Being really good at gaming and being a professional gamer are two very different things. Not everybody has the skill set to become a professional whether it’s at gaming or anything else. There’s a lot of benefits and perks for pro gamers, but there’s also a darker reality aspiring gamers should be aware of.
- What pro gamers actually do
- You won’t have much support
- You’ll need to financially fund yourself
- Start small and be humble
- Learn how to practice properly
- Hire a coach
- Learn how to accept criticism and fame
- Consider going the varsity route
FIND OUT WHAT A PRO GAMERS ACTUALLY DO
I remember thinking I wanted to be a lawyer until I found out how much paperwork would be involved and the long hours I would have to spend in an office. Realizing this saved me a lot of time, effort and money. It meant I didn’t have to study for the LSAT’s, it meant I didn’t have to apply to a whole bunch of law schools, and it meant I didn’t have to go a quarter million dollars into debt.
Unless you’ve already had some sort of an athletic career, it may be hard for you to imagine that being a professional gamer will be different compared to what you’re doing right now. I mean, instead of just gaming, you’ll be getting paid to game, right? What a lot of gamers fail to realize is the term “pro” in “pro gamer”, which stands for “professional”.
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. You will have to adhere to a schedule that may be outside of what you’re used to. You may have to move into a gaming house. You’ll have limited free time and you’ll still feel pressure to practice in some way during that free time. You will largely be disconnected from anything outside of competitive gaming including family, friends, hobbies and long vacations (just to name a few).
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.
YOU’LL BE DOING IT WITH LITTLE TO NO SUPPORT
I live in Canada and if I had had some talent and wanted to be a pro hockey player, I would have gotten the support from my parents, extended family and even my neighbours. Although esports are popular and continuing to grow, it’s still a foreign concept for most older generations. If you are going to pursue being a pro gamer, don’t expect much support in the beginning…or even the middle. Your parents are likely going to worry that you have an internet or gaming addiction. While there is some merit to this concern, it’s more likely that your goal of being a pro gamer is perceived as childish, crazy or “not a real thing”.
You probably won’t ever have a coach until you’re actually pro and you probably won’t have any fans until you’re competing at a high level. You’ll be met with skepticism from most people outside of gaming and esports. I’m not saying this to deter you and that you shouldn’t bother, I’m saying that trying to be a pro gamer will have additional stressors when compared to more traditional sports.
Sure, a lot of kids get skepticism when they announce their goal of playing in the NFL. But when athletes in more traditional sports like football or basketball are showing talent and the potential to be highly competitive, they won’t be met with the stereotyping that comes with gaming.
I am happy to say that this will become less of an issue with each generation. I can already envision myself getting my kids the latest esports game just to see if they have the potential to win a grand tournament (I guess the right thing to do would be putting their winnings in an education fund…)
GET A PART TIME JOB
Like many niche sports, you’re going to need to put in a lot more than what you get out of it. Think of starting your pro gaming career as you would an investment with no guarantee. No one is going to cover your costs for travelling to tournaments or updating your gaming equipment. Chances are you’re young, and although your parents offer financial support for other ventures in your life, being a pro gamer is probably pretty far down on their list (if it’s on their list at all).
Working a part-time job will make you appreciate your future success even more. I got my first part-time job when I was 15. I was becoming increasingly competitive with counter-strike 1.5. A part-time job allowed me to upgrade my equipment to consistently get 100fps (that was the big max out number back in the early 00’s). I also bought a server so my team could practice and I would have to mail out handwritten $30 checks every month…damn, I’m getting old.
START SMALL AND BE HUMBLE
If you haven’t already, check out my 10 tips for entering your first gaming tournament. Competitive gaming is not the same as online gaming at home with your friends. There are many unique skills required outside the game itself, and starting out with small tournaments will help you hone these skills in a less serious context.
LEARN HOW TO PRACTICE PROPERLY
In order to improve as an athlete, you need to be progressing. How do you know you are progressing? Well, if you’re a sprinter, you’re shaving milliseconds off your 100-metre sprint. If you’re a pitcher, you’re throwing a fastball faster. And if you’re a powerlifter, you’re lifting heavier weights.
If you’re an esports athlete, you need to have a plan and you need to be motivated. In an FPS game, you might want to be improving your aim (i.e., headshots). Playing deathmatch might be one way you go about improving this. If you’re not keeping track of any of the stats from your practice sessions (e.g., k/d ratio in comparison to time) how do you know if you are progressing?
Practicing properly means practicing with intention, motivation and focus. What you may find when switching to purposeful practice is that you will end up progressing faster with less time spent in the game. Louie Simmons, who was a powerlifter and known to be one of the greatest strength and conditioning coaches, explains this point perfectly in this article:
Prilepin’s 1974 research was based on numerous world, European, and Olympic competitors. He calculated minimal, maximal, and of course optimal numbers of sets and reps at certain intensity zones. His work provided us with the maximum number of reps after which the lifts would slow down and thus become less effective. He determined what load was sufficient to make progress and what load was too taxing and would reduce the training effect[…] Plan well, train hard, and have passion to reach your goals. Your training must suit your physical, psychological, and mental needs. It can’t be a cookie‐cutter program
From what I’ve seen, most esports coaches think more is better and fail to realize that optimal training is better than more training. Esports is still at a very early age when it comes to sport specific training. You will have to find out what works best for you, but in order to do that, you need to be keeping track of your practice data and analyzing it for yourself. Do this, and you will have a huge advantage over your competition, and you may end up reaching your goals quicker than you expected.
HIRE A COACH
With the potential to make a career out of gaming, and with tournaments offering big money, getting a coach to improve in your esport can be a great idea.
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 those who played counter-strike.
But think of it this way. People get coaches (or the equivalent of a coach) for all sorts of sports, activities and hobbies: golf, piano, tennis, pottery. I mean, the list could go on and on.
Esports can have a long learning curve and you’re probably late to the game already. 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.
The biggest benefit I see to hiring a coach is reducing the amount of time necessary to improve at your esport. Hiring a coach who is someone that is better and more experienced than you is an almost guaranteed way to improve quicker. An additional benefit is learning how to accept advice and critique, a skill that can be difficult for many people to develop, I recommend signing up for Gamer Sensei’s coaching service.
And don’t complain about having to pay for a coach. 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.
LEARN HOW TO ACCEPT CRITICISM AND FAME
I mean global criticism. If you’re an elite gamer, you could be pro at a very young age. Before you know it, you have fans from all over the world on social media. Guess who’s watching when you mess up that clutch situation during a live tournament? You need to be prepared for an immense amount of internet hate. Most build a thick skin and laugh it off, but if you take things personally very easily, online criticism can really mess up your future performance.
As a pro gamer, you’ll have a celebrity like status. You’ll be bombarded with “what are you in game settings” and “how do I get good like you” on a daily basis. Having a fan base is great for boosting confidence, but it can really mess with your head, especially at a young age where your own identity is still developing.
The other down downside to fame is the inevitable loss of it. Esports move very fast and players can be forgotten easily. One year you’re the talk of the subreddit, the next year, people are questioning who you are. You will fare best by having a support network around you that you have built up over the years. Life goes on after any sports, but some individuals don’t cope as well as others.
CONSIDER GOING THE VARSITY ROUTE
You can get scholarships, and sometimes a full ride, for playing on a varsity esports teams. Don’t believe me? Check out the post I did on varsity esports and scholarships.
If you love competitive gaming, are good at it, but don’t necessarily care about being “the best in the world”, varsity esports may be a great option for you. Not only do you get to compete at a high level, but you’ll also be earning an education and investing in your future, especially your future after esports.