DDK played competitively for over 10 years in Quake and has been a professional esports commentator for over 6 years recognized in CSGO, quake and apex legends. He is a calisthenics/lifting hobbyist as well as being a gaming and tech enthusiast. He produces his own podcast called “the DDK show” where he has conversations with pro players and industry insiders. He also produces analytical content on YouTube that focuses on breaking down and understanding strategy as well as sports psychology and anything relevant to improving oneself as a player.
In this interview with Dan “DDK” Kapadia, DDK explains his background in professional gaming and his transition into commentating and podcasting. He also shares his obsession for understanding what it takes to become an elite-level player and his passion for health and wellness and how he shares that knowledge in various forms of content on his podcast and youtube videos.
Check out the full interview here.
- DDK’s background and how he got to now (00:38)
- His journey as a pro player and his three biggest takeaways from his experience (02:11)
- Managing tilt and reprogramming success metrics
- What is DDK’s take on outcome dependency models for success and progress
- We talk about reframing failures and being able to level-set expectations and learning
- DDK’s discuss the large variation in professional players routines (07:00)
- What it means to have a growth mindset
- The difference in players pre-game routines
- Asking the tough questions, “Are you successful because of or in spite of” (10:17)
- When warming up for a game – the difference between doing what feels good to play and what makes you improve (12:17)
- The benefits of journal and self-examination
- How fitness played a role in DDK’s routine to optimize his performance (16:41)
- DDK’s thoughts on exercise improving focus and energy as well as emotional regulation
- The power of routines that are holistic
- Exercise as a way to build a goal-oriented mindset
- The benefits of exercise on your body and mood (20:57)
- Exercise to improve your growth mindset (22:41)
- How to build a road map of outcomes and behaviors to achieve your goals (23:21)
- Exercise and mental health (24:30)
- DDK’s view on exercise as meditative and performance-based(25:26)
- Championship mindset
- Where to find DDK on social media (28:41)
- Closing remarks (30:04)
Dan, I appreciate you being here.
Of course. Always, always. I’m excited to nerd out about stuff, you know what I mean?
Yes, definitely. So, if you could just share a little bit about yourself and your background and where you’re at today.
Yeah. I’ve been a professional commentator in esports for a little over six years. It started out as me using my experience as a professional Quake player or being an ex-professional and starting out with Quake roll cast. And I was brought on as like an analyst and I’d be making a lot of content. And my big thing initially, which got me into all of this was, “What have I been doing or spending my time doing the past decade before I got into commentary.” And it was basically getting really good at video games and playing at an elite level and learning a bunch of different ones and getting really obsessed with that journey to becoming elite; what that consists of and all the lessons learned along the way. And I figured, “Hey, I should share some of these lessons with other people.”
And that became the basis of my content. And I think my real angle and my real brands as a commentator, and I started out with Quake but then transitioned into Counter-Strike, which is what I’m most known for. These days, and obviously it’s one of the biggest esports. So that’s what most people will be familiar with Counter-Strike and before that, I was just a nerd playing a lot of video games and trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t work. And I think fitness was always something that I… And like martial arts was something that was also always very interested in and something that took a lot of my time as well. So those are always my two main focuses and that’s all led me to where I am today.
Awesome. I appreciate that. So could you talk a little bit about your journey as a pro player and maybe what are the three biggest takeaways or lessons learned throughout that experience?
Yeah. This is a great question. I think it’s always hard to… Because there’s so much… So many lessons, so it’s always hard to choose once I would go with as the most important. But the ones that springs to mind first… I think the first one is a concept I learned in my stint in the poker world, which is this idea of outcome dependency and that we don’t want to be outcome dependent. However, when we’re in an environment and let’s say that’s something that’s competitive and we want to improve, one of the most important things is having an understanding of how that path looks like. And for someone that’s inexperienced and doesn’t have a great grasp of the game yet because these games are really complex. It takes a lot of years of experience and learning and analysis and introspecting to really understand how all the pieces fit together.
So it’s really easy by default to have bad success metrics and to be guided by those bad success metrics. And so that’s this idea of outcome dependency. We don’t want to be dependent upon the outcome because the outcome; it can be very random because of a lot of different factors. And I think that when I was a young player, one of the things that I struggled the most with was getting very angry. And this is leading into my next point. And I had that kind of emotional distress because I wanted to be really, really good. I couldn’t get the wins, I couldn’t see the path to improvement. And that just made me tilt basically. And I would have really big issues with tilt. So one of the things that really I find is very helpful is understanding how to reprogram all success metrics.
