AI fitness is boosting eSports stars’ games, says Counter-Strike player JW

Mashing those buttons may not take massive muscles. But long-term success in eSports takes physical and mental fitness. At least according to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive star JW (Jesper Wecksell), a member of the Fnatic esports team.

Along with a bunch of other eSports stars he’s been working out with Freeletics, an AI-powered fitness program.

The biggest benefit? Faster, clearer thinking, JW says. (I guess the physical fitness boosts are just a nice side effect!)

In this episode of TechFirst with John Koetsier, I chat with JW and Freeletics brand partnerships manager Eleanor Hughes about AI, fitness, eSports, and what it take to not only win at the top level of computer gaming these days … but also stay there.

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(This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

John Koetsier: So, Jesper, who are you? 

Jesper Wecksell: So my name is Jesper Wecksell. My in-game address is JW, and I play Counter-Strike: Global Offensive for team Fnatic. 

John Koetsier: Excellent. Cool, so I assumed your name was [pronounced like Yesper]. It’s Jesper, did I get it right? 

Jesper Wecksell: Yeah, Jesper, a lot of people say Jasper with an ‘a’ instead of an ‘e’ … but it’s Jesper.

Jesper Wecksell is an eSports star, currently playing Counter-Strike

John Koetsier: Yes. No worries, excellent. What do you play?

Jesper Wecksell: I play Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and I play different roles. I used to be like the sniper rifle for the team and now I’m more of just a regular rifler, so I’m kind of hopping into different roles whenever they’re needed. 

John Koetsier: So what makes for a good Counter-Strike player?

Jesper Wecksell: I think what makes for a good contract player is, first of all, the mentality.

I think it’s really, really important that you have the right mentality and that you can always stay like in a good mentality. Because, like it’s computer games in the end, and I think a good mindset and a good confidence can make it or break it. So I think the mentality is easily the biggest part, in my opinion. 

John Koetsier: Wow. So I could be a champion ’cause I have like super-positive mentality and everything like that [laughter]. You know, I suck at computer games and all sorts of console games and everything like that, but I could be good?

Jesper Wecksell: Yeah, like if you have the mentality and you put in the time … sure, then you can be good. Obviously there’s more elements to it. You need to be putting in the time and you need to be productive with the time.

I mean, it’s not good that you sit and do the same thing like 20 hours a day, right? That’s just quantity over quality.

So you need to know what you should focus on as well. And you need to be able to have the kind of mindset where you can take criticism and not take it as an … what do you say, like a personal attack?

John Koetsier: Yes.

Jesper Wecksell: Because that’s a huge mistake a lot of people do, I think, when you get criticism or something, you feel attacked — which is where mindset and stuff like that comes in again, I think. 

John Koetsier: Now I would assume you’d also need some level of physical dexterity with your fingers. You’d need some level of speed with your mind and other stuff like that to be a great player. You’ve won multiple tournaments, correct? 

Jesper Wecksell: Yeah. Yeah, almost won like everything there is to win, I think. And yeah, obviously you need to be good with mouse coordination and the keyboard coordination. But that’s something for me, example, is something I take for granted because I’ve been doing this since I was a little kid. So it’s nothing really I have to think about or train regularly or something like that.

And then once again, the mentality-wise you need to like in one or two seconds, you need to come up with maybe three ideas and you need to think which is the best idea out of those ideas. And you need to take snap, snap-fast decisions.

So, yeah, the mentality on that part as well. 

John Koetsier: Absolutely. And speed … mental speed, physical speed. So I would assume if you’re going to practice for something like this, you grind, you spend the hours — maybe not 20 hours a day, as you were saying, but a significant amount of time, probably parents telling you to get off the computer or they’re going to throw it out the window, who knows, something like that — probably caffeine, late nights, other stuff like that.

But you’re saying that physical fitness is also a critical component, correct? 

Jesper Wecksell: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think I’ve done or seen both sides of it pretty much. I mean, I grew up doing this thing and I did it nonstop pretty much, the only break I took was probably to go and eat with my parents and then back into the room and keep playing again.

And sure, it worked like short term, but long term it’s not going to work. You need to take the break, and even if you are let’s say, doing some exercises outside the game, it’s still going to affect your game.

So you’re technically still practicing for the game, even though it’s not even at the computer or not even within the game. So, yeah, it’s really  important and it really helps you stay in better focus. And I think then you can also cut the caffeine if you want, because I think you feel more healthy and more awake because of the exercise.

