Want to win millions for playing a video game?

Probably sounds to you like a teenage dream. But 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf from Pennsylvania made this dream a reality by scoring a huge $3 million payday by winning the 2019 Fortnite World Cup in New York City.

But how do you measure just how good a video gamer is? Speed.

While some studies have suggested that reaction times are getting longer, here are some tips to help improve your reaction time so that you can beat the competition.

So, the key to getting faster at your favorite game is reaction time (RT). This is the length of time between a stimulus and your response to that stimulus.

RT is controlled by your central nervous system (CNS).

The CNS comprises about 100 billion nerve cells (or neurons) that receive sensory input through signals from your senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. They transport these signals to your brain, where they’re interpreted and turned into physical and mental responses.

And all that happens in a tiny fraction of a second — usually between 150 and 300 milliseconds.

But keep in mind that there’s a difference between physical and mental RT:

  • Mental RT is how quickly you perceive and process a stimulus.
  • Physical RT is how quickly you respond physically to a stimulus.

And there’s one final distinction to be made between reactions and reflexes before we get into the fun stuff:

  • Reactions: voluntary movements that can be trained to not only become faster but also react to specific stimuli
  • Reflexes: instant, involuntary movements that have evolved to protect you, such as your leg kicking when you tap below your kneecap

Now here’s what you can do to improve your RT to get better at gaming.

Practice. Practice. Practice!

The key to getting better at anything is just doing it a lot. This is especially important for your visual reaction time (VRT), which is central to gaming.

But repetition isn’t all. You also need to expose yourself to a variety of gaming environments and try different solutions to the same recurring problems so you can improvise in unforeseen situations when it comes time to face real opponents.

The more you can create habits from these experiences, the more likely you can react quickly because you’re turning what are typically mental computations into compulsions that feel increasingly automatic.

Warm up your hands

Warmth helps your body react faster.

Heat means that the atoms in molecules move more quickly, and this translates into faster cell movements from the time you receive a sensory input into a nerve cell until the moment your body reacts to that stimulus.

So play in a warm environment, wear special gloves that still allow you to agilely handle your controller or keyboard, put a heater near your hands, or simply keep a hot cup of coffee or tea nearby to grasp whenever your hands cool down.

Play on high-performance equipment

This one may require a bit of an investment on your part, but equipment that can respond quickly to your reactions can be the difference between winning it all or getting knocked out in the first round.

There are two things you should look for especially when you purchase a monitor for gaming:

  • Hz. This is how many times per second your monitor refreshes the screen image. The higher the number, the more quickly your brain can process the high number of images and create a quicker feedback loop between your reaction and your sensory input. Try to spring for a monitor that’s 120 Hz or higher.
  • Input delay. This refers to how much time passes between what actions you take on your controller, mouse, or keyboard and when the game reacts to those actions. Less input delay means the game reflects the speed of your actions more quickly. Aim for as few milliseconds as possible.

You can increase your reaction time for other sports, too.

Run on uneven terrain

Run or train on uneven ground so you learn how to quickly process and react to signals from unpredictable stimuli, such as rocks, bushes, and trees. This makes playing on flat, even terrain a walk in the park — quite literally!

Sweat the technique

Try new or difficult techniques slowly at first, then gradually increase your speed as you get better at them or feel more comfortable performing them. This helps your body get used to the feeling of that move or technique so it becomes more natural to perform, even at higher speeds.

React to a signal

Find a place where you can practice how quickly you respond to a signal, such as a gunshot or whip crack. This can help you better train your brain to process auditory stimuli and turn them into increasingly automatic physical reactions.

A typical human reaction time is 200 to 300 milliseconds.

You can use numerous online tools to test reaction time, like this one.

And here’s another fun way you can try with a ruler and a friend:

  1. Have a friend pinch the top of a ruler at its highest point.
  2. Put your index finger and thumb slightly apart at the bottom of the ruler, as if you’re about to pinch it.
  3. Have your friend let go of the ruler.
  4. Catch the ruler between your finger and thumb as fast as you can.
  5. Take note of where you caught the ruler. The less distance the ruler can travel, the faster your reaction time.

Here are some other factors that can affect your reaction time:

Reaction time is key to gaming, and there’s plenty you can do to help improve it.

Whether you’re a casual gamer just looking to get better or have your sights set on the championships, improving your reaction time can kick your gaming prowess up a few notches and, at the very least, impress your friends.