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Pick Your Game and Learn It
Writers write, singers sing, and gamers game. Whatever your goal in life, practice is absolutely essential. This is especially true with gaming, where a lack of practice and knowledge can put you at a serious disadvantage against the competition. The first step is to pick your game, or games, and learn it. Of course, that doesn't just mean playing the game.
If you want to go pro with Starcraft for example, you can't just play the game on afternoons and expect to build up pro level skill. You've got to learn everything you can about the game. You'll need to memorize unit stats, learn common strategies and their counters, and watch game replays of the leading players. Check out some videos from leading Korean players like BoxeR, and figure out why what they're doing works so well.
Shooters are no different than strategy games. If you want to be on a Halo 3 team in Major League Gaming, you need to know common Halo 3 strategies. You've got to know the maps, the weapon spawn points, and ways to get past likely sniping positions and choke points without getting killed.
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It's Not Just Practice, It's Work
The world of pro gaming is incredibly competitive. If you're working a full time job and gaming in the off time, you've got to take things pretty seriously. Remember, the pros are getting more playtime than you, playing with better players than you, and they don't have things like school or their 9 to 5 job to worry about. I'm not saying you should quit school or work, I'm just trying to paint a picture of the odds you're up against.
You can counter this disadvantage by treating your burgeoning pro gaming career as a second job. Set a practice schedule up for at least twenty hours a week. That doesn't mean just playing the game either. During a practice you should be playing online against players at your level, or playing solo and learning the maps and mechanics.
At CES 2009 I spoke to Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendell, the first pro gamer to make over $100,000 a year gaming. I asked him about his rumored four hour a day practice regiment and he clarified that he practiced in four hour increments for a total of eight hours daily.
It's important to know your weakness and work on it. If you're a great sniper in Modern Warfare, but lousy up close, that weakness should be the focus of a least a part of your training session. Play for a full hour without letting yourself use a sniper rifle and constantly strive to improve.
And remember, it is work. Though you may not need a full blown home office, it's important to have some of the essentials available to you.
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Picking Your Team
Sure, you could go it solo, but team based tournaments are increasingly popular with the competitive gaming community. Having a team by your side can make up for some of your shortcomings, and allow you to contribute differently.
In Team Fortres s 2 tournaments for example, a good medic is a necessity. Like a bass player, you'll hide in back and casual observers won't fully understand your role. You won't rack up the most kills and you're not going to be the flashiest player, but you're an essential part of the team.
When picking a team there are a few things to consider. Your team's skill level should be about the same as yours, and there should be a bit of variety in specialties. If you've got a team full of people who do the same thing really well, you may be in for a tough time. You'll also want players that are as dedicated as you are.
No matter how good a player is, if they can't show up to practice on time or they bring the rest of the group down emotionally, they may be more harm than good. If you're feeling really fancy, you can even use Motorola's Six Sigma methodology for team building.
Logistics are a big one too. Thanks to the internet, living near one another isn't a necessity. You can make a team full of members from all over the world if you like. Just keep in mind that everyone needs to be ready to game at the same time, and everyone needs to be willing to travel to tournaments if need be.
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Your First Tournament
No matter how tough you may be when playing against randomly matched opponents, it's a different world when you get involved in tournaments. Whether you're playing against players locally or online, a tournament shouldn't be taken lightly. You're up against other pro wannabes, and maybe even a few who've made it.
Finding a tournament to compete in is as easy as a Google search. Depending on where you live, there may be dozens of local tourneys every month. If you're not lucky enough to live somewhere with a big gaming scene, you'll have to go online.
There are plenty of great online tournaments, and you can't go wrong by giving them a shot. Some organizations, like the MLG, charge for entry into their official tournaments. This helps to weed out players who aren't yet serious or ready enough to make the jump. You may want to go for a few free ones before you start shelling out cash to play.
Play hard, but don't take losses personally. You're going to lose, and you'll probably lose a lot at first. Don't yell and curse when you lose and don't gloat when you win. Remember, even though the people you're playing against are your competition, they're not your enemies. If they beat you, take it graciously and then go about figuring out how they did it.
