Every single person who has ever competed in eSports has suffered from some sort of bracket anxiety at one point or another. Some push through it, letting it exist but ignoring the feelings. While this is successful for a handful of players, most at a local level will have a bracket experience suffer due to these feelings. Those at the top, however, find a way to destroy this way of thinking, at least for some parts of tournaments.
Now, I am not promising to rid you of any & all anxiety when it comes to competition, specifically eSports. However, I do promise to give you the tools to allow yourself to play to your full potential.
(Note: The practices I will talk about in this article have been useful for me & others I have talked to about handling nerves and/or anxiety when it comes to competing. It should be stated that I am in no way a professional when it comes to this and I am also not attempting to psychoanalyze competitors. I hope you can find success with the methods I provide.)
We need to address where the anxiety is coming from. When entering a tournament, most players have one thing or another driving their fear of doing poorly. It can be a multitude of things; worry of being judged by others of their performance, feeling like money is wasted if they place poorly, or even scared of disappointment in oneself if the player does not perform to the standard they believe they are at.
With all of this in mind, we need to realize a couple of things for each scenario. First up, being judged by others. I can state, as a previously high PR'd player in my region, I never cared about a single person going 0-2, whether they were friends or strangers. One bracket performance is not indicative of skill. Also, half of the players in each double elimination bracket fill up all those who go 0-2 and 1-2. If anyone were to look down on you for performances, that is on them for harboring negative emotions that you do not deserve. While I will not claim it is easy to brush off those who you may feel see you in that way, stating the facts over and over to yourself -- lots of people do not do well, a single tournament isn't big in the whole scheme, people who look down on me are not the people to associate with -- you allow yourself to become more comfortable with however you do.
When discussing value in a bracket, people tend to forget that there is a lot to gain out of losing. If someone is to win a tournament without dropping a game, they have most likely not gained anything to make them a greater player. While, yes, the monetary value of winning is nice, they have not gained much (if any) in terms of skill. When you lose a set or two, you now have proof in front of you that you can recall to anaylze why you lost each game. Hell, reference for even why each stock was taken. This means if you just think about how you died 4 times in bracket, you have a lot to think about disregarding the rest of the match.
People like to identify growth as going farther in bracket than they usually do, but that is not true. Moving farther in bracket can be due to faster growth than those around you, or a different tournament environment (better bracket/seeding/being warmed up properly). Growth genuinely comes from what you do with the mistakes you have made in the past. If you never make any attempt to change the cause of why you lost in past brackets, you will never see any truly extraordinary growth.
Lastly, let's address holding yourself to too high of a standard. This is one that was my biggest problem when I was attempting to rise from someone who went 0-2/2-2 to a player good enough to make my state's PR. I always held myself to a higher standard than my regular performance because I thought if I constantly told myself I was better than my opponent, I would just magically accomplish that. This is what actually stunted my growth as a player for a long time. I did not want to accept that I was someone who was "bad" at the game. If I could perform well, others would affirm my belief that I had skill in SM4SH. I became so overconfident that I would constantly state my next match would be so easy, only to lose the set in a quick 2-0 fashion.
The change I made here was admitting to myself that I was not nearly as good as the other players in my region. I had to acknowledge where I was in my past results to realize what I needed to actually work on to move forward. When I stopped telling myself that I would just do better next tournament, without even trying to improve on the mistakes I made in the last tournament, I finally made it to an honorable mention on the PR. The key here was to not get in my own head about being "on" the PR (if you count HM as being on it). I had a little trouble at first because I had this expectation to never lose to anyone not PR'd, and that caused a couple of upsets.
At this point, I realized I was moving 1 step forward and 2 steps back. I needed to realize that every opponent was one that I had to respect & focus on. I needed to be present in my matches, fully, regardless of it being R1 or R4. Knowing that I had the possibility to beat better players than me, but also lose to those below me, I figured out what my problems in R1 matches were and fixed them in R2 instead of just ignoring my R1 as just being easy. This lead to me being one of the most consistent players in my region. Mistakes are made in every match and can help you further your game, whether you are the person placing first or last.
The key in each of these examples is to humble yourself and realize that you are human. You will make mistakes and that's okay. If people judge you for the mistakes you make in competition, they are not worth the time spent thinking about them. Walk into every tournament ready to learn and I promise you, you will walk out a stronger player every single time (which is worth every penny).
Thanks for reading! If you have any other problems with anxiety when it comes to bracket, please feel free to hit me up either publicly or in DMs on Twitter. Stay tuned for my next article where we'll be discussing opening yourself to success.