Go Pro: An In-Depth Guide on How to Become a Pro Gamer
Could electronic sports, or esports, exceed the traditional sports industry? According to Newzoo, by the end of this year (2019) it will have surpassed the one billion dollar mark in yearly revenues and will have reached a global audience of more than 450 million people. It may sound like a lot already, but consider this: League of Legends alone is played by over 100 million people. Add to it CS:GO, Dota 2, Overwatch, and others, and you’ll see that esports will soon be as popular as traditional sports are today.
With all this growth going on, there will certainly be interest in learning what it takes to become a professional gamer: someone who belongs to a pro team, competes in prestigious events, and is a gaming athlete. You can, of course, play video games for a living in numerous other ways, too, but this guide focuses on how to become a professional gamer in the esports world.
Develop Realistic Expectations
First, develop realistic expectations around becoming a professional. The pro gamers you see today on Twitch and YouTube did not become pro gamers overnight. They simply loved the game they were playing, and realized that with training and constant improvement, they could develop the skills required to compete at the highest level. They did what they loved and success came looking for them in the form of teams that needed superstar players.
Becoming a pro gamer requires mastery of the game you want to compete in, and reaching that level takes time. If you’re just starting out, expect to get results in a few years – quicker if you’re already playing at a high level as an amateur – if you spend time training, studying the game, and working on yourself (which I’ll explore below).
Professional teams are naturally interested in signing exceptional players. Everyone is looking for the next Lionel Messi or Kobe Bryant of their particular esport, so you need to put in the effort, and you need to love it if you want to become great at it. In fact, competitive gaming is an area in which without loving what you do, you won’t even get the opportunity to do it professionally.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should simply get really good and then wait for someone to send you an invitation. But it does mean that you should try to develop your skills before you start trying to sell them. The last thing you want is to get the attention of a pro team, get tested, and then look like an amateur simply because you’re not good enough yet.
Remember that in esports your performance is quantifiable. Reaching the top is not a matter of luck or opinion; it’s mostly a matter of skill and attitude, and these are verifiable through game stats and results.
Set Step-by-Step Goals
When trying to become a pro gamer, you need to set four types of goals for yourself.
These goals have to do with your mental skills, attitude, ability to interact and communicate with others, and self-discipline.
Your mental skills are vital because gaming, at the fundamental level, is a mixture of strategizing and problem solving. If you don’t know what it means to think strategically and analytically, you’ll be ineffective inside the game as well. You won’t be able to analyze the situation and understand your mistakes, what your opponent is trying to do, and what you could do to improve your way of playing the game.
To improve yourself mentally, study concepts like critical thinking, decision making, game theory, and strategy in general. Learn all you can about these topics and your capacity to analyze the gaming environment and make the right calls when playing a game will improve. In particular, study chess and war strategy, because they will teach you the timeless principles of strategy that can apply to any game. Read Garry Kasparov’s book How Life Imitates Chess, or Robert Greene’s book 33 Strategies of War.
To improve your attitude, start taking responsibility for your actions and stop blaming others when you fail. You won’t have an optimal mindset for gaming if you’re bitter when you lose and resentful of others. Taking responsibility allows you to find the flaws in your own game, allowing you to make progress and do better next time.
To improve your communication skills, try to figure out what important information needs to be communicated within your team. When you play a solo game, communication is not a factor, but when you need to synchronize and cooperate with other people, how you communicate and the attitude you have can change everything. If you’re toxic, you’ll sabotage your entire team, including yourself.
To improve your self-discipline, have a clear schedule and prioritize your activities. Eliminate non-essential distractions from your daily routine and try to allocate as much time as possible to activities that move you in the right direction. The goal here is to train like a professional gamer would.
Gaming Mastery Goals
These goals have to do with your understanding of the game and your mechanical skills. And here you need to train just like an athlete. Work on every part of your game and optimize it. Specialize in playing a certain role and learn all that there is about it. Find out what the best players do. Watch replays of their games using the POV mode and try to figure out all of their secrets. Watch replays of your own games and try to figure out what you could do better.
As an aspiring pro player, the thing you cannot do is what casual gamers do: Play the game mindlessly. You always have to play with intent and focus on what you’re trying to test or achieve during that practice session. You need to take notes and keep journals of the lessons you’ve learned and the mistakes you’ve spotted in your game.
Don’t wait for a big team to show interest in you. As soon as you’re good enough to start competing in professional tournaments – even if they’re tier 4 events – get together with a team and start competing. Hone your skills through competition and constantly learn from your mistakes. Even if you fail, you will gain valuable experience. And even if your team loses, if you play your part to perfection, that alone might get you noticed. Later, when you apply for a position, you’ll be able to show replays of your games and prove to people that you’re someone who understands the game in spite of not yet having great achievements.
