Esports is a relatively new phenomenon. Being good at video games is not. But how to make the leap from one to the other?
If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at competitive gaming but don’t know where to start — start here. (Future stories in this series will delve more deeply into specialized aspects of esports and professional gaming.) What follows are fundamentals. While each piece of advice will manifest differently depending on the game, the underlying philosophy is universal.
There are tons of games in the competitive landscape. Figuring out which game will let you maximize your competitive advantage can seem daunting, especially if you have dabbled in (and enjoy) many different types of games. Here are some facets to consider:
- Are you a methodical thinker who likes to focus on your own gameplay? Consider an RTS (real-time strategy) like Starcraft II.
- Are you an action-oriented gamer? Jump into an FPS (first-person shooter) like CS:GO, Overwatch, or Call of Duty.
- Get a kick out of intense one-on-one competitions? Try a fighting game like Street Fighter V or Smash Bros.
- Or are you a mix of everything: action, intense teamwork, smaller-sized scrapes, and moderate strategy? Then try a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) like League of Legends or DOTA.
You should learn as much as possible about your chosen game. There are volumes of online content written about every game, especially those that are played competitively, from best team comps to the pluses and minuses of a specific weapon.
Start watching other people play. Obsessed with Blitzcrank in LoL? Check out the dedicated Build Guides created to help you decide which masteries to start with, how to spend your IP, and more. Drooling over a specific pro team’s kill-death ratio in CoD? Watch all the VODs you can find of that team, and pay close attention to how they communicate with one another. The more information you can absorb, the better your overall performance.
Balancing a personal life with competitive gaming aspirations can seem daunting. How will you juggle it all?
While your trusty Google Calendar is a great starting point for scheduling team meetings, practice, scrimmages, and the like, project-management software Asana is an even better choice for individuals or teams who are looking to be a bit more precise in their goals and milestones. Asana lets you assign tasks to individual team members (i.e., “Brad to report back on strengths/weaknesses of [new Overwatch hero] Orisa”). Projects can be split up among teammates, and a general group calendar is available, as well.
It’s one thing to hop onto an open lobby and become the sixth in a six-person team, but nothing beats playing with a crew of your own — both in terms of fun as well as personal improvement.
There are plenty of ways to form a gaming group, from pairing up with people you played well with in an open lobby, to wrangling your IRL friends to get serious about their game. Enjoying the conversations going on in your game’s subreddit? Reach out to people of a similar skill level and start a mini-group dedicated getting better.
Playing with the same people over and over again will cement playstyle bonds that can’t be replicated through blind pairings. If you know one of your teammates always rushes in aggro on the payload, you can be there with support when they’re in over their head. If your teammates know you can handle the Bot lane, they’ll focus on their own problems. And remember, communication is key: Make sure you and your teammates develop a streamlined form of comms to quickly and precisely keep each other in the loop.
There are many ways to practice, from setting up informal scrimmages to taking on unknown opponents in open lobbies and skirmish games.
Need to perfect a move set? Most games let you set up custom matches where you can tailor an experience, and we recommend turning the difficulty all the way up. Like a baseball player swinging his bat underwater, or a boxer running with weights attached, you, too, can train under artificially rigorous circumstances.
Finally — and perhaps most importantly — surround yourself with players and teammates who take the game as seriously as you do. After all, nothing stymies momentum like a gaming crew who spends an entire practice session just goofing around. Most pro esports teams take practice very seriously, spending upwards of eight hours a day actually playing, not counting theorycrafting, team activities, physical exercise, and more.
We put this as the final step because you should really know the game inside and out before you jump into ranked play. Climbing the ranked ladder provides a logical and rewarding roadmap toward progression in any given game. If the pairing algorithm works properly, you won’t ever be totally outgunned in a game — but you also won’t waste your time on cakewalks, either.
Once your skills begin creeping toward pro-level play, seek out a live tournament. The experience of playing in front of a crowd can’t be replicated, and building a level of comfort with live play will be one of the last hurdles you face. Many websites keep updated calendars of major and minor events, and you can always check the forums for games in your area.
Did these fundamentals set you up to be the next Dendi? No worries if not: Everyone starts somewhere, and if you keep up the work ethic laid out here, you’ll have all the tools you need to take your performance to the next level.
Giaco Furino is a writer living and working in Brooklyn. He contributes frequently to The Creators Project, Tribeca Shortlist’s Outtake, Rhapsody magazine, and more.