The Difference Between Hitscan and Projectile Weapons in Esports

by in General | Jul, 10th 2021

To say that esports isn’t competitive is a complete fabrication. It’s in the name “esports.” However, when it comes down to the wire, a match is based on many variables: the skill of the team in gameplay, the knowledge of the maps and environment, the coordination of the players, and the team they’re facing against. However, the weapon a player uses to take down their enemies is also an essential part of the player’s skill set. Whether players opt to use a sniper rifle in a match of Call of Duty, or an assault rifle, the weapon they choose is one that players will have to become accommodated with and practice with if they’re aiming to take on the big leagues. However, the key to this lies within aiming. Because a lot of games these days are aiming to switch from hitscan weapons to projectile weapons.

Hitscan vs. Projectile Weapons

Both types of weapons are used in games today. However, it depends on the game that the players choose to partake in. For example, playing an older game like Black Ops 3, players will notice that when shooting at an enemy, as soon as they pull the trigger, they receive that satisfying tick of the hitmaker. To the untrained eye, this would seem normal. However, what players are looking at in the game is a weapon that uses hitscan. 

Hitscan is the phrase used when constructing how weapons work in video games. The way that this works is that the gun a player is holding functions like a laser. With the player being able to hit what they’re looking at when pulling the trigger, as soon as the gun fires, anything within that laser coming from the barrel will consider it shot. While shooting from the hip decreases the accuracy of a weapon, aiming down the sights is key, but the real way of seeing the hitscan in action is by trying to shoot a moving target. For example, if an enemy is running directly across the player’s field of view, they should aim in on the player. As long as the sights are over the player, every bullet they shoot will connect with the enemy. However, the damage of a bullet flying in a perfectly straight line doesn’t hold its damage forever. Consider shotguns in the previous Call of Duty games that used this method of hit detection. 

As Call of Duty games try to keep the laws of physics in mind for the player, shotguns are exclusively short-range weapons. The shotgun spread is a cone that comes out of the gun with random pellets that detect how much damage the player is supposed to take. However, this only lasts a specific range, as a mechanic called “damage falloff” is implemented into the game. The farther the bullet travels, the less effective it is. 

On the other hand, shotguns have extremely hard damage falloff, as being right out of the range of a shotgun will render its projectile useless. The only way you can change this is if the player has a slug round in their gun, which on some weapons in Call of Duty, they do have. Instead of shooting a cone of projectiles, this shoots one single projectile, with all the damage of the previous ammo packed into it. This type of ammo does travel indefinitely and has damage falloff akin to any regular weapon. Although, this does make the gun effectively a sniper rifle, used at short and long-range, which many players found to be a nuisance in multiplayer lobbies. This constant input and output essence is called hitscan, as the bullet moves in a perfectly straight line without changing the directory. 

Recoil isn’t something that’s added to the game to add realism to the gameplay loop of Call of Duty and Battlefield. It’s very important to how the game plays. While shooting weapons that are effectively lasers, Call of Duty includes some countermeasures that make the guns more viable than what the mechanics are doing, which is recoil. Recoil is split into multiple different categories, spread, view kick, sway, and visual recoil. These mechanics are used to counteract the effects of hitscan weapons without implementing projectile weapons and are still used today. 

Spread is the area that’s inside the crosshair while holding a weapon in a first-person shooter, and while shooting something like an assault rifle in the game, it’s easy to see the weapon’s bullets being shot within the area on the screen. It’s only implemented in hip firing weapons, as this is meant to simulate aiming a gun without aiming down the sights, meaning that the player is judging where the weapon’s aim is while they’re holding it at the hip. Another part of recoil is the view kick. When firing a weapon while using ADS, players will notice the weapon moving upwards of where the original aim is. View kick slowly moves the player off target, forcing them to readjust their aim while firing to maintain accuracy. Another part of recoil is known as sway, often used in sniper rifles and weapons with scopes in first-person shooters. As the player is holding the sniper and aiming down the scope, the scope’s view moves slowly from side to side. It prevents players from immediately aiming shots while standing; as the scope sways from side to side, the gun’s aim is moving as well. This, in turn, means that the player will have to steady their aim before shooting someone with the gun, usually by pressing a button to “hold their breath.” The final part of recoil is visual recoil, which is meant to trick the player, as weapons will move upwards on continuous fire. While firing from the sights, the view model itself will move from the middle of the screen, this makes players think the gun is recoiling while they’re holding it, but it’s the opposite and will cause players who try to readjust to miss their shots. All of these mechanics combined turn hitscan weapons into a balanced way to play FPS games. However, things become more complicated when projectile weapons are introduced. 

