When you want to escape a stressful day, nothing beats coming home from work and relieving your tension with your favorite first-person shooter — unless you're a pro gamer who's under pressure from the second the console powers on. Competitive gamers Daze, Esper, Sabre, and SiREN of Frag Dolls weighed in on their experiences gaming in and out of the spotlight, their competitive natures, and how they handle performing under pressure.

On What They Play and How They Play It


“I've competed in Halo 2 and Halo 3 at Major League Gaming events, and I play in small, online League of Legends tournaments. There are a few games I play for enjoyment, but I’ll always be competitive with myself, if not with other people.” — Daze


“In competitions, I've played Warcraft III DotA, Halo 3, and ShootMania Storm: Elite. I’m currently working on perfecting my skills in League of Legends, and Might & Magic: Duel of Champions." — Esper

“I stick to PC first-person shooters — the faster the game, the better! For fun, I like story-driven games like RPGs or action-adventure games. I sometimes play the games I compete in for fun, but it’s hard to take a step back and get out of the 'training' mindset for these games. Even now, when I play Unreal Tournament with friends, I can’t help but think, ‘I must be number one at the end of every match, no matter what.’” — Sabre

"I love playing FPS games. I competed in Halo for over six years, then switched to ShootMania: Storm about a year ago. I would love to compete in Destiny once it launches. When I'm not competing, I love playing the latest 'triple-A' title or random games on Steam. Right now, I'm playing ShootMania, Divekick, Borderlands II and looking forward to Child of Light." — SiREN

On Crossing Over Into Competitive Gaming


“I started gaming competitively at the age of 17. I joined a team and we played in online competitions using GameBattles. Playing for fun and competing have always been the same to me. I play to win, to try, and to improve. When I was younger, I would turn Super Mario Brothers and GoldenEye 007 into competitions with my neighbors. It doesn’t matter if I’m playing video games, sports, or tabletop games…I enjoy a challenge and I love to win, or lose trying.” — Daze


“I've been competing since 2007, when I joined a local Warcraft III DotA team at my university. I can’t remember a time when I played games only for fun. I was raised with a bit of a competitive spirit — I was always taught to be the best and do whatever it takes to make sure I’m on top. Sleep? Rest? Take a break? No! I try to excel at whatever I put my mind to.” — Esper

“I used to compete off and on when I was a young girl in PC FPS games. I played in local tournaments and competitions for Unreal Tournament and Quake II back in the day, and I recently got back into competitive gaming with the launch of ShootMania Storm earlier this year. I’m not sure when the transition [from playing for fun to playing competitively] happened. I don’t think I saw local tournaments as true competitions — I just knew I was good at the game, and wanted to show the older guys in the tournament that I could beat them.” — Sabre

On Aggression and Anxiety


“I really like taking a leadership role, and I don’t mind getting bossy during a team game. I try to keep a level of professionalism when I compete, though. When it comes to play style, I’m extremely aggressive! I want to be the first one [engaging in] battle and the last one standing. But I still have some anxiety. Right before a match, my hands will get a little shaky. I usually run them under warm water, and it helps relax me. I really need to invest in a decent supply of hand warmers!” — Esper

“I’m an anxious competitor. I get really nervous before a competition, which can either help or hinder my performance. In a team setting, I tend to be a supportive competitive player. I’ll trash-talk if I see that it helps bolster my team’s morale, and I take more defensive roles rather than offensive, attacking roles (depending on the game).” — Sabre

"I like leading the teams I play on, and I do talk a little trash to the opposing teams, just enough to help boost our confidence but not look too cocky. I never want to come off as having bad sportsmanship. You need to find that natural balance of fun and aggressive play styles." — SiREN

On How They Handled Their Most Stressful Competitions


“The ShootMania $100,000 Launch Week Tournament was the most stressful competition I’ve ever participated in. I was picked up to be a substitute player on High Rollers Gaming, and we were competing against the best in the world. We were featured on stream and playing on the main stage, and I wanted to make sure I was representing my team well. I remember the room being extremely cold! To calm down, I sat on my hands. It was the only way to warm them up enough to play. I just took a bunch of deep breaths, and attempted to concentrate on playing. I really had to clear my mind from all of the outside noise."— Esper


“PAX East 2013 — IPL qualifiers was my most stressful competition. We breezed through the first two brackets with no problems, and I remember thinking my team would win the entire tournament. Then the third bracket hit, and it all went south. I tried to keep up morale for my team, but I could tell we were all thinking the same thing — that we were better than the team we were playing, but that we weren't able to pull it together. I felt helpless, which is the absolute worst feeling to get during a competition. We put up a good fight but ultimately lost the third bracket match.” — Sabre

"The most stressful competition for me was the WCG National Championship for Halo 2. My team was fairly new and we only had a couple weeks to prepare. We did well as a team, but going into a tournament with a new group is always stressful. Trusting new teammates and that everyone will work together is hard. I just made sure we were all prepared and knew everything from call-outs to who does what on the team. Communication is key in team-based games, and I always make sure to point out communication flaws if my team is experiencing them. Being a leader really helped calm everyone down." — SiREN

On How to Handle Your Own Life-or-Death Matches

“Practice in the same situation you’ll compete in. I research the tournaments and try to buy the same size monitor, chair, and controllers to get accustomed to what I’ll be competing on. I also compete the same way I play at home…I cross my legs and play with my shoes off.” — Daze


"Just breathe, it's only a game. The more you beat yourself up, the worse you'll play. Remember why you got into gaming and how it makes you feel. The more confidence you have, the better you will do. And practice. Practice makes perfect." — SiREN

All photos by Whitni Rader.

You're no Frag Doll, but you can still sneak, strafe, and snipe your way to victory. Handle the competition with Speed Stick.