Coping with coronavirus: Excel’s Fabian Broich on performance during quarantine

It isn’t easy living in a world with COVID-19. The coronavirus has caused widespread disruption even in esports, one of the only live entertainment industries still functioning during isolation.

Yet in the face of the crisis, we’ve seen just how plucky and creative our industry is. Competitive gaming has bounced back online, led the way for sports during extensive lockdowns, and provided relief and escapism for millions of people.

As part of a new Esports Insider series, Coping with coronavirus, we’ll be speaking to experts from different sectors, countries, and regions across esports, to see how their companies are adapting for life in a pandemic. With any luck, the knowledge and advice we’re able to share will help us all get through this together.

First to the table is Fabian BroichHead of Performance for Excel Esports. Broich was based with Excel’s LEC roster in Berlin, which narrowly missed out on playoffs after a positive Spring Split, when the crisis hit. He’s since released a useful practical guide, Staying Healthy When Quarantined, and discussed what steps Excel was taking to protect its players from the virus. We caught up with him to find out how Excel has maintained the health and performance of its players and staff during a period of isolation.

Coping with Coronavirus: Excel's Fabian Broich discusses health and performance
Photo credit: Riot Games

Esports Insider: Last month, you laid out your plans for adjusting the team’s lifestyle to cope with COVID-19. Of the moves you made, which were successful, and what did you learn from the process?

Fabian Broich: Obviously, we had to make adjustments, since we do a lot of stuff outside of the game that is my focus as the Head of Performance. We had to make sure that the physiotherapists, the masseuse, the cook, and the cleaners were doing health screenings, so if they had any symptoms they couldn’t come anymore. And we, as coaches, used taxis instead of the tram to make sure that we prevent [the spread of] any disease or any virus [as much as] possible.

We changed into doing home workouts, doing yoga inside, since we couldn’t go out—obviously, it’s high risk when you’re in a gym, touching things that many hundreds of people in Berlin use in the same spot. We wanted to make sure, first, that we repeated our focus and our schedule.

“We change and adapt to the circumstances that we are living in and make the best out of it.”

When there are changes, you have to adapt. Let’s say we have to construct a day, how it looks like. And it’s like a puzzle: some parts are getting smaller because we can’t focus too much on sport anymore, so we have to find solutions. We had to adapt to circumstances, and then, shortly after, we thought, “Okay, we can plan a lot, but we have to react more right now, because it’s not foreseeable, what’s happening in the future.” Every day, you’ve got more updates, more regulations about the virus, so I made sure that they got a daily update. In a WhatsApp group, I also reached out to the parents, because they are worried about their sons, [who] are in a different country. We change and adapt to the circumstances that we are living in and make the best out of it.

ESI: You mentioned it being necessary to change the schedule. Can you give us an overview of how the changes played out?

FB: We start with an early breakfast together, as a team, and then we would normally do gym. So instead of doing that, we did yoga inside of the house. Since it’s not really healthy to almost not walk at all, and not move at all, we did more stretches and stuff like that.

And after that, they could take showers and play 1 or 2 Solo Queue [games], then we had team meetings, or scouting, and went into our scrims. We made sure that between every game we went outside for five minutes. We play, usually, five games: game, review, game, review. So, we’d go outside on the balcony. But we’d also make sure we get supplements, like vitamin C or zinc to boost the immune system, vitamin D, because we don’t get too much sunlight. And whenever we had the possibility we’d go outside, and we also made sure that we increased the [amount of] smoothies and berries and fruits.

Obviously, it can be pretty psychologically exhausting being just in the building all day. Not that they usually don’t spend a lot of time inside the house, but now that they’re actually being caged or not able to go outside that much, it has a big health and psychological effect on a human.

Coping with Coronavirus: Fabian Broich on health and performance
Photo credit: Riot Games

ESI: You’ve recently released a stay-at-home health guide. Is there anything that you’d like to mention that you believe would be particularly useful to other teams, staff working in esports, or people in general?

FB: Yeah, we realised that we’re all, now, in the same boat. We’re in Berlin, we’re isolated, but [Excel’s staff] in Twickenham, they’re not in the stadium anymore, they work from home. So, I would say that everyone who’s a 9-to-5 worker, and working at a desk, has the same issues as an esports player has: not being with colleagues but by yourself in the house, can’t really go outside, don’t really meet friends. It’s really important to focus on health and performance for us, but we can also call them just “essential human needs.”

