Today I would like to address a small but important minority group of gamers who suffer from Ranked Anxiety. For those of you who have never experienced anything like this it may be a hard pill to swallow. However, I will do my best to give my interpretation and also some remedies to try if you or somebody you know of is struggling with this issue.
Firstly, Ranked Anxiety is just like any other anxiety only that it is triggered by the thought or act of playing a Ranked match (or any similar Highly Competitive match - tournaments etc.). Like most forms of Anxiety the person can often experience the feelings of being highly stressed, overwhelmed or nauseous. Often triggered by a range of different thoughts mostly around what could occur during the match or result from playing in the match.
These can vary person to person but here's a short list
- Fear of losing the match
- Being placed in a "bad" or low ranked division
- Being paired with bad team mates
- Being paired with too good team mates
- Being put against difficult opponents
- Being abused by team mates
- Feeling of letting the team down
- Getting in trouble inside the game or in trouble with the developers
- Needing to leave the match for an emergency
- or just in general the heightened intensity of the match is just stressful and overwhelming.
What ever the reason(s) are... if you feel you have suffered from or are suffering from Ranked Anxiety. I'm going to help ease you back into the competitive queue with some advice that's kept things going for me over the years. Remember, it's not as uncommon as you think!
Find the fun again
Look at playing in Ranked matches as a fun and high level match to improve your skills against the top players in your skill bracket. If you make a mistake then that is a part of life, limit-testing and learning. Bring your focus back towards the fun things in the game, why do you play? What do you enjoy about the game? What are you best at doing in the game? Re-finding the fun aspect will also help your mind relax and allow for a deeper immersion in the match.
Play in silence
In my experiences, majority of disruptive people that play in ranked are triggered by somebody blaming them for something or talking back and forth to them in some way that can be received as condescending or as an insult. Try taking a short break from being so communicative during games and just focus more on the game itself. You could also utilise the mute button (or muting all voice audio) either at the start of games or during. Keep in mind, no communication may hinder your team work.
Most games nowadays are bringing out an anonymity mode for ranked play. This is to hide your name so that it doesn't come up on the scoreboard or match feed. Find out if this is an option in your game and enable it. I've found in a lot of my experience's that when a person is raging and can't find a "targets" name to hurl abuse towards that it softens the blow. This is just my opinion, that generally anonymous players receive a slightly different emotional response in abusive situations. You can also feel confident if for some reason your anxiety is trigged by fear of losing reputation or being identified. I don't want to encourage people to make smurf (secondary) accounts but if you are able to alias than this may also work.
We all have bad games
Gaming, like life, is all about ebbs and flows. Before you queue try to stop any thinking about what if I play bad, we lose, my team know it was all my fault we lost and flame me. Instead, think about all the new things you will learn about in this next game. How all the people in the match will (most likely) be new faces. Accept that you may have a bad game but you'll try not to. When it happens, and eventually it will. You're just going to do the best you can in the match to make it enjoyable for others and move on. Give yourself time to recover or consult a friend who also plays.
We all experience a lose streak
In any game or sport there is going to be a winner and a loser. It's even the harsh reality of life sometimes. You can't live your life never losing or feeling loss so don't programme yourself to be afraid of it. Most of the greatest winners have taken the most losses and sometimes the harshest losses. Play to your strengths and remember there will be times where you will have to rely on your team mates to carry you (I can share that with you from personal experience). Eventually the game will adjust your rank slightly lower during these losing patches and eventually you will feel the match making is giving you easier games again.
The game makes the teams
Don't ever feel that you have done something wrong if you are in a match that does not feel around your skill level. Whether that's because you are too high or too low for the match it has nothing to do with you and was not controlled by you in anyway. Sometimes the game gets it wrong. I've studied match making algorithms for many years and I can tell you the strengths and weaknesses of majority competitive systems across many different genre of games. They aren't perfect and they all try to solve micro-problems differently. Just do your best to play with the team you have and if you feel below the level then play a bit more careful and if you're above skill then try to bring your team mates more into the game and play to your individual strengths.
Put things in perspective
This isn't a life or death situation. It's a video game made by a video game publisher to provide entertainment to all the masses of online gamers. You are just partaking in a shared hobby in which you really enjoy. If you didn't enjoy you wouldn't play. Your rank is never accurate to the day, it's accurate to the past. Keep in your mind that it's just a video game and only a small part of your life. You can stop whenever. While you are still play it today, just make the most of your time and enjoy the process of getting better.
Might be time for a break
There could be a number of reasons you don't want to queue but this is for when the game is no longer enjoyable, stressing you out every time or impacting your life negatively. Doing anything all the time can become very monotonous and eventually draining. We can feel stuck and trapped since we have committed so much time to the game already. The mind always needs time to process things especially large quantities of gaming. If the feeling of playing is overwhelming you maybe it's time to take a small break and do or play something else. When you're ready you'll come back and hopefully care a little less about that ranked badge you were losing sleep over.
You are not your rank
Despite what your friends might joke about or players might hold over you. You are not your rank. Your rank is a former placement of what you did, in the past. If you're constantly getting better and feeling games are easier than you know already your true rank can still go up higher. In most cases it is true we end up where we belong and it's okay if that doesn't meet your standards. That's why we play. To improve and climb the ranked system. It's our direct indicator that we are improving in skill within the game. We all started somewhere and often times those who go through it the hardest at the lower ranks can become the strongest in the higher ones.
Go at your own pace
If it's still too much to dive deep into the ranked world then take it at your own pace. Maybe you never play ranked, it doesn't matter. It's all about you and what you want to do. You're on nobody else's time but your own. If you decide you want to conquer your fear and dabble with ranked then - be okay - with the odd nervous feelings. We all get them. There is an interesting concept in anxiety that says the feelings of anxiousness are very similar to the feelings of excitement. Just it's what the mind determines is one or the other. Our belief of what it is we are experiencing. Try perpetuating the understanding that excitement feels the same as anxiety and it's very normal to be excited for an upcoming ranked match. I'm always excited to play especially in big matches!
Meditation is not as common in the Western culture as it is in the Eastern but it's definitely one of the most professionally used tools to conquer anything anxiety related. The art of slowing the mind down to an almost stand still by concentrating on the sounds, breath or experience of doing nothing. There is much published work around Meditation to find something that suits you. My personal recommendations are Sam Harris's mobile app Waking Up or another mobile app called Headspace. There is plenty of good tools and information online so please do your own research here.