Esports sounds like a dream come true to many gamers young and old. Humans have always been drawn to competitive sports and the physical or technical prowess they are designed to display. How would you become an esports gamer? How do you make it big? There are a lot of different recipes for success just like there are in traditional sports. We just don’t have the exposure to these stories yet.
You can read books about how Michael Jordan, Florence Griffith-Joyner, Muhammad Ali, and Michael Phelps rose to fame. You can read interviews, memoirs, biographies, and more. There are training routines and specials on them to show you both their accomplishments and their training. This is not yet the truth of esports but we will be seeing this more over the next decades.
Esports has been around since the 1950s. Though it struggled to become the goliath industry it is turning into today, it’s here to stay. After you figure out which game you love enough to dedicate your time to. How do you get on that play stage with the pros?
Chatting with a Pro
Esports is not like football or soccer. We do not have as much material or history to learn from to figure out how to be an esports athlete ourselves.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Lethamyr, a former Rocket League esports professional, and coach. We talk about what an aspiring esports gamer would need to do to make it to the big leagues of video games. Here’s what Lethamyr said when we asked him to give us a rundown of his esports career:
“I started playing professionally a long time ago, back in the early days of Rocket League. I think I started being considered a professional player in 2017 when I joined Ghost Gaming. I was on a previous team that we won’t talk about because it’s not something we should discuss.
I joined Ghost Gaming and being under an organization and having that pressure behind you to perform well is definitely something you don’t experience unless you’ve actually tried it before. You know when you play for yourself, it’s your own motivation and your own standards, which is obviously enough for most players; that’s how we started out.
But once you are signed under a company or under an organization that expects something from you, or expects time from you and you have that pressure behind you, you’ll not only have the fans of who you are but the company as well. And there’s a lot of eyes on you, especially on Reddit and stuff. You have to have thick skin to be a player in general.”
Q: When you were a coach, what did you look for in the professional players?
A: There are a lot of aspects of coaching that go underappreciated in the Rocket League scene because at the end of the day, Rocket League is very intuitive as a pro player, so there’s a lot of things that you, as a pro, would already know is going wrong. It’s really important to work around the problem itself and figure out a better solution. Not just ‘Oh, I went for that, it didn’t work, why did I go for that.’ It’s more so “How can we prevent those mistakes from showing up and what communication gaps are there that led to that situation?”
When I was working on Mousesports I was really really keen on watching the entire field. I would usually step back and see where the rotations were. That’s something that a player can’t really see: where the rotations were. They can only see their perspective. So I am trying to get a different view of how their rotation looks versus what they are seeing on the field.
It gives a fresh perspective and kinda helps them look back behind their own screen. When I am playing the game specifically I am seeing the screen of the other players and where they’re looking, so I’m trying to keep that in mind. That’s not the easiest thing to do, but as a pro coach when you’re sitting there you have that ability to flip through all the perspectives and see what information people are missing from their own screens.
Q: Yeah, that’d be a lot to balance too, just watching all of it and trying to look for all of those gaps and communication failures to compensate for them.
A: For sure, and I know that Sizz specifically has talked about this sometimes, saying nothing at all is good too, as a coach. You don’t need to fill the space. You don’t need to say things if it doesn’t need to be said. That’s the difference between a very, very educated coach in Rocket League versus someone who is starting out. And they might have good points but it’s not always what you need to tell the players at that moment. It’s good to know when or when not to say something to your team.
Q: Makes a lot of sense. I think that’s a lot of things in general: knowing when to let it go.
A: Yeah, exactly. You want to focus on the important things. If things are working well and geling, you can say “Oh, make sure we focus on this, or whatever.” But sometimes if the team is working well you can just let them vibe and figure out what they are doing and step in where you need to.
Physical Conditioning and Health
Esports, like all sports, require a lot of practice and support behaviors. There are physical aspects to consider in all aspects of your life. Your body and mind are important to care for even in esports. Though that may look a bit different depending on the game you play and who you are.
Here is what Lethamyr had to say to us about physical condition while gaming:
Q: Okay, was there anything in particular you had to do to make sure your body didn’t deteriorate while you were playing? Because I would imagine that there’s a lot of hours going into the game.
A: As far as deterioration of your body goes, the only thing that I had to worry about was a pain in between my thumb and my pointer. If you do too much movement, lateral movement like that, it can cause some issues.
But, I mean, we are gaming so it’s not like it’s too strenuous. You just gotta be careful, because I’m noticing even now, with me doing the 12-hour days I do, that sitting in these chairs even if they’re ergonomically friendly and stuff, it’s very taxing on your body.
