We’ve talked a lot about avoiding tilt and giving relaxing games a chance for this year’s National Stress Awareness Month, but what if competition is how you relax? What if it functions as an outlet for your energy and brings you focus like nothing else? If you answered yes to any of these questions and you’re looking for more people to play your favorite game with, then you might want to consider joining an amateur gaming tournament organization. It’s a great way to get involved in the world of esports, even if you don’t have the skill level, time, or desire to go pro.

Amateur gaming tournaments and organizations are a great way to meet new people who enjoy the same games as you, receive coaching and improve your skills, and play in a coordinated team setting without all the pressures of pro leagues or the difficulty of playing by yourself. Most accommodate many skill levels; some are even specifically for college students or start out as college gaming clubs. I got my competitive start in Heroes of the Storm by simply asking if anyone wanted a queue partner in my college gaming club’s Discord; I’ve now been playing in amateur leagues for almost 3 years and have loved just about every minute of it. During my time in these leagues, I found my team, some amazing friends, tons of resources, and a great community.

Getting Started

If you’re interested in getting involved with an amateur gaming league or organization, the first thing to do is find them. Look for Discord servers that encompass fans of the game you want to play or bring together people looking for groups and teams to play with. Browse through Twitch and look for amateur streamers or casters, then find out what organization they represent. Even a little bit of Googling will go a long way. Most organizations have a chat server or website that explains how to set up a profile or join, what the season looks like, and other ways to get involved besides tournament play. (Sometimes there are opportunities to cast matches, write articles or blog posts, set up community events, create organization rules, or serve on a disciplinary committee.) Nexus Gaming Series (NGS), the Heroes of the Storm amateur league that I play in, has a multifunctional website and huge Discord server with plenty of information for newcomers and returning players alike.

Once you’ve found an organization you’re interested in and signed up, most leagues will direct you to a place where you can find a team. Sometimes you can start your own team and recruit other players, but most of the time you’ll be competing for a spot on an existing team. There are teams, organizations, and leagues that cater to all skill levels and desires for play, from super casual and meme-y groups that are in it for fun to “try-hard” and ex-pro teams that practice every night. In NGS, teams are organized into divisions by average skill level based on in-game rank. Teams can be promoted or demoted based on their performance during the regular season and playoffs.

Outside of regular organized play, most amateur organizations also offer other activities. NGS hosts a free agent showcase each season, where players who are looking for new teams can show their skill in-game. Leagues might offer individual and group coaching and VOD review sessions from experienced, high-ranking players. (Super shout-out to my own coach, ShreddedWind. You rock!) Between competitive seasons, leagues will sometimes host fun side tournaments and charity events so that players can stay sharp and contribute to good causes. Not all communities host the same events and have the same procedures, so if you’ve found a league you’re interested in joining, it’s worth checking out what they offer and how it matches up with your schedule. It’s also worth noting that there isn’t usually any money to be won from these leagues – they’re mostly for the fun of it. Every once in a while, an organization might offer a gift card or something small to the winners of a side tournament or charity gig, but those are few and far between. (I won a Battle.Net gift card once when my team placed 1st in a charity tournament, so that technically makes me a professional gamer, right? Right?)

One Amateur Player’s Gaming Journey

I started playing in amateur leagues when I was in college. I asked around in my college gaming club’s Discord to see if there was anyone who wanted a queue partner in Heroes of the Storm. Someone reached out, and we ended up playing together for several months. When the school year started the following year, he offered me a spot on the school’s Tespa team. Tespa is Blizzard’s tournament organization for college students; some schools’ teams are highly competitive and invite-only, but ours wasn’t quite as popular.

I met the team and we started practicing together. It was my first time playing a competitive game with an organized team, and I was totally intoxicated. I loved playing tactically, making callouts and working with my team to push to victory. I became friends with my teammates and even hung out with them outside of practice. We didn’t do very well in Tespa, but I was having so much fun that it didn’t matter.

At the end of the year, several of us graduated, so we were no longer eligible to play under the collegiate rules. All of us expressed the desire to keep playing, though, so our captain did some research and found NGS. We signed up, started playing, and ended up doing really well, so much so that we advanced a division for the next season. In the meantime, I met tons of people and made a bunch of new friends; my in-game friends list ballooned to the point where there was almost always someone else online to play with. I gave short interviews on-stream with casters when we won matches, which I enjoyed so much that my team poked fun at me for it. A few months after our division bump, I even applied to volunteer with the organization as a blog writer. (Shameless plug: if you like Heroes of the Storm and funny content, you can see my writing for NGS here.) A few seasons later, my college team decided to break up. I liked the competitive format too much to give it up, so a friend and I went free agents last season and joined a new team. We’re still playing now!

Playing in amateur leagues has given me a ton of positive effects. As previously mentioned, I met a lot of people, including other players, coaches, casters, and volunteers, who have become genuine friends of mine. I’ve gotten significantly better skill-wise; for the first time in my life, I’m truly confident about my play in a team-based game. Learning callouts and pings on a tournament level has even helped me in other similar games. Playing with a team has been a great way to pass the time during quarantine and gives me something to work toward when it feels like the rest of my life has become stagnant. I’ve even used some of my NGS blog pieces in writing portfolios for jobs. There have been a few bumps in the road, but it’s difficult to overstate just how positive most of my time in amateur leagues has been.

Thought I’ve only discussed Heroes of the Storm here, I’m almost certain that there are amateur leagues for a variety of competitive games out there. (I’ve even heard of groups and clans that play Mario Kart together!) Even if it’s just a tournament held at a local bar or a group that meets to play board games every week, joining a gaming organization can be a powerful force for good in your life. If you’re looking for a dedicated outlet for your competitive side and a way to meet new people who enjoy the same things you do, joining an amateur league might be the thing for you.