Over the last few years of play, I’ve discovered that positivity makes a huge difference in how my teammates and I feel while we’re playing, which in turn can translate into more focus and more wins. 

I’ve been playing on amateur gaming teams since 2018, which is quite honestly something I never thought I’d get to do. It all started with a lucky invitation to my college’s Heroes of the Storm Tespa team, then grew into continued competitions and tournaments with several different teams. Each season of competition brought highs – every person on my Tespa team won a $25 Battle.net gift card after we placed first in a day-long tournament, which technically makes me a professional gamer – and lows, like when a team I joined with a friend contained some racist, sexist, and downright rude members. We didn’t do very well that season.

Over the last few years of play, I’ve discovered that positivity makes a huge difference in how my teammates and I feel while we’re playing, which in turn can translate into more focus and more wins. I’ve found that teams that don’t let their mistakes and losses drag them down – while still taking the time to learn from them – are much more equipped to handle the ups and downs of tournament play. Some of it is individual competency, confidence in your own play, and mental health; the other part of it is a charismatic leader or team captain who is able to keep the team focused on the positives. Adding all these ingredients together makes for a better atmosphere and a much more fulfilled team.

(Don’t) shout it from the rooftops

In this most recent season of competition, my friend and I once again found ourselves on a new team. We had the potential to be a halfway-decent team – maybe we’d make it a few games into the playoffs, or at least have some spectacular comeback stories to tell. Unfortunately, all of this was thwarted initially by a team member whose preferred method of communication simply didn’t mesh with ours. They weren’t the captain, but they were good friends with the captain, a more laid-back person who allowed them to shotcall and make most of the in-game decisions. Let’s call this person Apple.

RELATED: 5 Tips to Improve Your In-Game Focus

Apple was, to put it kindly, quick to frustration. If one of us made a bad move or got our character killed, Apple would frequently yell at us. At the beginning, they only yelled at the captain, which the captain usually just put up with. As Apple became more familiar with the rest of us, though, their ire spread to the entire team. If one of us made a mistake, Apple tried to “discuss” it then and there instead of moving on and focusing on the next in-game opportunity. It got to the point where I was unlikely to suggest different team compositions or tactics because I knew that if they didn’t work, we’d get an earful from Apple. Even they weren’t immune from their own anger: they frequently called themselves stupid and chastised themselves endlessly if they made a mistake. They got so upset at the end of one or two matches that they closed the game and left voice chat without saying anything before the match was officially over. Though they had warned us at the beginning of the season that they might get “a little angry” in the thick of things and that we shouldn’t take it personally, it still wasn’t okay. This person was the definition of toxic to both themselves and the people around them.

After weeks of putting up with this, I’d had enough. Outside of one surprise upset against a higher-ranked team, we weren’t doing very well, and everyone was leaving matches feeling unfulfilled. The captain and I were trying our best to keep things light, but Apple steamrolled over everything. It didn’t matter whether it was practice, a match, or simply a goof-off ARAM round – Apple generally had something to be mad about. Finally, during a practice round where they shouted at me to do something, I ignored them. A few seconds later, they asked irately if I’d heard them. I calmly responded, “Maybe I’d hear you better if you weren’t so rude about it.” Apple didn’t say anything else for the rest of the match. At the end, they left early again. Our captain messaged us a few hours later and told us Apple had quit the team, citing “too much pressure”.

The power of positivity

While my friend and I made jokes for a while about how fragile Apple’s ego must have been for them to quit after I said one discouraging sentence to them, their departure left a hole in our team. It was the middle of the season, and we needed a substitute urgently if we wanted to keep playing. We ended up bringing in a friend of one of our main roster members to finish the season. The replacement was much more calm and equitable, with a distinct lack of Apple-style shouting. The captain made me shotcaller for the rest of the season, which was only a few matches.

During my brief time as shotcaller for the team, I tried to foster a different in-game environment than Apple. I discussed mistakes and challenges afterward instead of picking on them while the game was still going on. I forgave people for their mistakes – including my own – and ended each match with a positive recap and a thanks to each player. I wasn’t ignoring our mistakes – far from it. I was just trying to use a different, happier tone to discuss them. The team ended up making it to the season playoffs in a happy accident, though we didn’t go very far.

While it might sound cheesy, doing this taught me the real power of positivity. After Apple left, it was like a weight was lifted off of our shoulders. We felt more able to talk about characters and team compositions that we might not have considered before. We spoke freely about our own mistakes instead of trying to get past them as quickly as possible to avoid their ire. It was like we were a completely different team: one who was willing to consider our mistakes but not dwell on them, and one more willing to take risks and face challenges with the powerful force of confidence in our back pocket. While I won’t be returning to that team next season, I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons that I can take to my next team.

While the militaristic or personal trainer style of angry shouting may work well for some people, it’s not always the best way to connect with and encourage your teammates, particularly in high-stress skill-based situations. Though it may seem trite or childish, staying positive, inspiring your team, and looking toward the future are the building blocks on which successful teams are built. Promoting positivity doesn’t mean ignoring mistakes or other, more serious issues like racism and sexism; it means fostering a healthy outlook and taking care of your teammates’ mental health, one of the biggest affecters of esports performance. (If you’re not feeling good, chances are you won’t play as well as you would otherwise.)

Take it from me: positivity is paramount.