Adam J Toth, Magdalena Kowal, Mark J Campbell.
The team behind this article is the first to use methods similar to ours: they compared cognitive abilities between players of low, intermediate and high ranking, to try and understand what makes a top-level player better than the rest. This 2019 study took CS:GO players of silver (“Low”), gold/master guardian (“Intermediate”) and master guardian elite or higher (“Elite”) skill levels, and compared their performance and response time in the Stroop Task. In this funny-named task, you have to say the color of a word, ignoring what it actually reads. You can easily test yourself using Figure 1: time yourself just reading the words (ignoring the color they’re printed in); then, time yourself again, this time saying the color of each word, ignoring what they spell. Harder, right? The Stroop task gives measures of how good you are at inhibiting your reflexes (reading the word) and how you deal with cognitive interference.
Here’s how the authors used this Stroop task to create three conditions:
“Participants were presented with either the word “red,” “green,” “black,” or “blue” on a white screen in either red, green, black, or blue colored font. In Congruent trials, the printed word and the color in which it was printed matched. Incongruent trials were those in which the printed word on screen and the font color it was printed in did not match. In addition to Congruent and Incongruent trials, Control trials were also included and consisted of a colored box presented on screen.”
They tested 129 attendees of the 2018 Gamescom and PAX gaming conferences on this task. The gamers’ results were also compared with non-gamers’ performance on the Stroop test from a previous study (white bars in Figure 2), but the non-gamers were tested in a totally different setting, so we consider that their results are not comparable and do not take them into account in this report.
Accuracy results (see Figure 2, top part) show that Intermediate and Elite gamers were significantly better than Low ranked gamers in the Control condition (just saying the color of a rectangle). Interestingly, in the Incongruent condition, both Low and Elite ranked gamers were significantly more accurate than Intermediate gamers. Regarding the overall response time results:
“Elite ranked gamers showed significantly faster response times compared to Intermediate ranked gamers”
However, as you can see from the bottom half of Figure 2, the differences between response times in the 3 skill levels are quite complex, and there isn’t a clear trend.
Together, these results suggest that instead of gamers getting progressively faster and more accurate as they advance in level, it is actually more common to focus first on reacting fast (Low level gaming) and then to focus on improving your specific accuracy, but not on ignoring interferences (as an Intermediate player). This may or may not be an optimal strategy: does this common pattern actually help gamers become fast and accurate, like Elite gamers? Or are players staying stuck at lower levels specifically because they’re not focusing on the right things to train? These are the questions we aim to answer here at ProTest Labs. Stay tuned for more when our own results are in!
“This study set out for the first time to identify whether gamers of low, intermediate, and elite skill level in a prominent esports game, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, demonstrated increasingly superior performance on a test of a specific cognitive skill (cognitive inhibition). Here we tested low, intermediate, and high ranked gamers and compared their performance on a color-word Stroop Task and also compared the performance of players in each gaming rank group to non-gamers. Contrary to our hypothesis, the Stroop Task did not differentiate significantly gamers of varying expertise. Although, we found that when considering both accuracy and response times, elite gamers performed significantly better than both intermediate and low ranked gamers on the simple choice reaction time condition and both elite and novice gamers performed significantly better than intermediate ranked gamers on the incongruent condition (a measure of cognitive inhibitory ability).”