Let’s assume you’re already very talented at the esport you want to go pro in. You’ve been climbing up whatever ranking system there is and now you’re competing against other top players.
Clearly, this isn’t enough to be pro, or you would be pro by now. Just like in traditional sports, it takes more than just being really good to go pro in esports.
So, how do you become a pro gamer?
- Get better at learning
- Start training like an athlete
- Hire a coach
- Develop a personality and reputation
- Become a team player
- Attend local tournaments
- Face the facts
- Consider varsity esports
- Think about life after esports
- Learn from Biofrost & Fatal1ty
It takes more than just skill at your game to become a professional gamer. As esports continues to grow, so will the pool of competitors and you will benefit from learning how to stand out from the competition.
GET BETTER AT LEARNING
When I ask gamers “what’s the number one thing that separates esports from more traditional sports” I get all sorts of answers. Some say it’s static, meaning the athletes don’t really move much. Some say it’s more like chess as strategy trumps physical preparedness.
Whatever the answer I get, it’s almost always wrong (well, in my opinion). The number thing that separates esports from traditional sports is learning. Now, what would make me say such a thing?
Hear me out. Let’s take chess for example since I already mentioned it. There are chess masters who have literally dedicated their life to chess (but for some reason that’s more acceptable over gaming).
Chess can seem complicated at first, especially when learning as a child. But over time, you start to understand the fundamentals. Chess masters get to a point where they are more akin to a computer as they can visualize almost every possible move in the game.
Ok ok, so what’s my point? Well, imagine if chess received “patches” or “updates” every few weeks. Imagine if one month the horse moved in an “L” shape then the next month the horse moved in a “C” shape.
See where I’m going with this?
Esports undergo significant changes on a regular basis. Albeit some more than others. LoL for example used to get patched every two weeks requiring the players to constantly learn new meta.
My own gaming experience has primarily been on the FPS side which is less of a victim to patches. But still, every so often something as minor as the cost of a pistol in CS:GO will change how professional matches are played from that point on.
The fundamental skill of learning is not required in more traditional sports on a continuous basis. Athletes are able to reach a certain point of mastery that results in less time spent on skill development. This allows athletes to focus more on building up weaknesses to reduce injuries and to spend time in other meaningful activities outside of sports.
Not so much in esports. This explains why some gamers in some esports can spend upwards of twenty hours (extreme cases) a day practicing.
So you may be thinking, how does one get better at learning?
HOW COMPETITIVE GAMERS CAN GET BETTER AT LEARNING
This is ultimately on you. I won’t be able to teach you how you can learn better from this post. It is going to take time and exploration on your part.
For starters, especially for titles like LoL, you need to be mastering every new patch as soon as it comes out. It doesn’t matter how good you are now because you might suck once the game gets updated.
One tactic that may prove beneficial is to give yourself less time to learn each patch. This may sound counter-intuitive, but hear me out.
When people have less time for their responsibilities, some become more effective at tackling those responsibilities. There are single mothers who work full time, raise children and still earn a college degree. How is that possible? They don’t waste any time.
Competitive gamers who spend hours upon hours playing their esport are most likely wasting portions of that time. They would probably benefit from a more rigid schedule that had a purpose to each training session rather than just blindly playing matches.
In the next section, I delve a little deeper into getting more effective with practice and training which also has some crossover for learning more effectively.
I want to propose that there is more to learning your game than the game itself. Many athletes in other sports won’t hesitate to find tips and tricks from outside of their sport itself.
This is part of my esport specific training philosophy, more of which can be found in the Athletiks section. In most sports, equal attention is paid to training in activities both inside and outside of the sport.
Often, what athletes do outside of their sport is what gives them a competitive edge inside their sport. At the professional gaming level, all the pros are really good, that’s why they’re pros.
But the pros who take training more serious by utilizing nutrition, physical training, mental training and recovery will be putting themselves in a better position for performing both optimally and for longer.
At the elite level, small things matter. If two teams have to fly out to a big tournament, the team that purposefully books a daytime flight to avoid messing up sleep will be in a better position than the neglectful team that opts for the cheaper red-eye flight.
As a competitive gamer, you’re going to be better off adopting and utilizing these sorts of training strategies as early as you can in your career. Bad habits are harder to break than good habits are to adopt.
Now, with regard to getting better at learning, here is a book I recommend starting off with. If you’re interested in picking up any of these books, head over to the Knowledge page in the Recommended Gear section.
The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin by Josh Waitzkin. I recommend this book because it relates to sports and shares Waitzkin’s journey to optimal performance in multiple athletic endeavours.
Josh Waitzkin shares his strategies and approaches that he developed over a number of years for becoming a master at chess.
