Dealing with anxiety
Many people are nervous about playing on the 1v1 ladder in StarCraft II, even those who are perfectly calm playing team games or custom games. This page outlines why this happens and ways to deal with it.
This anxiety can occur for many reasons, most of which boil down to caring too much about one's 1v1 ladder rating. More so than in many other games, the perception in RTSes is that one's performance reflects one's intelligence. With no team mates to blame or fall back on, losing a 1v1 for many feels like a blow to their ego.
Regardless of the reasons for it, anxiety causes a "fight-or-flight response" in the body. Epinephrine (more commonly known as adrenaline) is released, directing blood flow away from the extremities and towards the major muscle groups. In actual danger, this allows you to immediately fight or run to save your life. But when there is no need to do either you are left with cold, trembling hands and feet, as well as an accelerated heart rate and breathing, all for no good reason.
How to deal with it
The tips and methods below are presented in four categories:
- Taking away the symptoms of anxiety.
- Taking away the anxiety itself.
- Taking away the cause of the anxiety.
- Preventing anxiety from occurring.
These four categories have a fair bit of overlap, and are not mutually exclusive. Take what methods you like from each and combine them into something that works for you.
Taking away the symptoms of anxiety
Counteract your cold hands and feet:
- Wear a sweater.
- Wrap up in a blanket.
- Wear gloves. Use ones without finger tips if that is more convenient while playing.
- Squeeze a hand-warming gel pack.
Get your breathing and heart rate back under control. Make a conscious effort to breathe deeply and slowly.
Put the muscles activated by the adrenaline to use:
- Spam APM by repeatedly boxing your workers, etc.
- Warm up your fingers and get them used to moving quickly. Don't stay still long enough to tremble.
- Twist a towel really hard. (Day)
- Do a set of stretches or push-ups.
Taking away the anxiety itself
Calm yourself down before, during, or after a game.
- Have a cup of tea.
- Have a beer. This may hinder strategic thinking, but calming your nerves has a higher priority.
- Stay away from (too much) caffeine and sweets. Caffeine makes the stress response worse, as do the artificial coloring agents in many sweets.
Do something else for a while.
- Take a warm bath or shower. (HuK)
- Meditate. This takes a lot of practice and isn't for everyone.
There are plenty of online resources to get you started, from audio files that put you into a meditative state, to breathing exercises and mindfulness courses.
- Play different games for a while.
Play team games, custom games, or UMS maps.
Play something other than StarCraft. Day suggests Minesweeper to increase your mouse speed and accuracy.
Set the right mood.
- Listen to non-vocal music.
- The melody takes care of your nerves. Vocals would take your focus away from the game. Even if they are in a language you don't understand, your brain recognizes it as language and attempts to decipher it. Video game soundtracks are one possible source of non-vocal music.
- Turn off the game sound. You won't hear the dreaded countdown beeps, or any other sounds that make you nervous. With proper focus on the game you won't need the "our drones are under attack" sounds anyway. (However, "nuclear launch detected" is an audio-only warning!)
Learn to control the anxiety.
- This is an advanced technique, and requires learning how to meditate first. It is usually used to manage chronic pain, but also works for anxiety.
- First, explore the physical sensation of the anxiety. Figure out which muscle groups are involved in your trembling.
- Then, alternatively try to intensify the trembling and then weakening it. Eventually you will have full control over your anxiety.
Taking away the cause of the anxiety
Change the attitude with which you approach a gaming session so you no longer become anxious.
If you fear losing a game:
- Realize that every loss means you will meet easier opponents.
- Any points lost will therefore be easier to win back.
- In this way losing may actually benefit your ranking.
- It's normal to lose. Even the pros lose 40-45% of the time.
- Losing does not mean you are worse than the other player, nor does winning mean you are better.
- Every game is a win/win situation: either you defeat your opponent, or you learn to be a better player.
It's not the loss that causes frustration ...
It's not the loss that causes frustration, but handling the loss poorly.
- Congratulate your opponent and leave the computer for a while.
- When you get angry, do push-ups to exhaustion.
- After several consecutive losses, watch your replays and take notes, or try a new tactic.
- Save your losing replays with a brief description and compare your plays if you lose to the same strategy again.
- Learn to not play to win.
- Play to improve your scouting, macro, micro, and multitasking.
- Play to have fun!
If you fear for your stats or ranking:
- Create a second account on a different server (NA, EU, etc.) that nobody knows about. Your stats will be invisible, in a sense.
- Try to think of laddering simply as practice. It is not a tournament; there is no money on the line.
If you fear your opponent:
- Play as if they are just the AI.
- Play as if they are someone you are trying to impress with your play.
- Scout a lot, so you can be confident they won't do something unexpected.
If you are insecure about your play:
- Practice your build order and game plan to death.
If you have to think about every little action you won't be confident and won't able to keep up with the speed of the game. Instead, make everything come naturally.
- Practice against every common strategy.
Your nerves are likely caused by not always knowing what to do; change that.
- Keep playing; after a few hundred games you won't be anxious anymore about playing the next
- This is an example of overcoming your fears by putting yourself in situations that cause them.
- This can be hard at first. Try to press the [Find match] button immediately after a game so you don't have the time to talk yourself out of it.
Preventing anxiety from occurring
Become so deeply focused that there is no room for anxiety. When giving a presentation, if you are constantly thinking of what your next sentence should be, you won't be nervous. So when playing, constantly be thinking of the next step.
- Focus on the map and the match-up while loading.
Decide the build order you will be going for.
- Focus on your build and game plan while playing.
- Don't worry about a misclick, losing a few units, or getting cannon rushed.
Focus on what you need to do to move on in the game.
- You can practice focus with just about anything.
Stare intently at a screw in the wall, for example.
Feeling nervous about playing is a bad habit. To prevent bad habits from re-occurring, replace them with good habits.
- Talk to yourself while playing. (Choya, as well as some live casters)
Repeat your game plan.
Repeat the mental checklist.
Think out loud about what your opponent is doing and what you should do in response.
Relevant forum threads
- Psych approach to ladder anxiety (TL, 22 December 2011)
- How To Fix 'Tilt': A Guide (TL, 15 January 2011)
- SC2Psych: Win/Loss Streaks & Performance Anxiety (TL, 13 January 2011)
- Nerves when laddering (TL, 5 December 2010)
- Anyone else get really nervous playing this game? (TL, 10 July 2010)