Like many esports pros, Bjergsen spent his formative years in the spotlight, and he’s been the target of both incredible praise and rageful harassment, often simultaneously. In real-time as a rising star, he had to manage the pressures of being an international athlete, high-profile streamer and effective teammate. It was often dark and difficult.
“I’ve been around so long that it doesn’t bother me as much, but I did go through a phase where that was really hard for me,” Bjergsen said. “If you take in the good, you also have to take in the bad. Now I’m just a little bit more disconnected from all of it, both the praise and the criticism.”
“I’ve been around so long that it doesn’t bother me as much.”
One tool that’s helped him immensely is therapy (on Friday mornings or otherwise). His current therapist has a background working with military clients — “I think she understands what it’s like being in a team,” Bjergsen said — and she teaches meditation.
“Meditation is a pretty big part, the conversation of performance and flow in general,” he said. “She’s really helpful to me with working in a team and how to work best with my teammates, how to deal with pressure. I can imagine a lot of younger players could learn a lot talking to someone about how to deal with the community perception and criticism from the community.”
It’s not only new players that could benefit from introspection, meditation and therapy, but veterans as well, Bjergsen said.
“I do know a lot of professional players where a big part of them stopping is just the toll that it takes to practice such long hours, feeling like you’re under a microscope all the time from the community,” he said.
A handful of well-known League of Legends pros have retired recently amid mental health concerns, including Korean players Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan and Heo “PawN” Won-seok. Wolf, 23, cited years of depression, adjustment disorder, anxiety, and panic disorder spurred on by the competitive pro-gaming scene. PawN, also 23, was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder in 2018 and eventually found it impossible to continue playing at the highest tier. Both players retired late last year.
“Not long after , the panic attacks became really severe,” Wolf told Inven Global in November. “Fans probably only knew that I was just unhealthy. At the time, not only did I go throw up, I started to have panic attacks when I was unplugging my keyboard, so I went under the desk, and vomited, cried, and trembled like crazy for over 10 minutes. The coaching staff came to get me after I’d calmed down, and that continued for months.”
The Korean League of Legends scene, the LCK, is the most competitive in the world, and it regularly dominates the other regions. This also means it’s arguably the most high-pressure. Korean teams hold five of the nine Worlds titles, though China (LPL) has taken home the trophy for the past two years.