Anxiety and Competitive/Cooperative Gaming

So this year was the first that I watched a good chunk of The International (basically the Dota 2 Super Bowl) and afterwards I had a very bad and impure thought run through my brain: What if I learned Dota? It was something I had been toying with every now and again as I like a lot of the hero designs, and the intricacies and complexities of the game fascinate me. However, this game has a notoriously high skill ceiling; you can play for a year and still come nowhere close to knowing all of it.

Another thing that I have working against me is that I deal with a fair bit of social anxiety and it kinda bleeds over into the few multiplayer games I play. It’s largely the reason I don’t play nearly as much Overwatch as I used to despite loving that game. In fact it was after some particularly toxic chat when I was trying to squeeze some blood out of the Summer Games lootbox RNG stone (I still don’t have a single one of those beautiful new skins) I had to just immediately quit to desktop and just kinda stared at my screen while composing myself. It then occurred to me that I might not be able to handle Dota because the other thing that game is notorious for is its toxicity.

I’m trying not to let this all defeat me before I even start and have been learning as much about the game as I can before I jump into playing with actual people, even just against the computer. And I do realize I can mute/block/report in the majority of these games and while I have done so it never takes the sting away. Plus it’s more about the pit I get in my stomach when I start any matchmaking attempt at all.

SO I ask you, beautiful people of the Waypoint community, do you have any tips for getting over that initial plunge? Do you deal with the same/similar issues? I realize at some point I’m just going to have to jump in but I’m the kind of person that likes to wade in from the shallow end rather than take the diving board.

TL; DR: How do I get over gut wrenching anxiety in team based games?


I wish I knew a good solution for you but every time I even think about jumping into the actual competitive mode in Overwatch, my stomach clenches up. Less about toxic chat (which can still get under my skin, admittedly) but more that there’s so much more mentally at stake to losing. It’s weird. I don’t know. Anxiety sucks.


I have some similar issues to this which manifest in different ways. I hate toxicity, largely because I feel that it’s something that can easily become a quagmire that those with good intentions can be sucked into. People being jerks tempts you to be a jerk in return. Even if I don’t type anything in chat, the synaptic call/response of “that McCree is backchatting me?” is just unpleasant to mentally go through.

In terms of dealing with it, I think my biggest proposition would be, if your goal is to learn Dota, if you were willing to be taught, either by friends or friendly acquaintances? I find that playing games like Overwatch with my friends does alleviate the easy frustrations that arise when playing solo. Even if you don’t end up with a four-digit hour counter like some folks have, playing with some friends might give you the experience of learning Dota without interacting with its greater community.

(P.S. I’m with AppleCider in regards to Overwatch’s competitive mode. I can’t get myself to the point where I can shrug off the losses.)


Fill up at least part of your team with friends; see if anybody you know wants to suffer play with you.

Focus on your self; if you think you messed up, focus on what you could have done better and set goals to improve for your own sake rather than for the sake of others. As someone who used to play games in an organized competitive capacity, the payoff doesn’t come from winning, but from improving (until there are prizes on the line, but that’s what all the improvement is for, and this is something that most people never have to care about anyways.)

Accept the fact that you’re going to lose, occasionally horribly, but also that there’s nothing at stake either way.

Always remember that the opinions of any angry kids yelling into the internet don’t actually matter.

But also don’t play DotA.


First—and it’s already been mentioned twice—if you have any real-life friends who play the game (or even any who might want to take the plunge with you), start grouped with them. You can learn the rules of the game in a low-pressure environment with someone who you know will support you.

Second, if you have the time, you could work your way up to games like DOTA that might be more toxic than others. I played Team Fortress 2 for a few years before Overwatch came out and the complete lack of stakes and general goofiness in old Quickplay TF2 (RIP) definitely made me more comfortable playing with actual people. I’m sure there are games like that with non-or-less-toxic communities and generally low stakes that you could start with.

Third, as syz said, try to reorient the stakes. Losses just give you room to improve. Close, well-matched games should be enjoyable whether you win or lose. And the nature of the commitment is different after you’ve played for a while. Cameron Kunzelman wrote a Postscript column a few months back about plateauing in Overwatch and how, once you reach that point with a game, it takes a lot of time and effort to keep improving. Anything with a high skill ceiling would be like that too—it becomes less about tracking your wins and losses and more about working on your skills. More or less like you’re an athlete. If you can shift to that kind of mindset—self-improvement over wins and losses—it makes the whole experience more rewarding.


