Playing video games (or gaming for short) is one of the world’s most popular pastimes. How popular? According to recent figures, there are over three billion gamers around the globe. For the overwhelming majority, gaming is a form of entertainment like watching a movie or socializing with friends, and even making some new ones.
But for some, gaming is a passion and a personal endeavor toward which they are willing to invest time and effort to improve their playing skills to elite levels. And this has led to the creation and growth of eSports – an organized forum for gamers to compete against each other on a big stage. How does one join eSports? We have the answers in this ultimate guide so read on to learn how.
Choose a Game Type that Best Suits You
Video games are nothing new. As Gen-Xers and older millennials can attest, video game consoles for home use have been around since the 1970s, when the Magnavox Odyssey and Atari 2600 formally ushered in the age of home video gaming. But highly organized, competitive gaming like we see today is a fairly recent phenomenon that will grow exponentially if current trends are any indication.
Joining eSports involves some initial decision-making, starting with determining what type of gaming best suits your skill level or preferred style of play. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of video game titles, but as far as eSports are concerned, these are the most popular categories:
- Player versus Player (PvP) – these are games where player-controlled characters engage in hand-to-hand combat or compete in sports. Fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat are classic PvP titles, as are team sport-oriented titles like Madden (football) and FIFA (soccer).
- First Person Shooter (FPS) – this is one of the most popular gaming genres worldwide with all the action on the screen taking place through the eyes of the player’s character. Popular first-person shooter titles include Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Overwatch. (There are also Third Person Shooter games where the gamer’s character is actually visible on screen.)
- Real-Time Strategy (RTS) – what RTS titles may lack in terms of explosive, adrenaline-pumping action, they more than make up for with wargames-style play where the most important skill is strategizing. With their signature bird’s eye perspective of the players’ territories, the objective of real-time strategy games typically involves conquering the opponent’s home base.
- Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) – of all the major gaming genres played by gamers today, the one that may be best suited for eSports from both player and spectator perspectives is the multiplayer online battle arena. With uber-popular titles like League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm, MOBA games are bona fide eSports headliners.
Playing video games competitively requires a certain degree of commitment to developing skills and learning new techniques. In other words, deciding to participate in eSports means choosing the right type of gaming for you, not only in terms of your skill level and developmental ceiling but also your willingness to embrace your chosen game or genre as a craft and dedicate the necessary time and effort toward elevating your play.
Decide on Your Preferred Gaming Platform
If you are interested in joining eSports, not only are there multiple genres and seemingly countless titles that you need to wade through, but you also need to decide which playing platform will provide the best opportunity to reach your video gaming potential.
By and large, personal computers, or PCs, are the platform of choice for high-level gaming. With the high processing capabilities demanded by many of today’s most popular eSports titles, PCs enable gamers to outfit their hardware with the fastest processors and most powerful graphics cards, which are key to achieving smooth on-screen display (as measured by frame rate) for glitch-free gaming.
They are also upgradeable as new components like the aforementioned processors and graphics cards are released, meaning that PCs can be continuously updated. Another important consideration is that there are certain eSports titles that can only be played on PC. These immensely popular and highly marketed games include:
- League of Legends
- StarCraft II
- Defense of the Ancients
- Fortnite (this is a cross-platform title that can also be played on gaming consoles)
Not to be discounted, console-based eSports is a large segment of competitive gaming. With the financial backing and branding power of their respective manufacturers, consoles are often tied to specific titles, so the game that you foresee playing in your eSports future will dictate the gaming platform on which the action takes place.
These are the three primary console systems for gaming today with their most popular titles:
- Playstation – Call of Duty
- Xbox – Halo
- Nintendo Switch – Super Smash Bros
Consoles are significantly less expensive than gaming PCs and are an accessible gateway into the world of eSports. Unlike PCs, however, consoles cannot be upgraded after purchase and are subject to becoming outdated until new models are released. If your budget permits, PCs will open up more gaming opportunities, but millions of gamers are content to play on their console of choice.
Follow eSports and Pick the Right Level of Play
Electronic sports, or eSports, is a broad term with different definitions depending on who you ask. For some, eSports refers exclusively to professional video gaming where players are sponsored and compete for cash purses (more on this later). To others, however, eSports encompasses competitive gaming of all levels, whether for bragging rights at a community gaming center or top prize at a local tournament.
Whether you have been playing video games all your life or you are a relative newcomer to gaming, it is important to follow eSports to familiarize yourself with the elite level of play and the nuances of competitive gaming. There are several ways to keep tabs on the eSports world, including:
- Streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube carry live events to watch tournament play and follow your favorite gamers and teams.
- Apps like Discord provide voice, video, and text chat communities that are heavily connected to eSports and other interests
- You can also follow eSports leagues, teams, and individual players on social media platforms to curate your gaming news feed
If you want to deepen your involvement in eSports beyond fandom, there are different ways that you can play, and your options depend on factors like your skill level and the resources (e.g., time and money) you are willing to commit to this endeavor. Here is a look at the variety of gaming opportunities that may be available to you:
- Many gaming titles and platforms have online functionalities that can match you up with players having comparable skill levels
- Online ranking modes in some games allow you to gain prominence among your playing peers as your play improves
- Grassroots gaming events, like local tournaments, are a great way to experience a competitive gaming environment without the pressure of competing in a major event
- Open brackets (e.g., any gamer who registers and pays applicable fees can enter) in tournaments are a great way to develop skills under “live” conditions and assess your playing level against other gamers.