Initially, your goal shouldn’t be to win everything, but to compete in everything that’s available to you.
Finally, you should set exposure goals and try to gain visibility in your community. Have a Twitch account, a YouTube account, a Twitter account, and so on. Once you have the skills, expose them through competition, streaming, and blogging. Talk about the game, and get involved in the community.
When you feel prepared, try to join a league or start contacting teams that could use someone like you to further their own competitive goals. Keep in mind that it’s never about you; it’s about what you can offer to others. If you can make a team jump from position 100 to position 70 with your skills, that will certainly get you noticed in time. And if you think that you can’t stand out because your team is not good enough to win no matter how good you are, just study players like s1mple, who solo-carried games from the beginning and amazed everyone with their skills.
Become a Team Player
If you want to develop the attitude that’s required to become a pro gamer and succeed at the highest level, never make anything about you. Focus on your team’s goals and find out how you can make a difference. When learning about the game, be driven by your passion for it and your desire to fully understand its secrets. When competing, be driven by a desire to help your team and to reward people for the trust they’ve placed in you. The less you follow selfish ambitions, pride, and a desperate need to be applauded by others, the easier it will be for you to develop your talents and make a difference when it really counts.
Just look at what happened to OG in Dota 2. In 2018, they lost two players right before the qualifiers for the Dota 2 World Championship, also known as The International, and they were on the verge of disbanding. This is what Ceb, the team’s coach at the time (now one of the five players), had to say about the situation:
“Respect, trust and dedication have always been our core values. Through the highs and the lows, through major wins and TI disasters. Up until today, I truly believed that we would always give these things priority over anything else. But for some people, the will to succeed sometimes has to come first. As they aim to seize what seems the best option for themselves. My way of doing things stands at the very opposite. Indeed, I look at success like a very capricious and unpredictable thing. It never shows when you expect it. It tests your patience, your will and your loyalty countless times before it even starts thinking about rewarding you. You only get the success you deserve once you are actually ready to give it up for other things. Whether it is for friendship, or being truthful to your own moral principles, through thick and thin. At least, this is the way I like to look at things. This is what helps me find the strength to compete against all odds. It’s much more than DotA, it’s a way of life.”
A few months later, OG went into The International 2018 being ranked by the pundits as the least likely team to win it. And they won. And then in 2019 they won it again, becoming the first team in the history of Dota 2 to win The International twice.
Pick a Game That Suits Your Natural Aptitudes
If you’re just starting out and you don’t know what game you want to master, spend a few months trying at least five titles from different genres and see what suits you best. Some people love First-Person Shooters like CS:GO. Other love MOBAs like LoL or Dota 2. Others enjoy sports games, card games, or fighting game. Learn what game stirs your interest the most and then set out to master it.
Don’t Neglect Your Health
You might assume that physical health is not a big factor when playing video games, but it is. Spending many hours a day on a chair in poor posture often leads to back pain, wrist pain, and other types of problems. Staying healthy improves your body’s chemistry and level of energy throughout the day, and also helps you to avoid injuries. There are plenty of examples of top esports players who had injuries because they didn’t take proper care of their body while playing video games. Just look into Fear’s case (Dota 2 player) or olofmeister’s case (CS:GO player). Both of them were world champions in their prime.
Your Real Competition
Competitive video games are played by hundreds of millions of people. In order to become a professional gamer, you’d have to reach the top 1% of the group made up of those amateur gamers who play a particular esport in the top divisions (such as Global Elite in CS:GO, Divine in Dota 2 or Challenger in League of Legends). When doing the math, the notion of becoming a pro gamer starts to look like a fantasy. But as long as you’re dedicated, willing to take the risk, and know what you need to do to get an edge, you can reach the top.
Just remember that in gaming, your skill is relative to other people’s skill. If you’re good at League of Legends but a lot of other people are considerably better, then you’re not actually that good. But this means that if you’re willing to take the risk and focus on mastering your game of choice, you will face less high-level competition than you might think.
Professional Gamer Salary
Money shouldn’t be your main motivation when trying to become a professional gamer, and, in fact, should be the last thing on your mind, for two reasons:
First, you won’t get money by aspiring to get money. You’ll only get money as a natural consequence of providing something of great value to a professional team.
Second, esports is thriving and professional gamer salaries are getting bigger and bigger each year, ranging from tens of thousands of dollars per year (in decent teams) to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year (in the top teams). You also get rewarded for getting good placement in tournaments. Additionally, once you play at that level and start to get a following, you can stream and make a lot of money as well. Once you’re good enough, you’ll be paid what you’re worth.