“When you’re in nature, you don’t have to learn, you can fully relax, because that’s where you’re from. Now we’re basically caged like an animal in the zoo, and we are not used to this.”

That means that we should play some music, focus on our diet, get enough fresh air, sleep well enough, and also get enough fluid intake. I made some health guidelines for our company because, for me, it’s really easy to focus on, but some people are not aware of this—so why not give them a “cheat sheet” that they can lookup?

And obviously some exercise, some workout. I do it here in the morning. It feels really good to do it because we’re all just inside and not moving too much. We don’t have a huge house, we don’t take too many steps, so we need some movement to also decrease stress. We really focused on giving away these small tips for essential needs. [Since] we’re all sitting a lot, I do [exercises] for the wrist, for the neck, for the back, all these kinds of things. We make sure we stand up each hour and drink a glass of water, and then have some healthy snacks: [keep] some nuts, some bananas next to you so that you don’t end up always ordering food, or having frozen pizzas, or stuff like that. Really small things, they do have a big impact.

But also, it seems you get bored a lot when you’re just at home. You find difficulty in going to bed, because you’re in front of digital devices or monitors most of the time, and they all have blue light, which prevents you from producing the sleep hormone, melatonin. So, basically, it manipulates your brain and tells you it’s day and then you can’t really fall asleep, even though you haven’t done too much. And then it’s obviously a circle: you have less and less energy, you meet fewer people, and that is also psychologically exhausting. So, I really hope that people try still to do calls with their friends, with their family, and (if it’s possible) go outside on the balcony each hour, or get your head out of the window.

“It’s a really difficult topic because I think it’s essential that we show responsibility.”

If you go really back in evolution, we are coming out of nature, so when you’re in a room, everything you’re seeing had to be learnt at some point. Whereas when you’re in nature, you don’t have to learn, you can fully relax, because that’s where you’re from. Now we’re basically caged like an animal in the zoo, and we are not used to this.

It’s a really difficult topic because I think it’s essential that we show responsibility. We’re luckily young, at least the players and I, and we’re not hit the most since we don’t have too many health conditions. But I think it’s a responsibility to the people who are in need or who are in danger that they get protected. So, I think it’s just nice to see that society holds together and makes a statement.

The other side effect that could happen is that people could get some psychological issues because the longer and longer it goes on, it could be really depressing. Luckily, the sun is coming more and more out here. It’s not full winter, it’s spring, and the days are getting longer, so that’s going to help. I really hope that people focus on sleep, the right nutrition, and do some movement. I think that makes it way easier to cope with all this stress in a changing environment.

Coping with Coronavirus: Fabian Broich on health and performance
Photo credit: Riot Games

ESI: Would you say those are the major points, then? Sleep, exercise, fluid intake, and getting some fresh air?

FB: Yeah, those are the essentials. Sleep, nutrition, movement. And then also, for the mental part, maybe do something… I love to cook! And I now have a lot of time to cook. I hear from some people, “I always want to do this, but I never have time.” If you have an instrument or want to read a book, there is the time now. It actually gives you, also, more opportunities.

Of course, we can all dwell on it, and say we can’t really do anything, we can’t go outside, but actually, it gives us more time to do things we wanted to at one point, and we can now pick that up and learn a new language, for example. I tried to learn Danish; I haven’t really been able to do so, but I want to learn it, and I want to cook more, and now there’s the time. Obviously, in the off-season, you have to prepare a lot [for the next split], because you want to change the environment in order to get better, but it also gives you freedom. So, you can say the glass is half full or half empty. There are definitely things that are not that nice in this situation, but also new opportunities.

And the same is also for esports. I think we have a huge chance right now to make sure we post more. I really don’t post that much, but I want to help people, I want to have an impact on the health “scene” of esports. It’s not that healthy now, but especially right now there is a lot of [outside] focus on esports. People love to game, love to compete, and we can make sure that we educate people on how to live a successful or a healthy life, or a happy life. And so I think, since everyone is shut down, with esports competition esports getting higher and higher numbers—which makes sense, everyone is inside, in front of their digital devices—we have a big chance to show the “mainstream” what esports is, and give some time to introduce [it] to the general population. And show them that it’s actually quite professional, getting more professional, and we can even compete during this crisis.