So you’re looking to become a God-tier Professional Gamer? They say that no matter how good you become at something, there’s always someone better. You should know, this doesn’t always have to be the case.

Paid professional gaming as a career is so much more of a realistic goal than it was just ten years ago. The recent International Dota 2 Championships are evidence of this, with the top prize last year a mouth-watering $1.4 million USD, and the total prize pool a whopping $2.8 million USD. Other huge prizes have been won at tournaments for (among others) League of Legends, Counter Strike, Call of Duty and StarCraft. As competitive online gaming becomes ever more popular, making a living in this trade becomes increasingly possible (and desirable). Gone are the days when sitting at your computer or console and playing for hours at a time is a waste. Professional gamers trade in their 9-5 jobs for something they truly love.

Reaching the level of skill required to compete at the highest levels of a multiplayer game is much like any other discipline. It has been said that to truly master a skill, one must invest around 10,000 hours. As someone with experience, I can confirm there is some accuracy to that claim. Internationally recognized players like Dendi, Fatal1ty, Grubby, Tsquared and many others have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars by reaching the very top of their trade, and all got to where they are by following some or all of the steps below.

And why can I outline these steps for you? Because I’ve done it. I have competed at the highest level of one of the more popular PC-based FPS games of the early 00’s, representing a national and international squad and winning a number of tournaments. Here are 8 critical steps you must know – put them into practice and you’ll be well on your way to playing amongst the best. 

1. Practice

Practice, practice, practice. You must be training every day, without fail. You may be judged unfavourably for spending so much time on a game, but this is very important. Similar to a traditional sport or hobby, creating neural links in your brain and generating muscle memory is paramount to advancement (consider learning to drive a car, for example).

So what’s the reason for this? When you can do all the basics while barely thinking, this opens up space in your mind for the more complicated tasks - tasks that will win you games (see clutch-play below). If you fail to practice, even for a day, this automation of your basic play will begin to fade, and will need to be retrained (albeit at a faster rate than before). Assuming you’re competing on a regular basis, this fading of skill and requirement to re-train yourself is time you cannot afford. Reaching the top is not easy and takes a massive amount of work.

2. Passion

As with any discipline you want to excel at, you must have passion for what you do. Do you perpetually strategize and conceptualize in your head, thinking of ways you could’ve done something differently, even by the slightest detail? Are you driven to play by enthusiasm and excitement? Maybe you consider any time not playing or being involved to be wasteful. This is passion. Passion is what brings you back and what drives you to stay focused on your goal.

Passion breeds commitment, and from commitment comes advancement. With passion also comes the motivation you’ll need to do what is necessary. Take pause and mental note of this passion, and try to establish what it is specifically about a game that draws you in. In times of frustration, this knowledge can help you stay in the game.

I cannot teach this concept, but you’ll begin to know if you have it. If you do not and you still want to be the best, it may be worth considering something else.

Professional Gamers in ActionCredit: Denis Dervisevic via Compfight

3. Demos

Almost every game that exists in the competitive realm these days will have some form of demo function – that is, other players can play back and review a previous game at their leisure. If you’re going to become the best, you need to study the best. A near-religious commitment to watching top or god-tier players in close detail will be required for most people to advance to their level. Some players appear to have a natural gift to pick up a game at close to its highest level, but this is rare and should not be relied upon.

Find some full-length demos of the players you know to be the best at what it is you’re trying to do. Be specific. If you can find demos with running commentary this is okay, but be wary of bias; the commentator(s) can only speak from their own knowledge, and often will speak very broadly about a match rather than the finer details you’ll need to focus on.

4. Equipment

Top players take their gaming equipment very seriously, and they should. Consider the following; a Formula One driver at the top of his field, for instance, is there for three primary reasons;

a)      His own personal skill and attributes

b)      His team

c)       His equipment

This driver could hire the greatest mechanics and spend as many hours as he likes honing his skills, but if his competitors’ equipment is superior, he immediately loses that edge. Exactly the same applies to competitive gamers at the top of their respective fields.

However, do not make the assumption that the more expensive the gear, the better. You don’t need the best gaming desktop or the best console to compete. You must test hardware out in stores, read authoritative reviews, and ask friends who have experience with the exact product you’re after. Whether it’s a keyboard, mouse, seat, controller or other gaming accessories, it needs to feel right when in use, or you’ll be forever plagued by the impurities of your product.

How important each piece of gear is depends on the genre of game you’re playing, so it’s tricky to suggest where you should invest the most time and money. However, for the majority of PC based games, your mouse, mouse surface and keyboard are a good bet.

5. Knowledge

To reach the top, you need to know your stuff. Seriously. This is more than just knowing your way around maps or when to use particular weapons. It’s more than knowing where someone is likely to spawn or what they might be planning next. Multiplayer games all come with their own intricacies and jargon, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of them, and knowledge of a majority of these is huge if you’re looking to exploit them as the pros do.

You can learn a lot of what you’ll need by watching top players in action; but much you will need to figure out yourself through trial and error, analysis and experimentation. Extended information on many games is available on forums or dedicated websites also. From experience, even after playing almost every day for the better part of six years, there are always new things to learn and to try (and to fail at). The moment you think you know everything there is to know, you’re wrong.

God Tier Gamer KeyboardCredit: Steve_Camera va Compfight

6. Teammates & Mentors

In a team or squad based game, your success hinges as much on your teammates as it does on yourself. It’s more than their skill that has to be considered however, it is your interaction with them. It’s important (especially so if you’re in a leadership role) to know how each member in your squad plays similarly or differently to you. You need to know where they are, what they’ll do, and how you can best take advantage of this. Furthermore, whatever you do needs to be done with the consideration that your team can take advantage of that.

If, however, you play a game that demands primarily an individual skill-set, one of the most important things you can do is find someone well above your skill level from whom you can learn from directly. Possibly even in a mentor-type role. Finding the right person for this may be a challenge unless you have an already-established friend who plays, but most who have passion for a game will gladly share their knowledge and ideas. In a classic case of the apprentice becoming the master, your immediate goal is to attain a skill level higher than your mentor and move forward from there.

7. Know Your Enemy

For those who have read Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’, you’ll have knowledge of some of the key ideas he outlines with regard to military strategy. While it may seem unconventional to relate the concepts of a 2600 year old military doctrine to modern multiplayer gaming, having read (and applied some of) these concepts, they are entirely relevant.

Sun Tzu says:

“It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle.”

While this concept is fraught with absolutes, the man knew what he was talking about. Your chances of victory, no matter the skill level, increase in proportion to the knowledge you have of your opponent and your own ability. Where possible, study everything you can about your enemy and think critically about how you can exploit any weakness you discover, especially with regard to what you excel at. In short, play against his weakness, preferably with your strengths.

8. Clutch-Play

What I refer to as clutch-play, others may define as those key moments in a match where things get desperate. The figurative chips are down, the heat is on, and you’re all that stands between your enemy and his imminent victory. How you learn to handle yourself in these high-pressure scenarios will be the difference between being a great player and a god-tier player. Margins are so fine at the top that even the smallest advantage can decide success or failure, so you must be prepared to grab that advantage (and force an enemy’s disadvantage) when it presents itself.

Preparing for these moments comes from a culmination of the other concepts outlined above. Focus on them and clutch-play becomes a product of that. Composure is at the core of coming out ahead, and composure will come from training your mind and muscles, sixth-sense-like knowledge of the enemy and the environment, and the edge given to you by your superior equipment. When things get intense, your ability to remain calm will be everything.