In the world of esports, there is no break from social media. Most people know that it is fraught with mental health issues. After seeing some horrific things in the gaming world, it’s time to have a similar campaign to Bell’s Let’s Talk about mental health in esports.
I interviewed MJ Finch, the co-owner of Flipside Tactics, in efforts to shed more light on the topic.
Mental Health: The Dark Side of Esports
Awhile back, there was an episode of a podcast called “The Talk Back,” hosted by Joey “JorbyPls” Ahrens, where he and “Unthink” discussed mental health in direct response to a TwitLonger post that has since been taken down. The objective here is to focus on solutions and not problems.
This Twitter post is more of a jumping off point because it spoke of a player’s severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
However, part of the problem is that this issue that not only affects esports professionals but everyday people.
While it may seem like esports can be difficult to understand, professionals have to deal with some issues that the average person does not. Just to skim the surface, professionals must travel frequently, put social lives on hold and deal with celebrity status.
Suffice it to say, most people don’t understand that nothing is good enough in esports. And often, performance declines. Your life, peers, nor gameplay matter.
The second is fame.
An audience forms from people you’ve never met who want you to succeed – or watch you fall down. Though no matter what happens, the game that used to be an escape has now become a job, complete with all of its backlash.
In fact, mental struggles will hinder a person’s game. If not addressed, the repercussions can be disastrous, leading to TwitLonger posts, embarrassing stories and other poor habits.
Depending on the coping mechanism, some end up in fatal positions. Because this has become such a large deal, Bell began a campaign in May called “Bell Let’s Talk” month, bringing mental health to the forefront of people’s minds.
But there doesn’t seem to be a similar campaign for esports so, I took the liberty of interviewing MJ Finch, the co-owner of Flipside Tactics. A licensed behavioral therapist, he discusses what the esports community can do to help.
A Turning Point
As MJ Finch explains it, getting into esports is a long story. He began a podcast called “Dota Insight,” which discussed a wide variety of topics in the game. In 2013, his interest in esports came from his inability to continue playing baseball, a sport he loves, but injuries forced him to stop.
Through this podcast, a professional Dota player spoke of setting up a tournament. This led to him organizing events that showed Finch the dark side of esports.
Essentially, players got the short end of the stick. So it was at this moment that he and Hector Rosario created Flipside Tactics. In doing so, they also made it a point to have an open door policy.
Q: Why did you start Flipside Tactics?
A: People that came from other teams were fed up with the shadiness going on within gaming. Players are taken advantage of and told promises never fulfilled. We felt that we could do better. So we’ve always tried to put the players first and not to make money.
Q: Interesting. How were you able to convince people that you wouldn’t follow in the same footsteps?
A: A lot of it is just proving with actions. It is easy to say things but never actually back them up. We have a very open relationship with our players, and we allow them to come to us with whatever questions they have.
Over time, they learn that they can count on us to be there and to be honest. This is a big reason why our rosters have players stay with us for long periods of time.
“Our players know that we have their back, day in and day out.”
Q: You talked about how you went from Dota into Flipside, so were you already taking courses for being a therapist?
A: I was. Yes. Around the time that we started Flipside, I was starting grad school. So I was working on my master’s in clinical psychology.
And during that whole process, I work full time at a private agency doing therapy. I also work with substance abusers in a private setting.
Q: What are your views on esports with respect to the abuse of Adderall by pro players?
A: Taking any sort of medication without the guidance of a licensed professional is always dangerous. Every person is different and reacts to all sorts of substances. It is easy for people to say, “Oh, ‘x’ isn’t that big of a deal,” but anything could be an issue if used inappropriately.
Q: Do you think that one of the reasons that Flipside is so successful is because they have people like you that understand behavior?
A: I think it plays a role in it. What we’ve done is focused on finding people who fit into our belief system and outlook on gaming as a whole. I think a good example of that is our Counter-Strike and Rocket League teams. We have very minimal roster changes.
A lot of that is because we have connections with [the players] on a personal level. And we know what their values are – what they want in an organization. We also know from our end how we’re able to help support them. That has helped us to succeed.
Q: What can people do who are aspiring professional players to stay mentally sound when transitioning to pro?
A: I think the biggest thing right now is going to be the training aspect. People who are naturally good at games get caught up in the moment. They tend to neglect how they are training. And what are they doing to succeed?
Taking the time to review replays, review strategy, perfect techniques and to be on par with others’ skill levels, but also they pay attention to the mental side of it. They learn to control their anxiety to maintain their focus.
“Anybody who does something for 10 hours a day is going to have difficulty focusing. Those are areas that people have neglected these things because all of those things become super important in professional play.”
Q: If someone can’t afford a professional therapist, do you have any suggestions if they need help?
A: There are a lot of good resources and it depends on what you are looking for. There’s some stuff on YouTube for example but the most important thing is to go through your insurance or find one independently. And it’s actually a lot easier to find a therapist than people tend to think.
Q: Is there anything the community can do to help esports professionals?
A: The biggest thing is to speak up. There’s always going to be a time where somebody you know is struggling. There are going to be signs. And the biggest thing is people will brush it aside thinking, ‘they don’t mean it,’ etc…
It’s not something to take lightly because it’s not a joke. Reach out to them and if you can reach out to their family. Do that as well. If you don’t know them personally, just have a more positive environment and promote positive feedback.
The more you can promote a healthy, positive atmosphere and keep an eye out for players that are struggling, then that opens the door for them to get help.
“It doesn’t matter what part of life you’re in either, whether it’s business or in family. It [mental health issues] touches everyone’s family at some point.”
The Light Side of Esports
Just remember that you are not alone in the gaming world, either. People do care. And in efforts to show that, below is a link to a Tumblr post containing phone numbers from many countries across the world. Please call someone if the struggle is real.
“I’ve always tried to keep an open door policy and I know most of the staff at Flipside do the same. If players have an issue or if they need help with anything, we’ve always encouraged openness.”
Furthermore, take a look at the site called Take This, which focuses on mental health issues in esports. A useful video is on the ‘about’ page.
Take care of yourselves, peeps.
USA: Mental Health America: 1-800-273-TALK(8255); Text MHA to 741741
Canada: Mental Health Helpline (Ontario) 1-866-531-2600
Image belongs to Flipside Tactics.