All of us start playing a game because we like it. We get a certain amount of satisfaction from the act of playing. In Hearthstone we started playing maybe because the animations were great, or we got to fulfill the experience of being a Warlock via a card game.
Fun is usually the motivator that begins mastery of a skill. Something is riveting about learning the basics, or the act of completion is thrilling.
I work with players that have switched gears from a less casual to a more professional approach to the game, and with that shift a motivation change occurs. To keep them engaged and motivated to continue honing and working on their skills I have to address a couple of needs of the players. Academic sources show that athletes seek four major needs when it comes to sport.

The Need for Fun and Stimulation-

If you aren’t enjoying what you are doing, you aren’t going to do it as much. This is straight forward as an idea. I see this a lot towards the end of a rotation, players don’t have new interactions to discover, or are playing a stale meta. With a lack of fun and stimulation you can get a burnt-out athlete. Ways to address this problem is by keeping practice varied (Keeps players from falling into a rut), keeping everyone active (Harder to “check out” and get bored), and simply setting aside time to play the game in non meta ways.
A practical example of this is having players play non meta decks against one another either as a warm up, or cool down practice. This gets them thinking about the game in different ways, inspires some creativity in how to play, it’s the only time Moorabi gets played, and most likely will be a little fun too.

It’s easy to get terribly serious once you switch from casual to professional gamer. Things like income and prestige are things that you need to consider, and you need that seriousness to thrive as a player. But, you also need to remember to have fun with the game it’s why you started in the first place.

The Need for Acceptance and Belonging-

This need is critical even in solo games like Hearthstone. When we look at examples from other Esports like Dota, you have defined team roles and everyone feels like they have a place within that system. Solo games are no different, as a coach one of my jobs is to make sure that the team feels like a team, can bring something to the table, and trusts each other.
In order to build that you can do things like team building events if you live close enough. Because Team Genji is international we don’t have that allowance, so finding ways to bond outside of Hearthstone might look like playing a totally different game together or sending memes via Discord.

The need for Control and Autonomy-

As much as we need a strong team dynamic, the player’s themselves should feel like they have input and some control of their own fate on a team. Nothing kills a team dynamic more than a Coach who acts like a dictator barking out orders, and not taking input from the team. Players have their own dreams, hopes, and ambitions. It’s up to a great coach to understand those motivators and create space that they can live that out on the team.

On the Academy Team I’m getting the team’s input as often as I can, I explain the rational for why I’m making certain calls (so they aren’t left in the dark about a choice), and let them develop their own strategies for tournament play rather force them to play a line up they didn’t create.

The Need to feel Competent and Successful-

The last big need for players involves how a player views their internal worth. If a player feels like they are lacking in a skill or incapable of succeeding this is going to demotivate the player quicker than anything. To combat this as a coach I give a lot of positive feedback, I’ll create tasks that are challenging (but possible) and encourage the teammates to build each other up in and out of game.
Our ability to perform certain skills is tied with our ability to perceive that we CAN accomplish the tasks. If I don’t believe that I can master a skill, I’ll never put forth the effort to learn how to master that skill.
Once you get to the professional arena the stress of competency and success chasing only amplifies, so you need things in your corner supporting you and giving you the structure, you need at top level play.

Going Forward-

Next time we will build on this as a base to look at how athletes get motivated and reward structures at high level play. If you have any suggestions, questions, comments, or concerns let me know on twitter.