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5 Tips for Becoming a Pro Gamer

Chris Morris

5 Tips for Becoming a Pro Gamer

You fancy yourself a pretty solid League of Legends player. Or maybe you’re untouchable when it comes to Halo. And now you’re ready to see if you’ve got what it takes to earn a living at it.

Pro gamers can certainly make bank. 25-year old Lee “Jaedong” Jae Dong has earned more than $504,000 in 47 tournaments. And Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel pocketed more than $450,000 in tournaments (and a lot more in endorsement deals).

But success in the e-sports world takes a lot more than just a lot of practice and studying the moves of your opponents. We spoke with a few e-sports champs to get their tips on what people can do to best prepare for competition.

1. Know your weaknesses.
No matter how good you are, you’re not perfect — and it helps to know exactly where you fall short.

Yoan “ToD” Merlo has been called the best StarCraft II player from France — and will be casting and commentating at this weekend’s Red Bull Battle Grounds event in Atlanta. But he knows where the holes in his game are.

“Try and prepare something for everybody,” he says. “Try to work on your weaknesses. So me, for example, my Protoss vs. Terran is my weakest matchup. I need to make sure I work extra on that matchup to make sure I don’t lose to the first good Terran I meet.”

Sean “Day[9]” Plott, a former StarCraft II pro player who went on to become a well-known e-sports personality, agrees — adding that self-awareness is what makes a good player great.

“Obsess on your weakness and faults as a player,” he says. “All you are doing as a pro is trying to identify your mistakes and weaknesses — and there is no weakness that is unfair to identify. It could be that your win rate seems to go down after about three hours. What is causing that? What is your attempt at a solution? … It’s the willingness to zoom in, and really identify the problems, and then practice them that makes a pro player so good.”

2. Stay rested.
There will be plenty of opportunities at e-sport events to go out and party. And they can be tempting. But to be a winner, you’ll have to resist the pressures to stay out late and socialize.

“I think one of the things that really throws people off is you don’t realize how stressful the travel can be at times,” says Nathan “Nathanias” Fabrikant, an e-sportscaster and player for ROOT Gaming. “It’s really hard to balance, when you’re going to a lot of events. … [M]ake sure that you sleep enough and that you have time to practice in between tournaments.”

There is such a thing as too much sleep, though.

“It’s very hard to play your A-game all the time,” ToD says. “For me, at least, on average, I feel like I can play my A-game three or four hours per day. That’s it. … Make sure you get some good sleep. At least eight hours, but you shouldn’t sleep 12 hours, or your cycle will be messed up for day two.”

3. Practice under poor conditions.
Winning on your home setup is one thing, but tournament conditions won’t always be ideal. In fact, they’ll often be less than optimal. Prepare for that.

“Practice all the variables,” Day[9] says. “With the thermostat set to 60 degrees. To 80 degrees. With your chair too low or too high. All these sort of things are going to be really useful because even if the thermostat doesn’t change a lot at the tournament, you have those extra reassurances of control.”

4. Prepare for an emotional roller coaster.
No matter how ready you think you are, the emotions that flood players when a tournament rolls around can be overwhelming.

“The number one thing that an aspiring player at their first tournament may face — that everything in your mind will be completely overshadowed by this ridiculous swing of emotion,” Day[9] says. “In fact, the most trying test for any competitor is learning to manage those emotions, and how to use them positively, and play past the really negative ones.”

It’s not just newbies who have to deal with that emotional tidal wave. Veterans face it, too.

“There’s a couple pro gamers that, when they’re on their A-game, they’re almost unstoppable,” Nathanias says. “And if they’re not in the right mind-set, or they haven’t been taking care of themselves as much as they should have, they have a lot more difficulty finding success.”

5. Have a ritual.
Pre-game habits aren’t restricted to traditional athletes. A routine can help you get into the right mind-set for a match, something that’s crucial for victory.

“A lot of players have [rituals],” Day[9] says. “Maybe they listen to music. Maybe they do sprints before their game. Leading up to the tournament, players will do this before practice, and it helps to become [a] training mechanism that your body responds to. No matter what you’re feeling, it doesn’t matter — you just listen to that song before your match, and you get into the zone. It’s essentially practicing the emotional control, with a ritual that is meditative and helps get you in the mind-set.”

Follow Chris Morris on Twitter.