And so therefore, we are no longer outcome dependent because for example, if we have a bad game, we can then look at our decision making processes and think, “Okay…” Effectively our mechanics or aim; that’s something that as we human beings, there is a pretty big degree of variance to that and we may have missed some shots. But we can pretty much always put ourselves in the best positions to succeed. So, did I do that throughout my course of the game? And even if I lost the game and had a bad fragging game, maybe I’m in my C game at that point. As long as I achieve that, I’m cool. And emotionally I found it that really helped with tilt. So there’s mixing and meshing these and as a final point… As a third one, I would say, it’s really important to have routines to your practice and to have directed practice and everything needs to be…
It’s one of the best ways to measure your improvement and where you’re struggling and where your strengths are and that’s going to really help you to really dial into how to use your time the most effectively. Because I do see a lot of people who will just, they’ll throw out the idea of the 10,000 hours, which is a very generic thing to throw out there. I think Malcolm Gladwell popularized that with one of his works-
… but that’s not necessarily, it’s about using the time effectively and you have to have… The best way to do that is to create some routines, build up your regimen, stick to it, and then you can alter things as they need to be altered. So those are the three things I would probably talk about.
Yeah, thanks for that. So what I’m hearing in those first two is a lot about reframing. So first not being outcome dependent and reframing the context of really trying to be a growth mindset and having it be about, Okay, what are my wins? Where my loss is, it really being introspective and saying, “Okay, well how did I play? Maybe it wasn’t my A game, but it was my B game or my C game.” And there are still lessons to be learned. And each one of those different categories. And the tilting thing I think is huge. I think for a lot of people, being able to clear those emotions and being able to notice a name when it comes up. And the quicker you can do that, with differential from a stimulus and response, the shorter the differential, then the more able you’ll be able to get back into the game and get your head back into the game and not let yourself get too distracted.
And then the last point about routines I think it’s so important. And we’ve seen this in traditional sports as well, where you have a lot of people get in their set routines and it’s, one people become creatures of habit and two, there is the repetition and the consistency. I always use bands; what is your bare ass minimum that you can do every day? And what that does is it builds up consistency over time. And then that steamrolls into habits, lifestyle change. And this isn’t just lifestyle for life outside the game, but it’s also within the game. And those two are interwoven. So I really appreciate you saying that. So talk to me a little about your time span as a commentator. You’re obviously around some of the best players in the world, traveling all over the world. What are some of the pros doing? What are you seeing them do in terms of pregame, post-game, maybe in between matches? I’m curious to learn a bit more about that.
Yeah, so it’s a funny one because a lot of players… There are so many different types of people. I was going to say players, but I consider as people in general, and how they approach these different problems and where they’re coming from and in terms of their background and it’s so diverse. There are certain people that are extremely tenacious and they’re the kind of people that, it doesn’t matter what life throws at them, they just want to get X result and they will do whatever they can to get them. They may not be talented necessarily, but for whatever reason, becoming a pro player and being competitive and achieving things in that realm is the most important value that they have. And they’ll just get there. And that type of players is an interesting one because that’s the kind of person that’s going to put in a lot of work and they’re going to be very analytical and they’ll be able to articulate things very well.
And there’ll be constantly this student mindset and the funny thing as well is that you get the complete opposite too where… I’ve spoken to so many players and they are so good. Some of them are so smart now they play the game like you watch them play the game, they have great mechanics, sure. They can play on the elite level in that sense. And even if they weren’t smart player, they would still be able to make it just off of that alone. But then the defining characteristic is this guy’s really smart. But because again, some of these players are talented and young, if they don’t spend a lot of that time having to work really hard to going through all these barriers, because they don’t necessarily have as much innate talent as some of the other players, they won’t be as articulate.