- High-profile events like tournaments with big money purses and broad media coverage are typically invite-only or restricted to professionals but with the right mix of talent and commitment, it is possible to rise through the amateur ranks
While eSports at the highest level is reserved for a select group of elite players from around the world, it is, generally speaking, a realm where gamers of all skill levels can find their space and play against fellow members of the gaming community.
Get Involved in Your Local eSports Community
For most gamers with designs on joining eSports the best and most accessible path runs through the local gaming community. With the growing popularity of video games, you would be hard-pressed to find any urban community that did not have a local gaming center or organizations offering eSports activities of some sort.
The interactive nature of high-level gaming these days requires state-of-the-art hardware but also fast internet service. Particularly when gaming online against other players, insufficient internet speeds can result in glitchy play marked by frustrating lags that can negatively impact play quality.
Fortunately, gaming centers are popping up everywhere, and for local gamers, these establishments not only serve as gathering places that promote a sense of community among players, but they also offer developmental benefits including:
- State-of-the-art facilities with exceptionally fast internet speeds (for example, 1-gigabit fiber)
- Top-of-the-line peripherals like keyboards, headsets, and mice can be rented, along with specialized gaming chairs
- Rental of rooms for private gaming functions like contests and parties
- In-house tournaments featuring a wide range of popular eSports titles afford a great opportunity for you to get your feet wet in a competitive setting
Gaming facilities often charge for access to their facilities by the hour and also sell memberships and gaming packages. Aside from serving as purpose-built gathering places for players of all interest levels, gaming centers provide an inclusive environment for budding eSport participants to hone their skills.
Get Involved in Your School’s eSports Program
As eSports and competitive gaming continue to grow in popularity, an increasing number of schools are offering formal on-campus programs for gamers. According to recent figures, there are over 50 colleges that have varsity-level eSports programs, and there is even a governing body (the National Association of Collegiate Esports) that oversees gaming activities at these institutions, including tournaments where prize money is allocated toward scholarships.
Even at schools that do not offer formal collegiate-level eSports programs that compete against each other, many institutions do offer gaming activities at an on-campus club level. Gaming clubs on college campuses can provide a unique opportunity to pursue eSports in a structured, organized manner. These benefits include:
- Regular meetings and practices
- Coaching and developmental activities
- Fostering of teamwork
- Opportunities to compete against other teams
Collegiate varsity eSports and club gaming may not be as glamorous as the pro circuit or as exciting as marquee tournament play, but as far as improving skills while experiencing the camaraderie and team-building that participation in eSports affords, getting involved with your school’s gaming program may be an excellent way to enter the world of electronic sports.
Taking Your Talents to the Next Level
Many gamers aspire to play at the highest level of competition and the ultimate goal is to play eSports professionally. With millions of dollars in prize money and corporate sponsors willing to pay top dollar to secure the best talent out there, pro eSport gamers are the rock stars of today’s digital age with rabid fanbases and social media followings that rival those of the world’s top professional athletes.
And like professional athletes, the path to becoming an eSport pro is an extremely difficult one and only those with the commitment to developing skills and building on natural-born talent will ever reach the pinnacle of the gaming world. These are some of the aspects of professional eSports that make it such a challenging endeavor:
- eSports requires intense motivation and discipline
- Not only must you choose a game at which you excel, but it also has to be a title that is either well-established as far as competition infrastructure or on its way to becoming the next big thing
- Individual talent is one thing, but many of the most popular eSports titles today are team-oriented so the ability to collaborate with other players and function within a team structure is paramount to success
- If you want to see if you have what it takes to succeed in eSports, you will need to work on your mechanics – the specific skills within a game that need to be executed to perfection on a consistent basis
- In the world of eSports, playing is not the same as practicing and it takes a lot of the latter to hone skills and elevate play for when it matters the most
Like those who succeed in professional sports, gamers who reach the highest level in eSports typically work their way up, methodically rising through the ranks. While the nuances of how you can climb the ladder from the amateur ranks to the professional level differ depending on the title, circuit, or league, the process typically involves competing in open competitions and advancing upward from there.
In the case of the Overwatch League, for instance, there are four stages that you must complete in order to reach the highest level of this eSport:
- Overwatch Open Division – this is an open competition for PC gamers based in locations including Korea, China, North America, and Europe
- Overwatch Contenders Trials – top teams from the Open Division are invited to compete against each other with spots in the next level on the line
- Overwatch Contenders – advancing to this stage is a major achievement for serious gamers and is one step away from achieving professional eSport status
- Overwatch League – this is the first eSports venture comprised of city-based teams with millions of dollars in prize money and will select future competitors from top performers in the Contenders stage
While reaching the professional level of eSports is a longshot for virtually any gamer, the fact that players do reach the pinnacle of gaming and achieve enormous levels of financial success serves as inspiration for millions of up-and-coming players around the world.
Most people who play video games are nothing more than a form of entertainment or a diversion that affords a momentary break from everyday life. But for some, gaming comprises a series of paths that lead toward the various realms of eSports.
Whether for riches, fame, or simple recognition, eSports provides the means for improving your gaming skills, competing against fellow gamers, and perhaps most importantly, joining a community of like-minded people.