As gamers nationwide gear up for the fast-approaching 2005 MLG tournament season, I thought this would be a fitting time to offer a little guidance to the newcomers out there and the players who are striving to break into the pro-circuit and make a name for themselves this year. Chances are good that if you’re reading this site you are probably hoping to snag some ranking points and prize money in one of the games in the MLG lineup this year. With this in mind, I’ve put together some suggestions for how to make the most of your talent and get your foot in the door of the pro-gaming world. Hopefully this will give you a solid place to start, but how far you go with it will depend solely on you.
The single most important part of getting into the MLG tourney scene is to (surprise!) go to the tournaments. Go to as many as your wallet and schedule will allow. Don’t just go to the one that stops close to your home town, go to every one you can get to. Aside from having a blast traveling and playing video games all weekend, you will find these tourneys to be invaluable learning experiences, which is what you should think of them as. You’ll likely do a good bit of learning directly from the pros themselves – the humbling kind. Think of it as a complimentary crash course.
Despite finding yourself face to face with some of the world’s best competition, it’s not all about getting your ass handed to you by a pro with a post-it note full of tips tacked on. You’ll find that many of the competitors at the tourneys will be right around your skill level, ensuring that there is almost always a well-matched game to be had. Aside from the pros, each event is peppered with local players, curious newcomers, casual and recreational gamers and players of all skill levels.
Don’t expect to bust in through a wall like the Kool-Aid Man and own everyone at your first tourney. In fact, it’s likely that you won’t. The more reasonable approach would be to keep your eyes fixed on your long-term goal of becoming a pro-gamer, but set yourself some short-term attainable goals to help you inch your way there. Try to place a little higher at each event, making your first cutoff a realistic one and going from there.
Between your matches at the events, spend time watching high-profile match-ups. It’s much different when you’re watching a pro-player’s screen instead of playing against them. In this way, you can begin to understand why they do the things they do, and how they get the leg up on opponents. This is much more beneficial than just being suddenly destroyed in a match against them and not understanding how they were able to hook it up. All you learned in that case is that losing is not nearly as fun as, say, eating birthday cake or spelling your name with yellow snow.
Consider the gaps of time between the tournaments as your practice time. Understand that gaming is a craft, a bona fide art form even. People perfect their crafts through many years of consistent effort, and gaming should be no different. Pro tournaments are not school exams to be “crammed” for during the two days prior. That’s simply not enough time to prepare. If you choose to pursue the pro-gaming life, it should be an every day effort. If this is something that you really want, you will need to look at it as a job of sorts, or at least a second job. Learn the rules, gametypes, and nuances of the tournament and focus on them, examine them from all angles and then practice playing with them over and over until they become second nature.
If Halo is your game, consider that Zyos reports practicing for about five hours every day, which means that you may well need 10 just to hope to catch up. Like in the career world, there is real money to be made if you’re at or near the top of your field, but where there’s money there’s competition. You need to ask yourself seriously what kind of time commitment you’re prepared to make in pursuit of your goal, and your answer should dictate how high your aim is. Whatever you are able to put into it is fine, but be honest and realistic with yourself about what that level of commitment will get you or you could end up disappointed, which often leads to frowning. You don’t want that, do you?
When you’re practicing, play with purpose. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s easy to just turn the brain to recreation-mode. You are playing a game, after all, so it’s natural to get lost in the fun and fall lazily into mindless patterns of goofing around. Concentrate on what you’re doing and make a legitimate effort to focus on improvement. Analyze your playing style, compare it to that of your competition, and consider what works and what doesn’t. Put thought into why you lose when you do and try to learn from your mistakes. Then, make adjustments to your style putting emphasis on polishing up your rough spots and start the process over again. Play to your strengths, but also work on ironing out your weaknesses.
The best and fastest way to improve your game is to practice with people who are right at your level, or preferably slightly better than you. This way you are constantly being pushed to your limits and forced to learn new ways to get the better of your competition. Unless you can bribe a pro to outright tutor you, it is often not nearly as helpful to practice with someone who is too far above your current level. You will largely not understand how they think and strategize, or why you keep losing, resulting in frustration and discouragement. This is because there are likely several logical steps of progression that you still need to go through before the method to the pros’ madness becomes clear. On the flipside, weak competition makes you lazy and causes you to let down your guard and take risks that would be absolutely unsafe against worthy opponents, spawning bad habits. If you know it wouldn’t be a safe move against a tough opponent, don’t do it when you practice.
So now to find some good players to practice with’ Well, if you’re not blessed with a group of friends comparable to your skill level, it’s going to involve some networking. Try to get in with some players that you respect and know are good. This is usually not a simple task, as many good players are trying to do the exact same thing you are – play with people on their level to help them improve. Therefore, you will often have to prove yourself, or even build yourself a “reputation” of sorts as a respectable player. This process should happen in tiers. If your goal is to eventually be practice buddies with a top 10 player, don’t expect to just hippidy-hop right in there. Try to prove yourself amongst some top 100 players, show them that you can hang, and try to gradually become as good as or better than them, which gives you maneuverability and some word-of-mouth respect to move up the ladder. Sounds good on paper, but you must realize that this is very, very hard and will depend a lot on your dedication (and social skills).
Don’t be frustrated if your improvement is slow, as long as it keeps happening. It can take months or even years to reach your full potential. Remember to take a step back and realize your progress in light of your long-term goal. It may take you all this season to emerge as one of the better players, but if you went from 450th to 90th over the course of the year, you should consider that a monumental achievement. Never mind the 89 people who are still ahead of you. You can tackle them next season.
There is a factor of talent of course, and improvement will come more quickly to those with higher aptitudes for the game, but never underestimate the power of hard work, which I’m sure Rudy Ruettiger would love to give you an hour-long Disney-sponsored speech about. Cheesy as it may be, it’s true, and there are countless success stories to back it up in any competitive field.
If you hope to someday rise to the top, you have to take your effort seriously, but try to keep your sense of humor about it too. Remember, it’s supposed to be fun, above all. That’s where the whole pro-gamer dream stems from in the first place – the dream of getting paid to do something you love and have fun with. If you’re working really hard at getting better but not having fun, you need to re-evaluate your reasons for continuing, because after all, you are almost certainly making sacrifices in other areas of your life to be pursuing this. Hopefully though, this will not be the case for any of you, and your days will be filled with laughter and destruction for many months to come.
I don’t claim to be a great holy oracle of advice, nor do I tout myself as the world’s greatest gamer (unless giving nerds wedgies counts as a game), but I’ve been exposed to a good bit of the culture and I wanted to share what I’ve learned with the newcomers out there scraping for a bite of the pie. Mmmmm’. pie. So good luck, and I hope to see you on the road this year.
Stay tuned for part two of this series to hear the perspectives of other gamers entrenched in the glorious 24-hour mambo party that is pro-gaming.
By Joe Renaud (Dyslexia)
You can contact dyslexia at firstname.lastname@example.org. All opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Major League Gaming or its affiliates.