They’ll just see a problem, they’ll be like, “Well, the way that I solve problems is just by putting more hours.” For them it works fine. Because they have that… Whatever it is and that in the heads and that brain that just… Their cognitive abilities when presented with the variables within that arena specifically, that brain just gets it. So, it’s a spectrum between those two types. And I think we’ve all seen that the most elite players in the world are those people that can actually have an incredible work ethic and very analytical and are extremely talented on top of that. But those kinds of players are rarer. But generally speaking, it ranges massively. There are players who want to spend no time before a big match at all, practicing or getting on the servers and shooting at bots and practicing their aim.
There are some players, like I spoke to “Valde”, I’m on my podcast and he said, “What I like to do is, I like to avoid doing any warm up for my mechanics. But what I do is I sit there and I’ll watch a game or relax and I’ll visualize all the players I’m going to make. I’ll visualize the situations I’m going to be in. I’m going to just make sure… So, I’m in that kind of relaxed mindset and just preparing myself for all the things that I’m going to run into in the game. And that’s how he likes to do it. And he’s definitely one of the best players in the world.
And then I have people that do love to just like smash bots for ages and stuff. So it’s so diverse and I think this really speaks to this idea that everyone wants the magical answer, “The thing that works.” But it is invariably, just always about personal experimentation. And I found like in every field of my life that that is the same thing. The answer is never easy. You got to like actually go out and try stuff and commit to trying things, but significant periods of time to see if it works for you. So, I can’t give you a direct answer but-
No. I think that’s great. We’ve talked about this before on other podcasts and in passing, and I think what’s super interesting, this ties back into your third point about routine is… Once you reach a certain level, even along the way on that path, you need to ask yourself, “Are you successful because of or in spite of everything you’ve done?” And that’s a really hard question to answer. What that does is, if you have that growth mindset, it opens up the opportunity to really examine your day-to-day, your routine. And there is a point of diminishing returns and figuring out what that threshold is. There is an upper and lower threshold and there is a maximum operational output and they fluctuate. The more you can increase your maximum output, the more operational output you have to work within that.
And in terms of the pregame warm up or postgame cool now type stuff and being able to do the debriefs; an after action review and go over what went well, what went wrong, lessons learned, big wins moving forward. That’s all very individualized. And I saw that working with the pro players, with the guys at OpTic and League of Legends and Houston Outlaws, same sort of thing. Everybody had their set routine. So it’s very individualized and I think for young players coming up, it’s an invitation for them to try different things. And I think a lot of times people get stuck into this mold or this idea that they have to do just one thing and they just grind and that’s what they do. Or they see somebody else do something and it’s successful. And this is confirmation bias.
I was like, “Oh, this individual does it this way so I need to do it that way.” And that’s not necessarily true. And the same goes with different learning styles and different learning models. There’s research that’s coming out that shows that in perceptual learning… You need to sleep. There’s only a certain window where you can get great practicing and then you need to sleep to be able to crystallize that information, consolidate it. And I think a lot more people are starting to get in tune with that. And that’s one of our big pushes with what we’re trying to do with this education series. Start getting people to think outside the box and try different things and see what really works for them. I think that’s a great point.
I’ve another quick add-on to that actually. So, because I think definitely there’s two aspects to this too. Like when we’re talking about the pregame postgame, like practice and so on, I think there is a difference that’s important between what makes you just feel good and feel good in the game and what makes you improve. Because those two things aren’t necessarily the same. And for example like the pregame stuff, I think it’s all about supporting yourself emotionally so you can feel good. And so I think that’s what a lot of people are looking for are feeling good. Because a lot of… It’s like if they have the old… I don’t know what the… There’s an old quote about, “The game was won in practice the day before the game was…” That kind of stuff.
And I think that’s another interesting topic and I did actually do a podcast with a guy called STYKO very recently and I’ll just make this really quick because I thought this is really cool. STYKO is someone that was on a very like a top five level elite team in 2017/2018 but then he was one of the support players and he… Unfortunately as a support player, doesn’t get as much love in terms of his market value when that team broke up. So he went back out there and had to reinvent himself. And interestingly he’d been listening to some of my podcasts and picked up some bits of information that were actually quite compelling. One of the most important things that he took from it was, the A game, B game, C game stuff from Jared Tendler and also the journaling, which goes back to your point about being able to create reference points.
And he understood through journaling and he was describing this to me that he under seeks all correlations between his performance and his emotional states and that was a predictable correlation he found. And so then he was able to more effectively have more consistent and better performances by understanding himself through journaling and writing things down in that process. And what he’s doing right now is he’s going from a support player to the other end of the spectrum and he’s become like a hard carry player and he’s doing a really good job at it. So, that’s another journaling is another big tip for sure.