What’s interesting, is that he used those same practices and approaches and applied them to martial arts. He went on to become a world champion in martial arts (reaching high levels as well for several different types).
A big lesson in this book is how individuals can learn to push themselves to their optimal levels. I think this is crucial for competitive gamers because currently, there’s this outdated approach of “more is better”.
Sports science moved passed “more is better” decades ago. That is old school nonsense. Gamers playing up to twenty hours a day then burning out and getting injured is like going back in time for sports.
There is no right or wrong way to train, there is only one way, the optimal way. Josh Waitzkin outlines how he pushes himself to an optimal limit, rests, recharges, then does it again to avoid burn out.
These skills can be applied universally. But the discussions on chess I think will be most attractive to gamers as there are a lot of similarities between chess and esports.
Hopefully, if you check out this book, you’ll realize that there are many sources of information that exist outside of esports but have the ability to improve your performance inside esports.
START TRAINING LIKE AN ATHLETE
If esports are real sports and if gamers are real athletes then start training like one.
This is an area where I see many competitive gamers neglect. They still think “more is better” with regard to playing their esport and often neglect all other areas of training.
If you disagree with my initial statement about sports and athletes, I suggest you check out my post Should Pro Gaming be Considered a Real Sport?
In that post, I discuss some of the findings from Professor Ingo Froböse who has been studying esports and esports athletes at the German Sports University of Cologne for over five years now.
I think you may be surprised to find out how demanding competitive gaming really is, especially at the elite level. And you may be shocked to realize just how unprepared esports athletes are both physically and mentally for their esport.
Now, similar to my discussion on how to learn better, training like an athlete may require you to learn how an athlete trains. Regarding esports, psychology and the mental side of things is very important. Professional esports teams are starting to recognize the value of hiring sports psychologists.
I’m a registered social worker with a master’s in social work. I’ve practiced psychotherapy and have been amazed at the amount of baggage the average person walks around with day to day. For an athlete, this can be extremely detrimental to performance. It can sometimes be the explanation for why a top-level player chokes during finals.
There’s also the physical side of training like an athlete. Is physical training absolutely necessary for esports? Clearly no, as many pros neglect physical training but excel in their esport. But esports is still in its infancy stage and has a lot to learn with sport specific training.
The truth is, esports careers can be short-lived. Some say the average pro career is less than 2 years for LoL. CS:GO and other FPS pros seem to last a little longer, but it’s still kind of rare to find someone approaching 30 years of age.
Could a lack of physical preparedness explain this? Possibly. But my number reason for advocating esport specific training is to first boost performance, and second, reduce injury.
Humans aren’t meant to use a computer for hours on end. If, after reading this, you still decide that exercising isn’t for you, at least try to move more often. Ten to fifteen minutes of walking around per every hour of sitting is a fantastic protocol, but you actually have to do it.
Now, where was I? Right, training like an athlete. A great way to start learning how to train like an athlete is to read from those who have done it at a high level.
The first book I’d recommend is The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance by W. Timothy Gallwey.
You might be thinking that you have nothing to learn from the sport of tennis. Hear me out. There are fundamental skills in elite competition no matter what the degree of athleticism is required.
The Inner Game of Tennis is often touted as the best sports psychology book. If you’re a competitive gamer or an aspiring one, you must read this book.
Competition is really a game composed of two parts, an outer game and an inner game, and this is the overall thesis of the book. As a competitive game, you’ve probably mastered a lot of your outer game (that literal act of playing your game).
But the second part, the inner game, is a crucial skill often neglected by athletes. The inner game comprises of two massive obstacles, self-doubt and anxiety.
If you can get a better handle on your inner game you’re going to fare much better when you advance to competing at higher levels.
The second book I recommend is The Brave Athlete: Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion by Dr. Simon Marshall. This book is another great resource for mental training. It will help athletes that get into their own heads too much and can’t seem to find a way out. Dr. Simon Marshall offers an innovative brain training guide with steps to follow and was the first to apply actual clinical science and real-world experience in this approach.
This book can provide competitive gamers with a look into how athletes need to “calm the f*ck down” and take control of their thoughts in order to train harder and perform better.
The third book I recommend is Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim S. Grover. Grover has worked with elite athletes like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
In this book, Grover discusses how the best separate themselves from the rest and the traits that are necessary to do so. As a rising competitive gamer, some of these traits may be lacking in you, and it’s worth hearing Grover’s argument on why you need them if you’re going to try and be the best.
Again, if you’re interested in picking up a copy of any of these books that I think all athletes (esports or not) should read, head on over to my Recommended Gear section.