I actually just went and got x-rays and my spine is aligned to the left a little bit, so I am starting to do a little bit of correcting on that front. But just be careful, you definitely have to balance your lifestyle wisely. Don’t sit in the chair for 16 hours a day basically.
Q: Even ergonomic stuff, it’s like working in an office. Eventually, it will get to you regardless.
A: Exactly. You gotta be mindful of it and do as many preventative measures as you can, but obviously, you can’t do everything to avoid it. If you’re going to be sitting in a chair, it’s just going to happen.
One other aspect you have to make sure is healthy is your time management. Most realize that in order to professionally play a game you have to put in a ton of hours but you have to make sure you aren’t putting yourself at risk by putting in all of those hours.
Q: What kind of gameplay was involved in daily practice? Did you do a lot of time in the practice mode? Did you do a bunch of skrims? Was it really a balanced mixture?
A: As far as everyday practice usually goes, and I think it’s even true for pros nowadays, I think the max people usually do is two skrims a day and the skrims last an hour long.
The skrims in Rocket League are very very taxing because it’s just game after game after game, five minutes a match. I think you come to a point of no return after two skrims where you’re not really learning much, you’re kind of losing the improvement aspect. So people will try to limit it to two. About two hours a day for skrims, even the weekends, and then a lot of play on your own like practice and free-play, and then ranked play.
People tend to stream their ranked nowadays. Like AJ from Faze, he’s always streaming his practice. There’s a lot of players that are doing that more often. I think they just try to balance their life outside of the game, more so now than they used to because a lot of them have grown up a lot, and they’re realizing they can’t sit on the computer all day.
Q: Yeah, life tends to get in the way of that.
A: Yeah, exactly, so I think it’s just important to keep your practice smart, not hard. That’s what we always said when I was doing my highland dancing in the past was never to really work too long. It’s more just “When you are working, make sure you are learning and bringing in as much information as you can.”
Q: That makes a lot of sense so you’re not just burning out for no reason at all.
Getting better in Rocket League
If you specifically want to get better in Rocket League, Lethamyr had a few tips. Some of these can be applied to any esports game you are playing. There are many games in the esports category, each having a different focus needs for in-game skills.
Q: As a pro, did the built in training packs in the game still get used? Or was that more of a “You should have already done that before”?
A: Definitely, I still use training packs even now. They’re very important, I would say, in giving yourself different situations. I know Bakkes allows you to change the variation of shots too so it feels different, looks a little bit different every time, or it shoots at a different speed.
It’s an undervalued approach to the game that is definitely being used more often.
We see it a lot in events like Twitch Rivals; they use it as a basis for skill. It definitely is very helpful to repeat those actions and get that muscle memory down.
It’s definitely valuable for players who are starting out to start out that way, I would say. Free-play is not really that useful at the start, except they’ve added those controls to pass the ball to you and stuff, but when you don’t have the ability to control the ball yet I think that training packs are a better approach than going into free-play.
Q: I was wondering myself, I am not a great Rocket League player. I’ve played before so I was like, how would I get better?
A: Training packs, and custom training maps like rings and stuff. People love those for aerials and dribbling challenges, but obviously not every player can do that because console players can’t play custom maps. But if you are looking at core game-play for Rocket League, definitely training packs are a good place to go.
There’s a lot of creators that have showcased specific training packs that help specific moves that you’re looking to improve.
Q: What in game skills do you normally see are the hardest to master?
A: As far as in game mechanics, there’s stuff like flip-resets that I think are becoming more prevalent in all ranks. Even in platinum, you’re seeing people try to attempt it.
So it’s becoming more the norm that people are trying more difficult mechanics. A player starting off now for the first time playing the game would pick up things so much faster than in 2015 when we were still learning how to move the car in general.
People who are playing now pick up the mechanics a lot faster. As far as the hardest mechanics, mechanics are a combination of things you kind of have a flip-reset, which then you can do a musty-flick and a breezy-flick. As far as the hardest mechanic, probably stuff like breezys are really hard, because it’s a lot of micro-adjustments and micro-movements.
I feel like mechanics are more so about consistency in my opinion. Like how consistent a player is because if you hit it once it’s not like your mechanical, you might have gotten lucky.
I always have the philosophy of improving gradually rather than trying to just jump into the deep end. It’s good to work with what you have and slowly improve how comfortable you are with every situation in the game.
When you are in a position where there’s an open net and you have a ball, try to shoot it in every corner in training. Don’t just shoot the one spot that’s easiest for you, make it harder for yourself. That way your mechanics will slowly improve.
