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The Importance Of Reaction Time To Esports Athletes

Reaction Time
Cognitive Abilities
Sleep
Training
Injury Prevention

Introduction

In this story you will learn about reaction time and why it’s crucial to improving skills within gaming. We will delve into the importance of cognitive abilities and how they can help in training, prevent injuries, and make us more aware of aspects affecting reaction time performance.
.01

What Is Cognitive Ability & Why It’s Important To Gamers

Often referred to as ‘general intelligence’, cognitive ability can be defined as the core skills that the brain uses to reason, plan, remember, problem solve, and think abstractly to comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and act intelligently from past experiences.

Such mental capability is paramount when it comes to processing new information. In this situation, our cognitive abilities work together to absorb incoming information and move it into the bank of knowledge that we can use every day. 

Our bodies need this cognitive processing in order to respond to a stimulus and then create an output. How fast we are able to do this equals reaction time, something our cognitive abilities directly affect. Take eye-hand coordination, for instance. There are other factors at play here, too, such as physical activity, our blood sugar, diet, water intake and sleep, all of which drastically impact cognitive ability. This is particularly important for those looking to sustain and improve their skills, especially in esports. 

Thankfully, players can improve their reaction times and their level of thinking and learning by simply training their brains. Of course, there’s a limit to how much the brain can cope with at any given time and so sitting in front of the computer all day won’t expedit your playing ability. However, as daily gaming activity has been linked to better working memory task performance, gamers can level-up by better structuring their training so it becomes more efficient over time. It’s all about quality over quantity. 

Caitlin McGee

Esports performance and medicine

.02

The Importance Of Reaction Time To Esports Players

Reaction time - also known as response time - refers to how long it takes for our bodies to respond to something. That is, the ability to detect, process, and respond to a stimulus. Reaction time depends on three key factors:

1. Perception: Seeing, hearing, or feeling a stimulus with certainty is essential to having good reaction time. For example, a runner hearing the starting pistol at the beginning of a race.
2. Processing
: Being focused enough to process the stimulus and understand the information. Using the same analogy as above, the runner - after hearing the gun - will be able to distinguish the pistol from other background noise and know it’s time to start running.
 3. Response: Reacting to the stimulus with enough motor agility to be able to act with a good response time. Once the runner has correctly processed the signal, they start moving their legs.

If any part of these processes is altered, it will have an effect on reaction time. That’s also dependent on factors such as age, physical fitness, diet, fatigue, and even personality type. 
Other, more temporary circumstances may lower and weaken reaction time, too, such as a player’s current mood or lack of concentration. However, unlike the other factors, players can more quickly recover from these temporary conditions. 

In esports, reaction time is essential, especially professional esports where players boast a reaction time way faster than your average gamer. While the everyday FPS players have a reaction time between 300-500 milliseconds, pros clock theirs between 100-250 milliseconds.

Caitlin McGee

Esports performance and medicine

.03

The Importance Of Sleep For Reaction Time

Sufficient and good quality sleep is critical for us to be able to make the most of our cognitive potential. But what price do we pay for lack of sleep?

Scientific studies have shown that already a single night of poor or too little sleep impairs attention, cognitive speed, and reaction times. It also adversely affects short-term memory and thereby interferes with reasoning and decision-making processes. Unsurprisingly, performance becomes worse the more nights we don’t sleep enough. A lack of sleep also decreases the ability to flexibly respond to changing or new situations. Finally, it also renders us more willing to take risky decisions and care less about the potentially negative consequences.

Besides these acute effects, sleep is also essential for the consolidation of memory traces that are constantly formed during the day. Importantly, this is not limited to situations, where we explicitly intend to study something, for instance at school or uni. Sleep also helps us to consolidate and thus acquire new or optimised motor skills, so-called procedural memories. And more generally, it helps us to learn from and thereby flexibly adapt to all sorts of experiences we make during the day.

Thus, make sure to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Ideally, go to bed when you’re tired and get up when you wake up naturally, preferably without an alarm.

For esports players, improving reaction time can simply come down to being more aware of their quality of sleep, ensuring they sleep well and for long enough. 

Christine Blume

Sleep scientist

.04

What Is A CTS Injury And How To Prevent It

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is caused by compression of a major nerve of the hand, and is the most common nerve injury of the upper limb. Before it connects with the muscles responsible for thumb and finger movement, it traverses a small tunnel in the wrist along with tendons similarly destined. 

More commonly seen in PC gamers, irritation can result from external pressure from a desk or wrist rest, internal pressure from tendons, or from increased pressures in the tunnel due to aggressive wrist angles from thick or angled keyboards.
Initially, CTS presents with tingling in the thumb, index, and middle finger and can be reversed with a few simple stretches and setup modifications. If left untreated, the nerve begins to break down, causing the muscles it controls to respond slower and weaken. This makes finger and thumb movement difficult, interfering with the ability to quickly and efficiently reach keybinds and control a mouse or controller. This will slow reaction times and lead to worsening performance.

Luckily, by paying attention to wrist angle, and performing a few simple exercises, this condition can be completely preventable ensuring reaction times are kept in good form. As a competitive esports player, CTS and thus the slowing of your reaction time is the last thing you want. 

Lindsey Migliore

Doctor & injury expert

.05

How to Improve Your Reaction Time

In the same way we can train our muscles, cognitive skills and thus response time can be strengthened and improved. By frequently training and challenging the brain, we can bolster its neural networks, helping connections to become stronger and healthier to - in turn - speed up reaction time. This not only means response time is improved, but it will require fewer mental resources, making us feel less tired.

Esports boasts a whole plethora of cognitive competencies including focus, reaction time, hand-eye coordination and working memory. To improve these skills, players should train them in a different setting than the game itself, such as outside.

This is because the more proficient you become in these competencies in the different settings of everyday life, the stronger you’ll become in-game. This will not only decrease screen time but challenge the specific skills that are important for any given player.

Here, it would be useful for a player or a team to look at what tasks they are actually solving in the game, and try to uncover how they can be translated into cognitive tasks that can then be both trained and improved. It’s all about refining and focusing the training in the game. 

Besides training response time in real-life scenarios, there are other ways you can improve. These include maintaining physical health, keeping hydrated, eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep, which will greatly impact our attention-related abilities while helping to improve memory skills. 

Jonathan Chung

Esports Chiropractor