Remember, this stuff takes practice. You won’t build muscle and strength overnight and you should think of your mental capacities in a similar way. The sooner you start, the better of you’ll be. I did a post on the importance of meditation for gamers which you can check out here. Meditation is a great way to start training your mind.
I hope I’ve made clear on why it takes so much more than just being really good at your game to become pro. A side benefit to incorporating this type of training is that you’ll be developing skills that will carry over into other areas of your life, both during and after esports.
Ok, back to training like an athlete. Let’s look at how competitive gamers and esports athletes can get more effective in their training and practice.
GET MORE EFFECTIVE AT PRACTICE
Esports has a long way to go with regard to sport specific training. If developers worked more closely with professionals, training tools could be developed that allow players to practice particular skills rather than being forced to play entire matches for an opportunity to practice one thing.
Getting more effective at practice means getting more done in less time. It is trying to get the same amount accomplished in two hours instead of something like six hours.
Consider this. When you first started playing the game your playing now, how much of it was new to you? All of it I assume. And what happened? You learned tons of stuff really fast. Then, as you played more, the excitement of something new probably died off and you probably started learning a lot less but spending more time playing.
Now, think of why you were learning so much so fast at the beginning. What does a new game, especially a competitive one, require from the very start? Focus. You were 100% focused when you first started playing because you had to be.
As time went on and you became much more proficient, you probably started focusing a lot less, you started developing muscle memory with various movements and you start to just sort of sleepwalk your way through practices, thinking that if you just put in the time you would automatically get better.
Most people have heard the old sports saying, “practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect”. And what this quote is trying to get across is that practice requires so much more than just time.
Perfect practice means one must go into a practice or training session with motivation, focus, goals, intentions and a clear plan on what the training is for and what is meant to be achieved.
Powerlifters will often have every movement, every set and every rep mapped out for several months of their training and there is clear reasoning behind all of it.
Competitive gamers on the other hand often just go through match after match after match with no real intentions. They might think that if they play ten hours instead of five they are going to become better. What they neglect to consider is that those extra five hours could be forming bad habits and are most likely responsible for burnout and injury.
I get it, with many esports being patched frequently there’s no option but to play long hours sometimes. That’s the nature of competitive gaming. Esports isn’t a competition about who the healthiest competitor is, it’s about who the best competitor is. The point I’m trying to make is whether players are actively thinking about each training session and going into them with clear intentions on what needs to be accomplished. I would wager that there is a lot of wasted time out there in the esports and competitive gaming world, time better spent on recovery and physical preparedness.
What you’ll find when you start approaching training like this is that it is not sustainable for hours on end. You can mindlessly play match after match all day. But when you start doing “homework” around each match, trying to figure out where you’ve gone wrong and what you need to focus on, it will be much more taxing on the mind.
Learning how to get more effective at practice is ultimately going to be on you the individual as there’s no cookie cutter approach to it. Coaches can certainly help players with motivation and stimulating the mind to prevent boredom, but if you’re reading this, you’re probably not on a team with a coach (and even if you are, not all coaches are made equal).
The only real tip I can give here is to experiment. I would try limiting the number of games you play. This may seem counter-intuitive, but if you’re a competitive LoL player, for example, you might be playing something like ten to fifteen games a day (or more). Spend a week or two only playing four games. This will allow you to start thinking about how you’re going to maximize those four games by performing certain activities or actions before and after each game.
With fewer games, you might be able to tap back into that 100% focus you once had at the beginning and might start studying your esport like it was an exam coming up in two weeks. Maybe you make a list before a training session of what skills need working on and what has caused you to lose in the past. After each game, you might jot down some notes while watching your replay.
This kind of approach will likely be frustrating at the beginning but if you’re struggling to make any real progress, it may be a piece to that puzzle.
LEARN HOW TO BREAK THROUGH PLATEAUS
One of the best ways to break plateaus in sports training is to manipulate the training volume. What is training volume? It’s the amount of time spent playing and training at your specific game.
Go down to two games a day with 110% focus.
Your brain is going to realize that these are the only two games you get and that you need to be able to focus.
When this starts going well, ramp it up a bit. Find out for yourself what your threshold is for maximum focus, is it four games or eight games? Don’t be afraid to stop before your focus dies down, it’s ok to leave some juice in the tank.
With your extra time, start focusing on what you can do outside of your game to improve inside your game. This could be meal prep, physical training, mental training and recovery (all of which I discuss in the Athletiks section).
This can also help you get motivated and to take the training opportunities you do allow for yourself more seriously. I know when I was competing in counter-strike 1.5 and it was summertime (aka no school), I’d often spend twelve plus hours playing on my server.
This led to messed up wrists, crappy sleep and an achy body. Plus, I probably only performed optimally for six hours…at most.
