Nocturnal Talks NeurOlympics, Mental Barriers, ALGS Performance
Hotspawn: Could you please introduce yourself?
Nocturnal: I’m Brandon Singer aka “Nocturnal” and I play professional Apex for Team Liquid.
Hotspawn: First up, we have some questions about the NeurOlympics and IMC’s partnership with Team Liquid. I understand you participated in the NeurOlympics mental assessments. What was your experience taking these tests like?
Nocturnal: It’s pretty much what I expected, but it was definitely on the longer side to what I was used to. It was actually kinda like a marathon, living up to the Olympics name too. There was a lot of standard stuff like memorization and testing brain functions. It definitely put my brain to the test, I enjoyed it.
Hotspawn: What types of tasks did you personally find to be the easiest and the most difficult?
Nocturnal: The one that was the most difficult to me was the flash instant memorization where you had like 0.5 seconds to remember directions or things that changed in motion. Those were really hard; I could not do that for the life of me. The simple timing game where you shoot cannons left, right, and up the middle to try and score was really fun and it was the easiest for me.
Hotspawn: During these tests, did you realize anything new about how your brain works to solve problems? Or did the assessment simply confirm what you’ve thought about your mental capabilities?
Nocturnal: Honestly, it felt like I placed on the lower side of my capabilities. I feel like I didn’t do the best that I could have. I wanted to retake the test over and over again to keep progressing my score, but I don’t feel like that would be my initial reading on what my brain can do. But yeah, I definitely felt like I should have done better.
Hotspawn: One of the reasons for IMC’s partnership with Team Liquid and their usage of the NeurOlympics was to test gamers to see if they shared the same cognitive skills as people in high profile jobs such as market making. Their studies showed that pro gamers tended to score very highly on these assessments in the upper percentiles. If you don’t mind saying, did your results in the NeurOlympics mirror this?
Nocturnal: Yes, for some of the tests I did very well. However, the short-term memory was not where I thought it would be. For the most part, though, I was in the upper percentiles.
Hotspawn: Did you participate in any activities growing up that would have helped shape your current neurological abilities besides gaming?
Nocturnal: To be honest, no. I started gaming around age 10 and I pretty much ditched out of playing sports and everything else. My brain development was purely from video games. I didn’t really read that much. I did read a small number of books, but not so much that I would say that it shaped my life. I really have to credit everything to gaming.
Hotspawn: That’s very interesting. I do know that you are one of the older players in the Apex pro scene right now, not that there’s anything wrong with that, pro gamers can go as long as they want. Was Apex the first game that you competed seriously in, or did you do any hardcore pro gaming or high ladder stuff earlier in your career?
Nocturnal: Just about every game I’ve touched, I’ve played competitively. It goes back to Halo 2 and Halo 3, League of Legends, CS:GO, Fortnite, I’ve done it all. In Overwatch, I was consistently top 50 in every season. In League, I was a Challenger player every season I played. And of course, in Apex I’m a professional. Every game I’ve played I’ve been high ranked.
Hotspawn: That’s a very impressive resume. What I like to think is that people who can get high rank in one game can likely get high rank in others because the problem solving and knowing how to improve carries over from game to game.
Nocturnal: Yeah, that is true, but I think a lot of people actually just don’t develop their skills. Even if they get high rank, they’re kinda just autopiloting. A lot of people just get lucky with high rank in my opinion. They don’t VOD review, watch their own gameplay, they don’t understand what they can do better. They get complacent with their rank and just think “if I climb higher, I climb higher.”
Hotspawn: Why do you think that gaming has been the key driving force in your mental development and thought processes growing up?
Nocturnal: Because I’ve spent most of my life gaming. Ever since middle school, I was one of the best Halo 2 players in my area and online, consistently having high ranks. I then played Halo 3 for four years which developed me too. I just consistently grew from video games and learned how to multitask, develop focus, and pay attention when I want to. I learned I could be a hard-working person and do anything I want. And the results have shown that I can accomplish what I want when I want.
Hotspawn: Now, to connect what we’ve been talking about more to Apex in particular, in terms of esports, the battle royale genre has potentially the most amount of information that needs to be processed and responded to that overwhelms players at once. How would you describe the correlation between your mental strengths and your strengths as an Apex player?
