Gaming was once seen as a “waste of time” and the competitive scene was buried deep underground. Now, competitive gaming and esports can actually open up a lot of opportunities for those involved, and it can even be a viable career.
How do you get started in esports & competitive gaming?
- Pick your game
- Pick your platform
- Hire a Coach
- Upgrade your equipment
- Join a team
- Start a team
- Compete in online tournaments
- Compete in LAN tournaments
- Get active in the community
Keep in mind, you don’t have to be a pro gamer to be involved in esports and I will discuss this later in the post.
PICK YOUR GAME
Hopefully, you already know what type of esports game you want to compete in. If not, consider what you have been playing the most, or what you’ve excelled the most in. Some of the more popular esports games are:
|RTS||Warcraft 3; Starcraft 2|
|MOBA||LoL; Dota 2|
|SPORTS||FIFA; Rocket League|
|FIGHTING||Street Fighter; Smash Bros.|
I started with RTS’s like Warcraft, but once I tried Unreal Tournament ’99, I was hooked on FPS’s and that’s where I really excelled online. I played UT, UT2k3, Quake 3 Arena, counter-strike 1.5/1.6 and continue to play CS:GO.
PICK YOUR PLATFORM
Are you a PC gamer or console gamer? Don’t get sucked into the debate, it really doesn’t matter which one you prefer.
For me personally, I could never excel at FPS’s on consoles. I had a few friends who were excelling with the first Halo, but I never enjoyed it because I was so used to a keyboard and mouse for aiming.
STUDY YOUR GAME
No matter how good you are, there are people better than you and chances are, at least one of those people streams on twitch or posts videos on youtube.
In fact, most esports games have plenty of tutorials on youtube and other sites. There is a lot of strategy in competitive gaming, and strategies are constantly being revamped. You’re going to need to dedicate some of your practice time to studying the more “meta” aspects of your game.
Metagaming. … The Metagame, or game about thegame, is any approach to a game that transcends or operates outside of the prescribed rules of the game; uses external factors to affect the game; or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by thegame. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metagaming)
You have no idea how good you have it these days. When I was competing in cs 1.5, I had to do download individual HLTV POV’S of each player just to watch the game and execute a bunch of commands in the console to get it to run. There was no youtube or twitch.
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.
If you’re serious about hiring a coach, I recommend signing up with gamersensei.com (opens affiliate link). 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.
A lot of the esports games require teamwork. Teamwork requires great communication. Great communication is a skill that needs to be developed, no matter how good you think you are already at it.
Communicating with your friends in scrims is one thing, but being able to communicate when the stakes are high and the stress is almost unbearable is something completely different.
Even if you play a more solo game like Quake of Street Fighter, being able to communicate with others in the community is vital. There are plenty of resources to learn your game better, but often, the “gems” are hidden within other people. Being able to communicate and be open to ideas and feedback is vital for improving.
UPGRADE YOUR EQUIPMENT
This is perhaps more applicable to PC gamers. If you’re going to compete at a high level, you’re going to need the best equipment you can get.
This may mean asking that your presents and gifts from family and friends be in the form of gaming equipment instead of a new phone. Or, if you’re really serious, you can get a part-time job for a while (this could even be done online, such as writing articles).
When I started getting serious with counter-strike, I got a job washing dishes. At the time, I made $6.35 an hour for busting my ass. It didn’t take long though to save up for the equipment necessary to run counter-strike at the top frame rate. This boost in performance made a huge difference during competitive matches.
This isn’t unique to esports either. Many athletes in more niche sports need to support themselves. Olympic athletes in my country Canada often get little government support and have to find ways to supplement their living costs.
There’s no way around this, you need to put in the hours to excel. There are certain skills that require you to invest time in order to be proficient.
What is missing in esports and gaming is the idea of “optimal training”. More is not always better. Esports athletes are at risk of getting injuries but these risks can be minimized.
