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February 4, 2022

The Inner Game of CS:GO


Improving in CS:GO goes beyond aim training and learning lineups. Similar to all competitive sports and games, you must also train your brain. Practicing and improving aspects of your mental performance will result in rapid growth. Mastering your mind will act as a general “buff” to your already existing skills, but this process is easier said than done.

After reading the Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey, it is clear that this book does not just apply to tennis. The ideas presented can be translated and adapted into any and every competitive sport, including CS:GO.

Within every competitive game lies two additional games: the inner and outer game. The game we see is the outer game, which accounts for external challenges against your external opponent to achieve a desired win. However, the inner game is the focal point for unlocking full athletic potential. An improvement of your thoughts, habits, and general mindset will result in significant and rapid progress in the outer game. Neither expertise nor happiness will be found in your play if the inner game is not accounted for in daily training or matches. 

This will help in understanding yourself and help in unleashing your competitive potential in CS:GO.

Differentiating Between your Two Selves

Self 1: Taking off your Judgmental Lenses and Seeing True Colors

There are 2 selves differentiated within a player, and the key to translating knowledge into action lies in the relationship between them. That said, a stronger relationship between these 2 selves will result in a more effective player.

Self 1 is labeled as a “conscious teller” or the deliberate inner voice that is constantly working and thinking while we play. Self 2 represents the voiceless natural capabilities that every player holds, and typically shines when in the flowstate. You have probably had moments in-game with a strong Self 2: you become very quiet, focused on the match at play, without a single thought in your mind while clicking heads left and right. This is a perfect example of your “Self 2” coming out and shining. This goes without saying, do not actively try to shut off your conscious teller and hold W with your best s1mple cosplay on. It means to simply quiet it down and trust in your natural capabilities that you have developed from hours of practice. 

Quieting the mind is a very difficult task that I believe everyone has struggled with. Controlling the chatter in your head and “slowing down” is a gradual process that takes a lot of practice. A main source of chatter unnecessarily filling up space in your brain is judgment of your play. 

It is completely natural to judge yourself, such as whether or not your decision-making was poor in a clutch-scenario, or if your spray-control was extremely sporadic. These are both examples of judgemental thoughts that are unnecessary and detrimental to your growth. However, this does not mean to ignore your errors in-game, rather, you should change your perspective on your errors in-game. 

Instead of, “Wow, that was a really trash shot, I am terrible.” it should be something like, “I need to work on predicting player movement for better crosshair placement.” It still acknowledges the mistake, just in a more constructive way that is void of ego

It should also be clear that judgment can work in the opposite direction. Just because you had a few heroic rounds does not mean you are next-up in the pro scene. It is important to observe rounds, or plays, as is, with no interference from your judgmental teller. 

With “non-judgmental awareness”, we do not need to actively dispel bad habits. If you are simply more aware, you will uncover a more natural process of learning and your bad habits will whittle away. 

In short, you need to observe your actions for how it is rather than how good or bad it is. Dismissing your judgemental voices will allow things to appear as they are and undistorted. This, in turn, will allow for a calmer mind. 

Self 2: Unleashed

Self 2 is your body’s natural capability within a sport or game. This part of yourself possesses an unexpectedly big present of surprises with inner intelligence and potentialities from deep within. The relationship between Self 1 and 2 is similar to that of parents and children. Some parents (Self 1) have a hard time letting their child (Self 2) do things when the parents themselves know how it should be done better. However, a trusting parent will allow the child to do things on their own, and when mistakes are made, the parent trusts the child to learn from them. Being a trusting parent to your Self 2 is crucial in fluid performance and personal growth in-game. It is important to not allow Self 1 to control your shots, as this will result in less relaxation and poor results.

A balanced relationship between your two selves is crucial. A simple technique to communicate to your Self 2 is to simply visualize your desired outcome. An example would be to imagine yourself having perfect crosshair placement, movement, or a flawlessly played out 1vX scenario. Keep these personalized mental scenes rooted into a calm mind, and let your Self 2 go, without much assistance from your conscious. 

Changing Bad Habits

Replacing old or impairing habits with a new pattern of behavior is not an easy process, especially later in your life. Many people try to dispel these bad habits, but don’t think of an adequate replacement for them, which makes it even more difficult to break. If a player were to be recommended to “stop crouch spraying”, it will take a significant amount of brainpower to actively try and stop holding crouch while spraying, or shooting in general. Instead, it would be much better to focus on holding something like the shift-key while shooting to occupy your CTRL-key fiending pinky. 