Let’s move over to Call of Duty’s cousin, Battlefield. Consider the sniper, one of the deadliest weapons in the game. However, things become murky when introduced to distance, the one thing that snipers use to their advantage in the world of Battlefield. Distance increases the skill ceiling in Battlefield, as the game compensates for bullet velocity, making it a projectile weapon. This is the key difference between hitscan vs. projectile weapons. As on the surface, shooting a player with a sniper from a short distance would make it seem like a bullet is traveling in a straight line, but when that same sniper is aiming from a 50m distance, the bullet will stop short of what the player is aiming for. This, in turn, means that the sniper will have to compensate for their distance to hit the enemy where they intend to, aiming the sniper up to change the arc of the bullet, hitting the enemy. This also applies to assault rifles as well. 

Moving back to Call of Duty, in Cold War, all weapons in the game are projectile weapons. This means that every gun the player shoots, whether it’s an assault rifle submachine gun or a sniper, will all have bullet velocity. So, if an enemy is running directly across the player’s vision, and they have to fire at them, the same tactic used in Black Ops 3 isn’t going to work, as the bullets now have to travel the distance between the player and the enemy before counting as a hit. Not only does this take time, but the enemy is going to be out of the way of the bullet by the time the bullet reaches the distance they were at, meaning that keeping the sights on the player while firing isn’t going to work and waste bullets. 

Compensating for the travel time will nail every shot on the enemy, as aiming not on the enemy but in front of the enemy is the key to making the shots count. This also applies to everything done in the newest iteration of Call of Duty. However, projectile weapons are used in previous games, even though some of the weapons are hitscan. 

Consider the grenade launcher in Black Ops 3 or the throwing knife in Modern Warfare 2. These weapons are projectiles, being shot out from a device or thrown from a hand; they have arcs. Players have to aim higher to account for long distances to make the shots count and make for some amazing moments to be posted online. 

Hitscan and projectile weapons are a balancing act, ensuring that the game’s balance is still stable while also making some weapons fun to use and challenging. This balancing act has continued into the world of esports as well. 

The Importance of Weapon Choice in Esports

When it comes down to it, the choice of weapons for esports players is something that players have to consider when choosing to be part of a team. Much like players pick classes in overwatch, players on a call of duty or CSGO team play specific roles to counter and play against the opposing team to gain the upper hand. Each player’s role has adverse effects on the rest of the team, from playing an offensive position by taking point during the match or waiting behind to take out enemy players from a distance. 

In games like CSGO, the power of a team is imperative, but aside from tactical planning in the game, it’s also about reaction time, as the weapons ladened in the world of CSGO competitive are all hitscan weapons. Being the game that CSGO is, the mechanics of the game themselves have the weapons as hitscan. This changes the game completely from other games like Call of Duty because of the consistency of landing shots. Shooting other players is all about reaction time rather than compensation on top of reaction time. Moving the focus to another competitive scene, such as the Call of Duty League and Apex Legends, compensation is key for more than one reason. 

For games like Call of Duty, team coordination can only get players so far, as carrying out orders is one task. Putting a CSGO player in a Call of Duty lobby, they’re going to have a short moment where they realize that bullet velocity in the game is something that needs to be taken into account. Making the game requires the ability to have a faster reaction time and the skill to make quick, calculated decisions when aiming their character to compensate for bullet velocity in the game. The player also has to be able to hit their shots.

This also applies to games like Apex Legends, as most battle royale games have projectile weaponry. Players who engage at long ranges in Apex Legends, Fortnite, and Warzone must compensate for bullet velocity while playing. Like all games with projectile weaponry, short-range combat requires less compensation than long-range because the bullets won’t have to travel as far as they need to.

