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World Mental Health Day Feature

October 10 is World Mental Health Day, and we’ve prepared an insightful 4-part series to play our part in raising awareness on mental health issues and the need to support esports players in this arena. This month, we’ll be featuring different Team Razer members as they share their experiences on the pressures they face as professional players and how they maintain peak performance amidst the stresses of the job.

BECOMING THE BEST SUPPORT CHAMPION

In our second feature, we catch up with Kelly Ong, co-owner and Chief Strategy Officer of Alliance as she takes time off her busy schedule to champion the importance of supporting the mental wellbeing of athletes and share with us what it means to do exactly that as a leader of a world-famous esports team

1. When did you start noticing that mental wellness was something that needed to be addressed for your teams to perform at their peak – were players giving feedback or was it something you noticed from their behavior?

The idea that support needed to be provided for our players on the mental wellness front first came about when we started noticing changes in their behavior. Being on a heavy tour schedule had resulted in our players burning out from the pressure of being public figures under intense scrutiny for not only their competitive scores, but who they were as individuals as well.

We started exploring the provision of mental wellness support somewhere between 2015 and 2016. In our earlier years, the team’s focus was firmly set on the fight to legitimize esports, but by 2015, we could finally set aside the time to start focusing on developing the team internally to be even stronger. We were the first pro-team in the world (that I’m aware of) that focused heavily on the nutrition and diet of our players back in 2013, so it only seemed natural to find more ways to help our players perform better.

Traditionally, sports teams tend to have a long line-up of support staff. As esports teams don’t enjoy the same robust funding, I had to make the call on what should be prioritized in terms of support. Back then, the Alliance Dota players would often joke that playing Dota is a mental effort 95% of the time, with the remaining 5% being physical, so we started looking at mental wellness as a key program within our organization, with a view of developing it seriously.

Today, Alliance has 3 in-house Performance Coaches along with a few external experts that work towards the mental wellness of players for those who need them. For us, the path to wellness starts first with nutrition and diet, followed closely by mental wellness. Now we are moving into the area of physical conditioning by engaging with masseurs and personal trainers who understand the unique needs of esports athletes.

Back then, it wasn’t always easy to find good performance coaches and team psychologists with a focus on esports. Fortunately, in 2021, there’s an increasing number of professionals who choose to specialize within esports, so I’d like to give a big shout-out to all the mental wellness experts in our industry!

2. What methods or tools have you employed within the team to help your players?

Different levels of teams within Alliance need different forms of support, depending on where they are in their career as a squad.

At Alliance, we field top performing Elite teams, but we are also still home to aspiring gamers. I really like the fact that our organization fields aspiring pros on top of the best Elite players, as it keeps us grounded and contributes to the longevity of esports.

Mental wellness coaches within Alliance are known as Performance Coaches. With our Performance Coaches, we have worked on setting routines, mindset, finding the right training schedule intensity, improving team synergy and communication within the team, as well as focusing on how to recover from tilt or bad loops – just to name a few.

One really interesting thing we focused on over the past year was on the subject of recovery. Resting is every bit as important as competing – finding that delicate balance between the two can be challenging and we could not have progressed significantly in this area without the help of our Olympian Performance Coaches.

Currently, our Performance Coaches are harnessing data-science by comparing stats between sports and esports to help our athletes game at peak performance for longer stretches of time. I’m really excited to see how this turns out!

That aside, thanks to recommendations from our Performance Coaches, we have also built a home gym at our HQ and also been advised on how our team houses should "feel" to give players the ability to perform at their best.

While we don't have in-house psychologists, we do observe our individual players and will recommend them to a professional if needed.

Lastly, another really important thing about mental wellness is education and, in that vein, we are revolutionizing what an esports manager means to a team. Rather than just being regarded as the team’s “babysitter” – which has long been the general perception of team managers – our managers now undergo training to be better equipped to help our athletes in their growth as we continue developing various wellness programs alongside our performance staff.