I was introduced to the world of competitive eSports in college. A friend knocking my door one weekend asking me to install ‘Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’ led to me spending more than ~4,000 hours combined in CS:GO and Dota2 since.
I hit the highest-rank in CS:GO, The Global Elite (~99.3%ile) and was 3.5k mmr (~85%ile) in Dota. Those remain things I’m super proud of because of the amount of dedication and effort they took. I love that eSports enable the calculation of such percentile rankings in contrast to more traditional sports where you only have a vague idea of how good you are.
Getting good at these games taught me a lot about what it meant to improve and a lot of it is transferable to other domains. So I figured I’d write about it.
Deliberate practice is everything
A lot of us started playing around the same time in our first year. 4 years later, the skill difference between people with roughly the same amount of hours invested was massive. I believe all of this difference can be attributed to deliberate practice. Simply playing the game will not get you anywhere. And this is doubly important in activities which are inherently enjoyable.
Enjoying practice is a competitive advantage
Practice drills are a necessary part of getting better. I’ve grown to not only tolerate but enjoy these drills. I think this is a competitive advantage.
Everyone’s been playing the game for longer than you have
When you’re first getting started, you will get absolutely owned by everyone. Recognize that it is because everyone else has been playing the game for longer than you have, quite literally. And in games like these, it takes time to even be average.
But 50% of them probably suck
It’ll take time but if you put in the effort and time, you will get better than them.
How to be average?
You follow a bunch of steps. Simple. In order to go from 0 to 50%ile, there is so much inefficiency that you don’t need to be good at everything. You can take a narrow piece that you have an inclination for and focus on exeucting that.
There’s no shame in using guides
Being original can wait. If someone in the community has published ‘How to be better’ guides, read them. Using them does not devalue any progress you make. I’ll even argue that you can’t even be original without learning everything everyone else already knows. It takes a lot of expertise to even come up with something novel.
Others faults will be more visible than their strengths
Remember how I claimed you can reach 50%ile by focusing on a narrow part? What other people did to get to your level does not have to be the same as what you had to do to get here. So this means that when you’re watching them, you can notice everything they’re doing wrong. Things that you wouldn’t have done. Okay but recognize that (as long as the match-making algorithm is functioning properly) they deserve to be in this game.
What got you here will not get you further
Effectiveness of being selectively good decreases with each time you exploit it. You will always plateau and when you do, you need to refocus on figuring out what you need to do to get to the next level.
Team game? Teammates suck? Doesn’t matter.
“This is a 5v5 game. Everyone has an equal chance of being a dumbass. So if you’re not a dumbass, it is 4 dumbasses versus 5 dumbasses.” So over a long enough period, you should be winning more than you lose. Getting angry at your teammates is pointless. The game you’re currently won’t matter in a month’s time. What matters is you, and whether you are improving.
It is incredibly easy to blame others
Blaming your losses on others is the easiest way to remain a scrub. Sure, they probably made a gazillion mistakes but in most likelihood, so did you.
Knowing the right play vs Making the right play
If you do spend time learning what is better, your skills will lag your execution. You will ‘know’ what the right play to make is but you’ll make the wrong play. Guess what, this is equivalent to not knowing the right play and not making it. A bunch of the time this is because your autopilot is set to making the wrong play and it takes deliberate intention and hyper vigilance to correct it.
Skills are transferable
A lot of pro-gamers are good at multiple games. Many pro-Dota2 gamers came over from other games like HoN, NoTail and PPD being prime examples. Also see Strider. The founding story in a lot of player profiles is “used to play football but were injured. Got into eSports.” Shroud absolutely owns at multiple first-person persons. The skills that make you good at one game, directly make you good at another. Tobi, Shopify’s CEO, offered a pro-Starcraft player a job simply because he believed in this. To some extent, so did Nike’s CEO.
Competitiveness drives up everyone’s skill
Being in games with people who are way better than you expands your beliefs of what is possible and that directly impacts how you improve. If you were to play by yourself for ages, you still wouldn’t be better than someone who plays against other people for a far shorter period of time.
Sometimes, you just have to grind.
Grinding refers to the time you spend AFTER acquiring the knowledge and the ability to execute. You still need to put in the time for the game to recognize your new skill. Because this is a competitive game with other people, the game takes time to adjust to your new skill. There’s no way out of this. You have to put in the hours.
Privilege is an effort multiplier
Equipment matters in eSports. Sure, there are people who have reached Global on their shitty laptops or with very high pings but they’ve had to put in much more effort to get there. So if you can afford better hardware, get it. You will get better faster.
The best players will beat you 100% of the time
When you hit the highest level, you realize, you realize just how much better the others are at the highest level. Just how big the skill-gap between you and the pro-players is. They will beat you 100% of the time.
The Biggest Takeaway? Confidence.
When you suck initially and then get better, multiple times across multiple games, it gives you immense self-belief like few other things can. You just get this confidence that you can be good at anything you want. “Oh, I suck at this new thing? Meh. I sucked at X things in the past and I always got better. This can’t be anything new. And if it is, I’ll learn a new way of getting better.”