Gaming has come a long way since the days of Pong, Duck Hunt, and Pac-Man, when competing meant getting the top score at the local arcade. Electronic sports, or esports, describes the organized video game competitions (with cash prizes) that are quickly rising in popularity as more gamers become fierce pro competitors.
Now pro gamers are competing around the world — some for winnings in the millions — at events such as the Major League Gaming (MLG) circuit, the International Dota 2 championship and Intel® Extreme Masters.
MLG built dedicated arenas across the country to host and stream professional gaming events, and has scouts and communities to find the best untapped players.
Gaming is serious business.
So if you want to be a pro gamer, to make a career out of it, what does it actually take? A lot of dedication, according to pro gamer Ryan “Big Apple Pie” Gresty.
“It takes a lot of your life up, but when you’re in a one-versus-one situation and you know what play to make, you realize all the practice has paid off,” Gresty said. He added that many gamers — or at least himself and the gamers he knows — suffer from “a lack of sleep.”
Rumay “Hafu” Wang began competitive gaming at age 14. Now 23, she evolved her gaming career from team competition, traveling around the world with Fanatic, to becoming a full-time streamer on Twitch.
“Streaming is a lot more relaxing,” she said, adding that she plays up to 12 hours a day from the comfort of her home. “You can do it at your own pace, listen to your own music and be your own boss.”
Whether you’re looking to get into team competition or streaming, the following tips can help get you started.
Become a Pro Gamer in 8 Easy Steps
Easy to understand, that is. Playing for a living isn’t all fun and games. It takes time, skill, and determination to win in today’s competitive circuits. If you’re up for the challenge, here’s what you need to do:
Pick your game. With a service like Xbox Live, you can practice and compete around the clock both with and against very skilled players. It’s not about randomly finding people to play against. You have to find a game you’re good at and become exceptional at it.
Once you find that game, build your reputation as both a skilled single player and a team player.
Stay motivated. Winning and money are big motivators for pro gamers; so are family and passion. Pro gamer Marcus “ShoNuff2025” Davis has been practicing the latest Call of Duty game, Advanced Warfare.
When asked why he wanted to go pro, Davis said, “First, I want to be the best so my Dad doesn’t think I’m asking for all these games and PC upgrades for nothing. Then I want to have fun doing what I already love doing.”
Practice. Study the best tactics, watch a ton of gameplay, and learn how to lose. Even when you lose, you’re practicing, and practice really makes perfect. Tyler “Teepee” Polchow, who was part of the team compLexity (now Evil Geniuses), which won the Call of Duty World Championship in 2014.
“Winning the championship was the pinnacle of my professional gaming career,” Polchow said. To get there, Polchow practiced with his team eight-plus hours a day, live-streamed the games and created other content.
“We were up against the best and had to prove we were better. The grand finals against Team EnvyUs was a quick 3-0 sweep for us, and it was in the last minutes of the third map where we secured the victory,” he said.
“A $100,000 check and the prestige of being a world champion is what all pro gamers strive for, and having that become a reality was one of the most gratifying and relieving feelings.”
Gear up. You need equipment that allows you to properly test your skills against the competition. It might be nice to have the hottest PC, but the most important thing is to choose one with the right performance that suits your lifestyle.
You can get a thin and light gaming notebook to bring to meet up with teammates or make sure practice doesn’t slow down when you travel.
A highly customizable desktop will help ensure that you have the most up-to-date hardware for your ever evolving games. As long as you have an Xbox or PlayStation, you’ll be able to compete.
Join the community. As much as pro gaming is about individual talent, it’s also about the community and being a team player. Before starting, get to know the rules of being part of a particular gaming community.
Find a team. Once you build a reputation as a serious competitor, find a team. If you’re really good, the team will probably find you. If not, try out for teams. MLG has dedicated spots to communicate with other teams and players. There are also communities where you can foster your own team.
Enter tournaments. When you get good enough to compete in singles or with a team, start entering tournaments. Test your skills in as many online and local tournaments as possible. Tournaments happen year round, so you’ll always have a place to compete. The unfortunate news is that no matter how many tournaments you win, your status as a pro gamer is truly only solidified when you win at the pro circuit level. Winning at live events brings you not only respect, but also money. Pro gaming is a legitimate job.
Get sponsored. Today’s pro gamers benefit from sponsors who provide the necessary equipment to compete. If you want to earn a living as a pro gamer, find a way to get sponsored.
“Gaming isn’t just a hobby anymore, it’s a career path and a lifestyle for some people,” Gretsy said. “The dedication and the time put into playing is more than a 9-to-5 job with overtime.”