One of the most addictive things about competitive gaming is the chance to truly immerse yourself in an otherworldly experience. Much like their more physical counterparts, eSports can elicit a plethora of emotions, from elation to frustration - and offer a unique mental challenge to players.
Even the best gamers have their off days - and in the fast-paced, high stakes arena of online gaming, even a split-second’s distraction can make all the difference between absolute victory and a humiliating defeat.
Ultimately, this boils down to one simple factor - focus.
The ability to ignore extraneous information, and to concentrate on the most important features of the task at hand is what separates elite gamers from the scrubs.
What is focus?
There is a massive body of psychological research surrounding focus - far too much to discuss in any depth here. What’s important to note is that there is a distinction to be made between the physical and cognitive components that make up ‘focus’.
While we tend to think of focus as being a purely neurological phenomenon, there are a number of physical factors that can influence an individual’s ability to focus.
- Level of fatigue
- Blood sugar levels
- Available vitamin and amino acid levels
- Physical proximity to the object of attention
- Other physical factors such as hydration, comfort, etc.
On the neurological side, there are also a number of factors that can influence focus.
- Competency or skill in the task at hand
- Anxiety and/or relaxation
- Level of interest
Taking as much control of these factors as possible is critical to maintaining the high level of focus necessary to remain competitive in gaming. With this in mind, we’ve come up with four of the best ways to maximise your level of focus and ensure victory - in both the virtual and physical world.
1. Get your sleep in order
Research shows that the single biggest factor in maintaining concentration and focus is how much sleep you’re getting. Even a single night’s bad sleep can have massive flow-on effects, reducing your ability to concentrate, and making it harder to perform even the simplest tasks. Maintaining good sleep hygiene, and adhering to a sleep routine are the best ways to make sure that your sleep quality is highest.
Contrary to popular belief, it does not appear that gaming has a significant impact on sleep or sleep quality - if you wrap up at least half an hour before going to bed - however, using an especially bright display does impact sleep quality.
Designing your environment for focus
One of the most overlooked aspects of gaming performance is a gamer's physical space. Gamers aren’t known for being a tidy bunch - which is a shame, because managing the physical space around us - removing distractions and visual clutter - can help massively when it comes to maximising focus.
2. Think about lighting
Lighting can dramatically affect your level of visual concentration - a number of Dutch studies have shown that students performed significantly better across a number of metrics, including concentration and memory retention when studying in areas with improved lighting. The studies suggest that lighting which mimics the wavelength of daylight is optimal - so say goodbye to your dimly lit gaming bunker.
- LED strips placed behind your monitor can help reduce eye strain and fatigue
- Keep an eye on-screen brightness and colour temperature. Programs like f.lux make this really easy and will work with any game running in windowed or borderless windowed mode.
- Increase the level of ambient light in the room and minimise the brightness of your display
3. Perfect your posture with ergonomics
Ergonomics isn’t just important for improving your gaming performance - it can have dramatic effects on your long term physical health. Worksafe provides an extremely comprehensive guide to computer station ergonomics which is definitely worth a look if you spend a lot of time at your computer. If that’s a bit too dense for you (pro-tip: it probably is), here are the key points as reminders at the very least:
- Monitor height and tilt - Your eyes should sit at the same height or above the upper quarter of your monitor. The monitor should be slightly tilted back.
- Monitor distance - One arm’s length away.
- Keyboard distance - Aim for a neutral position slightly lower than elbow height, with your elbows at a 50°-60° angle.
- Chair height - Your hips and knees should be at roughly the same height, with your feet supported flat on the floor.
- Chair angle - Roughly 90°-120°, allowing for a straight back with reasonable lumbar support.
Recent research suggests that good posture can help to improve focus - but don’t be too worried, as some research also suggests that concentrating too hard on your posture can negatively impact focus. The important thing is to maximise comfort, so you can concentrate on the task at hand.
4. Eliminate distractions
Messenger windows, pop-up notifications, the family dog begging for treats… During the course of any gaming session, there are just so many little things that can prevent us from really focusing on gameplay.
While it might feel nice to be flitting between multiple tasks, the reality is that multitasking comes with a serious cognitive overhead that can make a big difference to performance - for casual gaming with friends, this might be okay (who doesn’t like a bit of discord banter?), but for serious competitive gaming, concentration is key. Think about how you can eliminate or minimise distractions:
- Close or mute unnecessary chat windows
- Turn your phone onto silent
- Invest in a pair of quality noise-canceling headphones
- Ask your friends and family not to distract you during critical periods
- Take care of any outstanding tasks before you start. Do your chores!
Focus on focusing
Ultimately, there are so many variables at play when it comes to cultivating and maintaining focus that it would be difficult to talk about everything here. We’ve glossed over questions like exercise, mental health, and nutrition - all of which contribute to optimising concentration and focus.
At elite levels of gameplay, even a 1 - 2% improvement can be the difference between success and failure, so take the time to optimise your focus and reap the benefits!