A Guide to Pro Gaming Tools of the Trade

We take a look at the esports tools you need to be at the top of your game.

After years of honing their skills, the best esports competitors in the world walk into the arena carrying their preferred tools of the trade.

In the same way that an artist has a preferred style of brush or pen, so too do our esports heroes. But how do their mechanical keyboards compared to the standard office keyboards we might be used to, and what’s the difference between a weighted or unweighted mouse?

Traditional kinds of keyboards, which come bundled with standard PC-use membrane technology, require the user to press the key all the way down to register a letter. They’re relatively quiet and often feel a little spongy.

Pro-gamers generally wouldn’t consider using a membrane keyboard, due to the extra milliseconds it takes for a keystroke to register, the less ergonomic experience of typing, and the high chances of understrokes or simultaneous key presses not being recognised.

Another contributing factor is that mechanical switches last for 50-80 million key presses and can be individually replaced, while membrane keys generally only survive 10 million keystrokes, and once one key is done, the whole board is finished.

After the pro-gaming stars have made the obvious switch over to mechanical keyboards, the personalisation and difficult choices begin.

There are dozens of different kinds of switches spread across an assortment of brands, but these are all variations of the three basic kinds of switch:

  • Linear: has quiet keys, with no noticeable bump when you press a button.
  • Tactile: gives you tactile feedback when you press a key, yet is still relatively quiet.
  • Clicky: which gives you a tactile bump and a fairly loud click when you push down a key.

From there, the differences that might make them appeal to one player or another is based on the amount of force it takes to press a key, and the actuation distance - or how far down a key needs to be pressed before it registers.

Actuation distances range from 1mm to 2.2mm, and players' preference might stem from how much they like to slam the keys during a heated gaming moment.

Starcraft players might prefer a more tactile keyboard so they can be certain they’ve pushed all the keys required for a shortcut, while other players might find that feedback distracting rather than comforting. Beyond the mechanical switch differences, there are also plenty of keyboards that are designed to have bonus features for particular game genres - like extra shortcut keys for MMO players.

When it comes to mice, there are even more intricacies in a smaller package.

The first thing to pick is weight, because lighter mice have fewer special features, but are easier to move quickly. Heavier mice allow for a little more control and can have a lot more extra features to make up for the dip in ergonomics.

The most popular mouse weight amongst esports players is between 91 and 110 grams, placing them in the light-middle category. However, MMO and MOBA players skew heavier, because of the extra shortcut buttons which can be a huge help in the thick of a match.

The primary consideration for esports players after weight and special features are CPI (counts per inch) - which some people talk about as DPI - and acceleration. The CPI tells you how far you have to physically move the mouse to move the pointer on the screen. Titles that require finer detail-oriented work will prefer lower CPI, while FPS players will want a high CPI.

Acceleration is a contentious subject in the esports community. It’s a setting that makes the pointer move further the faster you move the mouse. Some players like that, because it gives them more movement in fast situations, but still allows them finer movements when it suits. Others prefer always knowing exactly how far and fast their mouse will move, and having full control.

A poor craftsman may blame his tools, but a master craftsman always knows which tool is right for the job.

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