Starting your esports journey can seem daunting. But as the road is long, the rewards are just as fulfilling. The Rocket League Championship Series has a $6 million prize pool. Over five million people tuned in live to watch the League of Legends Worlds Championship Finals. The Overwatch 2 League acquired over $200 million in sponsorships from major brands like Intel1 and Toyota.
Succeeding in esports comes down to three main tenets: adopting the right mindset, mastering your craft, and developing winning strategies.
Make Sure Your Hardware Meets Your Competitive Needs
The first thing you should do is ensure that your system is capable of playing the game you want to play at the quality you desire.
Your own personal skill isn’t the only thing to consider when making improvements to your practice environment. Pro players tend to prefer high frame rates in order to receive the most accurate representation of the game they’re playing — an opponent that stutters across the screen is likely harder to hit than one who moves more smoothly.
In addition to select peripherals and high-refresh rate monitors, powerful hardware that’s capable of meeting your frame rate needs at the level of graphical detail you want can help you level the playing field when it comes to interpreting the action on-screen.
Consider a hardware refresh if you want to improve your practice setup. Check out our guide on how to choose a gaming CPU or go directly to our top-of-the-line Intel Core products to ensure your performance needs are met.
What Constitutes an Esports Game?
Though this might seem like an obvious question, the term “esports” sees wide usage across many different contexts, and it’s important to define the types of games we’re discussing when we talk about esports.
Traditionally, esports titles feature real-time multiplayer competition with quantifiable winning conditions. But beyond that, the real answer is that anything can be an esports title if there are structured, competitive events to back it. Since this definition is so broad, esports games can belong to a wide variety of genres, from motorsport sims to collectible card games.
That being said, the largest and most lucrative esports titles tend to receive support from major esports organizations and appear across a number of popular, well-funded tournaments. For example, Intel’s own Intel® Extreme Masters esports tournament includes Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and Starcraft II, both of which have been staples of the esports industry for several years.
Choosing an Esports Title
Now that we’ve established what games qualify as esports titles, first things first: what game are you playing?
As mentioned above, esports games come in all sorts of flavors and genres. As a result, they test different skillsets. A competitive shooter like Valorant might test your reflexes and the precision of your aim, while a real-time strategy game like StarCraft II might test your ability to position your units or pace the development of your base. Fighting games like Street Fighter demand that players be able to engage opponents in delicate dances, anticipating moves before they land. Competitive card games like Hearthstone, on the other hand, require an intimate knowledge of all of the cards and synergies in a set.
Below, we’ll list some of the most prominent esports genres to help you get a better idea of where to begin.
- Shooters. Whether aiming down a weapon’s sights in first- or third-person, these esports titles revolve around eliminating the opponent in fast-paced combat. As mentioned above, excelling at a shooter requires a precise aim and lightning-fast reflexes.
- RTS games. The term RTS, short for “real-time strategy,” describes a genre that requires players to manage resources and units across a large overworld map. Thinking a few steps ahead and cultivating your base and troops according to grand strategies is key to your overall success, while microcosmic combat scenarios require skills in gathering powerful armies, positioning your units and timing your attacks.
- MOBAs. Short for “multiplayer online battle arenas,” MOBAs are hybrid games that combine mechanics from a number of games to deliver dense and multi-faceted competitive experiences. Like RTS games, MOBAs engage players in micromanagement mechanics as AI-controlled units crawl across the map towards the enemy’s base. RPG-like mechanics inform the development of the player’s own character, allowing them to upgrade special abilities and purchase or scavenge useful items.
- Fighting games. These games were some of the earliest to ever cultivate esports communities, drawing crowds around arcade cabinets as two challengers faced off in intimate, 1v1 fistfights. To succeed in playing fighting games, you’ll need to learn the ins and outs of every fighter, mastering combos and tailoring your strategy for every matchup.
- CCGs. CCGs, or “collectible card games,” task players with crafting decks of cards to defeat opponents in 1v1 matches. Learning how to play units tactically and use your resources efficiently is only the beginning; advanced play requires a comprehensive knowledge of all of the cards your opponent might play, as well as the probability of drawing the combo pieces you need to succeed from turn to turn.
While it may be tempting to choose an esports title that has a larger player base or bigger name recognition, you should always start with the fundamental question: is this game fun? No one becomes an esports pro overnight, and if you’ll be dedicating serious time and energy to practicing an esports game, it’s important for the title to be one that gives you genuine joy.
Mastering the Mechanics
Once you’ve chosen a game, it’s time to start getting familiar with it. Just as with any non-digital sport, technical skill is at the core of every successful esports career. In esports, however, technical skill is determined not just by the physical limitations of your body but also by how adept you are at using the game’s mechanics to achieve your goal.
In gaming, mechanics describe the most basic elements of a game, from the rules defined by its code to the commands that player characters can execute. Mastering a game’s mechanics means knowing the game inside and out, sometimes with mathematical precision (e.g., knowing exactly how far a projectile can travel across the map before it starts curving downwards).
Each esports game has its own set of mechanics. Though you’ll likely learn the game’s most basic mechanics via its built-in tutorial, it’s often unlikely for the tutorial to account for all the mechanics a game may possess, especially if it has a vast breadth of playable characters, modes, or maps.
Practice makes perfect, though, and finding the most efficient way to acquaint you with all of a game’s most relevant mechanics can be helpful when starting an esports title for the first time. Turn to YouTube for “beginner’s guides” that can help you familiarize yourself with all the rules and systems that glue the game together.
