The Valorant Champions Tour circuit’s burnout problem

Declan Mclaughlin
The Valorant Masters Copenhagen stage

Burnout has been a big topic in esports as more players take breaks from the grind of competition or even retire, and Valorant is no exception with its format.

After LOUD and OpTic Gaming were eliminated from Valorant Champions Tour Stage 2 Masters Copenhagen, the players were visibly frustrated with their performances, but more noticeably they were exhausted.

Both teams were coming off of VCT Stage 1 Masters Grand Finals and were thrust into Stage 2 Challengers competition only a week or two later. Neither team thought they brought their best gameplay into the VCT Stage 2 Masters Copenhagen, with LOUD bowing out in the group stage and OpTic placing third overall.

“It honestly almost pays off to exit a bit earlier sometimes and actually have more time to have a break, reset and make new stuff,” OpTic head coach Chet ‘Chet’ Singh said after exiting the tournament.

“Going from Iceland to this event, there wasn’t that much time for us to have a proper break, to be honest.”

OpTic walking away from the stage at Valorant Masters
OpTic were primed to become the first team to win back-to-back Masters titles.

LOUD in-game leader Matias ‘Saadhak’ Delipetro expressed a similar sentiment when asked if he had felt burnt out during the group stage of the event.

“When we came back from Iceland we already had to play the second [stage], so we didn’t have that much time for rest, but we manage,” the Argentinian player said. “I manage.”

Burnout has been a hot topic in esports lately as more and more players put out posts online about taking extended breaks from social media and their game of choice.

A high-profile example in Valorant is that of Sentinels player Hunter ‘SicK’ Mims, who is sitting out the upcoming North American Last Chance Qualifier due to mental health reasons. In Counter-Strike, Danish legends Lukas ‘gla1ve’ Rossander and Andreas ‘Xyp9x’ Højsleth took extended breaks in 2020 due to mental fatigue, while League of Legends star Luka “Perkz” Perković took off a week of play that same year due to stress.

One player in the Overwatch League missed an extended period of time due to a panic attack caused by stress.

Organizations have also hired performance coaches and psychologists to help their players manage stress levels and take breaks properly.

Senintels SicK at his computer with headset and hands held in front of him
SicK was an integral part of his team’s 2021 success.

But even with all that external help, sometimes the way an esport is scheduled can get in the way of even the best practices. For VCT 2022, the circuit began in January or February for most regions. Teams that competed at Valorant Champions in December 2021 were back on the grind less than a month later to start practicing for the new season.

The ever-updating nature of a game like Valorant also doesn’t make it easy for professional players to take time off for themselves.

“[Valorant] is one of the games, I think you have to put in so much work, just simply because it changes so frequently,” OpTic player Jaccob ‘yay’ Whiteaker said before Masters Copenhagen. “So it’s definitely not a game in which maybe you can take a lot of breaks, you always have to be grinding, in my opinion.”

The signs of burnout

Sacy sitting in a throne
LOUD went from Masters Grand Finalist to Group Stage exit in the span of a few months.

Mental fatigue can hit players differently. Some players shut down physically, their minds forcing them to take a break, while others get frustrated more easily and take it out on their teammates.

“As soon as I feel like the boys are getting a bit short-tempered with each other, or it feels as though performance is dropping, we try to take more breaks,” Paper Rex coach Alexandre ‘alecks’ Sallé said. “So we will have more weekends off, maybe like shorter training sessions.”

Paper Rex’s Jing Jie ‘Jinggg’ Wang says that he starts to feel like he can’t focus when he is tired and burnt out.

Guild Esports coach André ‘BARBARR’ Möller said figuring out when players hit a mental wall like burnout is more of a process that individuals have to go through than a skill that can be learned.

BARBARR, who has been around esports for over a decade, playing and then coaching Counter-Strike before transitioning to Valorant, said that he has experienced burnout at least three times in his career.

Guild made the Playoff Stage at Valorant Masters Copenhagen after beating OpTic in the Group Stage.

“You really start to learn the limits and you understand when you need to take a little breather from the game. Because otherwise, I think it’s very easy to go into that evil circle of burnout,” BARBARR said in an interview at Masters Copenhagen.

One of the stars of Valorant, yay said that he experienced burnout in his Counter-Strike career and that he has learned to identify the signs of when he needs a break.

“For me, I paid a lot more close attention to my mental health in Valorant and so far I still get maybe a little bit burnt out occasionally where it’s like, ‘Dude, I just… I just played this game so much I don’t want to see it right now,’” the OpTic player said.

How to avoid burnout

The biggest way to avoid burnout, according to yay and BARBARR, is exercise. Getting off the computer and putting stress on their body instead of their brains, along with other healthy habits, helps overcome mental fatigue.

“Just pumping something in there every day or at least five days a week, eating correctly, getting your sleep, and absolutely knowing where your limit is,” the Guild head coach said. “And that is also when you know that you can help others around you.”

Those at the top of the game also remind themselves of why they are competing, using their goals as motivation when returning from breaks or to power through their current slump in energy.

Leviatan at a Valorant Masters press conference
Multiple teams came into Valorant Masters Copenhagen with little preparation due to qualifying days or weeks before the event.

“I always have to remind myself of my goals and motivations and try to push through that as best as I can and do whatever I can to avoid it. I just do my best ultimately,” yay said.

Saadhak said that during his breaks from the game, it’s the time away that fuels his desire to come back and play.

“If I’m not competing, I’m not truly myself,” he said. “So that feeling makes me go back to playing, makes me go back to wanting to compete.”

The teams that have qualified for Valorant Champions will have the luxury of enjoying a short break and adequate time to prepare for the event in Istanbul. They will also avoid the mental marathon of competing in a last-chance qualifier for Valorant Champions.

Come VCT 2023, with the new format from Riot Games, teams may no longer run into burnout and mental fatigue in the same way they do now with a year-long schedule with almost no breaks.

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