"Never play support again or kill yourself." I froze, read it again, and then my hands started shaking. My teammate had just suggested I kill myself for playing poorly. I immediately started breathing heavily and disconnected. I sat in my living room and stared at my monitor for a minute just trying to calm down.
I have generalized anxiety disorder.
The diagnosis came about seven years ago when I realized that it was not, in fact, normal to be so awfully nervous about everything. Throughout my battle against anxiety, I always had one reliable source of relief: video games, where you inhabit another world far away from your worries. After a particularly difficult day, I could always come home and become the Chosen Undead in Dark Souls or Commander Shepard in Mass Effect. Their problems were much greater than mine and allowed me to forgot my anxiety for awhile.
Not all games offer escape, though. I can safely say that I've found the game that causes my anxiety to worsen.
The strange thing is, I can't stop playing it.
I'm talking about League of Legends, the multiplayer online battle arena game that has enjoyed an incredible rise in popularity since its release in 2009. The game pits two teams of five players against each other in a race to destroy the opposing team's base. I first dipped my toes into the game a little over a year ago and found it immensely complicated but also surprisingly fun.
The importance of individual performance is the main factor that contributes to my anxiety while playing League. One person performing poorly can lose the game. Matches often take 45 minutes to an hour so its easy to feel like you're wasting other people's time.
It doesn't help that the 'League of Legends' community is infamously toxic
It doesn't help that the community is infamously toxic and many players won't hesitate to suggest suicide if you're having a bad game.
I spoke to some other League players. Turns out, I'm not alone. Cassidy Longoria has been playing for nearly a year and was ranked Silver III last season. She has been diagnosed with a panic disorder and regularly experiences panic attacks during a match.
"My panic attacks occur when I feel as though I'm in a situation with a lot of pressure or stress or in a situation where I feel as though I have little to no control over the outcome," said Longoria. "Although the game is a team game, there is a lot of pressure if you're carrying or if you're leading your team."
Another player losing the game for her team, waiting on the lengthy load screen before a match, and facing off against higher ranked players all cause above normal anxiety for Longoria.
She sees the anxiety as an asset, however.
"I've always thought that it's been a good thing," she told Motherboard. "Of course the aftermath of a panic attack isn't fun, but during the game it keeps me more on edge, alert, and focused. I've found myself making better calls and better plays when my anxiety levels are higher."
Andre Stankovic is a more seasoned player who also experiences anxiety, but for different reasons and with different outcomes. Stankovic has been playing for around four years and was ranked Gold last season. Though he has not been diagnosed with any formal anxiety disorders and doesn't have panic attacks, he still finds that trying to play to the best of his ability and avoid mistakes made in previous games causes an uncomfortable amount of anxiety. However, Stankovic also feels that the anxiousness actually improves his play. Even though his hands are shaking, his decisions are sharper and faster.
Playing League might have some benefit for players with anxiety issues, Chapman said, because it counts as what clinicians call "exposure," or repeating the situation that causes anxiety until the patient is basically numb to the trigger.
League of Legends could even serve as part of a larger treatment for anxiety, he said. However, the game could have negative effects on an anxious person as well.
If the game is causing panic attacks or impairing functioning, it's probably time to reduce your play time or stop playing altogether, Chapman said.
Still, Longoria, Stankovic, and I can't seem to stay away from the game in spite of the anxiety and even panic attacks. They both called it an addiction; for me, I just want to keep learning and improving.
Besides, I've noticed that playing League has had a noticeable effect on the way I deal with anxiety in the real world. When some obnoxious asshole is yelling at me in the game and causing anxiety, I simply mute him and move on. I try to look for the individual things in my real life that cause anxiety now and mute them as well.
Does it work? Sort of. But much like League of Legends, you only get better with insane amounts of practice.
Lead image: League of Legends