If I had spent more time focusing on activities like exercising to improve my posture for when I game, or getting enough sleep so that I was fresh for when I gamed or eating properly so I didn’t have weird stomach aches or indigestion that distracted me from gaming, I would have performed better and for longer.
Here is an example training schedule you may find helpful. I’ve included a blank one here that you can print and fill in yourself. Don’t be afraid to completely fill up your day. People think they want extended periods of time to do nothing, but pressure and deadlines are what often produce innovation and creativity.
If you have twelve or more hours to just play however you want, your brain is going to get lazy. You’re going to start getting angrier easier. You’re going to stop noticing the little mistakes your making. You’re going to focus way less and you’re going to learn less. You won’t be taking your opportunity to be in a game as seriously as you would if you only had three games to play that day.
The important thing is to figure out what works for you. Maybe you spend one week playing for eight hours, then the next following weeks slowly decreasing that time. In fact, this is a great strategy when preparing for a tournament, although most competitive gamers increase their time.
Slowing down before a tournament or competition is a great way to peak for performance. I don’t mean become less intense, continue with your optimal training where you study before and after and put a lot of effort into improving. I mean you start to let your mind relax a bit and you can think of it as “banking focus”. That way, when the important matches come up, you aren’t burnt out and stressed.
IMPROVE YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH
Go and read my post Is Should Pro Gaming be Considered a Real Sport? and my discussion on some of the findings from Professor Ingo Froböse.
In case you’re still not convinced, check out the day to day fitness routine for chess-master Bobby Fischer. Here’s an important quote from the article that can be applied to esports:
Because professional chess is sedentary — very sedentary, in fact — physical conditioning is essential.
I still come across comments in places like Reddit mocking physical exercise for gamers. I think this attitude actually comes from a place of fear. Adhering to a physical training regimen and proper nutrition is difficult. Also, no one is going to commend you for your the activities you perform outside of esports and so there’s less incentive.
I advocate for competitive gamers to take the things they do outside of gaming more seriously because it will only serve to boost or hinder performance. Athletes in other sports are always tweaking there out of sports training in order to get an edge. And let’s be honest, if chess players see the importance of it, so should gamers.
If you’re ready to take your esport specific training more serious, head on over to the Athletiks section. I’m always adding new content as I work on applying strength and condition specifically to esports.
Also, there’s a reason why I preach “esport specific training”. In strength and conditioning, there’s the concept of sport specific training, i.e., training specifically for your sport. An example of sport-specific training can be how a linebacker in American football won’t benefit from running marathons due to the nature of football being short bursts of explosive strength and not endurance.
In fact, a linebacker would be worsening their performance if they were to train with running marathons as it would decrease both their strength and explosiveness. Essentially, marathon training doesn’t carry over to American football.
With Cyber Athletiks, I am trying to build an esport specific training approach for esports athletes and competitive gamers (although any gamer would benefit). I wrote a post on Top 3 Worst Exercises for Gamers and discuss why certain exercises may be detrimental to the performance of competitive gamers and how they can increase the risk of injury. Also, check out my post Real Supplements for Gamers & Esports where I cut through some of the gamer marketing ‘bs’ and look at what supplements will actually help gamers.
REDUCE YOUR LIKELIHOOD OF INJURY
Other than improving performance, physical training and physical preparedness will help esports athletes and competitive gamers in reducing their likelihood of injury.
In my post Pro Gaming Injuries – What Gamers Need to Know I discuss two common esports injuries, Repetitive Stress Injuries and Tennis Elbow (or Gamers Elbow). Athletic competition inherently carries a risk of injury for those who participate. Competitive gaming requires an immense amount of repetitive motions over long periods of time.
I’m not saying if you’re a competitive gamer you are going to get carpal tunnel syndrome. Those are extreme cases and don’t occur as often as the general public would like to believe. Competitive gamers do experience symptoms associated with wear and tear quite often though that, if left untreated, can lead to bigger problems. This can be anything from a tight neck, achy hands or a sore lower back.
These symptoms should not be ignored and, if possible, should be brought to the attention of a medical professional asap. What I’m concerned about is the impact on performance that even the slightest bit of discomfort can have.
If your hands are beginning to cramp up more often and if your neck is always bothering you, your opponent now has an advantage, even if it’s only by a fraction. The higher the competitive level you reach, the more these small percentages matter in competition.
So do yourself a favour and start training with the intention on reducing your likelihood of injury. It will keep you in the competitive scene for longer and help boost performance.
