It’s a phrase heard time and time again, but what does it really mean to be burnt out and why is it so prevalent in League of Legends? Further still, what impact could this be having on the longevity of players’ careers?
What Is Burnout?
To analyze the causes of burnout for League of Legends professionals, we must first take a look at what this actually is and what adverse effects if causes.
Burnout is typically characterized by emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by stress/repetition. A player experiencing burnout may, therefore, not want to play the game and might not be able to give 100% in the entirety of scrims and solo queue practice.
If a player can’t give 100% then their growth will be impacted and they may struggle to improve, and if they can’t improve then they will be left behind.
Perhaps the biggest cause of burnout in League of Legends if the ever-changing meta and constant updates to the game.
Constant changes to the game is generally a good thing for casual players/viewers as it means that the game is always fresh. League has less chance of stagnating than other titles and has shown this to be the case with its nearly 10-year life span so far.
What this does mean, however, is that professional players can never get too comfortable with their level of knowledge of the game as the optimal way of playing is always likely to change.
In a now infamous interview in 2016, Team SoloMid owner Reginald outlined how the constant changes to the meta are “really discouraging” to both owners and players and outlined the undesired effects this can cause. With one simple patch, a player can easily see their stronger champions be eradicated from the meta and put them back to square one, where they will need to spend time learning the new stronger champions as well as their matchups.
Changes in the Summer of 2018 saw marksmen all but removed from the meta entirely, after which Fnatic veteran ADC Rekkles took time away from the game. Having spent years perfecting his play on marksmen champions, this was now completely irrelevant and left him in a position where he was no longer proficient in his role.
The only thing players can do to combat this effect of patches is to play the game more. Teams will scrim for the better part of 8 hours each day (sometimes more), after which players are free to grind solo queue in their own time (often with contractual obligations to play a certain number of games at minimum).
OpTic Gaming’s Crown played more than 2,000 solo queue matches in 2018 on one account alone, averaging more than 5 games per day for the entire year (not accounting for any days/time off). While some anomalies may be able to play for this amount of time without burning out, many will succumb to mental/physical exhaustion should they practice for this long and the unfortunate reality for most players is that they will ultimately struggle to stay at a top level if they don’t excessively grind the game.
While most modern games will experience balance changes in patches, they are not nearly as prevalent as those within League of Legends. Games such as StarCraft II and CS:GO experience very minimal balance patches and are two of the most popular Esports games, while Super Smash Bros. Melee continues to be a popular competitive FGC title having been released way back in 2001.
Lack of changes in these games means that players do not so easily see their skill level deteriorate compared to their peers when not playing the game. Not playing LoL would quickly cause a player to fall behind.
Reduced meta shifts also mean that players that reach the top level of these games are much more likely to stay there. When looking at the average age of CS:GO teams that competed in IEM Katowice’s 2019, many of these were reaching mid-20s, with the oldest team (Ninjas in Pyjamas) having an average age of almost 27. Playing until these ages are almost unheard of within LoL. Only a handful of well-known competitors are still going strong past their mid-twenties, most noticeably Team Liquid’s Xmithie (27), DAMWON Gaming’s Flame (26) and 100 Thieves’ Aphromoo (26).
Another reason why League pros may burn out more easily compared to players of other Esports titles comes down the schedule of the competitive season.
Riot Games changed the Esports scene forever with the introduction of structured leagues, providing what has mostly been a more stable way for teams and players to compete. One consequence of this is the teams’ obligation to stick to the LCS/LEC schedule, where they must compete for a minimum of 9 consecutive weeks which will increase depending on playoff/MSI/Worlds runs.
This is now especially prevalent in the Summer split, where a team may compete in their own league as well as Rift Rivals followed by the World Championship.
In 2018 Worlds, Europe’s G2 Esports upset tournament favourites Royal Never Give Up in a 3-2 quarter-final win. Rather than celebrating the win, mid-laner Perkz expressed his exhaustion in his post-game interview, explaining how he “didn’t care” when asked how he was able to be so calm after such a huge win.
This scheduling issue is not so prevalent in most other titles; particularly those that do not have a structured league.
Where most Esports titles see most of their competitive tournaments in the form of LAN events, teams can simply choose not to compete if they are suffering from fatigue and allow themselves to prevents burnout/exhaustion. This greatly aids in preventing players from burning out, where a strictly scheduled league wouldn’t necessarily allow them to do so.
In recent years some veteran players from League of Legends have chosen to take time off and the majority have benefited as a result.
Ahead of the 2017 Spring split, then TSM-ADC Doublelift chose to take the first split of the season off as a chance to step away from the high pressure of competitive play and focus on streaming until the Summer. Doublelift ultimately returned earlier than expected in a loan move to Team Liquid at the end of the 2017 Spring split and has since gone on to win every other split that he has been a part of.
