A photo of Mia Stellberg posing for the camera
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What’s the role of sports psychology in esports?

Sports psychologist Mia Stellberg tells us about her work in the esports world, and how she’s helping pros improve by better looking after their mental well-being in our latest Esports PRISM episode.
By James Pickard
5 min readPublished on
The idea of sitting in front of a computer screen playing your favourite game for a living may sound like the dream for many wannabe esports superstars. It’s that possibility of taking your passion and talent in games such as Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or League of Legends, and converting it into a viable career choice that clearly sounds so appealing. But what the esports world is discovering is that there’s a lot more that determines success than raw skill alone.
While the argument is regularly made that esports aren’t as physically demanding as traditional sports, there’s no denying that the physical and mental health of players is an important consideration to make. Grinding away at a game for 10 hours a day, seven days a week in order to practice may be physically possible, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a healthy or reliable way to achieve success.
That’s one of the arguments made by esports psychologist, Mia Stellberg, who's on a mission to change some long-standing perceptions of the industry and make more people aware of the importance of player well-being in esports. In our latest Red Bull PRISM episode, Stellberg discusses how she hopes to achieve that goal and some of the techniques she uses to improve players both inside and outside of the games they play.

3 min

Sport psychologist Mia Stellberg

Mia Stellberg is a pro gaming psychologist who teaches gamers to manage their state of mind while playing.

English +8

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It all began for Stellberg while working for Astralis – the team that were her starting point into the world of esports. There she found herself offering assistance to many different levels of the squad: from the broader function of the team in general and right down to the individual coaches and players.
There were things to observe and improve at all levels, she says, to the point where she could be functioning as the coach’s right hand in one moment to support them in their job, and then hold one-to-one sessions with single players in another, “to find out how they’re doing and how you can support them in becoming a better version of themselves,” she explains.
In these individual discussions, she believes her job is to educate. “I like to teach the players a lot about controlling their emotions so that they are more rational instead of emotional. If you have a lot of emotions, that might sometimes conflict the game itself,” she argues.
That is absolutely something anybody has no doubt experienced while involved in anything competitive. Frustration at performing poorly or making mistakes can lead you to lose focus and let the game spiral out of control. Stellberg tries to teach players to be rational and relaxed after setbacks to give them the best chance at maintaining a high level of play.
A photo of Mia Stellberg posing for the camera

Stellberg has worked with top teams such as Astralis

© Red Bull

“To be the fastest possible version of yourself, you need to be calm and collected because if you are nervous or stressed, that does affect your hand-eye coordination and your reaction time,” she explains. “Also your self-esteem as a person has a huge impact on how you’re performing because if your self-esteem isn’t on the right level, you get much more easily stressed.”
Yet, it can go both ways too! When you’re doing incredibly well it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement and drop your concentration if you think a win is already secured. In those times it’s best to remind yourself that overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer.
For me, I think in general being an esports athlete is more demanding than being on the traditional side
Mia Stellberg
One aspect she really stresses in her discussions with players is to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Again, it’s the idea that tapping away at the keyboard or mashing on the controller for hours on end each week is not going to be conducive to better play. It’s better if players are more sensible about their time and ensure they’re taking breaks to spend it with friends, family or significant others.
“One part of my job is to keep them grounded but also to balance their life because I’m strongly against practising ten hours a day, seven days a week. I feel that no matter what your profession is you are entitled to have a life and you’re entitled to have a social life and perhaps someone you’re dating.”
A photo of Mia Stellberg working

Stellberg feels the life of a pro gamer can be incredibly demanding

© Red Bull

She also feels that there are a lot of aspects of playing an esport professionally that may be overlooked as an outsider, or that players may not be aware of until they are caught in the chaos. Some of the things she lists include the extensive travel requirements, the frequency of games and tournaments, coping with jet lag and the demand from social media and fans. Altogether, she suggests that in general, “being an esports athlete is more demanding than being on the traditional side”.
Yet, these might be things that players willingly throw themselves into without a moment's pause because of the opportunities available to them. Even more so when especially younger players see it as their first big break. “When you’re 19 you will give your soul to be a professional person and to get paid to do what you love, so you kind of forget yourself,” she says.
And it’s for moments like these where Stellberg sees space for her to step in. With her specialist knowledge of the unique demands required of esports players, she can find the best way to support them in aspects of the chosen careers and their personal lives to ensure they find even greater success when their talent has taken them to the top levels of play.

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