IMPROVE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
Competitive gaming and esports are extremely mentally demanding. I always try to explain it to nongamers as “having to constantly take in large amounts of information, process it, then make split-second decisions, repeatedly, for hours on end”. It’s like chess on steroids, even the type of chess that uses those stop clocks. But most non-gamers can’t get past the “violence” to understand that the metagame is what’s ultimately responsible for why we enjoy gaming and competing.
Some of the books I mentioned earlier are a great place to start for improving your mental capacities. Of course, nutrition and exercise play a big role in mental health and if these aren’t on point, try to get them there before/while seeking other forms of help.
In my post Esports Mental Health – Tips for Gamers I discuss some more unconventional tips for mental health. If you’re a competitive gamer, you spend your time “plugged in”, and the stimulation you receive is exponentially greater than reading a blog on your phone or scrolling through Reddit. I remember when PUBG came out and having a lot of trouble sleeping after playing at night.
I believe float tanks are one of the best recovery tools for competitive gamers and esports athletes. Float tanks allow an extreme break from an extreme activity. Competitive gaming is psychologically taxing and most competitive gamers endure this stress day in and day out, over and over. Taking the time to shut your brain off from all stimulus will give it a much-needed break. So instead of booking a message consider instead a session of floating in a float tank.
And don’t neglect sleep. In my post Health Tips for Gamers – Sleeping? I discuss the many benefits of getting optimal sleep. If there is only one thing you take away from esport specific training, make it be better sleeping as this will boost your mental performance more than any silly gamer supplement that’s on the market.
I also have to give a shout out to Weldon Green over at mindgames.gg. Weldon describes himself as “the performance coach for esports athletes” and has worked with many top-level esports teams. He has a program that you can sign up for called MAC: Mindfulness, Acceptance and Commitment. If you’re serious about improving your mental health, mental capacities and your overall gaming performance, take his course, he’s the real deal.
HIRE A COACH
I’m still unsure why so many competitive gamers are hesitant to hire a coach. People hire coaches/instructors for literally everything, even things that offer no path for a professional career. Having an esports coach may be the best way for you to learn, or it may not be. But you won’t know until you’ve given it a fair chance.
Personally, I learn best when someone is walking me through it, especially after trying to learn it myself first. It helps me “put the pieces together”. When I was gaming competitively back in the early 00’s, the idea of getting a 1-1 coach for counter-strike would have been absurd, even to some of those who played counter-strike.
Esports can have a big learning curve. Like I discussed earlier, you have to spend unnecessary amounts of time practicing things you’re already good at in order to practice something you’re not good at. If you’re reading this post, you may be relatively new to the esport you’re playing which means you might have a lot to catch up on. A coach can help you progress faster.
The biggest benefit I see to hiring a coach is reducing the amount of time necessary for improvement. Hiring a coach/player that is better and more experienced than you is an almost guaranteed way to improve faster. An additional benefit is learning how to accept advice and critique, a skill that can be difficult for many to develop but is crucial for being on a team.
In fact, being coachable is a skill in itself. If you make it onto a high-level team but struggle to work as a team and listen to the IGL, it doesn’t matter how good you are, some players won’t put up with it.
Learning requires mistakes, and mistakes take time. Coaches have already gone down the path you’re currently going down and can help keep you from wandering off of that path.
Serious About Becoming A Pro?
Then hire a coach. GamerSensei focuses on recruiting top-level coaches whereas Fiverr is very affordable.
When I was 15 I got my first job dishwashing and I saved up for the latest Nvidia card (a laughable 128mb) just to ensure I had consistent and max fps in counter-strike 1.5. Besides, in the business world, it’s common for people to work at a company for free just to learn from those with more experience.
If you do hire a coach, milk that opportunity and ask as many questions as you can. In fact, write down all the questions you can think of before starting your work with them to get the most bang for your buck.
Coaches are also great for helping players break plateaus. A coach may be able to better identify your weaknesses and what you need to work on. They may also be able to help you see things you haven’t seen in yourself, like bad habits you’ve developed over time.
If you’re just not in a place where you can afford to pay for a coach/mentor, check out your esports subreddit. You may be able to find free coaches on either the reddit itself or its discord channel. In fact, this is how a lot of the paid coaching services started and many gamers are happy to give a helping hand in their community. Often, teaching is the best way to learn.
DEVELOP A PERSONALITY & REPUTATION
You have to put your “print” on the game, every game, especially if you’re playing with top players. Even something as simple as Stewie2k who became known as the aggressive onliner who jumped through smokes for CS:GO.
Think about your favourite gamers, why do you like them? Is it just about their skill? Would you watch them on stream even if they were silent the whole time? If so, would you still watch a robot who had skill?