John Koetsier: It’s interesting because we’re gearing up for what seems to be the Summer Olympics, they look like they’ll be going forward, and when you think about parenting and kids, and kids who are into physical fitness — whether they’re playing soccer or football or some Olympic sport, training for that — everybody thinks, hey, that’s wonderful, that’s great!

You know, nobody thinks, wow, they’re spending 10 hours a day, 12 hours a day prepping for this thing and it’s not healthy.

But most parents, however, if they’re thinking about computer games, they’re not thinking it’s super healthy for their kid to be training eight hours a day, five hours a day, whatever it is. Were your parents supportive? 

Jesper Wecksell: Yeah, my parents have always been very supportive. I mean, it was kind of easier for me as well because my dad [was] running the local computer shop that we have in our small city here. So it was pretty easy, but also they saw like all these other  good elements in it.

Like maybe you’re not super popular in school and stuff like that, but in the internet world you can be kind of whoever you want — which is a good and a bad thing, because a lot of people choose to be a bad person because of that. But if you actually choose to be a good person, you can get a lot of friends and it’s a very social thing. And I think you can really have it kind of like an escape zone.

I think a lot of people have had it that, me personally as well, sometimes during my younger years I could escape away from my reality and play computer games and see friends, even though I didn’t really have friends maybe. So they were always very supportive because they understood, especially the social element of it all, I think. 

John Koetsier: Wonderful. So let’s talk about the physical fitness. You’ve been doing something with Freeletics. What do you do? 

Jesper Wecksell: So, basically, me personally, I’m more like a cardio kind of guy. I like to do some jogging/running to get that going, but Freeletics has a lot of like quicker, HIIT exercises which also fits me very good, because I’ve always been that kind of guy who like, I enjoy training and I know— I feel that it gives me something in the game, but I hate putting too much time into it. So those HIIT exercises [are] something that’s really good for me because they’re kind of short and, yeah, higher intensity.

So I think there’s something for everyone. I mean, someone surely likes to spend 90 minutes instead of just 40 minutes and then there’s something for them, but I don’t personally like that.

John Koetsier: What has been the impact? What are the results of you spending time not just learning your game and playing your game and practicing your game, but also bringing in the broader physical fitness exercises? 

Jesper Wecksell: I would say that it helped me in a lot of aspects … privately in my personal life, and also like in my gaming life.

I get more energy. I feel more, I have [an] easier time to think of solutions to problems instead of just seeing the problem in something, and yeah, better energy overall to stay focused for like a long day. And yeah, I think overall the energy is the biggest upside to me.

John Koetsier: Really, really interesting. Maybe contextualize this a little bit for us in the context of eSports. eSports is still young, but it’s growing fast and it’s becoming increasingly important. You see eSports growing by leaps and bounds in terms of sponsors, in terms of organizations, teams, leagues, all this stuff.

Now we’re getting to another level of preparation, mentally and physically, for eSports, correct? 

Jesper Wecksell: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I’ve been here from very early stages. I mean, I started in Fnatic in 2013.  So I’ve been here for plenty of years and I’ve seen the impact of it and seen the rise. And yeah, definitely, I think it’s really, really important and the mental aspect, as I’ve mentioned many times, it’s super, super important to be able to play in front of a big, big crowd … not many people can do that.

And it’s easy to sit like in your parents’ home and play online and dominate from there, but then you need to sit in a stage with like 20,000 people in a crowd. That’s a different kind of thing, and you really need a great mentality to handle that. And to build up on that mentality, I think you need to do these kinds of exercises and do this physical workout as well.

So I think it all comes together in a great way.

John Koetsier: You have it there from Jesper. I mean, it’s easy to dominate online from home. So [laughter] maybe there’s hope for me yet. Excellent. I’m going to bring in Eleanor for a second here. Hi Eleanor, how are you? 

Eleanor Hughes: Hi. I’m good, thanks. How are you? 

John Koetsier: Excellent. Excellent. Tell us who you are. 

Eleanor Hughes: So I’m Eleanor. I am leading Brand Partnerships & PR at Freeletics and have been there for the last six years.

John Koetsier: What made you decide that, hey, gamers, that’s the audience we want to go after? 

Eleanor Hughes: So, I actually have a background in gaming. I worked in the industry for quite a few years and after moving into fitness, I kind of kept my eye on the industry. And I mean, eSports has been something that you can’t ignore, as you mentioned previously, it’s just been growing and growing.

And to me, I always thought that gamers and the eSports industry in general is such a perfect fit.

So you have such a huge yet dynamic, digital, young, and highly engaged audience. And yet I feel like the fitness industry has not really done a lot for these people yet. Like, as Jesper was saying, you know, fitness and mental fitness, they give you such an edge in the game and they’re so important to be able to perform at your best, especially at the level eSports has reached.

