheJordude” Hong Tai, and I am a professional Hearthstone player currently playing for compLexity Gaming. I am a multi legend player that has only missed legend for a couple of seasons. I have peaked at rank 3 legend in NA, but the highest ending season position I’ve finished at has been around 120. I enjoy refining and testing out new decks and playing a lot of ladder. I also enjoy making content through Hearthstone/Esporting websites such as deck guides, reviews, etc. You can find me through these social media outlets:
- Twitch: http://www.twitch.tv/TheJordude
- Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/TheJordude
- Twitter: @coL_TheJordude