The esports industry is a tough place to work. While it may look like a lot of fun and games, the stress levels and pressure can be massive, not just for the players who obviously have to perform and stay mentally strong in order to succeed and stay in a job, but also for the behind the scenes staff and those working in the industry in every sector. Despite it still being a relatively young industry countless talented people have already left the esports scene due to burnout, stress and the toll that it can take on your mental health. But finally, some companies in the space are starting to take notice.
While most professional teams hire psychologists and countless other staff to make sure their pro players are always in top shape to perform on stage, few offer the same services to the other people they employ who keep the organization running and making money. But Misfits Gaming Group (MGG) is leading the charge when it comes to offering similar services to its day to day staff as well as the players, bringing in licenced psychologist Dr Carolyn Rubenstein as Chief Wellness Adviser.
“I’ve been a part of MGG since day one in a supportive capacity, my husband is Ben Spoont [Misfits founder and CEO,] so I’ve seen the organization expand and flourish into a multi-team company with staff all over the world,” says Rubenstein. “I’ve watched the organization grow exponentially over the past few years and with that the need for sophisticated mental health and well-being support. In order to continue to grow as an organization and within each competitive league, well-being and culture have become primary areas of focus. I’m thrilled to be able to develop a unique program from the ground up in such a supportive environment. I’m hopeful that MGG will be a pioneer for other esports organizations to create executive leadership roles focused on mental health.”
Rubenstein of course spends a lot of time working with the pro players that Misfits employs, developing unique strategies for each team and individual to make sure they are in the best place they can be mentally. This can range from simply making sure they are equipped to deal with the stress high-level competition can bring, to developing personalized plans for dealing with mental illness such as anxiety and depression, then identifying other professionals that can help solve those issues. It’s an approach that will end up costing significantly more than trying to find a single person to work with all players, but it is a cost she believes is worth every penny.
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“Pro players are relying on their brains to perform and be on for very precise moments,” says Rubenstein. “This is a lot of pressure and can create anxiety which impacts focus. So in order to access all their skills and logical reasoning, emotions must be managed in-game and out of game. If not, emotions can overcome logical reasoning which can lead to tilting. Most major psychological disorders like anxiety or depression impact focus and concentration and general functioning, so if not treated correctly impact performance. These disorders are treatable but are often neglected due to lack of awareness of the signs and treatment criteria.”
One of the first teams to benefit from her wisdom has been the Misfits League of Legends team, which plays in the LEC. Through meeting with the players and the coaching staff Rubenstein was able to create individualised plans for each of the players, to give them help and support when it comes to the mental side of being a pro player, and already the team is seeing results.
“Throughout my experience working with teams and players, it was a welcome change to work with Carolyn and learn more about her approach to well-being within the organization,” said Martin “Deficio” Lynge, Director of Misfits Gaming Europe. “She has helped us to identify that there is not a fix-all solution for an esports team. Each individual is different and should be treated as such. Through working with Carolyn, we have been able to identify the different ways in which individual players prefer to work and communicate and develop a strong training strategy that resonates with each individual, to strengthen the collective power of the team.”
Rubenstein is no doubt doing some very important work with the pro players, and while it seems that her approach is taking more of a focus on wellbeing than results, unlike some other psychologists in the space who are mostly focused on performance, it is her work with the staff of MGG that will hopefully set a new standard in esports.
“Surprising to me, but also not surprising when looked at from afar, [is that] the issues [players and staff experience] are very similar,” says Rubenstein. “Esports is a competitive field as a whole that quickly changes, so there is a lot of pressure at all levels. The impact of chronic pressure and stress is definitely felt across the board. It’s important for our staff, just as much as our players, to consider their mental well-being. More awareness needs to be raised around stress, anxiety and burnout and how to identify signs early.”
Despite only joining the organisation officially a few months ago, Rubenstein has already had an impact on a number of Misfits staff. Many have talked with her personally about issues they are having, while others, and even some outside of the organisation, have been helped by her insightful social media accounts.
Normalising the conversation around mental health within esports, for both players and those working within the space, is an important step in moving forward. While the topic is certainly more discussed and accepted in esports more than in many other industries, the competitive nature of the scene makes it difficult for some to speak out about their issues. Many, myself included, have been forced to take time away from esports, or even leave entirely, due to mental health issues and have felt like they are unable to explain the reasons behind it. By working with Misfits, and continuing to talk publicly about mental health issues within esports, Rubenstein hopes that the attitudes towards mental health in esports will start to change.
“Within MGG, I’ve been surprised by how open the pro players and staff have been to talking about mental health,” says Rubenstein. “I think it helps that they know they are talking to a trained professional so they feel comfortable and safe opening up. Also, coming back to that core family atmosphere we’re trying to foster at MGG, a big part of that is providing a safe and encouraging working environment for staff/players, one where they won’t get punished for talking about mental health, and they can be vulnerable.”
“Within esports as a whole, vulnerability can be treated differently,” adds Rubenstein. “So I think it’s important for anyone opening up about mental health to consider the environment in which they are doing so and to prioritize safety when doing so. Generally speaking, normalizing talking about mental health is a key factor in helping to remove stigma around sharing feelings. On many occasions, people can feel the same way and experience the same pressures but without talking about it, they can be left feeling isolated and alone.”
For those within the Misfits Gaming Group, there is no doubt that the addition of Rubenstein will be a massive benefit. While the players may be able to gain a slight competitive advantage, the work she is doing across the whole organization is what should be really celebrated, and will hopefully lead to a much more happy and efficient group of staff within the organization. For those outside of Misfits, the hope is that the success of Rubenstein’s work will eventually inspire other teams and companies in the space to make similar hires and further help everyone in the esports space that struggles with mental health.
For anyone, inside or outside of esports, that is suffering with mental health issues, Rubenstein’s number one bit of advice is to speak to a professional as soon as possible, saying that even one session with a trained professional can be a big help.