And we just hadn’t really seen that yet. You know, we hadn’t seen any of the other brands in the space enter into this area, so we said, you know what, let’s do it. 

John Koetsier: I love it. I love it. It’s really interesting actually, Jesper, if I think about it, because you said you’ve been in the eSports space for a long time. And I don’t know how long that is … I think it’s something like a decade or so, am I correct?

Jesper Wecksell: Yeah, at least.

John Koetsier: At least. So that seems like a long time for gamers because it seems like the kind of thing that you flame out really quickly. Like you rise to the top when you’re amazing and you have a few years at the top and you kind of burn out and leave. Am I right?

Jesper Wecksell: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s kind of too early still to know the lifetime of a player within eSports. And I think it’s also too early to know when is the time to stop, because we have like maybe one or two, maybe three players that [are] like over 30 years old, still competing. So, you don’t know yet, like when are you not able to do this anymore.

But I think if you start out with these kinds of things early, knowing that you need to work on your mentality, knowing that you need to work on the physical stuff, I think you will be pushing towards a longer lifetime career. So, yeah, I think it’s really, really important to stay in touch with it. 

John Koetsier: Yeah. That’s one of the things I was thinking about, Eleanor, is that we know that physical fitness lends itself to mental fitness, right? That if you are physically fit, you stay younger mentally, correct?

Eleanor Hughes: Absolutely. And we’ve also seen that more and more people, especially since Covid, have been realizing the benefits long term for emotion and mental health.

So, we’ve run studies and we’ve seen that people have turned to fitness recently to really deal with stress, anxiety, but also realize it has huge mental benefits that can be reaped. Absolutely. 

John Koetsier: I love that aspect. I’m going to bring Jesper in for a second to talk about that, because I’ll say, I’m a hockey player. I play ice hockey, not a lot lately because I can’t get inside and play in a rink with Covid — hopefully very soon. I live in Vancouver, Canada. I’m single-vaccinated, double will come next week or something like that, so maybe we’ll start up.

But one of the best things about playing ice hockey as a means of physical fitness is not just the fitness or anything like that, but when you’re on the ice, you’re just on the ice. That’s all you’re doing; that’s all you’re thinking about. Everything else drops away. The stress of work, the stress of family, or whatever else is going on.

Are you finding something similar about physical fitness for your job? 

Jesper Wecksell: Yeah, definitely. I think if you do the things leading up to a big tournament, if you do those things correct, then you can actually just sit down on that stage in front of that crowd and you’re zoned into the game, you don’t notice how many people are in the crowd cheering. You don’t notice how much pressure is on the line.

I mean, I played in plenty of finals with like, if you lose, there’s like a hundred grand; if you win, there’s like a few more hundred thousand of grand. And you can’t think that way. You need to just zone in, focus on the game, and I think if you haven’t done that job prior to that, I think it’s easy to start thinking like, oh, they’re cheering there, and like you start to lose that mental vibe.

And maybe you start to think about the money, what is actually at stake here? What can I lose by missing this? And you can’t afford that because every mistake, someone like the opponent is gonna rip you off of that. So, super important. 

John Koetsier: I’ll bring Eleanor back. Maybe to end here, what are you seeing as a response among gamers? I mean, gamers are not typically people that everybody thinks about when they think about super physically fit, super interested in eating the right thing, drinking the right thing, and working out.

What’s the response among gamers for an exercise program/fitness program tailored for their needs? 

Eleanor Hughes: It’s certainly not the first thing you think about, absolutely. But so far, I’ve been very, very pleased with the response. So, overwhelmingly positive.

And two things I really hope that will be the takeaways from this will be that, firstly, gamers perhaps feel more seen, like more visible in the industry and that people are actually considering them as people who would be interested in fitness and increasing their performance in looking after their mindset. You know, all these things like confidence, self-talk, getting comfortable being uncomfortable — I noticed that this is super relevant for Fnatic and for other gamers.

And these are things you can really strengthen with fitness. So I hope that gamers on one hand will feel more represented through this.

But on the other hand, will actually see this as a door opening and maybe an opportunity for them to change their thinking and to realize, hey, actually, this is something I can benefit from, and this is a way for me to level up, not just in game but in real life as well. 

John Koetsier: Wonderful. Love it. Eleanor, thank you so much. Jesper, thank you so much. Do appreciate your time. 

Interested in eSports and AI and fitness? So am I

Made it all the way down here? Who are you?!? 🙂

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