I’m with you. I’m even afraid to buy Splatoon 2: it looks adorable, but I know that I’m going to grovel in guilt every time my team loses. I remember loving Overwatch and Rocket League gameplay-wise, but then the guilt! And I (tragically) have no competitive-gaming friends.

Maybe I need to start a “help! Competitive gaming makes me anxious” club. Then we could all play together and enjoy a big, non-toxic group.

(I’m a bit Hufflepuff.)


Thanks for the good responses so far!

I should also say that wrangling the 2 real life friends I have that play games is difficult because one only plays on PS4 and the other…eh I dunno, it’s gonna take some finagling/begging on my part, but maybe I could sway them. It’s worth a shot I suppose.

@diglett: yeah I kinda hit that point in Overwatch earlier this year and now I mostly just play Arcade cause the zaniness of that mode is more fun for me. And it’s more relaxed. But I recognize overall that I’m not that good at fps games.

@robowitch When I see people being jerks in chat I have a tendency to try and deescalate which is probably not worth it but I feel some sense of duty on behalf of people like me.

@syz I feel like don’t play DotA is maaaaaaaaaybe the right move… It’s all just a lot.

@parsley I think a group like that would be absolutely fantastic. Just a big, supportive cloud. (Ravenclaw/Hufflepuff cross here)

Incidentally, and maybe this is because the player base is pretty beleaguered, Titanfall 2 has maybe one of the most passive communities I’ve played with. By that I mean people usually take losing in stride.


@dr_monocle That’s the most compelling argument I’ve heard for Titanfall! I might check it out after I carve my way through my backlog.


So, I might not be the best person to be giving advice (I haven’t played Dota in three years now), but I can certainly speak to Dota matchmaking and its relationship to social/performance anxiety.

I’ll start by saying that it’s definitely possible to avoid the game’s toxicity, but it requires a not-insignificant amount of work and social capital. As others have said, having people you know who you can play with is invaluable, however that’s not always possible. There are some resources on the Dota 2 subreddit to help with learning and finding a guild that caters to a casual/non-toxic playerbase (I wouldn’t normally recommend anyone going there, but it is the largest forum for the game, and as such it’s probably your best dedicated source to finding a good group to get involved with). I haven’t gone that route myself, but if I were to ever try to get back into Dota, that would be what I’d do.

That said, if you go into Dota without knowing anyone, you’re likely to have a bad time. I love watching Dota these days, but back when I actually played it I was usually miserable. I also have pretty bad anxiety – especially when playing online cooperative games – and Dota was just terrible for me. It didn’t help that my partner was really toxic in-game herself (including toward me), but even when I played on my own I rarely had a group that I didn’t feel like I was failing/told me I was bringing down the team. Not to mention all the racism/transphobia/homophobia/xenophobia that gets inevitably spammed in chat, as well as the frequent occurrence of the player on voice chat who flames everyone because someone else took the midlane before he could (at least the game finally lets you mute players) – public solo matchmaking in that game is a cesspool.

I love aspects of that game a lot, but I have a hard time telling someone – especially someone else who suffers from anxiety – to dive into Dota. You really need to know what you’re getting yourself into, and even when you’re well-set to be playing with decent human beings, the game still demands hours and hours of research and practice before you can really start to feel as though you are regularly making an impact. It’s fun, for sure, but it can be taxing in numerous ways.


Yeah I know it’s going to be a hard (and maybe it’s totally not worth it and I should stick to solo-ing with bots and being a spectator) climb, but part of me still wants to make the attempt for some reason. I can’t even really justify it that well to myself. Also, maybe the fact that I haven’t really engaged with competitive games regularly prior to the last, say 3 years or so, means I don’t have a thick enough skin to just sit there and absorb all the garbage that people like to throw out in chat. It took a year of on/off playing with Overwatch to get to me.

I dunno though, I still kinda want to do it in spite of everything and I’ll check out the subreddit for sure. Thanks!

This is me but with fighting games. I’ve always wanted to get into Street Fighter V and Guilty Gear and what not, and I’m relatively competent at them, but…I dunno, going online and getting your ass handed to you is exhausting. And I think a lot of it ties into my fear of failure in stuff outside of videogames, and not putting the effort in to improve. Also the lack of a fighting game scene in Colorado outside of Super Smash Bros is kind of a bummer. None of my irl friends want to learn with me so I’m stuck in this weird limbo of being way better than my friends and way worse than everyone else, haha.

Maybe Dragon Ball Fighters Z will be the one.

Just as an aside, Titanfall also has the benefit of the “escape to the ship” epilogue. Even when I lose I feel compelled to make a last stand and escape, which feels like a win when I pull it off.