The point I’m trying to make is that there is probably a lot more to why you like your favourite esports athletes other than their skill ingame. Perhaps they always give funny interviews. Or maybe they’re a genuinely nice person on stream. Heck, maybe you like the trash talking “jock” type of player. Whatever the reason, there’s still a reason beyond them just being good.
So, is there a reason someone would want to be a fan of yours other than you just being really good?
It is difficult to learn how to develop a personality. My only real tip is to start doing uncomfortable activities. In fact, the best thing you could probably do is to travel to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. This puts you in a very uncomfortable position and forces to grow as a person.
Although there is a genetic component to personality there is also an environmental one (the whole “nature” vs “nurture” thing). You had no control over how you were born and very little control over how you were raised. Now you’re probably in your teenage or young adult years forced to face the person you are.
Any sort of experience is going to be good for developing you as a person. The more uncomfortable the better, as this causes stress and adaptations to your psychology. So, get out there and get some experiences if you truly want to shape who you are.
This is a great way to help develop a personality. A lot of people are intimidated by streaming and for good reason. Streaming opens you up to the world. Even my first youtube video was very uncomfortable for me to make, I couldn’t stop thinking about who is going to be watching it.
But like most things, it will get easier with time. Streaming is also a great way to start getting comfortable with an audience. Being a professional gamer means the additional stress of performing in front of others. This “performance” is a skill in itself. Some of you may have a background in more traditional sports and know how to thrive in a competitive atmosphere. But some of you may have only experienced competition in the comfort of your own home.
You have to perform when you’re a pro. You need mental training on how to be on stage and streaming can be that training for you. Streaming also allows you to start building a fanbase which makes you a more attractive candidate for recruiting organizations. And who knows, it may even start bringing in a few bucks.
Networking in esports can be difficult but it has big potential for boosting your professional career and helping build your reputation. The problem is, networking is almost always done best in person. And to be frank, at least in North America, you are going to struggle if you aren’t physically in Los Angeles. It’s like with people who want to become actors that “chase their dream” by moving to Hollywood and hustling to get auditions as they wouldn’t have been able to do that in their small hometown.
Am I saying you have to live in LA? No, but if you have the opportunity or means to do so, it would certainly work in your favour. The thing is, especially in esports like LoL, so many big events and ongoing ones like the Championship Series are in LA. Becoming a regular at events and tournaments is probably the best way to network with people who have the resources to help you become pro.
Now, if LA is completely off the table, consider online tournaments. Your best off sticking to official developer sponsored tournaments as these tournaments are likely to be streamed over Twitch where other players will get to see you compete in action. You can find some of those tournaments over at battlefy.com. Additionally, recruiters or scouts may be watching these tournaments and you’ll benefit if they start to recognize you.
There is, of course, social media. Building your own personal fan base is what sponsors are interested in. If you can build a following on platforms like Twitch, Reddit or Instagram, you’ll become more appealing to organizations. Twitter is also a great way to become part of the community as it’s easy to interact with anyone and eventually, you’ll start to be recognized and remembered the more you interact and communicate with people. This can make it easier as well for when you do finally make it to an in-person event.
BECOME A TEAM PLAYER
If it’s a team-based game, you need to communicate. Over in my Recommended Gear section, I have some book recommendations for learning how to communicate better. One of which is Say What You Mean” by Joseph Goldstein. This book is often touted as the book for developing better interpersonal communication. Every esports team should have a copy of this book available.
Learning how to communicate better also helps reduce player tension and problems between team members. Often, disputes are caused by misunderstanding and inabilities to communicate what we really mean. This inability to truly communicate causes frustration within ourselves and for others. And don’t think I’m saying this because esports has so many young professionals, most full-grown adults are horrible at communicating as well.
Even if you’re not competing in a team based game (I’m looking your way Fighting Games people) it is unlikely that you train and practice alone. You may have a mentor or coach, and learning how to communicate better and more effectively will greatly enhance these relationships.
Or maybe you are a solo FPS’er in something like Quake. Who do you think is going to have a better overall career as a professional gamer, the player who shows good sportsmanship and appreciates their fans, or the player who is a known asshole and gets tilted every game? I’ll let you answer that one.
Teams do well when players are in sync and getting along. You don’t want to be that new player that butt heads with everyone. In fact, you being likeable as a person may play a role for scouts and recruiters. If a team knows your not necessarily the best, but that you are always willing to work with a team to become the best, this could be appealing for those looking.
But let’s not ignore what esports truly is at the end of the day, competition. Don’t think that by being the nice guy that never speaks up is going turn you professional. Better communication, however, will improve your team’s competitive performance, and that’s why it’s my number one recommendation for becoming a better team player.
