Maybe you’ve beefed up your skills in your favorite FPS or MOBA and want to start testing yourself against high-caliber players. Or maybe you’ve never explored the competitive side of multiplayer gaming and are curious about dipping your toes in. Maybe you’re even thinking of many gamers’ ultimate dream: a career in professional esports, with all of the sponsorships and glory that come with it.
If any of those sound like you, it might be a sign that it’s time to explore the world of competitive gaming. Playing competitively is an awesome way to make friends, sharpen your skills, and (potentially) experience the game at its highest level. Do you have what it takes to play competitively? Pick up your controller or keyboard and put on your gaming headset. Let’s find out!
1. Pick a game that helps you develop your skills.
Most gamers who enter the competitive scene do it by building up their skill in a specific game. If there’s already a multiplayer game you’re good at, try playing a few competitive matches and feeling it out. Depending on the game, you might need to win a certain number of unranked matches, purchase an extra subscription, or take other steps to play in competitive mode.
On the flip side, you can also pick a game with the intent to get good enough to play competitively. This strategy often works best if you pick a relatively new game that’s just beginning to establish its competitive scene. If you can get to a high skill level relatively quickly, you might be able to cut down on the endless grinding to reach the top of the ladder that comes with playing a well-established game.
2. Get to know the metagame environment and the social scene.
There’s more to gaming skills than good aim or lots of actions per minute. You also need to know the metagame: which characters people are playing, which builds are big, which players are placing in competitions, and which strategies they’re using. Social networks like Reddit, Twitch, and Discord are great places to immerse yourself in the community and get to know the meta inside and out.
Once you know the meta, you’ll be more able to choose a strategy that works for you and develop your play style. This networking will also help you build connections that will help you find people to play and practice with, and possibly a team that you can eventually join if you’re so inclined.
3. Play with higher-ranked opponents and learn from them.
Don’t worry if you’re intimidated by the skill of other competitive players. That’s common when stepping up from casual play. It’s extremely important to play with other players who are better than you, so stay humble and take every chance you can to learn something. When you play against highly ranked opponents, watch what they do, especially when you lose to them.
Part of the reason many professional players are so good is that they spend a lot of time playing practice matches (called scrimmaging or scrimming) against other highly skilled teams. Thus, make it a priority to find a group of excellent players that you can play with and against consistently. Sure, it’s more fun to play against people who are skilled enough to challenge you, but it’s also crucial for getting truly good at the game.
4. Invest in competition-caliber gaming equipment.
When you’re a newbie to competitive gaming, you really only need a few things. First, you want a 60 Hz refresh rate monitor or TV, which is the standard for multiplayer gaming. (Almost all TVs and monitors today are 60 Hz or more, but check to be sure.) Second, you need a fast broadband internet connection. Third, you need comfortable control peripherals, whether that’s a controller pad or mouse and keyboard.
For more accomplished gamers who are considering joining a team or playing in tournaments, it’s time to think about upgrading to gaming gear that will help you reach your potential. FPS players will want to invest in a 120 Hz gaming monitor or TV. The higher refresh rate is important for developing true pinpoint accuracy. MOBA and RTS players, meanwhile, can benefit a lot from a mouse with lots of programmable buttons that they can use to activate various abilities without the need to click onscreen.
5. Find tournaments to enter.
Tournaments are where the rubber truly meets the road in competitive gaming. If you want people to take notice of your skills and help you enter the circles of high-level gamers, tournaments are the best place to do it. You’ll be up against the very best out there, and winning can land you coveted invites to hang out with the big kids in private scrims and Discord channels.
If you’re playing a reasonably popular game, it’s usually pretty easy to find a tournament at a local gaming lounge or esports center. For those playing smaller games, or if you don’t live close to a gaming center, entering an online tournament is often the way to go. Either way, tournament play also offers another big advantage: Place in the top spots, and you’ll often take home a little cash for your efforts!
6. Consider your long-term goals for gaming.
Once you’re consistently winning against highly-ranked players and/or placing in competitions, it’s worth thinking about where you want to take this. If you truly want to go pro, remember that only a small minority of esports players make a full-time living from their games, and the job can be extremely stressful. That’s not to say you can’t do it. If that’s what you love, then dream big! Like playing any other sport professionally, however, it’s smart to have a backup plan.
Fortunately, the esports community surrounding most games is much more than just the handful of top players. You might choose to participate in the community in any number of ways, such as being a streamer, a coach, an influencer, or a commentator. The skills you built as a competitive gamer often translate well to these other niches, so don’t limit yourself when considering your options!