While many esports organizations have been bringing sports psychologists into the fold, Counter Logic Gaming took things a step further in November when they hired therapist and SoCal collegiate volleyball league co-commissioner Matt "Trinitiii" Nausha as their new esports director.
As the head of CLG's esports division, which includes overseeing every player, coach and support personnel decision, Nausha is in charge of everything from roster decisions to arranging practice rooms to get the most out of his players. He says he'd been looking into getting into esports for two years before joining the organization, eager to bring his experience in traditional sports and psychology into the scene.
"My background in traditional sports as well as psychology really drove me towards esports," he said.
"Because not being able to play competitive traditional sports anymore, I saw that competitive drive and I really wanted to exercise that and use my skill sets as a former player, coach, current commissioner and my background in psychology to really try to bring that into esports and to help where I could."
On the Job
Since joining CLG seven months ago, Nausha says one of his biggest accomplishments to date has been refining the organization's workplace culture, helping them retain their competitive drive while making sure everyone's well-being is taken care of.
As theScore esports examined in May, organizations and players have to constantly balance practice and doing everything possible to win with managing players' stress and mental well-being.
But before he joined the organization, Nausha says CLG's ambitions lacked concrete plans to actually achieve the goals they had set. To rectify the situation, Nausha used his experience as a league administrator to organize their efforts with formal systems, which have helped leaders within the org focus their efforts and manage people more effectively.
"I would say the culture was really a bunch of people who wanted to achieve greatness and a lot of people that wanted to continue to pursue excellence and I think that now the difference between then and now is we're actually doing it," he said. "Meaning that we actually have action steps that people are actually living it. And I think — not to toot my own horn too much — but I think really what it was was they needed somebody to come in to actually put the system together and to make the actions occur because my position actually never existed until I stepped into it."
According to Nausha, his unique background in psychology has helped him identify problems and solutions that might be overlooked by others. He says a big part of his success has been in working with people in leadership positions and imparting his knowledge to them.
"I really looked at the leadership that's in the organization and helping those that are in leadership positions continue to grow. So, y'know, just from very basic things of like how to model behavior, to how to grow as a leader and how to help the people that report to you," he said.
"Really working with coaches and helping them assess and understand challenges with the teams or players that often times would get overlooked without having perhaps a background such as myself because they look at things very analytical or just very game specific and can often times overlook the humanistic part that can sometimes impact or impair the players."
A Holistic Approach
Though it's taken a while, Nausha says the esports industry is becoming more and more cognizant of the importance of mental health in regards to keeping players at fighting form.
"I think slowly people are becoming more aware of how it's not just in-game and mechanical that helps you achieve. It's really kind of what's above the neck," he said.
"That's really something that kind of differentiates a player, right? Because right now, in professional esports, pretty much everyone is really close to their mechanical skill and their way to compete, but really what is setting people apart are the very minute details. So if you're able to manage your anxiety on stage, if you're able to have a competitive mindset, if you're able to have confidence."
However, he says he's hesitant with regards to the growing adoption of sports psychologists in the scene as he believes having someone around who focuses solely on in-game issues is less important than ensuring his players have all-around care.
"I think what I'm doing differently is I'm taking a holistic approach," he said. "I'm looking at everything, I'm not just looking at that one aspect, right? Like when they're on stage and when we win or lose, I'm looking at all areas of their life, what can we do, everything from our nutritionist to our physical therapist that we have, to full-time cooks."
Nonetheless, he leaves the door open to CLG bringing a sports psychologist on in the future, saying they can be useful depending on a team's individual needs.
A Performance-Based Industry
It's no secret that esports players face challenges competitors in traditional sports couldn't imagine. That's doubly true for younger players whose careers take off at such a young age.
According to Nausha, when dealing with players under the age of 20, it's important to lay down firm ground rules and to understand what it's like for a young person living away from home for the first time.
"I kind of think of it and view it as somebody that's going to college right? So if they're gonna be living with us, kind of imagine that they're a freshman in college. If they're 18 for example, go back when I was 18. What I did know, what I didn't know. We have a lot of good support staff around the players to really help them," he said.
"But I would say probably the biggest difference is life skill. Maturity really hasn't been an issue. You can kind of see it from time to time, but it's not really prominent or much of an issue. It's more-so of expectations, timeliness, being a professional, things like that. Because being 18 expecting a professional and being in the spotlight at times is very unique obviously."
However, many players' competitive careers barely begin before they end in their mid '20s. The suggested reasons for the short length of playing careers are highly varied, with many either laying the blame on burnout or atrophying reflexes.
Nausha point out that this conversation isn't just restricted to esports, but extends to traditional sports where many mid-tier players end up retiring by their late 20s.
"Yeah, I think it's really tough to answer right now because it's similar if we ask the question can an NBA player play in their 40s right? Is it realistic that an NBA player can play in their 30s? Is it realistic that an esports player doesn't have a decline due to age?" he said.
"Because that's part of what we're looking at is the older we get — like my quick twitch reflexes are not as good as some of my younger players just because of age. There's not really much I can do about that."
However, he says so long as a player can continue to perform, their spot will be safe on a CLG team.
"Because longevity as a player, really it's performance based," Nausha said. "It's a performance-based industry. If you can keep doing it to your 30s, good for you, I'm gonna keep you on the roster."
Sasha Erfanian is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.