This is where “esport specific training” really applies. There is something called “the law of accommodation”. Vladimir M Zatsiorsky, a renowned biochemist, stated that the response of a biological object to a given constant stimulus decreases over time.
What does this mean in the sports world? When an athlete does the same activity over and over, they will plateau, and potentially get worse at the activity. A basketball player doesn’t just shoot a three-pointer and run layup drills for eight hours a day, and an Olympic weightlifter doesn’t just do snatches and clean and jerks.
In the esports world, this could mean that spending more time in a game is not necessarily better than spending less (in fact, it could be worse). There is an optimal range for practicing any given activity. If you could get the same results with 3 hours of practice instead of 8, you’ve now gained 5 hours to spend on injury prevention, demo watching and recovery.
JOIN A TEAM
As you begin to get more competitive, you will need to get more experience on a team (assuming you’re playing a team based game). This doesn’t necessarily mean that the first team you join is the team you will be on for the rest of your gaming career.
In order to join bigger and better teams, you’re going to need team experience, period. This will also help get you known and become more involved in the community.
Reddit and Discord are great communities for first-timers trying to join a team. Write a post, reply to a post or just lurk for a while. There are millions of other gamers in your exact situation, trying to get on a team for the first time.
START A TEAM
Don’t want to bother with tryouts or taking the risk of ending up on a crappy team? Start your own team and become the leader of it. This will also give you experience in other roles outside of just esports, in fact, this will give you valuable experience that you can take anywhere outside of gaming.
I had a lot of fun creating my counter-strike 1.5 team. I was paying for a server, I bought a web domain and created the site, and already had a couple of friends that I was playing with. From there, we recruited two more and joined a league. I had so much fun gaming at that time, and my skill excelled at a much faster rate.
COMPETE IN ONLINE TOURNAMENTS
This is a no-brainer. If you want to be a competitive gamer, you’re going to need to compete in gaming. There are plenty of online leagues with amateur levels. Competing in online tournaments and leagues is a great way to improve your skills and to start getting noticed. Here’s a list of just a few popular online gaming leagues:
- Call of Duty World League
- Capcom Cup
- Mountain Dew League
This is a short list. Just do a quick search and there’s probably a relatively local league for you.
COMPETE IN LAN TOURNAMENTS
Don’t pass this step up. If you’re nervous, check out my 10 tips for your first competitive gaming tournament post.
Competing on LAN can be very different than online. Not only are you surrounded by people, but your competitors are also close by. Winning on LAN can be very addicting (but losing can be devastating).
LAN tournaments are a goldmine for information. You’ll be spending the day with other passionate gamers who can share valuable information and tips with you. LAN is also a great place to meet potential teammates for the future.
What I like best about LAN is the 0 ping. I know it’s rarely ever 0 ping, but it sure feels like it.
GET ACTIVE IN THE COMMUNITY
Hopefully, you don’t need to think about this step much if you have followed the previous steps. But in case it isn’t obvious, you need to know people, and people need to know you if you want to compete at a high level.
FIND OUT WHAT BEING ON AN ESPORTS TEAM ACTUALLY MEANS
Check out my post ‘how to become a pro gamer – what no one ever tells you‘ for a discussion on whether being a professional esports athlete is right for you.
For a great inside look at the trials and tribulations of being a pro gamer in esports, check out “Free to Play“, a documentary that follows three Dota 2 players: “Fear”, “hyhy” and “Dendi”.
DO I HAVE TO PLAY JUST ONE GAME?
Nowadays, you don’t see players switching between games very often. Some streamers like Shroud have been successful, but they’re typically the exception.
However, some of you may not be aware of one of the greatest esports athlete 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 on him.
DO I HAVE TO BE A PRO PLAYER TO BE INVOLVED IN ESPORTS?
Currently, the odds of being a pro gamer on an esports team are pretty small. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, especially if you’re already showing talent, but it’s not a bad idea to consider other options in case a great opportunity comes your way, such as:
- Social media manager
- Event manager
- Sales and marketing specialist
- Organization owner
Heck, you could even start an esports bar!