A few years back I was in the exact same spot as you. I had watched The International 4 and was intrigued and terrified by the game. I tried playing online for a while and it just stressed me out. After playing bot matches for a while in the hopes that getting good would make me less stressed I discovered that solo play against bots is actually an extremely good podcast game. Working on learning a character, refining your mechanics or trying a new build is chill but rewarding and engages a totally different part of my brain than podcast do.

So basically I heartily recommend DOTA as a single player game. It’s probably worth taking a shot at multiplayer as well, just don’t hesitate to bailout if it feels toxic.

Despite my recommendation I don’t play it anymore. It was eating up most of my relatively limited gaming time, so when I fell off the game due to a period of being way too busy for games I figured it would be best to move on before I got sucked back in. I did have a ton of fun with it though.

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I’ve been working through a similar thing with Tekken. I really wanna play it and get better, and most evenings I’ll be like “hey I should jump into ranked” but some sort of anxiety hits me before I start the game and I have to consciously get over it. team games like Overwatch are way easier because having 5 other people kinda spreads the blame, and it is very unlikely that someone is going to pick up on you playing very poorly. And that’s way different to fighting games exactly because at least half of it is about nitpicking your opponent’s skill to find a way to attack them, and knowing I’m under that kind of scrutiny tenses me up hard.

Ultimately I don’t think this works for all anxiety levels (and I think mine is fairly benign all things considered) if you can find a way to just pull the band-aid once it’ll help a lot playing further. For me most of my anxiety is before I start doing something, because my brain comes up with 50 different ways that I’ll mess up, and it takes me actually jumping in for a lot of it to go away.

@dr_monocle Thankfully most multiplayer games these days have decent “low stakes” modes, like Overwatch’s arcade, that let you get familiar with game mechanics in a mode that most people take less seriously. Dota 2 has an entire custom games section where you can jump in and make a guy move around and use skills in stuff that is completely for fun, so you could try seeing if that’s a good way in for you.


I certainly feel that anxiety.

Its probably the worst in Overwatch because I can never tell if I am the liability in a losing situation. You can get a general idea from deaths and badges and that sort of thing but that sort of info is biased toward informing do players of their performance and doesn’t really help when I’m playing support. I feel in blizzard hiding a lot of information from players, while it saves from harassment it also makes it difficult to sometimes know if I was a liability for the team. I’d like a middle ground where some info was shared privately maybe (like if you had the most deaths or something), but I also understand by design the way they present info is supposed to not make you feel bad. But I’d be a lot less anxious knowing I was the liability on a team than always wondering.

Bleh, anyways, I kinda want to get into DoTA as well and have played bot matches on and off, but damn it if I don’t have to climb a cliff face of anxiety to ever do anything more! I have played some pvp paragon though and that’s a bit easier to get into and a good way to learn some very basic MOBA stuff!


I think for me, it has always helped to accept that there’s nothing wrong with just playing against bots forever. For me, a lot of times that’ll get rid of some of the stress. Just, the idea that - hey, if I never feel like playing competitive in Overwatch, there’s nothing wrong with sitting in the arcade modes forever.

I’m also a bit weird about competitive stuff though. I tend to not get very competitive, and struggle in non-team games to queue up in matchmaking, or ladders, etc. because of some odd fear of, I guess, not providing a decent opponent/match? So I never played much/any SC2 multiplayer, which at times I regret. At the end of the day, people are going to be shitty, and you can mute them. You can’t really fail. It’s a game, you have fun, if you are outmatched by your teammates, they should help more. If you are outmatched by your opponents, sometimes you can learn quickly. The only thing doing a bad job in either situation is the matchmaking system, and that’s something you aren’t responsible for.

Have fun with the game however you want to. ¯_(ツ)_/¯


I’ll say that few game-related feelings are better than the moment things start to click in DOTA. Every time I got off a ward trap as Shadow Shaman, or successfully took out two cores with a good Lich rotation reminded me that this game can be very rewarding if you’re willing to put in the time and work it wants. Also, while I firmly place anxiety and toxicity as my reasons for leaving the game, I also worked an emotionally-exhausting job at that time and was generally not in a good place in my life. So while the game’s community turned me off, it was supplemented by real life issues that made for me not being able to properly enjoy an extremely stressful game.

What I mean to say is that your mileage may vary on DOTA. I’d definitely say to check out the tutorial and play some bot matches, maybe watch some competitive games, and see if you can find some people who won’t mind playing with someone that doesn’t immediately know how to last hit. Like others have said, don’t be afraid to duck out if the toxicity starts to become unbearable, but also don’t let my account of the game completely turn you off from at least trying it out!

