Video games are faster and more immersive than ever, which makes it easy to fantasize about the life of a pro gamer. So, how do esports players — and by extension esports teams — maintain a daily regimen that supports them to keep playing the games at which they excel? To answer these questions, we spoke to pro players of Overwatch*, Counter-Strike*: Global Offensive* (CS:GO), and League of Legends*.
Two pro gamers interviewed for this story — Lynnie “artStar” Noquez of Counter-Strike*: Global Offensive organization Team Dignitas* and League of Legends* team Clutch Gaming Academy’s* Cody Sun — both describe a daily regimen of about six to eight hours of structured team practice, which is always complemented by several more hours of self-directed practice. Noquez summed up a typical daily schedule:
I wake up around 11:00 AM and reply to all my work emails. Then I get ready around 12-1 PM, cook lunch with my fiancé, or sometimes go out to eat with his family. My afternoons are spent doing whatever I need to get done that day, whether it’s running errands, cleaning the house, prepping dinner, or if I’m lucky and did all that a different day, I usually spend time with family and friends. I do all of this until around 5:00 PM, and that’s when I start individual Counter-Strike* practice. I’ll watch a demo, review my nades, play some pugs or stream on Twitch*. Around 7:00 PM team practice with Dignitas* begins. We take a short break in the middle of practice for a dinner then end practice around 11:00 PM. Right after practice, I usually head straight to bed and repeat the next day for 5 days a week!
While other players might have team practice during the day instead of the evening, their routines were otherwise similar — finding large blocks of time to get as much gameplay time in as possible, then fitting in errands and other life events when they can.
Practice, Practice, Practice
What does all this practice time actually look like? Though esports pros’ training regimens might differ as much as their preferences in peripherals, there are some common practices shared between them.
For a well-established esport title like League of Legends*, practice time is essentially playing the same game that regular gamers play, over and over (and over) again.
While League of Legends* developer Riot Games* added an oft-requested practice mode to the game in 2017, Clutch Gaming Academy’s* Cody Sun says that top-tier players already have to be so good at all of the game’s different nitty-gritty mechanics like last-hitting (killing enemy minions at the right moment to maximize gold and XP intake) or flashing (teleporting short distances) that they don’t really run drills. Instead, they constantly scrimmage, or “scrim,” usually against each other or the other professional teams — the same ones they compete against in tournaments throughout each season. These games are all recorded and studiously pored over by the players, managers and coaches, looking for any areas of improvement or instances where team synergy is lagging.
When practicing alone, meanwhile, they just log onto the game’s ranked mode like everyone else. Cody Sun fondly recalls the first few times he was recognized by high-ranked amateur players he was matched with and against, noting that it reminded him of when he was beginning to climb the game’s ranks, and how thrilled he felt when he’d be matched with pro players he looked up to, like Shan “Chaox” Huang.
“I always try to be nice,” Cody Sun says of the times when he’s practicing ranked play solo and his teammates recognize him. “Because I’ve been in that same exact situation.”
Stay Active in the Real World
Esports players often stress the importance of physical exercise as part of their health regimen (See the benefits of regular physical activity). For some, like Overwatch League’s* Eli “Elk” Gallagher, a fitness routine was something they’d only discovered in order to complement their training behind the keyboard.
“I had never been to a gym prior to joining this team,” Gallagher says. “I did some physical activities in high school, but nothing super specific. When I joined [the Philadelphia Fusion*], I talked to Tucker [Roberts], who is the owner, and was like, ‘I want a personal trainer for the team. Even if it’s only me using it, I want a gym and a personal trainer. I think that will be really beneficial for me as a player.’”
They’re still in the process of getting that set up, but Elk says that “using online advice,” he has already begun to take advantage of the gym they have at the team house. “Fusion* supplied us with a cable machine, lots of dumbbells, a bench press, deadlifts … a lot of really basic equipment, which has been nice.”
Stretching is also hugely important as a means to avoid wrist, neck, and shoulder injuries that are so often the result of prolonged sessions sitting at the computer.
“In order to avoid any issues with wrist, shoulder, or back pain, I like to take precautions by practicing some simple stretches we learned at the 76ers* Training Complex with the team’s sports science staff,” Noquez says. “These stretches are great because you don’t need any special equipment and you don’t need a lot of space. I can do these stretches right at my desk, in-between scrims, or even in-between rounds if I needed to.”
Always on the lookout for ways to improve and learn from his peers and pro gaming predecessors, Clutch Gaming Academy’s* Cody Sun said that he’s taken lots of tips — including how to exercise — from reading and watching interviews with other esports stars.
“A lot of other pro players will also talk about it,” he says of wellness regimens. “They’ll mention their schedules and what they do, so sometimes I’ll look at interviews or whatever and then like, ‘Oh!’ Like exercising in the morning, that sounds pretty good, because it just helps you with your mindset and practice.”
Get Plenty of Rest and Relaxation
Cody Sun strives to maintain a proper sleep schedule, social life, and healthy mindset, rather than grinding out as many games as possible every single day.
“I do think that the most, or the best players in our industry are the ones that are able to find the best schedule for themselves, and, you know, be as efficient as they can with their lifestyle — practicing as well as exercising and eating well and having a decent social life as well,” he says.
Sun believes that the culture of esports has improved significantly — even just over the past two or three years — by embracing a more holistic approach to practicing and gaming. “It’s really hard for us to only have six hours of sleep and practice constantly. I feel like our current approach, or at least the direction of our approach, is making sure we have a healthy lifestyle, and healthy mindset, and then just be really efficient with the practice.”
The “never stop grinding” outlook is certainly still prevalent among some in competitive gaming, Sun admits, but he insists that those who take a more holistic approach to the life of a pro gamer are being just as rigorous — if not more so — than their peers who keep readying up in soloq deep into the early hours of the morning.
“Maintaining a good sleep schedule actually requires more discipline, more focus than just playing as much as you can,” Sun tells us. “You would think, ‘Oh, this guy is working harder because he practices until 3 a.m. while this other guy finished at 12 or 11:30 even.’ But the person who’s maintaining the better schedule (See how to make the best if your time) has better discipline, and that translates into other areas in their life as well as gameplay.”
Sometimes this means stepping away from the keyboard — even if that’s just to watch someone else play League of Legends*, in Cody Sun’s case. “You’re still learning stuff because you’re watching other people play, but it’s a lot less stressful,” he says.
CS:GO’s Noquez needs to unplug from the shooter as much as possible at the end of the day, meanwhile.
“After a long day of practice and because we end pretty late, I’m usually too tired to do anything,” she says. “So my favorite thing to do is simple: just cuddle up on the couch with my fiancé and our pup and watch some movies!”
Gallagher, for his part, wistfully recalls spending the entire day outside during his most recent off day from training.
“Yesterday was an off-day, and I literally just sat outside on my phone just talking to people for about eight hours. From 1:00 PM to about 9:00 PM I was just outside, ordered food, stayed outside. It was nice out, I didn’t really want to be inside playing games,” he says.
It turns out that the life of a pro gamer isn’t always as lax and easygoing as one might think. “I think relaxing in esports is one of the harder things because our jobs are also our hobbies, so it can sometimes be really hard to separate work and social life from other more relaxing activities that people would normally do,” Galagher says.