Awesome. Yeah, I’m a huge fan of that as well. A lot of the pro players that I work with on an individual basis and a team basis, I always encourage them to start a journaling practice and capture just a few things. The first part of that is tracking your sleep. How much did you sleep, what was the quality of your sleep, what’s your mood on that day? And then really thinking about after your training session, journaling and doing a debrief for yourself and picking out those reference points that you talked about. And then also what was your rate of perceived exertion? How hard was that training session for you? Or how difficult was that game for you? Because you can actually correlate those back to your sleep, your mood. And if you start to look at that over consistent basis, you have acute and chronic loading.
So if you compare seven to 21 days over a period of time, you can start to see trends and that could directly tie back into your gameplay. And it’s just a really good opportunity for you to be more self-aware of what’s going on because you may be like, “Why, I totally just crash in this game.” What happened like three days before? “Oh, well, I wasn’t sleeping well, my mood was down. Every match that I played, every scrim that I played was extremely difficult for me.” That’s valuable to know because then that opens up the conversation with the coaches and also with yourself to be okay, “But what needs to change? What needs to be different to allow me to really optimize and continue my forward progression.”
Yeah. I completely agree. I think it’s very easy when you don’t have that information to be able to make up all kinds of stories to yourself as to why things may or may not happen. So actually lifting the veil and deciding to actually get the information is definitely a game changer. And I think it would be negligent for any pro not to do it, especially if they’re on a pro team and have the support of people around them that can help them with those habits. And that’s also habit that is accessible to anybody as well. You don’t need any support staff for that. So, for sure it’s so important.
Exactly. Yeah, totally. I wish we had more time because there’s so many more points I want to hit on with that. But let’s, for the sake of time we’re going to move forward. So the last one I want to talk about is… You have a passion for health and wellness. You always have and most recently getting healthy again with your shoulders and really get back into your training routine. How has your journey in health and wellness impacted your playing as well, both in game and out of game?
Yeah, I think when I established I think what was my most effective routine, where my state was optimized and everything else, the fitness played a really big part in that because what I was doing is I was making sure that I understood the currencies that I had and what I was spending in the sense of the currency of focus and energy and where is that best spent? And it’s interesting because I did discover that in terms of exercise, it was really critical in helping me be more focused and to get a better energy and a better result from my practice because not only does it make you feel good, I also find that it combats a lot of other things. So for example, sometimes you won’t sleep, have the best sleep, but exercise is amazing because I think just from a blood flow perspective, getting your entire body moving like sweating a bit, that actually helps with and a lot of the grogginess that you may or may not be experiencing.
It cuts through a lot of the haze and even if that day you might have a little bit less energy or focus. It gives you the stability to at least have… For me, I found a good few hours of practice and I found that if you’re already playing on a pretty high level and your aiming mechanics are there and it’s just more about maintenance but it’s more about having the mental clarity because the gains are going to mostly be making are actually in having the ability to analyze what’s going on. So seeing like seeing what happens in terms of you putting yourself in the server, what is the result in terms of, “What are you picking up on analytically?” But also I found that it makes me… It may be more stable emotionally because I’m in a generally better state, it meant that a more emotional neutral state gave me a better analytical minds because I’m more objective in how I assess what’s happening and it also, there’s a lot of situations in game.
I find that that clarity is extremely important because we can get emotionally very invested in how we’re playing, so we might get very emotionally invested in a play we’re about to make, but one of the mindsets you need to have is it’s always just understand that, “I’m going to crunch the numbers on this situation and this is the plan I’m going to make. Something happens before I could actually make that play in a situation slightly different. Going to crunch numbers against different situation.” That’s cool and it doesn’t matter. That initial decision of like, “I want to make this play, really cool. I’m going to, I’m going to get all these skills. I’m going to do all these cool things.” You don’t get as invested in those situations. I just found in general better clarity and a better emotional state.
