Physiological responses in Overwatch game depend on skill level, study finds

A study of physiological responses of the college age Overwatch The players found that many skilled players tend to start the game with heightened responses to physiological stress, adapting them over the course of the game. In contrast, the physiological stress responses of low-skill players tend to increase as the game progresses. The study was published in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

Competitive electronic games or eSports are gaining ground as a recognized sport. The rise of eSports into a multi-billion dollar industry has been attributed to the emergence of streaming platforms and ad revenue and the high-value sponsorships that came with it. eSports is one of 24 competitive sports included in the 2022 Asian Games to be held in Hangzhou, China.

Following their rise in popularity, scientists have become interested in studying eSports athletes to understand the stress associated with participating in eSports in both competitive and non-competitive settings. Early studies focused on health concerns given the sedentary nature of eSports, and primarily studied players League of Legends (LOL) as one of the most popular eSports games at the time.

Recently, there have been calls to focus on first-person shooter players, as data shows that these types of games tend to elicit a greater neural response than multiplayer battleground games like LOL.

Overwatch is a competitive first-person shooter game developed in 2016 by Blizzard Entertainment. Researcher William J. Kraemer and his colleagues hypothesized that the player’s skill level would affect biomarkers of stress when playing the game, due to the stress and arousal associated with competitive performance.

“We have a large collaborative team of eSports scientists and athletes at Ohio State University, yet little was known about the core game played by our players. So we wanted to get some initial data on this,” explained Kraemer, senior advisor in sports performance and sports science in the university’s Athletic Department.

The researchers asked 32 male gamers, aged between 18 and 32, with at least some experience in the game Overwatch, to participate in the study. They were randomly divided into groups of 6 players to each participate in only one Overwatch team competition game in the lab. The researchers took their saliva to assess cortisol and testosterone levels immediately before and after the game. Heart rate was continuously monitored during the game.

Before the study, Overwatch Participants’ skill level was assessed by asking them to report their own Overwatch class. Players with diamond ranks (the top 20% of Overwatch players) were considered high-skilled, and the rest were considered low-ranked.

The results showed an 11.3% decrease in salivary cortisol and a 17.2% increase in salivary testosterone after the game compared to pregame levels. Heart rate was also higher after the game than before the game.

When skill level was taken into account, the results showed more pronounced differences in pregame testosterone levels between high-skill players than low-skill players. While testosterone levels increased during the game in the low-skill group, high-skill players tended to start the game with elevated testosterone levels, and only the variability of testosterone levels among high-skill players tended to decrease somewhat during the game.

The authors state that “the finding that highly skilled players can up-regulate testosterone concentrations before the game, without producing changes in the game itself, may explain the lack of significant effects before the end of the game.”

The findings show “that Overwatch and other eSports games are naturally demanding for the players who play them. Both stress-related demands and adaptations appeared to be related to game success. As well as the stress of the games themselves,” Kraemer told PsyPost.

“At first glance, the passive nature of eSport gaming may suggest little or no physiological stress,” Kraemer and his colleague wrote in their study. “However, it is clear from this study that even college players experience increased heart rate and changes in pituitary-gonadal functions when playing Overwatch in competitive form”.

“The highly variable response patterns observed for cortisol suggest that changes in sympathetic response may persist as experience with competitive play increases. In addition, skill level may affect testosterone stimulation levels, including adaptations with the game in lower skill players.”

The role of testosterone in physiological arousal may be related to success in sports because of the need for psychological aggression and physiological adaptations for competitive play. This study sheds new light on its role in competitive eSports. It should be noted, however, that the study was conducted only during one game, that reactions to games of different properties may not be the same, and that it is possible that the laboratory environment and the presence of the audience during the game had some result. about the results.

It is not yet clear whether “game conditioning and fitness affect the ability to better compete with sports games and also improve the health of eSports athletes who compete in a sedentary environment for both games and training,” Kraemer noted. “We are just beginning to understand how to prepare and optimize player development for this particular sport and more work will need to be done.”

The study, “Arousal/Stress Effects of Overwatch Video Game Competition in Collegiate Gamers,” was authored by William J. Kraemer, Lydia K. Caldwell, Emily M. Post, Matthew K. Beeler, Angela Emerson, Jeff S. Volek , Carl M. Maresh, Jennifer S. Fogt, Nick Fogt, Keijo Hakkinen, Robert U. Newton, Pedro Lopez, Barbara N. Sanchez, and James A. Onate.

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