5 min read

Unlocking the Gamer's Mind: How Cognitive Skills Drive Your Gaming Success

How are cognitive characteristics related to in-game performance, and how can you use this knowledge to get better in-game?
Unlocking the Gamer's Mind: How Cognitive Skills Drive Your Gaming Success

Hello friends,

Imagine yourself in a heated match of your favorite video game. Your eyes are glued to the screen, everything else around you becomes irrelevant, and your attention is focused on the action as you make split-second decisions trying to win the game. As you realize you and your team are behind, you call for a more defensive approach to the game.

Every full-hearted gamer knows this feeling. But what are the cognitive characteristics that enable us to do all of this? That's why in today's episode, we will discuss a study that looks at four potentially important factors.

💡 Highlights
• Video games have high cognitive demands (e.g., decision-making under pressure, attentional control, and executing precise actions).
• Attentional control, decision-making abilities (risk-taking), cognitive flexibility, and IQ may impact performance.
• 36 casual League of Legends players participated in the study.
• The players' rank was linked to cognitive flexibility and decision-making abilities.
• Farm per minute was associated with gamers' decision-making abilities, and correlated with attentional control.
• KDA was correlated to IQ.
• In order to improve your in-game performance, you can work on your cognitive flexibility and decision-making.

👀 Attention, Flexibility, IQ, and Decision-Making in LoL

"From a cognitive point of view, LOL [and other games] ... demands attentional control, reactive skills, and rapidity to execute precise actions [1]."
  1. In the heated match described at the beginning, the cognitive demands during gameplay are high, and controlling your attention may be an important factor in winning the match.
"On the other hand, actions in the game must be executed in a continuous process of decision making in which the risks of the actions should be analyzed quickly and under pressure [1]."
  1. In the match, you constantly make decisions under pressure (e.g., time or the enemy's moves). The player who has better decision-making (risk-taking) abilities tends to be the one coming out victorious and having better in-game performance.
  2. Realizing you're behind in the game and adjusting your strategy and actions accordingly (being cognitively flexible) may help you and your team claim victory.
  3. The meme of someone making a "200 IQ play" makes us believe that IQ (fluid intelligence) is an innate characteristic of great players. Let's see if there is something to it.

👥 Players, Tests, and Questions

In the study, 36 casual League of Legends players participated and filled out the questionnaire. All of them had played at least 100 games in total and stated spending a minimum of 62.5% of their time playing LoL. The gamers also did numerous tests to measure their cognitive processes. To assess performance, the authors used the gamers' in-game rank, KDA (Kills-Deaths-Assists ratio), minions killed per minute, and map control.

🧠 Which Factors predicted better Performance in LoL?

By looking at the data, three of the performance variables (all but map control) were linked to fluid intelligence, attention control, cognitive flexibility, and decision-making.

  1. Firstly, the gamers' in-game rank was mainly associated with participants' cognitive flexibility and their decision-making abilities. In the study, cognitive flexibility had two components:
    1. How well players could switch from one thing to another mid-game. For instance, LoL requires you to make quick changes to respond properly to different tasks that occur at the same time. For example, killing minions, keeping the opponent in check, and checking the mini-map are tasks you have to do virtually all the time.
    2. How well gamers can adapt to new rules and change cognitive strategies. Remember the initial example where your team is behind and you call for a change in strategy? Realizing the game isn't going well (let's be honest, someone on the team is feeding) and playing more defensively and less risky is what this component of cognitive flexibility is about.
"...we expected that the classification in the ranking [Elo] was related to fluid intelligence [IQ], but we do not find this relationship... our results are aligned with findings from a study performed with Dota 2 players ... in which no relation was found about performance and fluid intelligence [1, 2]."
  1. The number of minions killed per minute was connected to gamers' decision-making ability (knowing when to take risks) and correlated with attentional control (being able to focus on important things).

    It makes sense that both of these are important in LoL. For instance, risk-taking (e.g., taking a 1v1 fight) can pay off but also go wrong. In terms of attentional control, ignoring unimportant things (e.g., your opponent in the mid lane walks around in circles) and staying focused on last-hitting minions leads to more gold and hence, better or faster items (which in turn can snowball the game).
"These results would indicate that monitoring behavior and analyzing the costs and benefits of decisions taken would be key elements in the performance of LOL players in this variable [1]."
  1. Although the gamers' rank was not influenced by fluid intelligence (IQ), KDA was—they were correlated, meaning as IQ goes up, so does KDA. This finding of the study comes across as a bit odd at first.

    KDA is a variable that is very complex in nature and has very little to do with how good you are at solving problems in novel situations, reasoning, or logical thinking (which is what IQ tests measure). The authors argue that other factors, such as the players' role, are more important; an ADC or mid player usually has a very different KDA than a support, even when they have the same IQ.

🏆 How to increase your Performance?!

"[Let's summarize:] cognitive flexibility and decision-making were the two main cognitive constructs that predict performance in the LOL esport [1]."

One way to work on your LoL (or any other game) performance is to realize changes that occur over the course of the game (cognitive flexibility). Ask yourself, while playing, am I ahead or behind? Is the team ahead or behind? Depending on the answer, you may want to play more aggressively or defensively.

This goes hand-in-hand with better decision-making (risk-taking). Playing offensively or defensively is making a (conscious or unconscious) decision by evaluating the risks and rewards. For instance, acknowledging your team is behind and hence changing the pace, switching to a more conservative approach to the game, might help your team come back and increase the chance of claiming victory.

Read you next Sunday. Have an amazing week, everyone.

Christian 😃

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"I love this type of content, thank you Chris."


[1] Valls-Serrano et al., 2022
[2] Röhlcke et al., 2018

*It's important to point out that correlation does not mean causation. A higher attentional control does not cause a better score of minion killed per minute, although they are positively correlated. In short: A and B increase together, but A does not cause B to increase.

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