And the other thing too is it gave me a better sensitivity and awareness of my focus and energy. So I understood better when it was starting to wane and that’s how I programmed myself talking about understanding how we individualize our training regimens because then I know, “Okay, my best moments to play is in this window and what are low energy activities that don’t require as much focus but I can get maximum value from.” Because if I’m going to play past that point, I’m not going to get maximum value from the experience. I might as well try to opt to get a better experience that’s more efficient in terms of the energy that I have read a book or do this or do that or… Especially because if we’re thinking about sleep, we’re thinking about turning off the screens, we’re thinking about reducing the light and stress and we want more relaxing activities to maximize the sleep, which as you said, helps to crystallize, especially all the technique work that you’re doing, but all the decision making and it also puts you in a better mindset.
I think to internalize the decisions that you’ve made and it helps you to avoid running into bad patterns. Because that tends to be where most pro players suffer. They practice too much and they lock themselves into bad decision making patterns and then it’s very difficult to break away from them. So I feel like exercise is really fundamental in the emotional and mental clarity that then leads into the most and best practice. I feel like it’s inseparable to a good routine. You have to have it. And I found only great benefits from it.
Yeah, I think that’s awesome. You touched on so many great points. I think just the fact that exercise releases endorphins, so it’s feel good hormones. That is huge. The circulatory effect, look, we’re talking about, professional gamers or aspiring pro gamers and their brand is their moneymaker. Their ability to perceive and process and execute fine motor skills at rapid speed is dependent upon how well the brain is going to be functioning and improving your circulation is only going to be an additive to that. And I’ve always encouraged players to get at least 20 minutes a day of some physical activity, it’s going to improve circulation. It’s going to improve activation of BDNF, which is brain derived neurotrophic factor, which is like turning the lights on for your brain. So many benefits that we could do a whole other segment on that. And the other part that I really appreciate you touching on is, the emotional stability that comes with exercise.
What’s interesting is, once people start to get into a routine, it becomes part of just their lifestyle in general and it becomes like this outlet. It’s this stress reliever. People call it working out but it’s really working in, your internally working your body. It’s this state of constant evolution of yourself and then that energy gets pushed out to the world and that’s how you view the world very differently. And so once people get into consistent routine, what happens is, all of their parts of their life start to fit into place. And it doesn’t necessarily have to start the exercise, maybe it’s starting with your sleep or maybe it’s start with your nutrition. Because if you could start to feel better, whichever one of those buttons, dials, levers and knobs you can push, pull or twist, turn to start you feeling better is going to get you going in the right direction. Then all the other parts fit together.
I think there’s… If I was going to add like one small thing on top of it as well is I think it’s really beneficial to… With exercise it can be a lot of different things. In my case in particular has always been lifting and calisthenics and in the past like martial arts and what I think is really cool is habituating and rewarding yourself for getting into mind mindset of goal-oriented activities because it’s very goal-oriented and that’s also how you should look as we covered previously as how you should look at your practice as an athlete as well and whether that’d be in a traditional sport or in any esport. And so I think it’s very… It encourages that mindset. So I think that’s another reason why I particularly like it a lot.
Yeah, I love that. So, that’s a really good distinction there. And part of that too is… With goal setting there are outcomes and behaviors and it’s different. There’s a distinction between an outcome and a behavior and the behaviors are what feed into the outcomes. And I think for a lot of people, what’s interesting is when people say, “Oh, I want to be the best player in the world.” The conversations that I have is like, “Cool, so what’s that going to take?” “Well, I need to do X, Y, and Z.”
Okay, cool. So let’s map that out. So what’s your one-year goal and what’s your someday goal? Let’s map that out. “What’s your one year goal? Okay, let’s be clear and specific. What’s your six-month goal? What’s your three-month, one-month, one-week, one-day, can you do right now?” Because when you do that and you reverse engineer, you basically create that roadmap like you’re talking about like that path, that journey. I think for a lot of people they get caught up on the outcome, but they don’t really take the time to think about okay, what behaviors need to be true to feed into that outcome. And that’s a huge learning experience for everybody. I appreciate you brought that up.
Yeah, for sure. It’s as long as anything we can do to get more people exercising, it’s always good.
