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How to go pro in video games

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You're king of the hill on your friends list in Modern Warfare 3. You prey on noobs whenever you encounter them online. And you never, ever get tired of playing.

That's when the thought occurs to you: Maybe, just maybe, there's a way to make a living at this.

The good news? There is. The bad news is that it isn't easy. At all.

Professional gaming is still a somewhat underground sport, but it's on the rise. Major League Gaming, which holds tournaments for games such as StarCraft II, Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, League of Legends and more, recorded some whopping viewer numbers last season. And just as it is with any pro league, the superstars can rake in the dough; the few elite pro gamers gather income of more than $1 million per year.

But joining those ranks takes more than just a quick trigger finger and a love of games. If you really want to go pro, it's going to take a level of focus most people simply aren't prepared for.

"One of the things we deal with a lot is the perception that any kid who plays the games that we have and is good can be a pro gamer -- and it's not true," says Adam Apicella, SVP of league operations and production at Major League Gaming. "These kids put a tremendous amount of time into the games. It's really like a job."

Aspiring to become a pro gamer is not unlike wanting to grow up to play in the NFL or NBA. The salaries seem dizzying and the job seems like a series of high-profile events. The reality is a bit different, though.

For one thing, very few people are able to make a living as pro gamers. A handful have secured sponsorship deals and an even smaller collection make six- and seven-figure incomes, but the average salary for the cream of the crop -- which are fewer than 50 people -- is around $60,000 per year.

The money is made through a combination of tournament winnings and sponsorship deals and requires a lot of hustle from the players, who have to constantly market themselves to stay in front of the pro gaming fan base. This means everything from personal appearances to making YouTube videos on a regular basis.

Still want to give it a go? Here are a few tips.

Practice, practice, practice.

Simply being an excellent gamer isn't enough if you want to go pro. Some of the competitors in Major League Gaming and other eSports tournaments practice as many as eight hours per day, with most putting in a minimum of three or four hours. And practice is a lot different than simply playing the game.

"You have to have a focused regimen on what you're going to practice," says Apicella. "You need to focus on strategy or specific maps. It's very agenda driven."

In other words, you have to stop worrying about winning matches and start focusing on learning better tactics. Playing against other top-notch players is a lot different than sniping noobs.

Do your homework.

Kobe Bryant didn't become one of the world's best basketball players by merely shooting tons of jump shots — he also watches tons of tape. Like any sport, film studies are a crucial part of pro gaming preparation. Learning how an opponent operates can be the key to figuring out their weaknesses. You can study this to an extent if your potential opponent has put up tutorial videos, but you can learn a lot more by watching reruns of their matches, something most e-sports divisions offer on their websites.

Studying the best may not only help you beat them, but could also teach you new techniques and strategies you might otherwise miss.

Meet your match.

While some pro gamers are lone wolves, most are members of clans — teams that strategize and play together. And most of those clans have been together for a while. Finding a team of people whose skill level is equal to or greater than your own isn't easy. And it gets even harder when you factor in the need for someone whose dedication to training is unwavering.

These people are rarely around the corner from you. Instead, you'll have to comb through gaming forums, attend LAN events in your area (and beyond) and keep an eye on the leaderboards for your game of choice. Keep in mind that your potential teammates may even be in different time zones — or even different countries — which will complicate things when you try to find a time to train together.

Compete in a local tournament.

At some point, it will be time to stop training and actually compete. Tournaments routinely travel the country, so finding one in your general vicinity shouldn't be too hard. Unfortunately, the Major League Gaming season just ended, but checking here for local upcoming tournaments is a good idea. Just keep in mind that even if you think you're ready, you'll likely still be going up against people with more experience.

"It's one thing to say you're the best in your neighborhood, but another thing when you're going to come to an event and compete at that level," says Apicella. "You definitely have to have the chops to be able to compete. It's a reality check for a lot of people."

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