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Aim Training for Gamers – How to Optimize your Training | PART 2

If you made it here from PART 1 where answered the question of whether aim training works or not as well as DEFINED aim with some evidence and neuroscience backing, then you’re in the right place. This is part 2 and we’re going to show you how to optimize your training.


Aim Training is Legitimate

A lot of discussion has been had in the esports community about the legitimacy of aim training. In this section we “AIM” *cue laugh track* to clarify what aim is and if it can indeed be improved and how. Aiming in a virtual environment is a neuromotor skill.

Like anything else you have to train your body and brain to do well, such as jumping, biking, or driving, our brains learn motor skills in similar ways no matter the specifics of the skill. 

Motor learning can be defined as the acquisition of new patterns of muscle activation in time and space to improve performance of a motor task

Sanes JN and Donoghue JP. Plasticity and primary motor cortex. Annu Rev Neurosci 23: 393–415, 2000.

So whether you are a beginner learning to aim well or a pro trying to get .01% better today the principles derived from science are unchanged. 

How do humans learn new skills?

The roadmap to being highly proficient at a skill is a process of moving through 3 different phases. These phases as described by Fitts and Posner are broken down into the cognitive phase, associated phase, and autonomous phase. These phases are not fixed and as you modify / adapt new techniques / variables (DPI/Sens, keybinds, etc) you move back and forth through them. 

Noob Phase (Cognitive)  – “What to do”

In the Cognitive Phase you are still developing an understanding of the game mechanics. – This is your complete noob who is just learning the mechanics of the game. Seasoned players will also spend some (short) time here whenever they make big changes to keybinds, DPI/Sens etc. The amount of time you spend here is directly related to how much previous experience you have with other similar skills. Coming from a MOBA to an FPS game will keep you in this phase longer than somebody coming from another FPS with slightly different aim mechanics. This phase is all about understanding the demands of the game, the physics, how well you are able to interact with the mechanics and what your baseline skillset coming in feels like.

Amateur Phase (Associative) – “How to do”

In the associated phase you understand the aim mechanics of the game and you are experimenting with the variables associated with them. This is your amateur player who has a solid understanding of what the game mechanics are and is learning how to apply them in a way that makes sense. They still don’t have a solid sense of timing, improperly sequence actions, have low control over aim skills that require precision and are experimenting with new strategies to perform aim skill tasks. This is the best stage to use to figure out where your skills are deficient using aim assessment tools. 

Pro Phase (Autonomous) – “How to Succeed”

In this phase you have mastered the mechanical skills at the highest level and are looking to refine the application of them in the game environment. These are your Pro players that have become mechanically proficient.  At this phase most players are more concerned with consulting with 3rd parties and utilizing tools such as vod review to help improve their in-game decision making (game sense) and give them a competitive edge over their opponent. When all you do to train is grind custom matches, you spend a huge amount of time practicing the most relevant aim skills that are most frequently used during a competitive game. This is why pro players are where they are and are ultimately successful. When tournament standings can come down to the difference between 1 missed shot, spending time training all possible components of aim in isolation will give you the competitive edge that can set you apart from the rest of the elite crowd. 

Other Considerations with AIM Training

Warming Up for Aim Training

Just because you have achieved a high level of mechanical skill does not mean your technique cannot slip. Warming up your aim is incredibly important to prime your nervous system for competitive tasks each day.

Training your Aim

When training your aim there are a variety of tools you can use that range from 3rd party aim trainers (Kovaaks, aim trainers and isolation scenarios (no-build deathmatch). Utilizing in game physics and mechanics will be better training than using a 3rd party program. Utilizing more layers of complexity in something like a no build deathmatch scenario where players move in realistic ways will give you the ultimate aim training experience as long as it is designed to challenge all degrees of freedom (vertical / horizontal) (far/ near).  

Optimizing your AIM Training Schedule with Science

When using aim trainers scheduling your practice is going to be the most critical part of maximizing your motor learning and performance. First let’s talk about the types of practice and practice parameters, then we will discuss where in the 3 stages of learning the types of practice are most useful.

1. Massed practice (The Grind Schedule)

Massed Practice is a sequence of practice and rest times in which the rest time is much less than the practice time. Example: (45 minutes of aim training, 15 minute break, 45 minutes of aim training)

When is it ideal? Massed practice should be considered when motivation and skill levels are high and when you have adequate endurance, attention, and concentration and is best used in the Pro (Autonomous stage). 

Risks? Risks include fatigue, decreased performance, and risk of injury are factors that must be considered when using massed practice

2. Distributed practice (The Recovery Schedule) 

Distributed Practice is spaced practice intervals in which the practice time is equal to or less than the rest time. Example: (15 minutes of aim training, 45 minutes of break. 15 minutes of aim training)

When is it Ideal? Distributed practice results in the most learning per training time, although the total training time is increased and is most useful in the Noob (Cognitive Stage). With adequate rest periods, performance can be improved without the interfering effects of fatigue or increasing safety issues

What is the best strategy to organize your aim training? How long do you really need to train?

