Unless you’re already totally pro and playing video games 100 hours a week, you probably often wonder how you can up your game and get an edge on your competitors. It takes a lot to be a pro gamer. It takes a bit less to be good enough to have fun and win often, but it’s still no simple task. And if you’ve been at it for awhile and feel yourself plateauing, you might begin to wonder if your hardware is holding you back from being a better gamer.
Every time we see pro gamers, we see fancy headsets, crazy clicky keyboards that glow a million colors, and wild looking mouses with lights and buttons galore. You might think to yourself, “If the pros use them, maybe I’ll be better using them, too.”
This is a hypothesis I set out to test. Taking the fairly competitive game Overwatch, I compared performance using SteelSeries gaming peripherals the company sent over for the experiment against some non-gaming peripherals. We’ll get into the results shortly, but I’ll just say they were not what I was expecting.
The setup and testing
Our natural expectation for fancy gaming peripherals is that they’ll help us take our gaming to the next level. If a mouse is better, we’ll aim better. If a keyboard is better, we’ll have more responsive controls. If headphones are better, we’ll have better map awareness through clearer audio cues. To test these notions, I kept track of a few stats in Overwatch over the course of around 40 matches divided into three parts.
The first part used the SteelSeries peripherals — in particular, the Siberia 350 headphones, Rival 300 mouse, and Apex M500 mechanical keyboard. Given their price points, these peripherals felt like a more reasonable comparison to non-gaming peripherals than the most expensive options would have been. I played 12 Competitive matches using these.
The second part of the experiment switched to a Microsoft Sculpt Comfort wireless keyboard, Audio-Technica ATH-A500X monitor headphones (no, these aren’t typical headphones, but they also aren’t designed to enhance gaming audio in any way), and this totally basic USB mouse. Again, I played 12 Competitive matches.
The intention of my test was to then test the gaming and non-gaming peripherals one more time each, but the results in the second part of the experiment were such a surprise, I decided only to repeat testing with the gaming peripherals.
Gaming peripherals test 1: Not a great gamer
In the Competitive matches, I largely stuck to the characters McCree and Soldier: 76 because of their dependence on highly accurate aim, careful movement, and hearing where enemies are coming from. Though I didn’t save all the details from the matches, I was noting that my accuracy in each match was averaging around 35% at best — not what we’d call great aim.
I didn’t feel like the headphones were helping me hear enemies any more than my personal gaming headset did, but it was comfortable and teammates heard me clearly on the microphone. The keyboard was responsive and felt robust, but I did notice I had trouble getting the right keys sometimes. I wasn’t too used to that style of keyboard, with relatively big steps between rows of keys. The mouse also felt good in the hand (though I found myself accidentally firing off my ultimate attack because I was used to a 5-button mouse).
The key takeaway here is that my aim wasn’t all that hot with these peripherals. Icing on the cake of disappointment is that over the 12 matches, my rank slid downward overall.
Non-Gaming peripherals test 2: Better gamer?!
Things took a turn for the more interesting during the first few matches of testing with the non-gaming peripherals. Sure, my headphones were slightly less comfortable, no one on my team was happy about the Windows XP-era microphone I was using, and I wasn’t happy about having fewer mouse buttons, but my accuracy was undeniably higher. I tracked stats much closer during this test, finding that over the 12 matches I played, my average accuracy was 44.7% for McCree, 41.5% for Soldier: 76, and 44.5% for Genji (though I only played him in two matches).
Compare that to the 30-35% I was getting in the first round of testing, and you’ll see the comparison is stark. The first inclination is to assume something went very, very wrong. The gaming peripherals are supposed to be better, right? Maybe the non-gaming mouse was worse, but I was clearly using it better. Maybe the non-gaming keyboard wasn’t as reliable, but it was comfortable and easy to navigate by feel. Maybe the headphones didn’t give me more positional detail, but maybe they gave me the same amount.
At the start of the test, I’d intended to give the non-gaming peripherals two runs to see if I’d adjust to them after some time and get my stats using them on par with the gaming peripherals. With the results of this test, it was clear the gaming peripherals were the ones that needed a second shot.
Gaming peripherals test 3: Also better gamer!
One of the things I noticed in the second test was that the non-gaming mouse felt a bit slower than the gaming mouse, but I didn’t change any settings to make it slower or try to speed it up. For this third test, I instead reduced the sensitivity of the gaming mouse to try making it similar to the non-gaming mouse.
Like magic, my average accuracy bumped up to 43% for McCree and 43.6% for Soldier: 76 over the course of 12 matches. That was way better than the performance I was putting up in the first test, but only a tie to the accuracy of the non-gaming peripherals. In spite of the gaming nature of the SteelSeries peripherals, they hadn’t noticeably improved my game on their own. That finding should surely make a lot of people question the typically higher price tag of these gaming accessories. But there may still be grounds to justify the prices, even if it’s not directly connected to making you a better gamer.
The short and sweet answer is that it’s not a matter of what peripherals are used so much as having the control settings set to your comfort level. The non-gaming mouse won out because it slowed my aiming down to a pace I could be more accurate with. Finding the settings that work best for you should be the first thing you do to improve your play if you think something’s holding you back. Beyond that, it’s a matter of having devices that are comfortable and reliable. It doesn’t have to be a gaming mouse or keyboard, but if it’s uncomfortable or bugs out now and then, it’s going to hold you back.
That’s where the gaming peripherals shine. The headphones were comfortable and had a reliable microphone ready for gaming, letting me focus on the game. The mouse was also comfortable, and reps at SteelSeries explained how important it is to design products that last an insanely long time without letting the buttons start to feel different. Having extra mouse buttons is also preferable to some, though plenty of non-gaming mouses have thumb buttons. As far as the keyboard is concerned, I personally felt far more comfortable using the low-profile wireless keyboard, but everyone has their own preferences.
There is the matter of appearance, as gaming peripherals tend to be pretty flashy. That doesn’t have an effect on gaming, though. When it comes time to make a decision on what peripherals you want, find what’s comfortable and quality, and make sure you’ve got your computer settings tweaked. Whether you end up with gaming gear, non-gaming gear, or a mix of the two isn’t the most important thing.