ATTEND LOCAL TOURNAMENTS
Competing in tournaments is a skill in itself. There’s going to be a different kind of pressure and you’re going to need to play for extended periods of time while consistently performing well.
Having more tournament experience under your belt will make you more appealing to teams looking for new players. The last thing you want recruiters or scouts thinking is, “but can they do that on stage?”.
The same goes for powerlifting actually. Lots of people post their biggest lifts on Instagram or Youtube, but when it comes time to compete in a tournament, they choke, because they haven’t practiced the skill of official competition enough.
If you’ve never competed in a LAN tournament you need to go register for the next available one that you can attend. This will help you identify what you need to work on at becoming a better competitor. I wrote a post with some tips for entering your first competitive gaming tournament that you can check out here.
FACE THE FACTS
In one of my early posts How To Become A Pro Gamer – What No One Ever Tells You I discuss some of the darker realities of being a pro gamer, or at least aspects of pro gaming that many young gamers don’t consider.
For a great inside look at the trials and tribulations of being a pro gamer, check out “Free to Play“, a documentary that follows three Dota 2 players: “Fear”, “hyhy” and “Dendi”.
Once you are a professional gamer getting paid by both an organization and sponsors, there are numerous expectations placed on you. Being a professional anything inherently means there are certain expectations placed on you and that you will have to make sacrifices.
Being a professional gamer requires an immense amount of dedication. Pro gamers competing in esports want to be the best, and if that doesn’t describe you, then you won’t last long.
Additionally, esports is still relatively new and many involved are involved just for the money. Expect to be approached with bribes for throwing games and by sponsors that want their brand as part of your player name. Esports still has some time before athletes are protected and supported like they are in more traditional sports.
Here’s an example of “the facts”. Below is a graph for some of the popular esports games in 2017. Are these numbers perfect? No, but the differences would unlikely change how the graph looks.
Now here is an overview of the 2018 tier stats for LoL:
- Iron – 1.6%
- Bronze – 11.83%
- Silver – 44.46%
- Gold – 30.39%
- Platinum – 9.27%
- Diamond – 2.35%
- Master – 0.3%
- Grandmaster – 0.4%
- Challenger – 0.1%
Consider that there are only roughly only a thousand professional LoL players globally (I mean professional in that they earn a respectable living from playing LoL and playing on a recognized professional team). So one thousand players out of one hundred million get to be pro. That’s one player out of every hundred thousand players. I mean, to be honest, it’s still way better odds than winning the lottery.
These sorts of odds can be applied across various esports titles. The newer it is, the better the chances you probably have. The fewer players, the better chances you probably have, although you’ll be sacrificing some of the financial sides of things as there will be less money involved overall.
You need to face the fact that statistically speaking, you won’t become a pro in esports. You also need to face the fact that only those that try ever make it pro, so it’s ultimately up to you.
CONSIDER VARSITY ESPORTS
You might be thinking you’re better off to invest your time and energy into esports and only esports. After all, if you’re going to be pro, why do you need to go to college as well?
The truth is, esports careers can be short-lived. Some say the average pro career is less than 2 years for LoL. CS:GO and other FPS pros seem to last a little longer, but it’s still kind of rare to find someone approaching 30 years of age.
While many people want to be pro, the chances are slim. That doesn’t mean you should give up, as the only players who do make it pro are the ones that keep grinding.
There’s also the disheartening truth that professional LoL careers are short-lived. Some say the average is as short as two years. Whatever the actual average length is for a professional career in esports, most will agree it’s short. Don’t be disheartened though, the average career for an NFL running back is barely over 3 years.
With slim odds of going pro and a short career even if you do make it, you should be considering what life after esports will look like for you. It would be advisable to have a plan B and an esports scholarship could be your answer. Not only will you get to compete on a varsity team, but you will be setting yourself up for life after esports.
You are going to be a different person when you’re in your 30’s, and although you’ll probably still love esports and LoL, it may not fulfill you in the same way they did when you were younger.
Life after pro sports can suck for any athlete. Having opportunities to fulfill yourself and your life is an all-around good idea. If you can get an education while gaming competitively you should take some time to really think about that. It could be a more lucrative option than pro gaming, at least statistically speaking.
Varsity esports has been exploding over the last few years. The National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) was officially formed in July 2016. When they first formed, there were only 7 colleges/universities that had esports programs.
Over 100 institutions now have varsity esports teams. More and more schools in the US are contemplating how they can create their own teams and enter the esports industry. Hiring your own coach doesn’t seem so silly now does it? Especially if it could help get you a scholarship.
I also wrote a whole post on Scholarships for Gamers – Can Esports Pay for College? I go in depth more on the emerging varsity esports scene and why varsity esports may be a better option for gamers who are trying to become a pro.