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Building your Reputation
You've played in your first pro or semi-pro level tournament now and you know what to expect. But just winning a few tournaments isn't enough, you've got to get known.
It's time to start visiting and participating in tournament gaming forums on a regular basis. Make some friends, give some advice and maybe get some tips back in return. Remember, these people are your peers and you want their respect, so give that respect back. Become an active member of the community.
You'll also want to start showing up at gaming events. You and your team should make your presence felt at any local gathering of gamers. If there's a local comic book show or a game swap, or if you've got a nerdcore band playing nearby, you want to be at the event.
Be friendly and meet people! Spread the word with pride and try and get people interested in what you're doing. People will be more likely to pay attention to the group of guys they know and like than someone they've never heard of before.
You may also want to think about promoting yourself using social networking sites like Facebook or putting up videos of some of your better matches on YouTube.
Of course, during this time you've still got to keep practicing and keep winning. This is also the time that you'll want to start heading to larger and out of state tournaments. If Major League Gaming is holding an amateur tournament, you need to be there.
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It's not all about winning
So why all these extracurricular activities? Isn't pro gaming just about gaming? Well no, not really. Even the most successful gamers don't make all their money from simply playing the games.
Fatal1ty, for example, is one of the most successful pro gamers of all time. He's made about $500,00 in tournament gaming, but it's not the tournament prizes that are paying his bills. Early on, he got a little bit of sponsorship integration - his name was on motherboards and graphics cards - and that pays well.
Now he's got an entire line of products including full custom PCs. Every headset, power supply, and sound card that sells means money in Fatal1ty's pocke t. If he were to sustain a broken wrist, that'd put him out of gaming for months at least, but he'd still have a successful business.
I asked Fatal1ty what advice he's got for the up and coming pro gamer. "Go out there and win tournaments, get into competitions and make a name for yourself," he said. "But you have to work with the media too. You’ve got to give them a reason to care about you."
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Building Your Brand
It's the same whether you're more freelance like Fatal1ty or a contracted player like the Tsquared. It's about winning, but it's also about being marketable. Tournament income is hit and miss, and you don't always know what to expect. If you can develop a fan base on top of that, then you've got a bit more steady income from merch and sponsorship.
It may sound like obvious advice, but start a website. Even if it's just a Wordpress blog, you need a way for people to find out more about you. Post your tournament results, different things you're trying in training, and maybe even do a weekly tip column. Remember, you're some of the best players out there.
Your game name and team name should be relatively pronounceable by the general public and avoid anything too inappropriate. If you've got someone that can draw on the team, or you know someone that can, you'll want to get a team logo as soon as possible. Make up a few shirts and wear them when you travel as a team. Brand identification is important.
The most important thing is to be proud of your gaming and your team. If you can make any money gaming, even if it's not a full time job, you've done more than most gamers even dream about. Keep spreading the word.
If you really want to get your name out there (you do) then you should get in touch with the press. Your local paper for example. Get in touch with an editor a month or two before a really big tournament and let them know what you're doing and how you're doing it. Even an online press release may be your foot in the door.
You could even organize a gaming event. Start your own tournament, hold a charity function, and do whatever else you can do to get the word out.
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Keep on Gaming
Once you've got a good record established and a bit of a following going, the most important thing is that you don't stop. When things get hard, keep going. When you lose a teammate, find another and keep going. Think of what happens to a professional athlete when they take a year off, or an actor that doesn't appear in movies for a while. Getting out of practice or getting out of the limelight can be the death of a career.
Fatal1ty puts it best. "It’s tough," he says, "but you’ve got to keep going and keep doing it. When you don’t wanna do it, you’ve gotta do it. And when you really don’t wanna do it, you’ve gotta do it."
Do you want to learn how to become a professional gamer taking prize money from tournaments and sponsorships? How about breaking in to games journalism, or even just getting a job doing QA? This series of articles will reveal the secrets of getting into the industry.