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We’ve all considered it at some time or another: giving up our day jobs to chase the dream of becoming a professional eSports player. Just a few short years ago, this might have seemed little more than a ridiculous and unachievable idea. In the modern age of mainstream eSports acceptance, however, such thoughts don’t have to exist solely in the realm of fantasy.

What we need to understand if we seriously intend to consider these options is just how wide a gulf exists between casual players and pros. It’s not just a matter of the best person on the block being able to stand a chance on the pro level anymore, pro players have a fundamentally different approach than their casual cousins, and we want to look at how.

Fun vs. Function

Probably the most immediately difference between pro and casual play can be seen in the times that each group dedicates to a game. For a casual, playing is often just a case of jumping in whenever you have some free time, playing a few rounds until you get tired, bored, or frustrated, and then calling it a night. For a professional player, a game is more than entertainment – it’s a job, it’s how they put food on the table.

This means practicing a game for upwards of eight hours a day, every day. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired, bored, or on a losing streak, pro players need to build their skill and maintain a hard-forged edge. For most casual players, this amount of play makes a game not only unfun but actively unpleasant. If we also factor in the requisite professional-level gear, as noted by Forbes.com, the barriers to entry only become more pronounced.

ESL Extreme Masters: Pro Gaming” (CC BY 2.0) by wuestenigel

Discussion vs. Analysis

Even on a casual level, players usually have some understanding of the meta-game. Casual players might not be able to leverage this knowledge effectively, but the basic concepts are there, and up for discussion in games, forums, or among friends. Professionals aren’t just aware of the meta, they have to make it their duty to tear it to pieces.

Take, for example, the recent Counter-Strike Blast Pro Series. With an enormous amount of interest from both sides of the casual/pro equation, many enjoy watching these tournaments and seeing high-level teams like Vitality and Natus Vincere fight for ultimate victory. This level of interest is reflected in related industries, such as betting opportunities like those presented at Vulkanbet.com. Websites like this provide high-level odds and matchmaking information, illustrating a range of elements like pistol round winners and match handicaps that will be incredibly important not just for betters, but also for pros.

The difference is that while a casual player will tend to just watch a match once for fun, pros will obsess over single matches, analyzing every tiny detail for strengths and points of exploitation. It’s not just entertainment for a pro player, it’s taking a seat in class and putting in the hard hours.

Banter vs. Communication

The final and perhaps most commonly underestimated aspect that differs between casuals and pros is that of communication. For most players, simple callouts and joking around is a core part of the game and a lot of what makes it fun.

On the pro level, proper communication means effectively ensuring the entire team has total battlefield awareness, a difficult, stressful, and demanding pursuit. A single flub could mean the difference between victory and defeat, and when exhaustion kicks in, staying perceptive, prompt, and pertinent is hardly an easy task. As this journal article at ThesportJournal.org notes, this component of team dynamics is one of the most vital.

Cloud 9 takes on Vici Gaming” (CC BY 2.0) by Dota 2 The International

Just like with any professional sport, the dream of playing on the highest level usually doesn’t reflect the reality. Although practiced players might make it look easy, competing and winning at the highest level is the result of immeasurable blood, sweat, and tears.

If you do want to compete as a pro, understand that the mindset is completely different than what you might currently experience in casual or even highly-ranked play. That said, if you do possess the drive, passion, and strength, the growing world of eSports is only going to present more opportunities going forward. Just know, going in, you’re going to have to work for it.

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