Q: What do you feel is the best way to improve with someone that has pro-potential? So they already have the basics, they are already solid on mechanics, but they are not quite at pro level.
Is there a trend, something you normally see, or something you normally recommend for those people to work towards pro level?
A: As far as a player that’s looking to go pro, and they feel like they are getting to that level, it really comes down to how much you’re noticed by the community of pro players and being noticed by organizations.
So, if you want to get eyes on you:
Number one, play all community tournaments you can.
Number two, Play in the ranked six mans that they have. If you are a good enough player, you will push through the ranks.
You have to shine in the community. There are a lot of players that are aspiring to be that next pro player that have been here since 2016. They still haven’t made their breakthrough.
There is quite a saturation point in Rocket League right now with pro players. You really need to be that star player like Daniel coming in. You need to be a blowout player that’s going to be the next stand-out.
I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying that. It is very difficult. I will say it requires a lot of time, not everyone has the privilege of being able to do that. There is a lot of natural talent in this game. There is no doubt in my mind that a new player coming in could probably pick up things pretty quickly like I was talking about. So definitely ranked 6-mans and finding a good team that you gel with, I would say even in ranked. If you’re looking for players just find someone you work well with and work from there. Not to say you just toss anyone aside when you find someone better. Explore your options and keep an open mind that it will take a long time.
Q: I feel like that is a common thing in most sports. If you didn’t start in it early or at a really young age it can just take a long time.
A: Exactly, that’s what happened with me. I used to play League of Legends a long time ago and I got to Challenger, but even as a challenger back in 2015 I was doing that. Even in the highest rank, I felt I was nowhere close to what the pro players were doing.
And then I played CSGO for about a year and a half two years and got to Global Elite in that game. I was like, “I still don’t feel like even in this game I’m anywhere close to the pro players.” It’s not to feel like I felt like it’s unreachable.
Like you said, you’re going to have to dedicate a full pro career’s time and more to match the pro that’s already improving as they go. So it seems like an unreachable point, but you just gotta dedicate a lot of your time.
Q: That’s a lot of dedication for sure to play one game that much. You have to really love it.
A: Yup, and I really love Rocket League, even today. Although I do have my gripes with the game, and a lot of people do, at the core of the game the game is, in my opinion, flawless. It runs super well, it’s such a unique idea, there’s nothing else like it. That’s why I love it so much.
I originally thought when my friend showed me the game, this looks so silly it’s cars hitting a ball. What’s going on? The first goal I scored, I was hooked.
Q: That’s one way to go about it, just that one time.
A: It’s crazy, that one decision to go “Oh, you know what? I’ll try the game.” And if I didn’t try that, I don’t know where I would be right now. Probably still in engineering doing something with trains and stuff.
Q: You’re doing a version of engineering, just inside of computers.
A: Yeah, like software engineering a little bit. It’s a little bit of programming that I had experience with. It’s definitely a different approach than I thought I would be at this point in my life, for sure.
Q: What do you feel is the greatest misconception of being in esports?
A: I think the biggest misconception of being in esports is that it’s easy to do. A lot of people know that playing games is hard like these competitive ones are very difficult to get to the highest rank. But there’s so much more than playing the game that happens.
There’s scheduling skrims, scheduling meetings, watching replays, and making sure you’re keeping well rested under the stress. That’s the biggest thing, I found when I had RLCS the next day I wasn’t sleeping much which was just due to the stress and the pressure that’s behind it.
Even the difference between playing online in your own house versus being at a LAN event, being on stage with a bunch of people cheering, and hopefully not booing you. But, you know, just having opinions of you and you’re in front of thousands of people online as well, on stream. It’s just that pressure that really hits you. I didn’t necessarily struggle with myself, but I know a lot of players would crumble under pressure in that situation.
I’ve had experience in the past with highland dancing; being in front of stages of people, so it became a normal thing to me weekend after weekend. I was lucky to have that experience before; that helped me stay calm under that kind of pressure.
Q: I once stood in front of thousands for an event and I couldn’t do anything but just quietly stand where I was, I could not do it.
A: I think for me speaking in front of that amount of people is more stressful than actually playing there. I had to go for an interview at one of the LANs. I was like “Okay, no thank you.” But focusing on my own screen was not too bad for me.
With all of the work we already put into our passion as gamers, there is a lot more that goes into being an esports professional. This is a sneak peek into what it takes behind the scenes to make it big in your favorite esport. Just like any sport, it takes a lot of time and dedication.
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