Getting Serious with Practice
Now it’s time to spend serious time practicing. Even before heading into ranked matchmaking, it might be worth it to apply some of your learnings to casual play.
Here are some tips for how to improve your performance once you’ve settled into the game of your choosing.
Learn techniques. After mastering the mechanics, next comes technique — or, how to use your knowledge of mechanics to your advantage.
Oftentimes, the most useful and popular techniques are developed by players who have long and storied histories of playing the game. Player-developed techniques like the Lee Sin ward jump in League of Legends, for example, has become a staple of the champion and a must-learn to perform on the pick. If you’re playing a hero- or champion-based game like LoL or Overwatch 2, searching for character-specific guides can give you an idea of the range of techniques players might use when playing them.
Developing a working understanding of the vocabulary is important for picking up techniques, too. Esports communities are fond of devising their own terms for well-known concepts that haven’t been formally acknowledged by the game’s developers. In collectible card games, for example, “going face” typically means targeting the opponent themselves rather than one of the cards on their side of the battlefield.
To learn more about advanced techniques and vernacular, there’s no better way than to become a member of the competitive community. Join your game’s respective community forums, subreddits, and Discord channels to begin familiarizing yourself with the jargon. Ask questions when you encounter something unfamiliar: you’ll find that esports communities are more than willing to teach new players, share tips, and oftentimes even group together for a quick game or two.
Look for community-made resources. Even the most skilled players will spend time regularly honing the fundamentals, and you’ll likely find that esports pros and casual players alike have uploaded their own resources for public use.
If you’re playing a shooter, for example, it can be useful to use an aim-training map developed by another player in the community. Some CCG playerbases may use a program to help them simulate “drafts,” allowing users to practice their skill in building improvised decks from rotating packs of cards — another great way to develop a working knowledge of the cards in a set. RTS players might get some benefit out of looking up pro player hotkey settings, using them to cut down on time wasted fumbling with on-screen icons.
Capture your gameplay. Another tried-and-true method for improving your performance is to use gameplay capture software to record your sessions for self-critique later. Making decisions on the fly can be stressful in the moment, and you might find that you’re able to analyze your gameplay with more clarity when watching a recording.
Scrub through losses and try to pinpoint your weaknesses. Do you consistently miss a blind spot on a specific map? Are there any particular combos that you’re unable to time correctly? Combing through your gameplay footage might help you find the answer.
Learning the Meta
There’s one thing in particular that’s arguably the most important to understand if you want to commit to an esport: The meta.
The meta — short for “metagame” — describes the macrocosmic set of strategies that define the landscape of a game’s current competitive scene. The meta might be articulated differently for different games; it could manifest as an effective string of plays, a particularly powerful team composition, or even a general approach to completing the game’s objectives.
The meta will be most visible to you when you jump into ranked matchmaking. Every game has a different approach to ranking its competitive base; generally, algorithms behind the scenes will assign you a numerical score, bucketing players into different categories accordingly (e.g., “bronze” to “diamond” to “grandmaster”). At lower levels, your peers might be playing much more haphazardly, but once you start climbing the competitive ladder, you’ll notice the trends and strategies that give shape to the game’s current meta.
Learning the meta requires constant awareness of how the competitive community is interacting with the game. There are a couple of things you can do to keep your literacy high:
Watch esports competitions. Check out esports channels like RLCS and LCK to see how pros approach the game you play. Though you might need to be caught up on popular jargon, casters often gear live commentary towards newer or less-experienced players, so they’ll give you the insights you need to understand every move.
To get the most out of each stream, think about why players chose to make the plays that they did. It’s easy to get caught up in the flashy, ostentatious plays, but to get the most out of each stream, try and think about why players chose to make those plays to begin with — the conditions on the map that set the stage for that maneuver as well as the risk involved. Whether it’s to get to a better spot on the field or secure vision for an upcoming objective, every move is always made with an end objective in mind.
Find professional players you like. During off-season bouts that see limited broadcast tournaments, you can always hop over to professionals and content creators on Twitch, YouTube, or Facebook Gaming.
The best streamers to use as educational resources are the kinds of streamers who intentionally use their channel to impart wisdom to aspiring pros. Look out for tutorials, VOD reviews, and guides to determine whether or not a streamer is a good fit for you.
Keep up with the patch notes. This last piece of advice is crucial to keeping an up-to-date understanding of the meta.
Many esports titles use the games-as-a-service model, meaning the developers update them frequently to add new features and make balance adjustments. Whenever developers release a set of changes that aren’t bundled as paid content, they outline them in what are called “patch notes.”
While some patches might consist of fairly negligible changes and bug fixes, some constitute massive alterations to the meta. Generally speaking, balance adjustments may lower the power of a certain mechanic (a “nerf”) or heighten it (a “buff”). Patch notes may address anything from game mode-wide changes or granular edits to weapon performance. Other adjustments may be considered “neutral” and are simply added as purely aesthetic changes or quality-of-life improvements.
If you pick up an esports title after being out of practice for a few months and notice that the gameplay feels different — that a certain move isn’t doing as much damage as it used to, or that an AoE effect has a greater radius than you’d remembered — then the answer might be buried somewhere in the most recent patch notes.
You can find detailed analyses of patch notes on sites like YouTube. Patches are typically assigned numerical titles (e.g. “patch 1.07”), so you should be able to find videos on the specific patch you’re looking for.