A more recent example would be RNG’s 2-time Worlds finalist and MSI holder Uzi who took a month-long break in the new year, returning for week 4 of the LPL Spring split and only losing 1 series since.
One of the most pressing causes of burnout amongst players is their living situation. Most teams still operate from gaming houses whereby players will live and work together under one roof.
This lack of separation between work life and social life is a huge cause of concern for the mental health of players and isn’t a sustainable way of allowing pros to compete at their peak performance with any longevity.
Though this has been a big issue for a number of years, teams are thankfully making strides towards finding this work/life balance for their players. Many larger organizations are beginning to set up practice offices separate from player living spaces, one of the first examples being Team Liquid’s Alienware training facility where the LCS holders allow their players to scrim and play solo queue before returning to their own homes once finished with work.
Preventing Burnout in a Gaming House
We first highlighted gaming houses in particular, as players living in such an environment will likely find it the hardest to take measures against burnout.
“Gaming houses are really difficult. Living in a gaming house can make you feel smothered leaving little time to yourself. Being self-aware in this situation is important as if you need to have time alone make sure you take it.
Burnout can be brought on for a bunch of different reasons and the thing one has to remember is that you want to reduce any stressors throughout the day to keep your mental as strong as possible.
A great way to do this and to get time alone is to go for a run or go to the gym, do a bit of exercise. This kills two birds with one stone, you get the important time alone and you can go and exercise.
“Some people are so in love with this game that it may not affect them in the same way it does others but it is advisable that you don’t tunnel on playing the game for unhealthy amounts of time.”
Of course, burnout, therefore, can be a huge issue. Doing anything every day for this long especially with the environment of solo queue can quite easily cause burnout. Especially if the practice you are having is more stressful or isn’t going to plan.
Make sure that you break up the day and do things for your mind or body such as practicing; breathing and mindfulness techniques or meditation. For the body, there is of course exercise but there is also stretching or just going for a walk.
If the day starts to feel like it is monotonous or repetitive, using goal setting techniques can push you away from this feeling towards a more effective, focused practice. For example using SMART goals (specific measurable, attainable, realistic and time based) and/or Short, Medium and Long term goals can make practice feel more targeted.”
Keeping Up With Patches
Another of the key burnout causes was in the constant updates within League of Legends whereby players will quickly fall behind if they are to not continuously keep up with the game’s changes.
“This is such a huge problem in the LoL scene; for football or tennis the ball doesn’t change or the racquet doesn’t become square. There is little fundamental change in traditional sports and in fact, in other Esports, it is the same but LoL is a bit of an oddball.
A phrase I like to use is that this is an industry of hours, meaning if you don’t spend as much time on the game as everyone else you and your team quickly falls behind, and as now it would appear that quality of practice is not considered as important as quantity of practice. Therefore it is difficult to advise that you just don’t play as much; which would of course go someway to solving burnout issues.
It’s about making sure you get to do what is necessary and make it as healthy as possible. One way to do this is to take regular and meaningful breaks throughout the day. The example I like to use is going to grab some water or going to grab some coffee from your local cafe.
This can be a wonderful way to reset mentally even if things are going well. When you take your regular breaks, it’s so important to not to have anything to do with League for those 5/10 mins, make sure its a break in the most real sense of the word!”
When speaking to AJ, we lastly touched on the best practices players can adhere to in order to prolong their careers as much as possible.
“In an ideal world you would sit down and create a schedule for your day, looking something like this:
1. Wake up
4. Practice (with regular, meaningful breaks)
5. Lunch (away from your desk)
7. Dinner (away from your desk, preferably with other people)
8. Doing something you really enjoy (that isn’t playing the game)
9. Sleep (8 hours minimum).
A couple of things to take from this schedule that is important. But of course, these schedules aren’t cookie cutter and depend on what the wants and needs of each person are.
Make sure you are fueling your body with nutritious food. Snack on fruits and make sure 1/3rd of your plate is veg when you eat meals. This can be a great way to make sure you feel better and have energy. When you do eat, try to get away from the desk; maybe eat with teammates or if you need the time alone, take it.
Doing something you really enjoy can be important as you don’t get much time to do that when you are playing for 12+ hours. Some people need to watch films or anime, others like to listen to a podcast or watch a video on youtube. Anything to chill out that isn’t much to do with the game is of benefit mentally.
Sleep is really important too. For most, 8 hours will suffice. If you are sleeping 10 hours maybe get up an hour or so earlier and use that time efficiently! If you aren’t sleeping well or getting enough sleep, the effects can be huge so making sure that you are getting enough sleep and that it is quality is key for mental health which will, of course, impact the feelings of burnout.”