Role of Sports Psychology in LoL Competitive Scene: An Interview with Evan McCauley Part 4

With the recent discussions around the importance of support staff like coaches and analyst, the concept of sports psychology has been somewhat overlooked. Teams may have the individual skill, strategic depth, and synergy in game, but if nothing else, the NA playoffs has demonstrated the undeniable importance of mental fortitude and organizational support as key metrics in team’s success.

Recently, I spoke with Evan McCauley who is a National Curling Champion that competed in the World Championships in Switzerland earlier this year. He is also an avid fan of the League of Legends competitive scene and is finishing up his degree in sports psychology, hoping to break into the e-sports industry. He brings the insight of a competitor in a strategic, team-based sport as well as his knowledge of psychology and its relevance to the League of Legends competitive scene.

Random Topics

In a previous article, I argued against recently retired players being elevated to the position of coach/analyst/manager etc, because there are internal feelings of inadequacy that complement the decision to retire. In addition, these retired players are probably not older or more mature, so the team members, community, or even internally, it's hard to make the switch from the mindset of a peer to a different role. Am I missing something?

I agree with you if we're posing this as a hypothetical and the supply and demand of support staff is at equilibrium, because the effectiveness of the staff is directly proportional to the respect the players on the team give the staff. But otherwise, I think it would be logistically very difficult for a player to retire and gain the adequate experience and maturity before trying to break back into the scene. It makes sense for that player to join the staff immediately and slowly work towards developing those. Also, it helps that there are successful models like Scarra to look up to.

Building off that, Scarra is a very intelligent person. I remember interviews from a few years ago where Scarra talked about the development of the competitive scene and Riot's role in it etc. He has this intuition that's rarely found in other players. If a team doesn't have the adequate funding to invest in a proper support staff, a good coach can actually fulfill most of the responsibilities of a sports psychologist. Do you think that these skills require professional training/experience or can they come intuitively to people?

I definitely think they can come intuitively. When I was on the curling team, I tried to fill that role on my team. The funny thing was, I used to be a very headstrong player and used to get very down on myself for doing poorly. But over time I realized that, everyone on my team must feel this at some point and like me would be underperforming because they had no one to help them. So I decided to take what I felt in my weakest moments and learn from that to help my teammates overcome their struggles. I slowly became a positive player and it transferred to a lot of players on my team. So in the same way, I think someone can definitely acquire these skills and learn how to deal with the team, and right now that's going to have to be enough for the competitive scene. Unless an organization is actively seeking a sports psychologist, there's no way for someone like me to break into the scene. More funding will allow teams to diversify their support staff, but until then smart coaches, analysts, or even managers can try to fill this role for the team.

Another reason I see the importance of sports psychologists in e-sports is that the industry is still growing and changing. In other sports, a student can have reasonable expectations for what to expect, or ask his family or other sources for support. In e-sports, most of the players start off as kids, and don't really know what to expect, sometimes dealing with a lot of social pressure due to their decision. What do you think organizations and Riot can do mitigate some of these issues?

Obviously, the biggest thing Riot could do is bring more money into the scene. Financial stability definitely helps for aspiring players to argue their case. I agree that the uncharted territory makes it harder for a lot of players, and why I respect the dedication a lot of players put into pursuing it, because there is so much that affects game performance that the spectators just can't understand. Sports psychologists can definitely help players come to terms with their decisions and help ease a lot of the social pressures surrounding the scene, and again with more money, organizations should definitely look into investing. A major part of the issue is also that the majority of players join the competitive scene at the age where they should be focusing on education, and that's awkward for both players and their families.

Upcoming article on strengthening ties between Riot and universities: A lot of other sports have presence at universities and allows players to do both, so Riot could try to strengthen their relationships with universities and help with transitioning ex-professional players to higher education or creating a more legitimate university league where players can join and compete so they aren't stifled by the choice.

Random tangent on role of strategist vs. tactician

The person in curling relaying the strategy during the game is called the skip or captain. He's not necessarily the most strategically apt player on the team. Strategy is something that should be decided by the team before the game. The skip is actually the tactician, who can translate the strategy in high-pressure situations or intuitively feel the game and guide his team by doing what he considers the best option. In the same way that players can misplay mechanically, it's possible for the tactician to make a mistake, but those should always be addressed after the game. Insights like this are ingrained in a lot of other sports that would greatly help a lot of competitive LoL teams.

I see your distinction, but I would argue that League is not a game where you can prepare for contingencies, so it would make sense that the person who has the primary strategic knowledge to also make the calls in game because he can understand the context and nuances of particular strategies.

I think you misunderstood, I'm not necessarily saying that the strategist and tactician need to be different people, just that deciding the overall strategy should be a team effort, and the tactician should be chosen by the team who can best translate the strategy. If something goes wrong in the game, the team gets together in the end and shares the blame and re-evaluates their strategy, and not place unnecessary strain on the tactician. If you suddenly blame primary shot caller on the team for your loss, there is a trust that's broken that leads to a lot of teams imploding. Trust is the most important thing for a team to have.