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@eightbitsamurai Yeah, I really like that aspect of Titanfall a lot, though to tell you the truth I often just kinda fight until the screen fades out or I die. Maybe I like to feel that my team made it because of my “sacrifice” or something like that, heh.

@MarkB This actually makes me feel a lot better about my chances of sticking with it, and I definitely could use a new podcast game, cause I’m actually now engaging with the audio of my current one (No Man’s Sky)

@swords I actually had no idea about that section, so thanks for the heads up! I was hoping there was something like that in the game for reeeeally new folks like myself. I remember playing “comp stomps” with original StarCraft as a way to get into that.

@Glorgu For sure. Overwatch is one of those games where things can get so damn chaotic that it can be hard to track whose “fault” certain losses are so I try to just assume it’s me and that maybe makes me play better? Sometimes you KNOW though, right? I also tend to go support or tank cause most people just want to go DPS and I usually feel better about those losses 'cause I know when to engage and when to hide for the most part.

@Anime Yeah I can relate to this a toooon. I love Total Mayhem in Overwatch because it’s pretty light and fun (although it’s kinda ruining the way I play Winston and Sombra when I just go regular QP) I think it was just the combo of getting verbally shit on in a match the other day in Overwatch QP at the same time that I’ve been ramping up to playing with other humans in DotA. I blocked and left cause that’s all I could do, and I guess I’ll mostly stick to arcade cause you’re right: it’s about having fun at the end of the day. I will say that one thing that is driving me to want to play with other humans in DotA is that the bot AI leaves a lot to be desired.

@ligeti Sure, I understand. I think I’m generally a high stress person (hmm I guess that’s obvious cause I made this thread, see now I’m in my own head about it ugh) I think I am just going to have to take the plunge at some point and mute when I can. Cause I have generally had fun watching and playing solo bot stuff (I wish the AI was a little bit better but there’s only so much they can do) and I do enjoy learning the characters, abilities, and items. Maybe one or two solos just to see if I actually have DotA legs and then I’ll try coop bot stuff and gain ground inch by inch that way.

I really appreciate all this great advice! I knew I came to the right place. :wink:


I used to get pretty anxious at the thought of playing competitive multiplayer games. Sadly, this anxiety resulted in missing a lot of great experiences over the years, as I tried to play a game (for 2 hours) and gave up because it was too stressful. I think the level of competency required to stay alive was a pretty significant barrier to me psychologically. It was demoralizing to try to go in hoping to learn and get killed more than anybody else on my team.

Thankfully I was able to shift my perspective and I can play them now without the emotional baggage. I’m really happy about making that mental shift, as there are so many unique joys that come from learning a competitive game and practicing enough to effectively compete. Here are my takeaways on the topic:

  1. It’s just a video game. It should be fun. Easier said than done, I know. It was important for me to remember that the stakes are not very high. Tough to do when you just went 0 kills and 10 deaths, but critical for keeping your motivations high enough to continue. If I start to get too frustrated it helps to put things in perspective. I’m not going to get fired for losing. I’m not going to get sick or lose my house or anything. There’s really not much at stake.

  2. Fuck what everybody else thinks. I don’t usually go into voice chat and I judiciously block toxic people from team chat. Nobody in that game really cares about you (unless playing with friends, but that’s a whole different post). You will make mistakes, but so will they. I learned that I need to focus on my experience (the game) and that thinking about what the team thinks generally leads to a drop in performance.

  3. Find a metric that works for you. Building skill in a competitive game takes time. It’s almost like losing weight, you might not see improvement on a scale, but you could see changes to your body with measuring tape. The point is to find a metric that you can use to boost your momentum and motivation game over game. For example - when I’m playing Crucible with my clan I spend my time focused on my K/D ratio. I initially just worked towards a positive K/D ratio (I was stuck at .5 forever). Seeing improvement at ALL was a big deal for me after a game. In Overwatch, I’m very focused on objective time and eliminations. Focusing on a raw piece of data that you can see after a match will give you something to cheer for and motivation to keep you grounded in the moment when you’re in game.

I think finding a few friends to group up with is key. I was squeezing in a couple more Summer Games Overwatch matches earlier and somebody was using voice chat in an entirely decent and innocuous way but I instantly had that pang of anxiety about how I was playing and I realized I haven’t experienced that in ages because I’ve been playing Overwatch pretty much exclusively with my brother.
Granted that means we’re in party voice chat and don’t hear anybody else which might also help, but even when people get salty in the chat it’s not such a big deal when you aren’t in there alone.