Your Body on Esports

Excitement, anticipation, agony, and ecstasy. These emotions are shared by all gamers when deep in battle, even more so during the lockdown period when gaming activity increased as they became an even bigger part of young people’s lives.

A recent study shows that 97% play for at least one hour a day, with gaming and Esports exploding over the last decade to become one of the most in-demand and talked about forms of entertainment. But what impact does it have on players and how do they react to the challenges and tests on-screen?

BetVictor has partnered with researchers at the University of Leeds to dig deeper into the world of Esports to understand the effects that it has on us from a physiological and psychological viewpoint. Does it relieve stress? Does it get the heart racing? It's time to investigate.

This is Your Body on Esports.

Key Findings

During the gameplay participants had a healthy level of arousal - heart rates were elevated across all games
Years of experience playing a game may give greater stress reduction
High heart rate fluctuation related to in-game events
All participants stated that gaming was stress reducing
Blood pressure only dropped when playing Apex Legends and that was only the systolic measurement
Less heart rate fluctuation playing Apex Legends
It would appear the longer you play a game, the more heart rate fluctuates- this may be due to game intensity
Playing Counter-Strike was perceived to reduce stress the most

It appears that participants view playing video games as an enjoyable activity that reduces their stress. Even if pre playing the game physiological measures indicate that they are relatively relaxed they still perceive that playing is a good form of stress release.

Dr Andrea Utley - Reader in Motor Control and Development

Methodology

To measure the physiological and psychological effects of playing Esports, we commissioned human biology and psychology researchers from the University of Leeds to track heart rates and anxiety levels when playing four video games: Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Warzone, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG).

We analysed a total of 32 gamers, some who were categorised as ‘good’ players, whilst others were of ‘expert’ talent in their chosen game depending on their play time.

Participants were aged between 20-26 years old (with an average age of 23.2). Most participants played just one game, but some played two. For each of the games, participants were recorded playing the game on a minimum of three occasions.

32 gamers
Good and expert
Skill level
Aged between
20-26 years old

In-Game Action

Browse through in-game footage to see how participants react to the challenges that present themselves in Apex Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, along with how the events that unfold impact their heart rate as they face obstacles, enemies and tests throughout the game.

Check out the videos to see how in-play actions line up with real-time heartrate throughout the course of a game.

Apex Legends
1
0:30
Participant flies into the arena - heartrate spikes
2
1:00
After landing, participant encounters an enemy squad and a gunfight ensues - heartrate spikes
3
2:00
After landing, participant encounters an enemy squad and a gunfight ensues - heartrate spikes
4
2:15
Using a vehicle to traverse across the arena
5
3:15
“safe zone” is closing in around participant, runs into the new designated safe area - heartrate spikes during the rush
6
5:30
An enemy player suprises the participant, enters into a gunfight and wins - heartrate spikes and drops after the altercation
7
11:00
Runs towards the battle ahead - Heartrate rises
8
13:00
After waiting some time, first shots are fired against an enemy team, they engage with each other and the participant wins - Heartrate spikes during this up and remains at elevated levels for the entire duration
9
15:45
Enemy squad starts shooting the participant from the high ground and enters a gunfight, the participant loses out and the game ends - Heartrate spikes further reaching a maximum of ~95bpm
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
1
3:00
First round begins after warmup and participant is playing as a “counter-terrorist”, enters into a gunfight with two enemy players “terrorist team”, participant dies and the round is over - Heartrate rises during intense gunfight
2
6:30
Spots an enemy pushing towards bombsite A and kills them, proceeds to bomb B and kills three of the terrorist team there who were attempting to plant the bomb, participant wins the round - Heartrate rises during the initial fight, then spikes further during the 2nd gunfight
3
9:30
While defending the bombsite, participants encounters two enemy players and defeats them - heartrate jumps up as participant suprised by enemy
4
10:30
Defended the bomb site from one enemy
5
11:00
As last member alive, attempted to defuse the bomb planted by the enemy team, died in a gunfight and round lost
6
17:00
One versus three situation, defeated two in the gunfight then died round lost
7
20:00
Example of downtime between individual rounds - this is the reason why there are such exaggerated peaks and troughs in the data, time between rounds is plenty for heartrate to stabilise to “normal” levels
8
37:00
Intense situation during the final round of the match, tensions high because participant was the last alive on the team and losing this final round would result in an overall victory for the opposite team

Games of Choice

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO)
Released in 2012

The game pits two teams against each other: the Terrorists and the Counter-Terrorists. Both sides are tasked with eliminating the other while also completing separate objectives. The Terrorists, depending on the game mode, must either plant the bomb or defend the hostages; while the Counter-Terrorists must either prevent the bomb from being planted, defuse the bomb or rescue the hostages. This game tends to last around 30 to 60 minutes and is the longest of the four games.

PUBG: (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds)
Released in 2016

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) is an online multiplayer Battle Royale game. In the game, up to 100 players parachute onto an island and scavenge for weapons and equipment to kill others while avoiding getting killed themselves. The available safe area of the game's map decreases in size over time, directing surviving players into tighter areas to force encounters. The last player or team standing wins the round. This game can last up to 30 minutes if you are the last one standing.

