What It Takes to Be a Professional eSports Athlete

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eSports is growing in popularity and scale at an unprecedented rate. Now even entire stadiums are being built just to host eSports tournaments.  Cyber athletes even rival professional athletes for earnings, spectatorship, and the accompanying worship of their talents. But how do gamers make the transition from amateurs to professionals? Let’s take a look at what it takes to be the best.

What’s It All About?

Simply the short name for electronic sports, eSports have all the competitiveness of traditional sports, but from the comfort of a chair. They come with most of the challenges too, such as grueling training regimes and fierce competition needed to make it to the limelight. For example, this year’s eFIFA will pit 32 individual players against each other in the knockout tournament, and each of those players had to overcome 20 million competitors to make it to the eFIFA final!  

For these reasons, eSports has mostly shed its past difficulties in not being recognized on the level of pro sports, with the serious possibility of making it into the Olympic Games. These days, turning professional has become as realistic an option as it is for sports. 

Many high-profile tournaments for games like League of Legends, DOTA, Starcraft 2, and along with first-person shooters like Overwatch, have become incredibly popular to watch. In some cases, pulling in up to 80 million live viewers. With mass spectatorship comes serious sponsorship and big prize pools. As an impressive example, the upcoming DOTA 2 International has a current prize pool of $24m and counting, all contributed by fans of the game.

This success is spurring many young and upcoming gamers to dream of becoming professionals as a long-term career. But as we will see, becoming the next big star in eSports needs a hell of a lot of dedication, talent, and then some.

The Recipe for Success 

As it might not be what you’d expect, let’s run through the ingredients that make up an elite eSports athlete.

Commitment

To casual gamers, the idea of playing their favorite as much as they like might seem pretty cushy. Not the case. For most part, it’s not about fun, but rather blood, sweat and tears. Determination to undergo exhausting training, day in day out, year after year, is a crucial requirement. For example, recent rumors suggested that some Overwatch League players train 10-16 hours a day in preparation for competition. Martin “Rekkles” Larsson, who plays for UK-based organization Fnatic agreed more generally, saying, 

“Players are required to put in many, many hours in order to reach – and stay at – the top level.” 

It’s not unusual for players to put in 16 hours of practice in a single day.”  

Overwatch star Isaac Charles (AKA ‘Boombox’) emphasized how under-recognized this level of commitment is, 

“The thing about being a pro gamer is that it shocks people how much time we put into being the best. We train as hard as other sporting athletes.”

Experience

Tied to training is also experience. Cyber athletes are typically quite young in comparison to sports celebrities. However, they’ve usually been fanatically engaged in hard core gaming since they were toddlers. 

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In sports, there is the popular notion of the ‘10,000 hour rule’ – the practice required to achieve expertise. In eSports, this number could easily be double. This significant experience over time seems to be a prerequisite to a successful career. That said, it also comes with the risk of burnout, which is a real threat by the time pro players make it into their twenties.

EI

Emotional intelligence is probably the most under-recognised trait of pro gamers. Performing in front of huge crowds with the threat of hundreds of thousands of dollars being lost with a single wrong click or button press – the heat is truly on. For anyone that has watched a big tournament, the pressure is unmistakably immense. Losses can come so rapidly that the psychological impacts can be devastating. 

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Embedded in this aspect of pressure is self-control, or inhibitory control. Being able to take carefully calculated risks, while doing a million things at once, AND resisting overly impulsive actions, is a key trait of super star eSports performers. An unnervingly cool head is a must.

Talent

A more obvious facet is talent or natural skill. With massive global participation, especially from China’s vast and fervent population, being successful means being better than millions and millions of other budding gamers. After all, one of the attractions of eSports is its almost complete lack of barriers to access. Without the natural potential to achieve super human levels of skills, all the training in the world won’t make a champion. 

Teamwork

Lastly, and not for every eSports game, teamwork is a big one. It’s simply not enough to be great. Each player has to make their team great, or they will inevitably get torn apart in the fray. This is why top teams in games like DOTA 2 and League of Legends, have risen through the ranks by literally living years in the same training house or camp with their teammates. eSports teammates likely spend more time with each other than in any other profession.

Then even for players who are dedicated to solo games, they still have to learn to train with others on a daily basis. In this sport, no man is an island.

The Evolution of Competition

As we’ve just seen, it takes a lot to make to the big time. 

Now however, staying competitive looks like it’s going to require going the extra mile. Major eSports stars are managed by large pro gaming organizations like Team Liquid and Fnatic. These companies are quickly realizing that nurturing the perfect cyber athlete requires a sports science mindset. Their goal is to evolve a solid competitive advantage, in the same kind of way top sports teams do. 

Just as cognitive training is becoming the next revolution in traditional sports, eSports organizations are starting to adopt the latest sports science techniques and technologies within futuristic training labs. Conditioning and assessment in these involves everything from neurovision training and physiotherapy, to Neurofeedback and Biofeedback. They could easily be mistaken for the type of setup you’d expect to find in the world’s biggest sports clubs.

For this reason, there is growing interest in NeuroTracker to hone the minds of cyber athletes in a top-down fashion. The aim is to improve these athletes’ lightning quick thinking and decision-making skills. Research shows that NeuroTracker training heightens executive functions, working memory, processing speed, attention and self-control – all high-level cognitive skills essential to eSports performance. 

Overall eSports is certainly an exciting and rapidly evolving domain of human performance. It could well forge the way towards a new frontier in the development of meta-human mental abilities.

If you found this interesting, take a look at our previous eSports blog.

The Unstoppable Rise of eSports

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The NeuroTracker Team