The Champion’s Mindset

Recently I did a cast with Booms, an old Italian ex-professional gamer. Arguably the first Italian pro-gamer along with cocis. This is a guy who has been successful in many ventures in his life and is a guy who I have a lot of respect for. Booms expressed huge disappointment when during the tournament we witnessed a player in a final showing signs of frustration, breaking mentally and ultimately quitting preemptively in his games.

This reminded me that for a while, I wanted to talk about this topic — the champions mindset.

In my life being a top level player, at some points being classified as a professional gamer, it has taught me that competitive gaming is really just like any other skill in life. Now this isn’t something that should surprise you, if we were to break down what makes a “skill” or the subsets within that skill, you’ll see the similarities. For example, to perform a skill there are always two elements, which depending upon the skill have their own sub-sets: theory and execution. These are the elements which are most highly regarded, documented and talked about. The third element is what Booms was talking about and it’s what distinguishes a title winner to someone who never quite gets there, and in Quake I can name a few examples but I won’t publicly call people out, but trust me there are many players like this, not to mention experiencing it first hand when I was younger.

So let’s have a quick look at these three elements.

1. Theory relates to the study of the skill, this helps one to understand all of the base elements of that skill which in turns allows better performance. Without this study it isn’t possible to efficiently distinguish the sub-sets and as such it is impossible to facilitate true growth. Sure, many of us gamers are testament to the idea, “Hey, I never studied the game. All I did was play for 10 years and spectate here and there and I got pretty good”. But that’s just it, that inefficiency and lack of understanding will bring to light many walls in your game, slow down progress and sometimes completely discourage you from playing because you have no idea where your leaks are. If you have a solid understanding of theory it’s easy to locate errors and it’s easy to see improvements, even in a game like Quake which has been argued by some to be the most difficult game to see ones improvements. Once you understand how to quantify information, it is a simple process.

2. Execution is the repetition element, building the technique and rehearsing it until it becomes second nature; a task that your subconscious can perform without thought. We have all experienced moments of being “in the zone”, or what is referred in sports psychology as “flow state”. That’s proof enough that through laborious practice our brains intrinsically understand what to do when presented with certain variables or scenarios and our conscious mind serves only to slow that process down. Especially in a game as fast as Quake, a game where you need to have duality of conscious and sub-conscious thought, timing and player reads versus performing execution and so on. This duality is difficult to develop and have at the level where the conscious processes don’t interfere with the sub-conscious ones, ultimately hindering overall performance.

3. Psychology, the element that Booms was talking about, the element of skill mastery that doesn’t get enough discussion. Improving at anything is hard:

  • Life is hard.
  • Adversity is challenging.
  • Obstacles require perserverance.
  • Growth requires a break down of your current state and a reformation into a stronger state.
  • You must go outside of your comfort zone.
  • You must experience failure.
  • You must experience rejection.
  • You must be honest with yourself.
  • You must take massive action to become awesome.
  • It’s not about instant gratification, it’s about achievement; a longer lasting satisfaction and a more meaningful process.

Do you still want to improve, win tournaments? If you don’t, go ahead, the door is right there. You can uninstall the game. You can throw away the books on writing you bought, there are too many writers anyway. You can give away your dumbells; I’m sure someone else can make better use of them, they are just gathering dust. Hey, what’s on Reddit today? You can apply some “healthy limitations”, why not? It’s not me. I’m too tired. I don’t have time. I’ll do it later. I’ll get another opportunity.

You can watch TV. You can see a movie, maybe drink some alcohol, smoke some weed, why not? You know, that sounds fun, it’s safe. Let’s play some Wii, let’s watch cats on youtube. You can settle for less.

This is the mindset of someone who is afraid to put their BALLS on the line and be a winner, it’s someone that limits themselves, it’s someone that believes deep inside that he is not enough, that he is not the best player in the fucking world. It’s the mentality of a player who is satisfied. What does the mindset of satisfaction give us? Stagnation.

I’m aware that this sounds extreme, intense and you are probably thinking, “holy shit ddk, I just want to play games, please don’t kill me!!”, but what I am describing is the level of intensity that a champion has and if you ever hope to truly become one, then you need to be extreme. This isn’t pussy shit.

So as a respite from that intense discourse, I’ll go onto explain how you cultivate this mindset. Because to create new behaviours, you first need to take action that will cultivate that behaviour. The process of cultivation requires you to force yourself into doing something characteristic of that behaviour until it becomes comfortable. For example, if I want to improve my social skills, instead of saying “oh I’m introverted, I’m not good socially” or go with the classic, “I need more confidence”, I’ll go out a lot. Eventually it’ll become more and more comfortable and my social comfort zone expands and it’ll become a behaviour, where the future decision to go out didn’t require pain. When you reach that moment of comfort and relaxation in that situation that once presented so much mental anxiety, that’s when you can truly perform and think clearly.

This leads nicely into the point Booms was trying to make. If you hope to become a champion, you can NEVER give up. Even if you make the argument that it’s okay to leave when it’s absolutely clear that it’s over, NO. Remember this mindset is extreme, it’s INTENSE. You have to keep taking actions that cultivate the mindset of never giving up. Why is that important? There are a few reasons:

1. You have to put yourself repeatedly into a position of despair and lack of hope, so that your mind is used to that situation and comfortable with it. The more you get put in that position, the more relaxed you are and the less the bad emotions affect your performance. When you’re down 2 maps in a best of 5 final, you need every psychological edge, every belief that you can do it because this affects what decisions your brain tells you are possible. If you are shaken by the situation, you won’t feel confident to go for a risky play, you’ll play overly safe without even realising it, this is a common thing in poker players and how tilt can sometimes be invisible to the person experiencing it.
2. Your opponent isn’t perfect. He will make mistakes. If you can maintain a clear head during times like this, you will find openings you never knew were there in your opponent.
3. You are teaching yourself to maintain focus regardless of the current situation. Many players will lose focus or give up because they are outcome dependent  you must move AWAY from outcome dependency  it is one of the biggest performance killers. If your focus becomes more and more unshakable then your performance gets a lot better, the more you go inside your head the less you can perform on the task at hand.