Yeah. I mean exercising and also just taking care of mental health too. And for myself, that’s been a huge passion of mine is encouraging mental health and I think we didn’t talk about it but meditation is a huge part of my own practice and I know a lot of other people meditate as well and that’s a huge opportunity for you to be able to sit with yourself, close your eyes, disconnect from the external world and really start to think about and envision your future self. Because a lot of people… It’s like you have these images… Some people meditate and they try to just clear the mind. I choose to meditate and to focus on the person I want to become. And what does that experience feel like? What does it look like? What does it feel like? What are the emotions that are drawn? I’ve got come from that and that’s an incredibly powerful experience as well. And that also ties into working out and exercise and nutrition. It actually ties into all three different subjects that we just talked on.
Yeah. I definitely agree that exercise meditative and it is also performance in many senses. And I know that for me I always channel myself as a competitor into the exercise because there’s obviously all kinds of different ways you can do it. I think a lot of people who get into something that’s competitive, they’re doing it because they want to live in that discomfort because they’re chasing growth. And that’s the two things are inseparable. Discomfort and growth unfortunately. And with exercise as well… Obviously it depends on which modalities you’re using, but you can exercise with poor form or you can do it with poor energy or with a poor preparation. It’s exactly the same as how you would try to become really great at any kind of a sport like the preparation elements and the understanding and the training and the attention to detail and the analysis and even the journey to have to some extent the championship kind of mindset is applicable to it very directly.
And I think there’s this… I love that physical energy that you get from it in that sense. And I think fighting is maybe the ultimate version of this where it’s… Because you’re almost in this fight or flight, like someone who’s challenging you directly, physically. It’s brings out that kind of competitive and primal instinct I think the most. But I think ultimately it’s to me the closest I get to that now is like with lifting in a really, really hard sets, really hard workout and just like pushing myself past this. Whatever the kind of level of stress I’m going through and just pushing through it and trying to achieve that.
And that’s like training for the fight… For what I call the championship’s mindset, or the Mamba mentality or whatever you’re going to call it. And so I think it’s also very important to constantly find ways for us to challenge ourselves and exercise is an easy win. Because we get a reward, we get the endorphins and everything and you get to see a change in your body. So there’s so many cool rewards from it too. So, definitely worth looking into for those who haven’t yet found a love for it. I actually don’t believe that there are people that actually truly hate it. I think they just haven’t found the right thing yet. But still…
It’s about what moves you. It could be taking a five minute walk or a twenty minute walk or it could be lifting weights, it could be riding a bike. My biggest invitation to people is try a lot of things and just see what moves you. Maybe it’s yoga, maybe it’s martial arts, maybe it’s Tai Chi, whenever it gets you out and gets you moving in some capacity it is going to be good for you. For your performance and for your longevity. And that’s always been the conversation I’ve had with players is, “Look, this is not just about your gaming performance, this is about your longevity. Because that means more money for you and more money for your families. So let’s start to take apart all the different variables that need to be accounted for and then let’s start piecing together for you as the individual.” Awesome. Well, that’s about it for us on time and I feel like we can jam out forever.
Yeah. I had the next thing already to go.
I know. So we’ll cap it there. We’ll definitely do another one. And so where can people find out more about you? You’ve got an awesome podcast. Share about that.
Yeah. I think the easiest thing for people to do is just go… If they use Twitter or Instagram, ddkesports all one word is where you can find my Twitter or Instagram and pretty much everything that I’m doing, I’ll be tweeting about and other links of the socials on there. So, that’s probably the best place to find my stuff.
Awesome. Well thanks brother. I want to acknowledge you for all the work that you’re doing in the space, all that you’ve done and continue to do right now. And I’m fired up for the path that you’re on and having a real impact in the space and gaming and health and wellness. So thank you for that.
Awesome. Thanks so much Taylor. Likewise. A quick… I know that you’re doing the outro right now, I’m going to mess it all up. Even though I myself, I’m like a podcast, I really appreciate the… I’m completely ruining this for you… but as a small bit of backstory, Taylor and I connected because I saw him as this traditional guy from traditional sports this sports performance coach walking into this green room like, “Who is this, this non esports person” And I was like, “Oh, that’s actually very interesting. Would you want to do a podcast?” And he agreed to it and then we both found out all the stuff that he just said to me… I remember that back to you. I’m really excited for all the things that you’re doing, all the stuff you’re bringing in from traditional sports. I think you’re doing really great work, so I’m just happy to be a part of this. So thanks for bringing me on.
Thanks, brother. Appreciate it. All right, cheers.
Closing Remarks (30:04)