Jens Hofer is the Director of Performance at Fnatic’s High Performance Unit, an integral part of the esports organisation that brings together experts in pro-gaming, fitness and wellbeing and aims to provide the best-in-class esports performance infrastructure.
There is no doubt that the esports performance industry is still in its infancy. This is particularly true when you compare it to sports performance, where knowledge and understanding of the factors that influence elite athletes has been growing and evolving for decades.
But esports is big business. The salaries, prizes on offer, expectations of fans, sponsor fees and standard of competitive play have increased considerably in recent years. As a result, esports organisations are beginning to pay deeper attention to performance to assess how in-game potential can be fostered and improved. The rationale is simple; to make marginal gains on the field of play - or in our case, the esports arena - and reach the pinnacle of any given esports title.
Fnatic has always been a performance leader in esports. But we recognise the need to step up and set ourselves apart from the rest of the industry. Last year we launched our High-Performance Unit, a division of the organisation dedicated to investigating how we can enhance the potential of pro-gamers. Our ambition is simple; to consistently improve the capabilities of Fnatic players by making performance gains, improving results and increasing the overall wellbeing of pro-gamers to create the very best esports professionals in the world across all our game titles.
Performance can be improved in a number of ways; be it through health, nutrition, better infrastructure, technological advances, education or harnessing data. During the next decade, we will undoubtedly see developments across each of these areas which will in turn, help create players that can handle the challenges of being an esports professional and perform at the top of their game consistently.
Because esports performance is still such a new territory, research will be integral to enhancing it. A select few research departments are beginning to explore esports and gaming performance - such as The New York Institute of Technology, which we recently partnered with to conduct a pioneering piece of research assessing the effects of compression sleeves on pro gamers.
The evolution of education and certification processes for coaches will also help better gameplay. Almost all teams have a coach or small team of coaches within their organisation. But there is a need to develop these coaches into better leaders in esports to really push forward the levels of coaching. Standardising education and certification within the industry - as many sports have done in the past decades - can undoubtedly develop coaches into better leaders and push forward levels of performance.
Performance coaches are now particularly common amongst esports organisations. However, it isn’t currently common to see these esports organisations working systematically with their teams and coaches to implement and standardise holistic health structures that include fitness training, mental training, diet plans and more. Teams are testing the waters with experimental health initiatives, but they haven’t quite worked out exactly how to standardise any health structure.
Mental training in itself and in particular, cognitive training, is a very important part of esports that needs to be further developed. Esports professionals need to make split second decisions and have fast reactions. So, understanding what cognitive abilities are key for esports professionals needs to be an area of focus within the industry. Technology will also advance the pro-gaming industry significantly, particularly given technology such as headsets, keyboards and mouses are so crucial to esports performance. At the moment, pro-gamers have to adjust to tailor themselves to their keyboards, mouse and headsets. But, as we advance as an industry, it is likely that performance gear will become more flexible, personalised, and tailored to a pro gamers needs, rather than the other way around.
To really improve performance though, you need the infrastructure to make everything happen. There are already some good esports facilities out there, but they can advance further by tailoring them specifically to improve performance itself. Some facilities have physical training areas, but those facilities that want to hone in on performance specifically also need to have designated spaces for meditation and disconnecting, cognitive training, in-house research, teaching and education, and technology labs, where product developers can easily access pro players for testing and research purposes. There will be significant developments in this regard in the future, with teams looking to optimise purpose-built performance infrastructures and we’ll also likely to see performance staff housed at these facilities permanently, to give players the ultimate training experience during bootcamps.
Elite athletes and the sports industry have tried to make marginal gains to break the boundaries of athletic ability for decades now. While the concept of marginal gains and esports performance is still relatively new in pro-gaming, it is already clear the industry will follow the sports performance trajectory, particularly as the stakes get higher and the investments get larger. The next ten years will unquestionably shape elite esports performances and Fnatic are determined to be a pioneering force behind its evolution.