There’s a reason that more developers these days are aiming to use projectile weaponry in their FPS titles, and that all boils down to the fact that it makes combat more engaging. The difference between hitscan vs. projectile weapons is that hitscan weapons put the players into combat where the game’s name is point and shoot, making the game feel more like a western standoff than an actual firefight. And while games can be engaging in other ways aside from the combat, such as game modes, TDM and more recent Call of Duty titles have changed over the years, including titles before Cold War. 

Another example of projectile weapons in Call of Duty before Cold War was introducing the dual wield crossbows in Black Ops 3. Many players probably didn’t get their hands on this weapon due to the horrendous drop rate from the black market. The NX shadowclaws shot crossbow bolts in an arc and had to be compensated for, rather than being aimed at a player.

Black Ops 4 is the final game in the Call of Duty Series to contain hitscan weapons in the game. In games like Battlefield 3 and 4, this change slowly started to creep its way into Call of Duty up until Modern Warfare (2019). However, there’s a catch into why the change in weapons happened. Black Ops 4 did include hitscan weapons. It also included bullet velocity. Retaining the balance of hitscan vs. projectile weapons, Black Ops 4 implemented two mechanics into the game to determine what kind of weapon the player would be using. While more than one weapon in Black Ops 4’s arsenal was an exclusive projectile weapon, all of the Black Ops 4 was a mixture of both. 

As it was mentioned previously, compensating for bullet travel time is something that players need to do while aiming down the sights in newer first-person shooters. However, as it turns out, this only applies in Black Ops 4 regarding how far the player is from an enemy. This boils down to how far the player was from an enemy. Depending on how far the player is from an enemy, the player’s gun will change from a hitscan weapon to a projectile weapon. The player can gun down close-range encounters without aiming ahead while they’re moving in the game. 

However, this changed in the reboot of Call of Duty’s Modern Warfare in 2019. With implementing the newest engine in the game, players found themselves using the same mechanics that Battlefield players have been using since the beginning of Battlefield 3. And the answer for the change is more than just making players have to think on their feet while playing matches of Team Deathmatch. The answer lies in the fact that the weapons used in the new Modern Warfare would be a part of Call of Duty’s foray into the battle royale genre, Warzone, and the increased likelihood of long-range combat. 

Battlefield has been playing with long-range combat since the FPS’ third installment. Having a player with an infinitely long-ranged weapon, regardless of what the player is using, would make the concept of long-range combat completely useless. The player would have to aim for the character on the other end of the map and click the mouse to win. However, by implementing bullet velocity, long-range combat now changes how the game will be played. This falls into the fact that verticality is something that players will need to seek when the game if they want a better chance of winning.

If a player is asked the best tactic of winning a Fortnite, Warzone, or Apex Legends game, one of the phrases that most players will respond with is “have the high ground.” Not only does it give the player and their squad a better view and aim on the rest of the teams, but it does help compensate for bullet velocity.

Another way of removing bullet velocity compensation from the equation is to have a gun that shoots at a higher fire rate. By standing, crouching, or going prone on a higher vertical position than an enemy, this not only makes the player take longer to look while attempting to engage the player, but, as long ranges, it reduces bullet drop. This effectively lets the player use their long-range weapons as a hitscan weapon without worrying about aiming higher to hit an enemy from a distance. However, players can’t have their cake and eat it, too, as the weapon still needs to compensate for moving targets while at long range. Still, removing one axis from the player’s calculation while engaging an enemy lets players focus on putting their shots where they count.

Weapons that shoot at a slow fire rate have a longer travel time. Players will have to aim farther in front of a moving player, but some of the attachments on weapons that increase the already fast fire rate of a weapon turn them into weapons that could rival hitscan weapons in online matches. 

With the addition of recoil in all of these games and the world of online FPS games has become more balanced than ever when it comes down to the gameplay look. Everything mentioned is used to make competitive esports tournaments for FPS games fair and concise for each team playing. While it seems like hitscan weapons are going to fall into obscurity, the skill ceiling of FPS games seems to be on the rise. 


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