Professional eSports teams are almost entirely made up of young individuals. It’s an interesting phenomenon to observe as it’s quite contrary to many other sports. Still the age drop off for eSports players is far earlier and more drastic with long term players like Evil Genius’ Fear, who’s the ripe old age of 27, often referred to as The Old Man. The commonly held belief is that, past your mid twenties, your reaction times and motor skills are in decline and you’ll be unable to compete with the new upstarts and their razor sharp reflexes. New research in this area may just prove this to be true, although it’s not all over for us oldies who want to compete with our younger compatriots.
The research comes out of the University of California and was based on data gathered from replays from StarCraft 2. The researchers gathered participants aged from 16 to 44 and asked them to submit replays to their website called SkillCraft. These replays then went through some standardization and analysis using the wildly popular replay tool SC2Gears. With this data in hand researchers were then able to test some hypotheses about how age affects cognitive motor functions and whether or not domain experience, I.E. how long someone had been playing a game for, influenced their skill level. Specifically they looked to answer 3 questions:
- Is there age-related slowing of Looking-Doing Latency?
- Can expertise directly ameliorate this decline?
- When does this decline begin?
In terms of the first question they found that unequivocally that, as we age, our motor skills start to decline. Previous studies in cognitive motor decline were focused on more elder populations with the data then used to extrapolate back to estimate when cognitive decline set in. Their data points to onset happening much earlier than previous research suggests with their estimate pointing to 24 being the time when cognitive motor functions being to take a hit. What’s really interesting though is the the second question: can us oldies overcome the motor skill gap with experience?
Whilst the study didn’t find any evidence to directly support the idea that experience can trump age related cognitive decline it did find that older players were able to hold their own against younger players of similar experience. Whilst the compensation mechanisms weren’t directly researched they did find evidence of older players using cognitive offloading tricks in order to keep their edge. Put simply older players would do things that didn’t require a high cognitive load, like using less complex units or strategies, in order to compete with younger players. This might not support other studies which have shown that age related decline can be combatted with experience but it does provide an interesting avenue for additional research.
As someone who’s well past the point where age related decline has supposedly set in my experience definitely lines up with the research. Whilst younger players might have an edge on me in terms of reaction speed my decades worth of gaming experience are more than enough to make up the gap. Indeed I’ve also found that having a breadth of gaming experience, across multiple platforms and genres, often gives me insights that nascent gamers are lacking. Of course though the difference between me and the professionals is a gap that I’ll likely never close but that doesn’t matter when I’m stomping young’uns in pub games.