Successful gamers explain how to push the mastery of the game, mind and body to win top world competitions.
Pablo “Cham” Blanco hates to lose. But when he first started playing professional StarCraft II, he lost a lot. His hands trembled with stage fright before matches, and his blunders led to many first round exits.
“After losing, I felt so embarrassed and just wanted to go home,” said Blanco. “I learned to use that anger to get better.”
Seeing Dota 2 stars like Saahil “UNiVeRsE” Arora earn almost $3 million in prize money makes almost anyone want to seek a career as a professional player, but the road to esports glory is more than challenging.
While there’s never been a better time to team up and take on the world in an online qualifier, making the leap from leaderboard fodder to competing on the big stage takes mastery of the game, mind and body.
Three esports pros share tips for becoming a top pro gamer at LAN tournaments, streaming competitions and even the Intel Extreme Masters.
1. Choose a game that’s the right fit
Keiron “Scoom” Prescott, the captain of Team Liquid’s newly-founded PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) squad, encourages players to find a game that they’re passionate about before trying to go pro.
“A lot of players get into Counter-Strike or League of Legends because those are the biggest esports,” said Prescott. “But if the game isn’t right for you, you won’t have the motivation and drive to succeed.”
Luckily for new players, there are more esports to choose from than ever. Last year saw the massive military tactics game PUBG rock Intel Extreme Masters Oakland and DreamHack. VR esports like Echo Arena and The Unspoken let players compete in virtual realms with their whole bodies. These games are a blast — and because they’re new, the barrier to entry is lower.
“Getting into an esport that’s already established is tough,” said Prescott. “Veterans of older esports have thousands and thousands of hours of experience. With a game that is just starting off like PUBG, it’s much easier to jump in because you’re at the same level as everyone else.”
2. Get active locally
The final pro gamer destination may be bright lights and extravagant trophy ceremonies, but all esports begin locally. Blanco, the fifth ranked StarCraft II player in Mexico, according to e-Sports Earnings, has won more than $40,000 in the past two years. When he started out in 2011, though, he mostly played in local LAN tournaments that only offered a few hundred dollars at most.
“I tried to dominate my scene in Mexico first, then Latin America and then the world,” said Blanco. “Those small tournaments where you don’t win any money — that’s where you have to start if you want to become a pro gamer.”
Regional LAN tournaments are a great place for newcomers to learn to play in public. Blanco said it’s easy to make mistakes if you’re unfamiliar with what it’s like to compete at live events on different equipment.
“You have to learn to play with people in front of you, instead of playing at home looking at a glass of water in the kitchen.”
3. Streaming FTW
While streaming esports can be a full-time job, Twitch can be liberating for freshman cyber athletes. Offering streams of games and tournaments plus access to gaming pros, Twitch is also where the next generation of would-be esports stars post their own streams.
“I used to be a very shy guy,” said Prescott, Team Liquid’s captain. “I never really talked that much. Just doing this interview would have been super awkward for me.”
By talking to his Twitch followers — he mainly explained in-game strategies — Prescott gained the confidence to communicate. This skill proved invaluable in PUBG because the game is very team-based: Players must warn each other of incoming fire and organize ambushes to avoid being knocked out early.
To reliably stream esports, a computer’s CPU must be able to encode high-definition video while running 3D games at a reliable framerate. An Intel Core i5 processor or greater is recommended by Twitch for minimum system requirements.
4. Ignore haters
When Stephanie “missharvey” Harvey began playing Counter-Strike online in 2003, she encountered a lot of hostility.
“People liked to bag on me because I’m a girl,” Harvey said. “Most of the time, it was jokes. I laughed also. But it pushed me to say, ‘You know, I want to be part of this community, so I will beat this.’”
These taunts and insults are what’s known in esports as “toxicity,” a form of online abuse that can be especially devastating to new players. Harvey believes that the best way to beat it is to be aware that it happens to everyone, and to try to channel the bad vibes into inspiration.
“I played, played and played as much as I could, so that I could be better than the people who were insulting me,” she said. “If you let people get into your head, you’ll start doubting yourself. If you doubt yourself in an esport where you have to make one-tenth second decisions, it’s over.”
5. Don’t tilt
Before moving into esports, Prescott was a gifted online poker player, capable of playing on 24 tables at once. The experience helped him learn to avoid tilt — a mark of hotheaded players who make uncharacteristic mistakes out of frustration.
“Esports can be random,” said Prescott. “Even when you’re playing at your best, sometimes things don’t go your way. There’s nothing you can do about it. You have to be able to get over it and play the next game.”
Blanco said that, at first, playing tilted was a big issue for him. He would make little mistakes and be unable to keep his emotions in check, which would sometimes cost him matches.
“I had to work on my mentality,” said Blanco. “I told myself that as long as I played how I studied and practiced, whatever happened was fine.”
Feature image photo credit: Patrick Strack.