5 min read

How (much) professional Esports Player practice

How (much) professional Esports Player practice

It is a commonly held belief that practicing more will improve your performance. However, this is not always the case. In this episode, we're discussing the effects of practice hours on performance in (semi-)professional CS:GO esports athletes. I'll also dispel the myth that all you need to get better is to play more.

Practice (time spend) is a fundamental requirement to achieve a level of expert performance in any domain.
Understanding practices of top athletes can help to improve performance and develop more efficient training strategies.
(Semi-)Professional CS:GO players were tracked over the period of one year.
More individual nor team practice hours improved performance (KDA).
Progamer accumulated more 318h (on average) over a one-year period compared to semi-professionals.
Quality of practice is more important than quantity.
Performance hits a "ceiling".
Players get better without objectively getting better.
Playing one additional game will - at a certain level - not grand you much benefits - diminishing return.
Spending this time differently, mainly by taking care of your body and mind, is a better strategy.

In order to become part of the best of the best in any discipline requires deliberate practice. This is obviously true for progamers in esports. Those on top live through their job, and many young adults today dream of achieving a similar status one day. What shines through in the scientific literature is that extensive engagement in activities (e.g., organized training, competition, and practice) in the desired domain is required to accomplish expert performance levels.

One of those three pillars—practice—is what we'll be discussing today by examining the practice behavior of esports athletes on the (semi-)professional level. This knowledge can help any gamer—from casual to pro—to improve performance by informing about current, as well as developing future efficient training strategies.

💽 Method

Many studies in the field of gaming and esports are limited by their data regarding time. Meaning, data is punctual and doesn't span over a long period of time. In the study at hand, the authors examined the quantity and type of practice over the period of one year. The semi-professional and professional players in the study played CS:GO, with the pro gamers competing full-time on an international level (major tournaments and world championships).

The two main variables of interest were the total hours of practice (THP) and the competitive hours of practice (CHP). The former includes game-specific practice time and usually focuses on developing individual skills, while the latter refers to practice in a team-based environment.

⏱️ Results

The finding that, at first, seems odd is that performance (kill/death ratio) was not associated with the total amount of hours practiced. What's counterintuitive about this is that one would assume that more practice makes for better performance. This, however, doesn't seem to be the case for the players and time frame the study looked at. It is, however, in line with something I talked about earlier (I'll elaborate on it in the Implications section). Similarly to the effect (or lack thereof) of THP on performance, the same was found for the competitive hours of practice. More hours spent training with your team doesn't improve performance.

The second finding was that professional players accumulated, on average, more total hours of practice per week (6.6 hours) compared to the semi-professional players.

Over the year, expert esports players engaged in THP for an average of 31.2 h per week (SE = 1.9 h), whereby an average of 19.9 h (SE = 1.6 h) were spent in CHP [1].

Over the span of one year, this added up to an average of 318 hours of total practice hours (THP) for professionals, representing a 318-hour advantage in team practice hours compared to semi-professionals. In terms of team-based practice, professional players accumulated an additional average of 4.8 hours per week.

That makes sense. If you're full-time, you can and should put more effort and time into practice than those who aren't. The same was found to be the case for the competitive training hours difference between pros and semi-pros.

🤔 Implications

There are two commonly overlooked points I'd like to address. The first is the misconception that more practice always increases performance. As we have seen, this is not always the case, and the quality of practice may be more important.

While professional esports players have more time available to practice given they may be employed full-time, it does not necessarily mean that they reached their current level by practicing more than others. [...] For example, esports players may be able to achieve expertise via more effective practice rather than higher volumes of practice [1].

Besides that, it's important to point out that for players or teams on any level, it's virtually impossible to significantly increase their KDA over a long period. Imagine this: when you're matched with players or teams of a similar skill level, your enemies will be as good as you, and you're "trading" equally. Unless there is a skill difference, you can't achieve a better KDA.

This poses the problem of KDA being a good measure for performance. Even if you get better, so does everyone else, and you'll be matched with either better players or teams, or the same players/teams that became better too. It's a zero-sum game. I'm telling you all of this to point out that KDA is a bad measure for long-term improvement. Similarly, at the highest level of play, how much room is there really to improve certain performance measures? There is an upper limit to it; I'll call it the "performance ceiling" for lack of a better term.

So, we have seen that more practice doesn't necessarily increase performance (although it does, you probably just don't realize it with some measures). The question then becomes, is there a better way to spend your practice time? My argument is yes!

What we've seen before is that health-related factors that improve mental and physical health (sleep, physical exercise, etc.) become more important for your performance the more in-game skills you've acquired. At a certain point, playing one additional game will not benefit you as much anymore - this is called diminishing returns.

Instead of hitting the "Play" button, you may benefit more from taking a break, relaxing, working out, cooking a proper meal, or going to bed earlier. And indeed, this is what we see teams do. They know that their players have all the skills they need, but teaching them better habits and taking care of themselves seems to be the way to go in order to maximize performance. It's about putting the psyche and body into a state where they can function the best.

What do you think? Let me hear your thoughts on Twitter (X) and LinkedIn.

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Thanks for reading, and I hope you all have a great week. Cheers,

Christian 😃

References 📜

[1] Pluss et al., 2022

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