What’s the difference between a Silver and Diamond Player? The answer can be found in your testosterone levels before your gameplay. A study conducted by Kraemer and colleagues (2022) found that those in the high skill teams had a change in testosterone before their game play, whereas those in the low skill group had a change in testosterone during their game play.
Testosterone has been most stereotypically associated with anger and aggression in males; but these chemicals in your bodies aren’t just there to make you angry. It helps us prepare for battle, or in this case, your games! This fight or flight activation affects the rest of our cognitive abilities such as your prefrontal cortex for decision making which is a vital function in making sure you take down objectives and enemies in an effective manner.
Researchers found that those in ranks Diamond and higher had a spike in testosterone right before their match and their hormone levels maintained at a steady state throughout the game. This finding could indicate that expert gamers preemptively plan for the anticipated stress that comes with a stress-inducing game and are able to cope with the demands of gameplay.
Players ranked Platinum and below are found to have a significant increase in their testosterone during the game play. This small difference indicates that low skill players could potentially be performing worse than the High Skill Players because they are juggling the demands of coping with the demands of gameplay while juggling emotional and cognitive regulation.
In this study, researchers examined pre- and post-game salivary cortisol and testosterone levels in two separate groups: one of high-skilled players, as identified by in-game rank, and one of low-skilled players. This study was designed to compare stress responses and arousal states in esports competitors as compared to traditional athletes, establishing the extent to which a sedentary activity like gaming drives physiological change and markers. Salivary cortisol and testosterone levels were not statistically significantly different between skill level groups before gameplay, and salivary cortisol levels remained similar between groups after gameplay.
Players exhibited, on average, an 11.3% decrease in salivary cortisol and a 17.2% increase in salivary testosterone following the game play. However, interesting differences in salivary testosterone levels during and after gameplay emerged between groups. Low skill players showed a significant increase in testosterone levels following the game play, whereas high skill players showed no statistically significant change over time. And almost all low skill gamers exhibited an increase in testosterone over time, whereas there was more variability in response patterns among the high skill group of individuals.
We know that in competitive activities, particularly cognitively-demanding ones, optimal brain activity is supported by appropriate levels of arousal and stress. The frontal lobe of the brain plays a critical role in attention and executive functions, and arousal levels have a certain level of influence on these functions. Cortisol is a hormone that responds to stress and helps regulate brain circuits to prevent dysregulation. Players who are more skilled or experienced may have both peripheral and central neural pathways that facilitate cognitive processing and stress regulation, which novice players may not have developed due to lack of experience with the demands of the game.
It’s important to note that other studies looking at salivary testosterone levels during gameplay show greater change with longer periods of play. However, this study’s findings suggest that higher-skilled players may upregulate testosterone pre-game, preparing them cognitively to play, without needing to increase production as much during gameplay as optimal levels have already been achieved. We also know that the presence of observers (i.e. an audience) can affect testosterone production, and players with less competitive experience may be less-adapted to this effect. In general, high-skilled players had an increase in testosterone before gameplay and maintained that level, while low-skilled people had an increase DURING the gameplay and maintained that level.
Kraemer WJ, Caldwell LK, Post EM, Beeler MK, Emerson A, Volek JS, Maresh CM, Fogt JS, Fogt N, Häkkinen K, Newton RU, Lopez P, Sanchez BN, Onate JA. Arousal/Stress Effects of “Overwatch” eSports Game Competition in Collegiate Gamers. J Strength Cond Res. 2022 Oct 1;36(10):2671-2675. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000004319. Epub 2022 Jul 21. PMID: 35876429.
Author: Joann Ly
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