Esports 101: How to get into competitive gaming if you're new
© Marv Watson / Red Bull Content Pool
Want to get into esports but don't know where to start? We’ve compiled some good general information to help you get going.
For those that have zero clue what it is, esports is competitive gaming at the professional level. It’s a relatively new way to make money by becoming the very best at your chosen game. Every year millions of dollars are being given out as prize money and esports fans are tuning in all over the world to cheer on their favourite players.
For those that are looking to get into it: be warned. There’s a pretty steep learning curve for the uninitiated and it will require a commitment to get onto the same level as regular esports enthusiasts. If you’re willing to put in the work, it can become a rewarding pastime.
How to choose an esports title
The first thing you’ll need to do is pick your game(s). Before looking into the biggest events of the year, first decide what sorts of games you want to watch. Take a look at what you like to play as well as what you understand and go from there. Start by sampling a few games you think you might be interested in. You need to really enjoy the game you choose because you’ll be watching and (probably) playing a lot of it. Games are separated by genres in esports with some of the biggest ones being fighting, first-person shooters (FPS), multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), collectible card games (CCG) and real-time strategy (RTS).
Fighting games are a good genre for entry level gamers that want something they can understand right off the bat. Some popular fighting games you might be interested in are Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, Super Smash Bros. and Dragon Ball FighterZ. All of these games have lots of cool characters to play as, with unique abilities and combat styles.
These titles are mostly played solo, although some team formats do exist. Losses fall solely on the individual player, meaning a lot of match up knowledge is required to get good. If you need some help getting into fighting games you can check out content creators like Sajam, Maximilian Dood and WoolieVersus. The latter one has a series called Get Into Fighting Games where Woolie and pals pick up new fighting games to try out.
First-person shooters (FPS) are team-based and involve a firefight from a first person perspective. Some of the most popular titles in the genre are Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty, Overwatch and Valorant. Shooters vary from game to game and are also a great genre for entry level esports fans.
Some are more realistic like CS:GO or COD, simulating warfare, while others are colourful and have sci-fi elements, like Overwatch and Valorant. There are an almost endless number of resources on YouTube and other parts of the web for players who want to learn how to use a specific character, weapon or ability, so it's up to you to decide who you want to learn from.
Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) titles are team-based games where two sides are pitted against each other in battle. League of Legends, Dota 2 and SMITE are some of the more popular games of this genre. Even though the mechanics differ from game to game, it boils down to two teams fighting to destroy each others’ bases. Both teams' bases summon computer controlled creatures to fight, while individual players summon heroes or champions that have unique abilities to help the team.
Most of the games in this genre are free to play so you can easily sample them before you get too invested, since MOBAs are some of the more challenging games to learn. League of Legends is definitely the biggest MOBA so, if you want to start there, watch some informative streamers and analysts like LS, NEACE and Hanjaro to help you learn as much as you can about the game.
Collectible Card Games (CCG) are mostly played solo and require patience and focus in order to outwit your opponent while making the best use of your deck to win. These games are good for players that don't necessarily have lightning fast reflexes and great hand eye coordination, but instead have great strategy and good decision making.
Arguably, the most mainstream one is Hearthstone but there’s also Magic: The Gathering Arena and Legends of Runeterra to look into. Magic is a bit more complicated than the other two so, if you’re new to this genre, it might be better to start with Legends of Runeterra or Hearthstone. Brian Kibler is a great resource for Hearthstone and Saucy Mailman can help you get into Legends of Runeterra if you want to check out either of them on YouTube.
Real-time strategy (RTS) games are played with a birds-eye view of a map filled with both your and your opponent's resources, bases and armies. Popular RTS games include StarCraft II, Warcraft III and Age of Empires II. The original StarCraft was one of the first esports ever played and the RTS genre was responsible for inspiring the creation of MOBAs as a whole.
In the most simple sense, RTS games are similar to playing board games like Blood Rage or Risk but, instead of turns, every player is always moving and making decisions. Even though this genre has dropped in popularity recently, due to the rise of MOBAs, there are still a lot of great players and a community for you to learn and compete with.
Other games are available for players that aren't interested in any of the genres or titles mentioned above. There’s sports, racing, third-person shooters, battle royales, RPG and even puzzle games to name a few that have tournaments and events for you to participate in.
How to watch, follow and play esports
Now that you know what game(s) you want to get into, it's time to dive in. Almost every kind of event is streamed online, from big annual tournaments, to qualifiers and even local events happening in your city. Twitch is the biggest platform to stream events on, but there’s also other platforms like YouTube that players can tap into.
To watch the biggest gaming events right now, you can check out this esports calendar for the most popular MOBA, RTS, CCG and shooters that are out right now. You may recognize most of them from the games listed above. For fighting games, and other games that aren't as popular, you will likely have to follow key communities online. The easiest way to see footage is to type the name of the game you want to watch and then add: tournament, circuit or bracket into Twitch or YouTube and you’ll likely be directed to where you want to go.
If you want to follow esports news there are lots of outlets for you to choose from. You could follow content creators, commentators and official pages on social media, or join relevant Discord channels to stay up to date on what’s going on and talk with other members of your community. If you wanted to follow League of Legends, and you live in Canada, you could join League of Legends (NA) on Discord, since it’s the official North American League of Legends Discord server. You’ll know it’s official by the green check mark.
Now, if you want to play in esports, there are some things you need to know. The biggest events of the year, depending on genre, are invite only for the most part. So, unless you’re already one of the best in the world, don't expect to be able to sign up to those. Some genres, like fighting games, are more grassroots and mostly deal with open brackets, so anyone can join.
A good place to start playing, most of the time, is right in the games you’ve chosen to keep tabs on. A lot of games have ranked modes online that match you with other players around your skill level. You could also join a club or a team at your school, local gaming centre or any other organization that has open bracket events for you to participate in.
You’ll have to practice a lot and study the pros to improve your gameplay. If you need it, you can go to special events and attend training camps to improve and network with other players. There are also coaches out there that have streams you can watch, or you can hire them to do one-on-one training for extra help. If you’re starting to get good and you notice yourself winning pretty regularly within the ranked modes of your chosen game then you can start thinking about taking it to the next level.
Once you’re ready to take it up a notch, you can start entering in tournaments. Test your skills in local or online tournaments, and you could walk away with some pretty impressive prize money. Tournaments happen fairly regularly and, if you can, enter as many as you have time for. The sky's the limit from there. If you keep winning, you can try your luck at higher profile events or even get into the pro circuit.
How far you take it is up to you
Now that you’ve picked your games and done your research, it’s really up to you to decide how far you take your interest in esports. You can just be a casual fan of one game or follow as many games as you want. You can be a casual player that enters one local tournament a year or become a pro gamer and make all your money from winning esports tournaments. At the end of day, even if you’re just grinding netplay or lurking in the Twitch chat of a gaming event, you’re just as much of a valued community member as anyone else.