Keyboard and Mouse vs Controller – What’s Better for Esports?

By Petar Vukobrat

August 13, 2018

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Keyboard and Mouse vs Controller

As the competitive gaming world developed, certain genres and types of games became prevalent: MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas), FPS (First Person Shooters) and various genres but with a very concrete social, online aspect like Hearthstone and last but not least Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

Now since releasing a game just for PC is essentially shutting down a ton of potential revenue and neglecting millions of console gamers around the world, we are beginning to see a lot of titles released on a wide variety of platforms.

Developers quickly realized that having their product available to the widest possible audience is a very positive thing on all fronts: more revenue, bigger player base, and thus a bigger chance for their product to have a longer lifespan.

Today some of the most popular games that have developed as an esport are multi-platform. You can play PUBG on your PC but on Xbox One and mobile phones as well, whereas Fortnite is available on almost every platform imaginable – computers, PS4, Xbox One, iOS, Android and soon enough (if the rumors pan out to be true) on Nintendo Switch as well. Epic Games basically covered the entire current console generation along with computer and handheld devices.

However, all these devices have different control methods. If you’re playing on a computer, you can use a mouse and keyboard or a controller, whereas you’re limited to solely controllers on gaming consoles. Mobile phones are a somewhat grey area as you can either use touch controls or purchase a controller-like add-on for your phone that adds an analog stick and multiple physical buttons.

To make things clear from the very beginning, let’s answer the main question at hand – is there a clear benefit to playing a game with a mouse and a keyboard as opposed to a gaming controller?

Absolutely.

To better elaborate on that statement, let’s focus on some of the key differences:

Macros in Games

Certain esport games simply have too many in-game actions for just a single controller. The PlayStation 4 Dualshock 3 has ten buttons that you could in theory bind to in-game abilities which isn’t a lot. (not counting the touch-sensitive area in the middle) Most games have well over ten commands, but fortunately, there are some that don’t. Those titles can easily be ported, and you would get basically the exact same experience as if you were playing on a desktop PC.

Overwatch is a very solid example and even though it’s somewhat of an FPS + MOBA mixture the game’s control scheme is still pretty much the same as a standard FPS game.

This is perhaps the main reason why you don’t see staple MOBA games on consoles like League of Legends, DOTA2 or even Heroes of the Storm. Modern gaming consoles are more than strong enough to handle these titles at the maximum graphical settings, but playing on a gaming controller would be far from an enjoyable experience (certain developers tried releasing MOBAs for consoles, and they failed miserably).

In MOBA games, the ability to move the camera or your champion in a split-second is incredibly important. Each hero has a minimum of four active abilities – most of which have to be aimed, and up to seven active item slots. There is simply no space for all of that on a gaming controller, not to mention any additional options like pinging, viewing the leaderboard, emotes, etc.

By spreading out those controls on a keyboard in multiple rows of buttons, gamers have an easy time in making decisions in a heartbeat and having pretty good accuracy while doing so.

That brings us to our second point.

Accuracy

In most competitive esport games, accuracy is of paramount importance. The ability to make split-second decisions and movements often make the difference between success and failure, victory and defeat.

It’s a no-brainer that a mouse offers far better accuracy and precision when aiming and that doesn’t just go for FPS games but other genres as well. The ability to move the camera or click on any point of the map in a second is a great feature to have that’s completely absent on a controller.

Freedom of Movement

The ability to move freely and in short bursts is what makes competitive gaming so complex and engaging. (among other things) Professional players have incredible reflexes and their reaction times are absolutely insane. Of course, they wouldn’t be able to play at such a high level if they didn’t have the right equipment that allows them such freedom of movement.

In FPS games, for example, you simply cannot perform a quick 360 rotation of your character/camera in a split second. The controller analog sticks have a set maximum speed and sensitivity which isn’t that high. (even though you can change the analog sensitivity in certain games the point still stands) So if there is someone attacking your back you’re going to have to invest a lot more time before being able to respond.

Fast reactions are just one of the many important aspects of competitive eSports, and it cannot be overlooked.

Variation in Hardware

Another benefit that a standard mouse and keyboard setup has is just the sheer amount of different hardware that’s available. Perhaps you really want a mechanical keyboard that’s well built? Not a problem! You can get one and even spend countless hours trying to figure out which mechanical switch is best suited for your gaming needs. Perhaps those Cherry MX Red switches that require the least amount of actuation before activating? Or the Cherry MX Browns that require the perfect amount of force before activating while still giving out a very satisfying click.

You can buy a full keyboard or go for a TKL variant (“tenkeyless,” essentially a keyboard without a numerical pad) to not take too much space on your desk.

On the other hand, even though you have certain controller manufacturers, it mainly boils down to the same. Perhaps a better directional pad or a different button scheme at best.

When you get to gaming mice, things don’t get any easier. Different shapes for different kinds of grips – claw, palm, hybrid; wireless or wired, different sensors that respond in different ways and have varying amounts of DPI (dots per inch) settings and last but not least – macros. You can have more buttons on a single mouse than a standard gaming controller, and while that might sound like overkill, some people do prefer it, especially for games like World of Warcraft.

As an example you can bind your melee attack on one side mouse button and a voice command (“I need healing!”) on the other, thus decreasing the number of buttons your left hand has to cover.

Variation in hardware is a phenomenal, esoteric beauty that exists only with a standard mouse and keyboard set-up.

It’s never been easier tailoring the right hardware to your personal liking.

Special Cases

There are some exceptions to this rule. Certain types of games not only work better on a standard gaming controller but it’s almost always the default set-up. Sports games like FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer are almost always played on controllers. Players can easily maneuver in the game, and the analog sticks come in handy when controlling and dribbling.

Fighting games are yet another niche example where a gaming controller works a thousand times better than a keyboard. Competitive gamers can easily pull off complex combos with a standard joystick, and the professionals even go for traditional fighting game sticks that simulate an arcade set-up with just a single stick and eight buttons set in two rows.

Fortunately, regardless of the control method you go for, you’re going to have a ton of fun as they both have their pros and cons. Both methods are very satisfying, and you can reach a very high level of play on both regardless of the game you’re playing. For casual gaming it really boils down to personal preference.

It is this variety of control methods that makes gaming so exciting and engaging as there is something for everyone – not just a single default setup.

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