We know the placebo effect as something used in health care, but it also affects (electronic) athletes.

18:00, 19 Jul 2020

What is a placebo? A placebo is something that doesn’t change anything but because you think it has a positive effect, it actually has a positive effect. It’s mostly used in medical contexts, but it applies to many things in life.

The opposite is a nocebo. That is when a negative expectation creates a negative outcome, even though nothing changed.

The professional Rocket League player who is plagued the most by the nocebo effect is Justin ‘jstn.’ Morales. The star player for NRG has to have everything to his liking or he feels slow. Using ‘jstn.’ as his name makes him feel slow, so he uses longer names like ‘jstncrdbl.’ or ‘not so juicy jstn.’ Certain maps feel slower for him too. In his opinion, Neo Tokyo feels slow during the day but fast at night. How and why is unclear.

He also thinks the lighting looks weird on Mannfield and Beckwith Park. jstn says that on those maps his car looks different and it always throws him off, even during RLCS matches. Different lighting can, of course, make a real difference in how the game looks, but apart from that, his observations seem to be purely psychological.

An honourable mention goes to the worst nocebo effect in Rocket League: the so-called ‘heavy car bug’. Some players (but no pro players) believe that their specific version of the game is bugged in a way that gives them extra input lag and makes their car feel ‘heavy’. There is no replicable evidence that the bug really exists. They have tried everything, including wrapping their whole pc in tin foil. The people who believe it does exist are likely dealing with a strong nocebo effect.

Placebos hold players back

There are plenty of placebos in Rocket League too. The majority of pro players feel most comfortable with Alpha boost and specific wheels like cristiano or black dieci. Only a few cars, like the Octane, Fennec, Dominus and Batmobile, are deemed viable for the professional level. Minimalist car designs are labelled ‘speedy’, so every pro uses them.

This matters so much to the professional players that everyone who breaks from the norm is looked down upon. After Luke and Freshness decided to use the Merc with rainbow boost and toppers in the grand finals of the Beyond The Summit Summer Shuffle, GarrettG and jstn were upset that ‘a team that had so much potential to actually win ended up trolling.’

Placebos can help players...

A scientific study ‘Placebo Effect and Athletes’ published by the American College of Sports Medicine shows that athletes believe that placebos are beneficial. Some people are more receptive to placebos than others: 35 out of the 48 participating professional athletes said they had experienced a placebo effect.


This could apply to esports as well. Coaches can improve their players’ performance by giving them access to ‘performance-enhancing’ placebos. Believing that the placebo is actually helping is vital to the success of the placebo effect. When a player believes in it, it’s a harmless and very effective way to boost the player’s gameplay.

...But skill matters more

Despite jstn’s superstitions, he’s still one of the best players out there. That shows he can overcome the nocebo effect, but maybe, more importantly, it shows that skill matters the most. Flakes made a point of using highly unconventional cars, and he managed to win against other pro teams. Some players clearly aren’t as bound to the Octane, Fennec or Dominus to feel comfortable with their setup.


Everyone has good and bad days, and everyone has some irrational quirks. Being aware of them and dealing with them correctly can improve your gameplay and can give you the edge over your opponents.


Images via DreamHack

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