Frequently enough, actively trying to break habits will make the process even harder. Digging yourself out of these deep mental paths is painful, however you don’t need to necessarily “dig yourself out”, you can simply start a new path. Yes, the other path will still be there, but with a new and better path, you will not feel the need to go down the original one. 

With this knowledge in mind, here are some steps you can take for any desired change you would like to apply to your game:

Step 1: Non-judgmental Observation

This can mainly be done by watching your demos. Watch very closely at what exactly is going wrong in your 1v1s, or even your overall technique in game. What needs the most attention? Do you have a low headshot percentage? Then it's fairly obvious what needs to be fixed. Constantly over-rotating? Think about what was happening on the map before your teammate’s rotation call and make sure you have adequate information before committing to the rotation. Observe your demos as is and let your game tell you what you need to change.

Step 2: Imagine the Outcome you want

To continue the better crosshair placement example, imagine yourself with a 80%+ headshot percentage. A way to help this visualization is to watch a pro player’s demos (preferably one who is known for higher headshot percentages, such as ScreaM, b1t, or Twistzz) and solely absorb their movements and technique. 

Step 3: Trust Self 2

After, get back in the server and pay no attention to the win or the loss. Just stay loose and let your hand control the mouse how it wants. You will probably not see immediate results, but do not let Self 1 come out and criticize your play. 

Step 4: Non-judgmental Observation 

As you are in game, you are simply watching your shots. Don’t control your shots, just watch them. Allow your body the opportunity to utilize your natural learning process and instinctively grow from repeated practice. Trying too hard, judging, and thinking are all killers of relaxation and overall growth. Additionally, it is important to realize that growth is not linear– you will experience many ups and downs in these processes but your consistency will be key. 

Focus: Staying in the Present

Learning to focus will not just benefit your game immensely, it will also greatly benefit your life outside CS:GO. A focused mind will discard any additional thoughts/external problems that do not contribute to the task at hand. It acts as a filter for every action and input experienced and leaves you only with the necessities in the present moment. Now, only if you had the ability to hold this level of focus for extended periods of time, you could potentially be at the top of your game consistently… Well, it’s a lot harder than it sounds and requires an insane amount of practice, but there are some tricks to train your brain to focus more often.

The best way to get yourself to focus on the game is to allow yourself to get interested in the game. This is due to natural focus occurring from an interested mind. It definitely sounds obvious, but with daily repetitive practice, you start to feel like you know everything. It is crucial to remember that you have so much more to learn about the game, and committing to a “student” role will allow your focus to be fueled by your curiosity. 

Think of it as 100% completing the game of CS:GO, but realize that you are only a small percentage of the way there. As a side note, another very easy and simple way to help train focus is to focus on your breathing. 

The Nature of Competition: Dropping the Ego

Speaking from experience, getting caught up in the stalking worries of failure from competition is a fatal blow to performance. 

Constantly worrying about the results and pressuring yourself with high-expectations to perform will often lead you to disappointment and insecurity. Feeling the need to prove yourself to everyone about your in-game abilities is completely built on self-doubt as well. It should be noted, only when you are skeptical of who you are and what you do, do you feel the need to prove yourself to others. In a competitive setting, it is vital to develop your self-confidence and have an idea of who you are in the realm of competition.

Winning doesn’t always come from the result of your match, winning comes from conquering over the obstacles presented and reaching your objective. However, it is necessary to take into account the true value of your objectives. 

There is a detachment from the outcome and the process of the match, with the process holding a more significant value over the outcome. If you enjoy and value the process you can have as many outcomes as you’d like, but if you only play to win, you will find yourself hating the game as losing is a big part of learning. Accepting the random nature of your teammates, or the uncontrollable factors that can lead to a win or loss, and focusing solely on your progression will show you if you truly enjoy the game and its many processes. 

The Inner Game Out-of-Game: Conclusion

Becoming a student of the inner game means to hold emphasis on learning to focus above your ability to throw a mid smoke from every T-spawn point on Mirage. This is also assuming that you have the fundamentals of CS:GO refined and practiced before you head into inner game emphasis. However, if you are considered a beginner, it is important to be constructive but not judgemental of your play when you make mistakes. The path to the top 1% is not linear, and is full of obstacles, all of which can be overcome if you possess a proper mindset. Stay positive and present– all else will follow.

Guest writer
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