With cross-play becoming more and more prominent across the games industry, it is turning into standard practice in a lot of competitive multiplayers to have mouse and keyboard players facing off against controller players in the same lobbies. This has understandably caused a lot of friction in certain communities due to the innate mechanical differences between the two, with many saying that the two inputs should never be pitted against each other in the same competitive setting.
A lot of this comes from ideas around one input being better than the other, often with the argument being that mouse and keyboard is objectively superior. However, in games like Apex Legends, there is a large portion of the community that is frustrated with the strength of aim assist on controller, so it’s clear that there’s a discussion to be had around the merits of both. This has caused a bit of a debate between players, with some arguing over which input is better, and others arguing over whether the two should even be in the same matchmaking pools for first person shooters. It’s time therefore to have a dive into both sides of the coin and try and make sense of all the gamer rage.
Mouse and Keyboard
The common understanding amongst most FPS communities is that mouse and keyboard is ultimately the better input. What people probably actually mean when they say ‘better’, is that for keyboard and mouse, the skill ceiling is a lot higher than it is for controller. Why is this the case?
On keyboard you have around 104 keys to assign input to. This alone allows players in a lot of games to take actions at a speed that you simply can’t on controller. In Apex for instance, one of the biggest frustrations on controller is not having specifics keybinds for using healing items, meaning you’re forced to use an item select wheel every time you want to change which healing item to use. This might seem like a minor inconvenience but at the higher levels of play these millisecond inconveniences are key and things like this can make the difference as to whether you win or lose the fight.
There is also not a more precise form of aiming than with a mouse. Depending on your sensitivity, it is the fastest way of getting from one pixel of the screen to another with complete accuracy. This is of course harder to do well but it is why the skill ceiling is so much higher because it allows you to make plays that are just not possible using joysticks. It provides the freedom to do things like flick shots, something that someone using a controller would just not be able to replicate. If you need an example of how insane the movement and aim can be when in the right hands, I’ll let Aceu demonstrate:
So, if keyboard and mouse is clearly the superior input, what’s all the fuss about? For people like myself, I just simply prefer using controller. I’ve grown up off it, I find it more comfortable and for many others it is just a much more convenient way of playing.
Due to the nature of joysticks however, it’s almost impossible to precisely move your aim in all directions with a controller, so developers implement aim assist as a standard way of helping players hit their shots. This is where the majority of back and forth lies in the debate, with a clear example of how strong aim assist can be being halo infinite:
Clips like this cause a lot of annoyance for keyboard and mouse players because they feel like they’re effectively playing against a standardised form of aimbot. When controller is pitted against controller, there is generally no issue between either of the player base because there is a consensus that controllers need aim assist to even be usable. The frustration comes from competitive settings where the two different inputs are playing against one another, and the result often ends up being controller players getting flack for their chosen input.
It needs to be made clear here that for a lot of the most popular competitive FPS games, some of the top pro players in the world use controller. Yet they still are still often deemed as worse or less skilled. Yes, aim assist is strong. It will slow your aim down on opponents that are rapidly moving left and right making it much easier to hit shots on tap strafing targets at a close range. So, I really do empathise with the frustration of keyboard and mouse players in certain games.
But this is pretty much where the objective truth lies, that both inputs are good in their own ways, and each have advantages in different situations. Instead, the debate often ends up in controller players getting shunned and written off.
My personal opinion lines up with that of TimtheTatMan; “if controller is so broken then play controller.” If controller is a no skill no brain input, then go use it. The skill ceiling for keyboard and mouse is clearly higher, and that person you died to in your chosen FPS could have probably killed you even if they weren’t on controller, so stop complaining and just get better at the game.
So, should they be in the same competitive setting?
My incredibly based take aside, should they still exist in the same competitive setting? It seems that it heavily depends on the individual game that determines the answer to this. You would never see a version of Valorant or CSGO with a competitive cross play but in games like Apex, whilst aim is of course a massive part of the game, there is so much more room for skill in other areas that I think the advantages in certain scenarios that controller players have, end up being balanced out.
Unfortunately, with most things like this, there is no winner or loser in this debate, people just need to be a bit more level headed and stop blaming their bad gameplay on other people’s input.
Pearce is a recent masters graduate with a passion for games. He thinks they can be seen as a form of art, conveying stories and narratives that can have an immense impact on players. Outside of game design, he has an interest in Twitch, music and animals.