LIFE AFTER ESPORTS
Much of this guide has been intended to focus on skills and training that will prepare you for both esports and life outside of esports. Part of facing the facts is recognizing that esports will be over. Athletic training will carry over to every other aspect of your life. You’ll become more disciplined, you’ll have healthier habits, you’ll know how to achieve goals you set out for yourself and you’ll have an impressive work ethic.
For those that do make it pro, thinking about life after esports will help prepare you for the inevitable. Going from “on top of the world” to being replaced by a younger better player is a harsh reality. Many athletes don’t cope with it well and turn to all sorts of unhealthy coping strategies. Others, however, accept the reality and continue to thrive in other ventures, whether it’s still in esports or not.
Having “professional gamer” on your resume sets you up pretty nice for a life long career. Consider these various opportunities:
- Social media manager
- Event manager
- Sales and marketing specialist
- Organization owner
- Heck, you could even start an esports bar!
Esports won’t fulfill you forever. As you continue to grow older and develop as a person you’re going to find that esports doesn’t fulfill you and your life in a way it does now. I’m not saying you’ll “get bored of gaming”, I’m merely pointing out that you are going to find yourself searching for other ways to find meaning in your life that aren’t esports. For a great book on how athletes can focus on what really matters in life while trying to be the best, check out Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court by John Wooden which I have in my Recommended Gear section.
LEARN FROM BIOFROST AND FATAL1TY
The typical guide, article or video on “how to become a pro gamer” often insinuates that one must give up everything and focus entirely on their esport. This is just plain false and this kind of thinking isn’t found in the more traditional sports world (well, not to the same extreme).
Sure, there will be sacrifices. When I started this website I sacrificed a lot of my recreational time that would have otherwise been spent gaming. But if you sacrifice everything, you’re not really doing yourself any favours. Humans try to live fulfilling lives and we often operate best the more fulfilled we are.
Unless your esport fulfills every facet of your life, you’re going to run into problems if you do nothing else except play. In fact, I would argue that your performance will suffer as your mental and physical health will start to decline. The more you are able to stay productive in other areas of your life while still being competitive the better off you’ll be. But figuring out how to do that is ultimately on you.
A great resource for learning how to become pro is to learn from those who have done it really well.
BIOFROST – MOBA
In case you think I’m just dreaming this stuff up I want to discuss a real-life example that can be found in the story of Vincent “Biofrost” Wang. Biofrost was a rookie support player that made his debut on TSM and went on to place first at the LCS and compete at worlds in 2016.
While Biofrost was climbing the ranks, he continued with University, completing two years before dropping out to become professional. He remained social and saw value in sustaining the friendships he had. Biofrost juggled multiple responsibilities while still climbing the ranks of LoL and breaking into the professional scene.
This allowed Biofrost to be so much more than a “one trick pony”. He effectively juggled multiple responsibilities with social skills, academic skills and more. He had the ability to focus on one thing, stop, then focus on another thing and achieve success in multiple areas.
Who do you think is more attractive to an organization, team or sponsor? The person who’s always lived with their parents and spends sixteen hours a day practicing, or the person who has been able to achieve success both inside and outside of esports?
FATAL1TY – FPS
Nowadays, you don’t see players switching between games very often. Some streamers like Shroud have been successful, but they’re typically the exception.
Some of you may not be aware of one of the greatest esports athletes of all time, Fatal1ty. Fatal1ty was a professional gamer before professional gaming was “cool”. He turned pro in 1999 at the age of 18.
Fatal1ty won several world championships and won or placed extremely well in many more tournaments. Here’s a list of the games Fatal1ty competed in:
- Quake 2
- Quake 3
- Aliens versus Predator 2
- Return to Castle Wolfenstein
- Call of Duty 2
- Counter-Strike: Source
- Unreal Tournament 2003
- Doom 3
- Quake 4
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
For a more in-depth look at Fatl1ty’s legacy, check out the ‘Thorin’s Thoughts’ video below on him. You can also check the MTV’S True Life on Fatal1ty here. It gives a good look into how serious Fatal1ty takes his training and the professional side of gaming. Show some support to an OG and go subscribe to his Youtube channel. He’s still active and fragging in many different titles.
Fatal1ty was extremely dedicated to esports. He took it seriously and everything he did outside of gaming was done with the intention of boosting ingame performance. What strikes me, given his young age, is how “professional” he was with being a professional gamer. If you didn’t know he was gaming, you’d think he was an athlete in any other type of sport.
Keep in mind, Fatal1ty succeeded during a time when esports was still relatively underground. There was no twitch or social media or sponsors actively looking for gamers (or even fancy gaming chairs).