Power Up: Study Finds How Gamers Become Elite

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Novice gamers: put down the controller and pick up a pen — you might want to take notes. Researchers at Brown University have discovered what kind of practices and habits help the very best video game players maintain their skills.

To find out, they examined data gathered by two other studies published in the journal Topics in Cognitive Science. The studies included data from thousands of online gameplay hours for Halo: Reach and Starcraft 2, two popular games. The researchers concluded that the Halo study showed how different patterns of playing affect the rate of a player’s development, and the StarCraft study showed that top-level players have unique rituals they perform which could help them succeed.

A new study examines the various practices elite video gamers use to maintain their skills.

“The great thing about game data is that it’s naturalistic, there’s a ton of it, and it’s really well measured,” says Jeff Huang, a computer science professor at Brown and the study’s lead author, in a university release. “It gives us the opportunity to measure patterns for a long period of time over a lot of people in a way that you can’t really do in a lab.”

Huang and his crew looked at seven months worth of data from online Halo matches — every single match played by the 3.2 million players since it came out in 2010. The study found that over the first 200 matches, those who played four to eight games per week gained more skill per match compared to those who played eight to 16 games per week.

“What this suggests is that if you want to improve the most efficiently, it’s not about playing the most matches per week,” says Huang. “You actually want to space out your activity a little bit and not play so intensively.”

He adds that taking short breaks of a day or two seem to be helpful for players, and that the time off wouldn’t depreciate their skills. However, when players took extended breaks, their gameplay suffered. Those who took 30-day breaks, for example, needed about 10 matches to get back to the level they were at before stopping.

The StarCraft study found that elite gamers use customized hotkeys — or shortcuts for various commands — more than other players and also “warmed up” their use of hotkeys during the early stages of the match by issuing dummy commands. In fact, the highest level of players “made copious use of hotkeys, using them to issue up to 200 actions per minute during a typical match,” according to the release.

“They’re getting their minds and bodies into the routines that they’ll need when they’re at peak performance later in the game,” says Huang. “They’re getting themselves warmed up.”

The researchers note the message taken from these studies seems to be to “practice consistently, stay warm.”

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