The order that you organize the tasks you need to practice matters. Different orderings are useful within different stages of learning and understanding when to utilize each will give you a more efficient training model. 

1. Blocked Order (Repetition Strategy)

Blocked order practice is the repeated practice of a task or group of tasks in order; three trials of task 1, three trials of task 2, three trials of task 3 (e.g., 111222333. Example: 3 sets of 5 min of Horizontal tracking, 3 sets of 5 min of Vertical Tracking, 3 sets of 5 min of Dynamic click timing, 3 sets of 5 min of Composite Click Timing

When is it Ideal? Blocked order is useful for early acquisition of skills and most useful in the Noob (Cognitive Phase). 

2. Serial order (Sequence Strategy)

Serial order practice is a predictable and repeating order of practice; practice of multiple tasks in a sequential order (e.g., 123123123). Example: 1 set of 5 min of Horizontal tracking, 1 set of 5 min of Vertical Tracking, 1 set of 5 min of Dynamic click timing, 1 set of 5 min of Composite Click Timing (Repeat x 3)

When is it Ideal? Serial and random order produce better retention and generalizability of skills. This is due to a concept that is called contextual interference and increased depth of cognitive processing. Contextual interference is a concept that states that the more your brain has to “shift gears” while completing tasks the the harder they are to perform during the task but you will be more likely to perform them well later. This strategy is most useful in the Amateur (Associated Stage).

3. Random order (Random Strategy)

A nonrepeating and nonpredictable order of multiple tasks (e.g., 123321312)

Example:  1 set of 5 min of Horizontal tracking, 1 set of 5 min of Vertical Tracking, 1 set of 5 min of Dynamic click timing, 1 set of 5 min of Composite Click Timing, 1 set of 5 min of Vertical Tracking, 1 set of 5 min of Composite Click Timing, 1 set of 5 min of Dynamic click timing etc…

When is it Ideal? Random ordering of the tasks may initially delay acquisition of the desired movements but over the long term will result in improved retention and generalizability. Most useful in the Associated and Autonomous Stage

What are some other practice strategies that can be helpful?

These strategies and principles can be used at any point in the continuum to improve your transference of skills from practice scenarios to in game success. 

Mental practice

Mental practice is a practice strategy in which performance of the motor task is imagined or visualized without overt physical practice. This can be incorporated into your VOD reviewing. When you identify situations that you should have performed differently actually take the time to mentally practice the skill you should have performed or modified for increased transference. Studies show that mental rehearsal of a motor task reinforces the cognitive component of motor learning—that is, learning what to do when performing a task and refining how it is executed. Mental practice has consistently been found to assist with the acquisition of motor skills and when combined with physical practice has been shown to increase the accuracy and efficiency of movements at significantly faster rates than physical practice alone. 

Part/whole practice

Part/whole practice is when you take component parts of a task practice them before practice of the whole task

Neuromotor skills such as aim are tasks that can be broken down into individual components. For example vertical and horizontal aiming patterns are combined by the brain to allow you to aim in any direction. Thus breaking down aim into vertical and horizontal components will help improve your ability to aim in any direction. 

When is it Ideal? Part–whole practice is most effective with discrete or serial motor tasks that have highly independent parts (aiming, building, editing) 

What are the Cons? Part–whole practice is not as effective for continuous movement tasks or for complex tasks with highly integrated parts (game sense dependent tasks, rotating, pressure aiming, target prioritization etc.)

For these tasks, practice of the integrated whole will result in superior learning. (Scenarios such as Zone Wars, No Build Deathmatch, Box Fights)

Summary Chart: Highlighting optimal schedule and order for phase of learning

Conclusion: AIM TRAINING WORKS

I hope we’ve been able to provide some clarity in helping you understand WHY aim training is a valuable component you should be including in your player development but also HOW you can go about designing your training program to optimize your results. The also may be beneficial for those who are currently working as aim and mechanical skills (position) coaches in the respective game you are playing. Let’s do a quick review of what we went over

  1. Definition of Esports / Gaming Aim
  2. Aim defined as a neuromotor skill
  3. There are different modalities (or ways) to train
  4. We need to have the physical capacity to optimize our aim training protocols
  5. How do we learn new skills and how does it apply to gaming?
  6. How long do we need to spend on aim training?
  7. What are some practice strategies we can implement?

Thanks for reading and look out for more amazing content coming soon. If you want to support us check out our patreon. You will receive early access for a lot of long-form and have direct access to ask us questions we will answer in the form of a video 🙂

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1 Comment
  • Max
    Posted at 10:38h, 07 January

    This is a great article. There are too many non-scientific claims in the Internet and barely anything like this. Gaming became a huge high performance demanding sport so it really needs this scientific theory.

    I would love to hear from you about two points:
    1. Mouse Acceleration
    2. Mouse grip styles and which may have more potential

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