Gaming peripherals are more abundant than ever today, and the sheer amount of options can be confusing to even the most seasoned gamer. Which headset is best? Should you play with keyboard and mouse or controller? What kind of monitor will best display the games you play?
To help sort through the options, we spoke to professional League of Legends*, Overwatch*, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive* players, and collected their thoughts on considerations when selecting new PC gaming gear.
When it comes to peripherals, it's best to choose what's right for you, which may be totally different than what someone else prefers. One size does not fit all — especially at the highest levels of esports competition.
Opinions on the best gear varied, but one idea they were quick to disabuse is that there's such a thing as "practice" gear versus official tournament gear.
"It's important to replicate a tournament environment in your home set-up, so that you practice with what you compete on," said Lynnie "artStar" Noquez, two-time Intel Challenge champ and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive* player for Team Dignitas*.
When I look for a good product, some of the attributes I pay attention to are: Whether a product is comfortable for my type of grip and handling, the material, and durability, if it's reliable when it comes to traveling and, personally, I love when products are aesthetically pleasing.
A good place to start when it comes to gaming peripherals is acquiring a solid mechanical gaming keyboard, as opposed to a more standard “membrane” keyboard. Membrane keyboards do not separate out their keys into distinct moving parts, which often precludes them from having the punchy “typewriter” feel that makes mechanical keyboards so tactile and responsive. While membrane keyboards may be fine for everyday typing, in high-stakes gaming situations this can make them both more error-prone and less comfortable.
“All my peripherals are on my 'must have' list for competitive gaming, because they are incredibly reliable in tournament play," Noquez says. “My HyperX* Alloy FPS keyboard looks cool — which really matters to me — but also with silver switches, it reacts fast, allowing me to be precise and quicker than my opponents."
Also sometimes referred to as "speed switches," Kailh Silver switches are a specific type of mechanical keyboard switches built with gamers in mind. Comparable Cherry MX* Red switches actuate at 2mm, but the shorter Cherry MX* Silver switches actuate at 1.2mm, meaning they don't need to be pushed as far to register a keystroke.
Cody Sun, ADC player for Clutch Gaming*'s Academy team, says that he was convinced to take the plunge into mechanical keyboards after seeing that the League* pros he admires used them.
“I use the [Corsair*] K70,” he says. “I used to not care about mechanical keyboards, but then I got influenced by watching other pro players use mechanical keyboards. They all said how great it was.”
Sun prefers Cherry MX* Blue mechanical switches to Red ones, noting that Reds are “really soft,” meaning “you don't have to press them that hard,” while Blue switches feel “more clicky and tactile.”
For Alberto "neptuNo" González of the Overwatch League* team Philadelphia Fusion*, the keyboard choice is more subjective.
“The only thing that I look for in a keyboard is that it's small enough — it doesn't have a keypad,” he says. “Smaller keyboards like this — called “tenkeyless,” as they don't have the standard number pad — allows you to have additional desk space, which is especially important if you need more room to move your mouse or are sitting next to teammates in a tournament environment. I'm using the Logitech* G-Pro,” González says. “I didn't overthink my keyboard. Some people overthink it, but I think it's [about] being comfortable. I think everyone should use what makes you comfortable.”
Mice and Headsets
Hunting for a good gaming mouse or headset ultimately requires the same general principles as finding a solid gaming keyboard. Again, there isn't a single “right” answer, but just making the shift to quality gaming-focused peripherals can make a huge difference in the quality of your experience. While there are several different types of genre-focused gaming mice available for MOBA, FPS, and MMO players specifically, the pros we spoke to said that the most important thing is whatever feels most natural and comfortable to you.
There are quite a few factors to consider when choosing a mouse. Depending on the type of game you play, considerations like DPI (dots per inch), weight, switch, sensor type, skates, and even the material of the cable can all make a difference in how your mouse performs. You should also consider the surface you're using your mouse on; depending on the material, mouse pads can create higher or lower friction, depending on what you prefer.
“I'm using the EC2-B from Zowie*,” Philadelphia Fusion*'s González says of his gaming mouse. “What I like is that I can put my entire palm on it. It’s also right-handed, which is great. I would love for it to be wireless, but I couldn't find a wireless mouse where I actually like the shape.”
A good mouse and keyboard can optimize your inputs, but audio feedback can also be important in gaining a competitive edge. Contextual audio (like footsteps or other location-based sounds) is increasingly prevalent in modern video games, as is the importance of reliable vocal communication. A good audio solution is non-negotiable for pro players.
CS:GO*'s Noquez says that she looked for something that could still help her “hear every step in-game” despite all the noise coming from “the crowd, the production, and event music” at big tournaments. As with all the other peripherals, headsets come in a huge variety of form factors. It's important to consider features like an open or closed back, driver size, whether you want wireless or not, and of course, comfort levels. You want a headset that allows your ears to breathe so you can wear it for extended periods with no issues.
A new mouse, keyboard, and headset that fit your gameplay style can make a difference in performance. There's a reason professional gamers swear by specific peripherals: They've gotten used to them. Finding what works for you will allow you to master your tools with practice, and build the muscle memory you need to be competitive. All the esports pros we spoke to were quick to remind us that years of hard work and practice is what got them to the top, not a fancy keyboard.
The ability to fully utilize your peripherals is gated by your ability to drive a smooth frame rate. If you want to become an esports pro one day, it would be in your best interest to think critically about the peripherals you use. Want to learn how to get the performance out of your gaming hardware? Check out these other articles in our series.