Since its humble beginnings in 2007, the Intel® Extreme Masters (IEM) tournament has grown from the corner of a German tech expo to a global event hosted in sold-out stadiums with millions1 of fans tuning in. Esports on a whole has followed a similar trajectory. Today’s professional gamers compete around the world for major prizes and renown at Esports events such as the International DOTA 2 Championship and the Intel® Extreme Masters Grand Finals. Blizzard*, meanwhile, built a dedicated arena in Los Angeles for hosting and streaming Overwatch League events. Some universities offer Esports scholarships.
Anyone who loves games has probably wondered how to become a pro gamer. Whether you’re looking to get into solo or team competition, there is a blueprint to launching a gaming career.
10 Steps to Becoming a Pro Gamer
Find Your Motivation
As with anything in life, it’s important to play Esports for the right reasons. The love of competition, the satisfaction of growing as a player, and the sense of contributing to a team and community are all valid reasons to play.
In the long run, positive motivations are what keeps players engaged. Players who are motivated by cash, fame, and quick success, on the other hand, will likely burn out before ever turning pro. Loving the game will make a world of difference during daily practice as you gradually acquire the skills to turn pro.
Pick Your Game
The next step is to find your game. There are two schools of thought here: Either pick a game that’s up-and-coming or go with a well-established game.
The value of picking a game that’s established as an Esport is that the infrastructure and resources are already in place to support pro gaming. Longstanding Esports titles like League of Legends, Dota 2, and CounterStrike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) have large, dedicated player bases and, by extension, sponsored tournaments with lucrative prizes. The downside is that they are tougher scenes for newcomers to break into.
When a game is up and coming, players have an opportunity to help excavate the game and advance the meta, which tends to be more volatile and accommodating of different play styles at the outset. Founding players of games like Rocket League and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds,2 for instance, have found themselves propelled to the center of the Esports stage. That said, there's also a risk that a game's competitive scene will fail to thrive, at which point you may have to pick a new game.
Our advice is to try a few out and stick with the one you truly love. You’re going to be playing it a lot.
Join the Community
As much as pro gaming is about individual talent, it’s also about the culture surrounding the game. Before investing too much time learning the nuts and bolts of a specific game, spend some time lurking on forums and other places where players congregate. The experience will provide a better indication of the path ahead, and you’ll be able to judge if the pro player journey aligns with your personal goals and motivations.
Immersing yourself in a game’s scene is essential to advancing your career, so make sure you enjoy the company of other players. For one thing, the finer points of a game’s meta are sussed out on message boards, forums, and YouTube channels. Players need to interact with each other in order to keep track of the evolving meta and also to iterate on it — contributing back to the scene they belong to.
Plus, community is a powerful motivation for staying invested in a game long-term.
Make sure you're playing on the right gear, starting with a good gaming mouse, and mechanical keyboard. There are a lot of options when it comes to peripherals — varying in size, form factor, and sensitivity — but it's best to choose the one that works for you. To get some ideas, hear what Esports pros had to say about the gaming peripherals they use.
Whichever peripherals you choose, it’s good practice to use the same mouse and the same keyboard every scrim, every game. Just look at pros today. The equipment they use at the gaming house is the same equipment they will use to compete with on-stage. Developing familiarity with your peripherals makes it easier to transition to a tournament environment, where nerves and pressure come into play.
Consistency is also a factor when it comes to hardware. Pro gaming event organizers are conscientious of selecting system components that won’t hamper gameplay with lag or erratic frame rates. The performance of your gaming laptop or gaming PC should follow suit. To learn more about improving your gaming experience, check out our guides on what to look for in a processor, gaming monitor, and storage space.
With in-game matchmaking and premium third-party matchmaking services like ESEA, it’s easy to find people to play against. But if you want to win, you’ll need to practice.
First, master the game’s mechanics. Concentrate on learning game-specific skills until they become ingrained in your muscle memory. Whether that’s last-hitting in a MOBA, aiming with accuracy in an FPS, or maximizing actions-per-minute in an RTS, these skills never lose their importance. Pro players practice mechanics tirelessly to stay sharp and make minute improvements, but players who are just starting out should improve dramatically with practice.
While you’re honing your skills, start researching the game’s overarching strategy. A good Esport has many layers of strategy, ranging from situational strategy — such as the role of a jungler lurking between lanes — to top-tier meta. Understanding your role in a given situation is a good place to start, as the meta used by the pros — like the nearly unstoppable GOATS strategy that dominated Season 1 of Overwatch League — can be too complicated for beginners to coordinate.
Still, there’s a lot to be gained from watching top players. Both videos and live-streams are great resources for learning good in-game habits and provide a reference point for how you should be playing the game.
Later on, as you’re getting better, reviewing replays of your own matches will allow you to break down your play style and learn from your mistakes. All the best players do it.
Climb the Ladder
If you want to become a pro, it takes a strong desire to win at every phase of competition. This means topping the scoreboard in pick-up groups, climbing the ladder in matchmaking, and being the last team standing in tournaments.
Familiarize yourself with the hierarchy of the levels of competition, as each Esport has its own system in place for bringing new players into the fold. In CS:GO, for example, a player typically progresses from public games to matchmaking and then on to leagues and tournaments. There will be different trajectories for different Esports.
Climbing the ladder allows young players to make a name for themselves. This can help them find a spot on an amateur team (or a home in a sub-community for solo games), which in turn can be a stepping stone to a pro gaming organization.
Find a Team
Once you build a reputation as a serious competitor, find a team. Playing alongside others — especially those who are better than you, or who have different skill sets — is one of the most valuable experiences a player can have.
If you’re really good, a team will probably find you. If not, you can try out for teams. The website Teamfind, for instance, has forums and tools for teams and players to communicate. Discord servers, subreddits, and Steam groups also serve as prime recruitment grounds for amateur teams.
Learning to play well with others is required for team-based games like CS:GO and Dota 2. So find a role that you like and a group of players that you gel with. But even for solo games like Hearthstone or StarCraft 2, there’s value in connecting with a like-minded sub-community.
Compete and Get Noticed
Getting good at the game is only half the battle. The other half is making connections that will help you ascend the competitive ladder. Once you’ve found your footing in more competitive lobbies, start networking. Leverage your position as a quality opponent to connect with better players.
Building relationships with better players can lead to bigger things, such as invites to private Discord channels, where you’ll have the chance to play in exclusive scrims and rub shoulders with elite players. Environments like these are where players tend to get noticed by pro organizations.
While the grind mentality looms large in Esports, pros must learn how to balance their practice regimen and off-screen activities. According to professional gamers we interviewed, a holistic approach to practice — including proper nutrition, exercise, and an active social life — improves mental focus and prevents burnout. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will allow you to stay motivated for long enough to develop the skills that will ultimately attract pro organizations.
Live Like a Pro
Becoming a pro gamer takes years of hard work and practice, but there’s more to it than constantly grinding. To evolve as a player, it’s important to take a well-rounded approach to training — one that includes developing social skills, expanding your knowledge of the game, finding positive sources of motivation, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Align yourself with these principles and you’ll see improvement in and out of the game.3 4