Call of Duty: Warzone
Released in 2020

Call of Duty: Warzone is a free-to-play Battle Royale video game. The Battle Royale mode is similar to other titles in the genre where players compete in a continuously shrinking map to be the last player remaining. Players parachute onto a large game map, where they encounter other players. As the game progresses and players are eliminated, the playable area shrinks forcing the remaining players into tighter spaces. This game tends to last between eight and 30 minutes.

Apex Legends
Released in 2019

Apex Legends is a free-to-play first-person hero shooter Battle Royale game. In Apex Legends, up to 20 three-person squads or 30 two-person duos land on an island and search for weapons and supplies before attempting to defeat all other players in combat. The available play area on the island shrinks over time, forcing players to keep moving or else find themselves outside the play area which can be fatal. The final team alive wins the round. This game tends to last less than 10 minutes but some games may last up to 15 to 20 minutes.

Average Heart Rates

The above figure indicates that heart rate increased when playing three of the four games and it was only when playing Counter-Strike that heart rate decreased. This may well be due to the duration of the game and the fact that participants were more experienced at playing this game.

Gaming can be intense, especially in shooters when players are constantly on the lookout for enemies and trying to claim territory. The gamers full attention is absorbed by the action on screen, and it’s indicated in the results, which largely displays a rise in average heart rate amongst participants.

This is displayed in all of Apex Legends, PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds) and Call of Duty: Warzone, where players post-game heart rates all exceeded how they began. However, Apex Legends in particular saw the biggest increase, with pre-game levels rising from 80.6 to 83.1 which highlights the faster pace of the game.

However, the participants that played on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive produced standout results that differ from that of the other three games. With players average heart rates dropping from 79.5 to 77 – making it the only game where we saw the average decrease. The game’s longer timespans, as well as, between-round resets, means that the gamers are more likely to settle into a natural rhythm, unlike battle royale games that boast greater unpredictability.

Participant Heart
Rate Profiles

In the footage above you can see that each game presents range of situations which the player has to react to in a short space of time. Here you can see in more detail how their heart rate developed as each game progresses as they deal with the threats posed by rival players.

This highlights how the whole cohort of participants fared throughout three games across each title, displaying fluctuations that both increase and decrease as they face challenges and enemies on screen.

In all four titles there was an elevation in heart rate that reached more than 100bpm on occasion. Examples of elevated heart rate can also be seen in a third of participants across all games.

Select game:
Participant 2
Game 1
Max Heart Rate
97
Mean Heart Rate
80
Game 2
Max Heart Rate
89
Mean Heart Rate
79
Game 3
Max Heart Rate
98
Mean Heart Rate
81
Participant 4
Game 1
Max Heart Rate
129
Mean Heart Rate
111
Game 2
Max Heart Rate
126
Mean Heart Rate
106
Game 3
Max Heart Rate
104
Mean Heart Rate
92
Participant 6
Game 1
Max Heart Rate
95
Mean Heart Rate
82
Game 2
Max Heart Rate
97
Mean Heart Rate
82
Game 3
Max Heart Rate
92
Mean Heart Rate
72

Stress

Now, you’d think that given the elevated heart rates recorded by our participants, they exit their game feeling stressed and slightly irritated. Wrong!

The STAI (also known as ‘State Anxiety’) is a test used to measure anxiety at a particular point in time. It was here that our gamers reported feeling stressed prior to playing, and later demonstrated a dip in anxiety levels post-gameplay. This is in line with other research that suggests playing video games is seen as a relaxing activity. As with other findings, it was Counter-Strike that had the most dramatic impact on participants.

Blood Pressure Data

There was very little change in blood pressure pre and post playing, indicating that participants did not experience stress as a result of playing. Equally, blood pressure did not reduce- this may well be due to the fact that participants are relatively young and pre-playing the video games their blood pressure was at an appropriate level even if they reported feeling stressed on the STAI questionnaire.

As the above diagram shows the vast majority of participants started with an ideal blood pressure so it was unlikely that it would drop significantly.

Sources

Balhara YPS, Kattula D, Singh S, Chukkali S, Bhargava R. (2020) Impact of lockdown following COVID-19 on the gaming behavior of college students. Indian J Public Health. Jun;64(Supplement):S172-S176.

Bediou B, Adams DM, Mayer RE, Tipton E, Green CS, Bavelier D. (2018) Meta-analysis of action video game impact on perceptual, attentional, and cognitive skills. Psychol Bull. Jan;144(1):77-110.

Brilliant T D, Nouchi R, Kawashima R. Does Video Gaming Have Impacts on the Brain: Evidence from a Systematic Review. (2019) Brain Sci. Sep 25;9(10):251.

Granic I, Lobel A, Engels RC. (2014) The benefits of playing video games. Am Psychol. 2014 Jan;69(1):66-78.

Lobel A, Engels RC, Stone LL, Burk WJ, Granic I. Video Gaming and Children's Psychosocial Wellbeing: A Longitudinal Study. J Youth Adolesc. (2017) Apr;46(4):884-897.

Your Body on eSports