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Korean starcraft players come from a culture of this kind of attitude. Here’s an example, taken from teamliquid, “xellos is raining tank fire on his natural, and there is also tank gol in his main base too. buildings are dying left and right. his base is pretty much empty. still doesn’t GG for like 5 minutes or something.”

The spectators know it’s over, the commentators know it’s over, the opponent knows it’s over. But a champion never gives up. Everything is possible. You don’t get good by winning, you get good by losing and by testing your boundaries. This is the mindset of a champion. If you can develop these psychological elements in yourself, you will experience better things in life as well as success in competition.

THIS SHIT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE EASY. If you think that it’s too hard, it is fucking hard. But that’s how you become a pimp motherfucker. You do it by subjecting yourself to extremely difficult situations, situations where you have to fundamentally change to overcome them.

Rant over, hope you guys enjoyed some of my personal insights and I’ll leave you with this Bruce Lee quote that nicely illustrates another facet of the champions mindset.

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Much love,

ddk

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10 Responses to The Champion’s Mindset

  1. donka says:

    One would think that all humans are at least familiar with their abilities of overcoming challenges and they have what it takes to be #1 or at least the top contender. Through constant struggle, team chemistry, recruitment, real-life sports, etc I found that not only this knowledge is far from common sense, but it is also harder to absorb for some than others. I found people who are born to give up. Their parents, their life, their surrounding formed their personalities in a way that makes them almost impenetrable to any kind of struggle and positive outcome. Believing in themselves is simply out of this word. Accept average – move on. Accept defeat, blame on lack of talent – move on. Overcoming this psychology is the first great challenge, and once you see the break through, sky is the limit (pun intended for those trying to be cosmonauts)
    Father – harder. The challenge of learning properly instead of wasting your time on fun. Fun is fun, but sometimes fun becomes that getaway drug that causes stagnation in development because the person escapes the frustrations of defeat. I totally agree with moving away from outcome dependency and concentrating on desired result. I believe it’s the lack of ‘fun’ causes a lot of people to go back to beta when outcomes of alpha level are unattainable, or inconsistent.
    The final stages of completing the goal are natural to very few people I know. The concept of doing “your best” never works because ” my best” is a LIMIT one put on their abilities when it’s time to defeat someone else’s “best”. What if their “best” is better than yours , how are you going to beat it? Excel, improve, and never give up no matter what you believe about your limit. You have none.
    Example – Cooller – most of his career spent with a concrete face refusing to even believe some zadrot ebani is a challenge for him. But the times when he claimed to be in worse shape – it was messing with his head. He was winning same great players throughout the tournament, but randomly losing when it was time to shine.
    Some of the best players I’ve seen develop and do it fast are those who already learned the challenges of competition before. My prodigy teammates are always ones with confidence coming from their success in sports, school, personal life. if you count a few of those – try to at least fake it after reading this blog. That is totally doable.

  2. linchpin says:

    Thanks a lot DDK! please keep this sortof stuff coming.

  3. Pingback: Competition is one of the greatest life cheats, but it also has its costs. | The Blog of Dan Kapadia

  4. Yo says:

    Your explanations are really clear and you show at each point so well the decision making. It makes watching worth more than playing! I hope that’s a great compliment which came by coincidence :) This also gives everyone else a break from calling me (and I’m sure a few others) a ‘noob’ and getting kicked off servers once people don’t like my style(s)… :)
    When I find myself on a skill level higher than me (e.g. people know maps better or I’m not as accurate as other people) I still think I do well as a guard or sort of shadow… maybe I play free freezetag a lot too…. So anyway I’m not thinking that everyone should do this style I think it maybe that I’ve chose not to compete directly, and after getting shut down so often, that maybe it’s better indirectly winning. Problem is people can’t see how I’m playing if I’ve been sticking to my own team mate most of the map effectively doubling up somewhat, learning the patterns and gaining experience etc… and getting the damage that makes opponent run / think twice or allow my team mate to finish them off where I’m not quite in the knowledge how to….. This idea might be something you can do something with, especially for those that need a higher rank to show them some things in practice (watching is good and so is practice) and people acting OK towards lower ranks or people who are great in some ways but kak in others so see having an apprentice might be something the world of Quake needs, and perhaps healthy for themselves, their team, future teams etc!… And these kind of practices could be something we get used to outside of Quake too in general (this is what I’m doing right now and you’ve become a great help towards demonstrating clarity in these types of situations). my email should you need > nowisthetime >@] riseup.net

  5. It’s hard to find knowledgeable people for this topic, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about!

    Thanks

  6. Yo says:

    Gave up Quake Live, and closed my account (about 2 months now).
    Forgot about this blog. Good to read again. Won’t reply as much as I did before. Not sure where it gets me.
    I am now searching for things that contribute much more directly to our real lives using parallel actions of gaming and skill to contribute more than to than consumption of time primarily and perhaps some warm air out the other side after you switch off a machine. Oh and some stats too I suppose. Not much else for most people, though my imagination can be helped but those emailing a reply below.
    nowisthetime >@] riseup.net

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