Arts & Life

Q&A: Stanford esports players speak on how they avoid burnout

June 1, 2022, 9:16 p.m.

Though they may seem cushy, esports bear challenges that are not seen as much in traditional sports. A recent Washington Post article dives into the concept of esports burnout that many players experience early on in their careers. Most players retire in their early to mid-twenties, which is much earlier compared to traditional athletes. The popular explanation for this phenomenon is that the older players get, the more their reflexes decline. 

The players themselves state various reasons for early retirement, such as insufficient prize money and low salaries for the number of rigorous hours put into practicing. Training on an esports team is extremely exhausting: some teams congregate in one large gaming house to practice for 12 to 14 hours per day, six times a week. It is difficult for players to maintain a good work-life balance when they are surrounded by their co-workers and managers every day. Hours of gaming can also result in neck pain, wrist pain and shoulder pain. 

To understand burnout in esports, The Stanford Daily reached out to the Stanford Video Game Association and interviewed two students, Max Jardetzky ’24 and Charlie Gordon ’24. 

The Stanford Daily [TSD]:What pushed you to play video games competitively rather than casually?

Max Jardetzky [MJ]: I didn’t originally plan on playing Rocket League competitively, and it wasn’t until I was admitted to Stanford in late 2019 that it would actually come to fruition. By that point, I’d already been playing the game for over three years, and had built up around 2000 hours of playtime. I was just hooked on the game, and that carried me all the way to the highest rank at the time (Grand Champion) with a standing of around top ~0.1% in the world. I was definitely open to playing at the college level, but it wasn’t until I met my roommate and best friend a few months after admission that I imagined it would happen. In a word, the reason I started playing competitively is because I met five other Stanford students who were as good at and dedicated to the game as I was. We all have thousands of hours.

Charlie Gordon [CG]: I think a combination of being a generally quite competitive person, combined with wanting to play a more strategic and organized game, is what led me to playing competitively. I think a lot of people don’t necessarily get that there can be such a big difference between playing a game casually versus playing in a team environment. Mainly, one of the key differences is focusing a lot more on tactics and building a proper synergy with teammates.

TSD: What does it look like to be super competitive and part of an esports team? How many hours do you usually spend gaming? 

MJ: I think this may be one of the bigger misconceptions (that we’re super competitive), at least for our team. It has always been casual and fun-first. We did have a rigorous practice schedule last year, but they were mostly friendly scrimmages and round robins against each other. The understanding is that we’re all there for fun and for social enrichment, but we do enjoy winning when we can. I would say at our peak, we were probably doing 6 hours a week of practice, maybe on top of an hour or two every other day or so of fun ranked sessions. These days, I almost play sparingly, and my teammates are on much more often. I’d say the most I’ve done this school year so far is a few hours a week, maximum. 

The definite all-time highlight of being on the Stanford Rocket League team, however, was the road trip most of us made down to Los Angeles over spring break to sit front-row at the first professional international LAN (Local Area Network) tournament since the pandemic. Teams from all over the world came to compete for 5,000 live attendees and over 100,000 viewers on Twitch. It was here that I realized that the scene means a lot to people and that maybe I would have taken it more seriously if I were just a bit more gifted.

CG: Being part of an esports team can look quite different to playing a game casually or even compared to playing competitively but not in a team environment. Time doing so can be spent in a variety of ways, whether that be through having practice matches against other teams or doing VOD (Video on Demand) reviews of previous gameplay. Obviously involvement can be quite varied, but for some teams it can look quite like being in a club or team project, with logistics and scheduling having to be worked out, as well as needing to acquire coaches and a manager. I probably spend anywhere from 6-10 hours a week doing team related things. This amount is in part due to being on teams outside of Stanford, though for Stanford it’s usually about 2-3 hours a week, with weeks in which we have tournaments or league games, sometimes being more involved. 

TSD: Many professional players retire around their early twenties and turn to Youtube or Twitch afterward, but it has become a growing trend to start on these platforms instead of playing professionally due to the healthier work-life balance and autonomy one has over their schedule. Do you have any thoughts about this? Perhaps there is indeed less of an incentive to join a professional esports team? 

MJ: I can relate to this growing trend. Esports at a high level is all about consistency, and this is especially true in the case of Rocket League. In fact, a lot of goals scored in our games are due to incredibly minor mistakes in mechanics, positioning and communication. It can be very mentally taxing to make a mistake on a touch you feel like you’d have 95% of the time that immediately results in a goal for the opposing team. My biggest struggles with competitive Rocket League have definitely had to do with mentality and mindset. I’m definitely a perfectionist as well as an emotional player, which can be a rough combination. 

I feel like being part of an esports team is only worth it as long as you’re enjoying yourself because only from that enjoyment can consistent performance follow. There have definitely been moments of conflict within our team, mostly about coordinating our playstyles and correcting others’ mistakes. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is find fault in yourself, but it’s a necessary part of the process of improvement on a competitive level. Playing this game for so long, yet still being leagues behind the actual top players has definitely humbled me, but regardless, it’s been incredible to be a part of one of the most unique clubs at Stanford. 

The difficulty of maintaining stature within the competitive scene over this last year due to the sheer time commitment required has been rough for all of us, since we are all focused on our studies first. I have recently put down the game to nurture other aspects of my life, and it has been one of the better decisions I’ve made recently. I have definitely seen my mental health improve since I set the game aside for the most part this spring quarter. 

CG: Burnout in esports is definitely real, though there are certainly other factors which can be attributed to early retirement. Not unlike more physical sports, there are undeniably prime ages for which someone can play, at least for the highest levels. This is in part due to a reaction/processing difference in younger people, though it is also in part due to the intensity of esports and their constant changing, which means you are required to relearn a lot of other skills, which can be harder as you get older.

Editor’s Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article misspelled Max Jardetzky’s surname. The Daily regrets this error.

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