Nocturnal: Man, BR’s are just miserable on the brain. When I shot call for my team, I’m thinking about 10-15 minutes ahead of me. I’m thinking every single possibility. What this [opposing] team is and what are they gonna do. How interacting with them will affect us. Will they ruin our game? Will they lose easily? It’s like the Dr. Strange scenario where he’s thinking up a million possibilities. It’s not to that full extent, but I am thinking of like 100 different outcomes in just one game alone.
Hotspawn: Yeah, it’s definitely very mentally taxing and it gets to be a lot for the IGL’s of this game.
Nocturnal: It definitely can burn you out. I would equate BR’s to chess. I don’t know if I’d say it’s specifically easier or harder, but I’d say it’s harder in the short term and easier in the long term since you can adapt to other players. But yeah, I’d equate BR’s to chess.
Hotspawn: Talking more about your development as Liquid’s in-game leader, you’ve been their IGL for the past two years. What are some ways that you’ve changed or adapted your playing style that have led to the team’s current form?
Nocturnal: Mostly, it’s been self-confidence. You know, lying ‘till you make it. I’ve been a very pessimistic person my whole life. I slowly realized that recently I’ve been very depressive and unhappy, and it’s been affecting my team, and I didn’t realize it. I have to force the confidence in myself and just be who I am which I didn’t do for the longest time. I didn’t respect myself or understand that I have to be the leader. I fought my whole life trying not to be a leader, just like “I don’t want to do this or have these obligations.” Here I am, a leader role, here we are.
Hotspawn: Its definitely nice to see you in this more positive mental space. What advice would you give to people looking to improve their mental skills, things like awareness and decision making. This could be in-game, or out of game if you want to speak on that.
Nocturnal: I know for out of game, I’ve started to do basic meditation, it definitely helps my brain. You need to be healthy out of game to be healthy in game, that’s the motto I have. My therapist, Claudio, he taught us to take care of ourselves. If you can’t take care of yourself out of game, you can’t give your 100 percent if you’re not happy in your outside life. I started taking therapy, taking care of my diet, doing daily cardio. You have to build habits to develop your own mental. You’re just going to fall into a cycle of bad habits.
For in-game, do VOD reviewing. You need to look at yourself and understand what you’re doing wrong and what you’re doing right, and make sure to celebrate the rights. Most people don’t celebrate the fact that they are doing good things, they only focus on the negatives. If you something right, celebrate it.
Hotspawn: That makes sense, lift your teammates up when they do something good, but still come through with improvement when a mistake is made.
Nocturnal: Yeah, never judge them. It’s just like, “hey, we could probably do this better, lets look to do it next game.”
Hotspawn: Now, I want to talk about Team Liquid as a whole and the first Split of the ALGS Pro League that just came to a close. Congratulations, by the way, on qualifying for the playoffs in January. It was a bit of a rough Split for you, Liquid ended up finishing 17th place. It’s top 20, good enough, making it through is what matters. But what were some of the biggest difficulties Liquid faced throughout Split 1 of Pro League?
Nocturnal: The biggest difficulty was adapting to people who think they can win in very niche ways. They do a lot of fighting; coin flipping is what we call it. It doesn’t compute with me that, “hey, you’re not gonna win three team fights and win a tournament off of it.” We just didn’t adapt well to other players.
Also, I was very mentally down. Very unhappy and stressed out. I was constantly thinking, “I wanna win, I wanna win,” but not putting in the effort or mental drive. I would like to simply take responsibility for our results. I am the main factor that could have helped us do better, but I was just not together. I wasn’t the person I usually am. That was the first few weeks [of Pro League]. We got very lucky with the LAN canceling, and now we’re allowed to play in finals and hopefully make a return for ourselves.
Hotspawn: My next question had to do with that actually. After week four, Liquid had only earned nine total points, then the news hit that LAN was canceled and a top 20 regional format was planned. What was the reaction like in the Liquid camp when that happened? What were you saying to each other?
Nocturnal: We got so incredibly lucky. Realistically, it sucks for the people who top 10’ed, they definitely deserve to go to LAN to show their ability. But, COVID is a risk and Respawn is very on eggshells with that kind of stuff. But yeah, I was ecstatic. We knew that we had a high chance to play for a spot in finals now, we didn’t need to stress about winning every single game left in the Split. We could play our game without the anxiety of flopping out of LAN qualification.
Hotspawn: They changed the format coming into ALGS Split 1, where now, your final placement on the day of play was the points you earned towards the total standings. One of the things I looked at for Liquid was your week-to-week placements. When looking at them they’re actually not bad at all. You had 8th, 6th, 16th, 5th, 5th, 6th. Only one of your placements was outside top eight, and you guys barely snuck in at 17th. What’s your opinion of this system that was implemented this season?
Nocturnal: It just stems off the base placement system, but it’s unnecessarily weird to use here. Those odd placement points were just taken and put into a new table which I don’t think anyone liked. Because if you dominated a day with 100 points and second place had 50, why should the two teams get anywhere near the same number of points. There’s a lot of cases like that, and I feel that overall, we were not reciprocated for how well we did. Realistically, placing top eight in five out of six weeks is pretty damn good. That’s consistency. Anyways, I think that the way they do the scoring system has never been good.
Hotspawn: What are some potential changes or systems you think could be implemented that would be better?
Nocturnal: First off, go back to the old league system where the secondary points system doesn’t exist. There’s a graph out there on if ALGS Split 1 was scored based on performance and not the secondary points. All of the top 20 would be the same, but the placements of all the teams was completely reorganized. It would be nicer to have that, it would be more results that people want.
Hotspawn: With all of the changes that did come to the first Split of ALGS Pro League, we had a change to Team Liquid as well with Fun coming into the team. How did the arrival of Fun to the team change Liquid’s dynamic and playstyle?
Nocturnal: When Fun joined, I started solo IGLing. We went from having two co-IGL’s to just me calling now. I have a team that fully trusts me and doesn’t second guess my calls. If I say a play and it involves them dying, they’ll do it. It’s a breath of fresh air honestly. Fun is one of, if not the best player I’ve ever played with, and I’ve played with a lot of amazing players. He’s just mechanically insane and he is one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. I’m very happy with the current roster and I don’t think I’d change anything.
Hotspawn: Looking back on Split 1 as a whole, what are some of your favorite moments from the inaugural Split? They could have happened in-game, or out of game.
Nocturnal: Favorite moments? Honestly, I don’t remember most of these weeks, but I would have to say the last game of week six which was a do-or-die moment. We had our backs against the wall, we f***ed up games two through four because of me, and game six was our last chance. And we killed it. In the endgame 3v3 against Sentinels, I messed it up and should have won it. Aside from that, the game was so methodically played, it was probably my favorite moment from the first Split.
Hotspawn: To see it all come together, you get the points, you get the playoff spot, definitely a high point for Liquid to close the Split out.
Nocturnal: There was a moment where we were just saying “what the hell do we do?” Then, all three of us just vocalized, “I have no idea, f*** it, we’re Valk ulting.” Then everything lined up, we played it all perfectly except the last fight, but it was insanely fun to play.
Hotspawn: And you have that high point to ride into playoffs next month. Throughout the Split, you had some good moments and some bad moments, you’re here in the end for playoffs. What are the biggest takeaways and lessons learned that you and Liquid will take into the playoffs in January?
Nocturnal: I need to stop being so hard on myself. A lot of our problems generally stem off of me. Flanker is always consistent, always there and mentally awake. Fun can have his bad days where, you know, you wake up on the wrong side of the bed and your day is chalked. That happens, and you can’t blame him for it. That’s really his only fault. We call it Brandon days actually, which is pretty funny, where you wake up and you’re just over it. But realistically, I just need to take better care of myself. I need to give myself the pampering I deserve and try to be a bit less depressive.
Hotspawn: Lastly, if there are any shoutouts or anything you want to say to fans of you or fans of Team Liquid going forward, I’ll open the floor.
Nocturnal: Thank you for the interview, thank you to all of the fans for supporting us through a very rough season. We will definitely have a much stronger performance in finals.