I embarked upon a journey not long ago. A quest for complete mastery of the hardware hacks and techniques meant to improve my aim in PC first-person shooters. I've learned a lot in the past six months that can seriously improve your performance in competitive shooters, and I'd like to share my knowledge with you.. From the hardware, to the software, to the training essential if you really want to see fast, significant improvement.
With this handy guide, you'll know what you need to in order to dominate the battlefield.
Choose Your Weapon
Forget about what gun you choose or about stats and strats that might give you an advantage. I'm talking about your real weapon: your mouse.
Which gaming mouse should you choose? What is the best? The answer is that there really isn't one single mouse that's better than all the rest. Though there are certainly differences in quality, for a gaming mouse the base hardware requirements are not as high as you'd think. With as many amazing gaming mice on the market as there are the decision mostly comes down to comfort, weight, and where you like your extra buttons.
So let's break it down to what kind of things you will see when buying a mouse and what they all mean. Right away, shopping for a mouse usually means staring at extra-large words declaring the device's max DPI, or Dots Per Inch. The most common misconception I see is people assuming that a high DPI means a better mouse. DPI refers to how many pixels your mouse moves for every inch of space covered on a physical surface. It doesn't indicate precision, and a higher DPI doesn't make you a better gamer.
Before I began my quest I assumed that better players played with higher sensitivities, and that meant they were faster and more precise than any of their competition. I bought my first gaming mouse and I slammed that DPI meter as high as it would go and I sat down and played for hours trying to adjust. My mouse maxed out at 5600 DPI, which meant that I could spin 180 degrees in just under the width of a fingernail.
Any of you that have tried this know how that experiment worked out. Any slight twitch could set my aim off by miles, and it made smooth, consistent play nearly impossible. But I had it in my head that this was the way to go so I stuck with it. Ultimately I did learn a lot about positioning and strategy as a result, because in a man-to-man fight I just couldn't out-aim anybody. In the end I found myself avoiding a fair fight like a barrel of plague ridden rats.
What I didn't know at that time is that most pro players play at around 400 DPI, and in-game they often lower their sensitivity below the default. It isn't uncommon for a pro Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player to have to move ten inches across their mouse pad for a full 360 degree turn. Yes it is a slower turn speed than a maniac running 5600 DPI but in a lot of online shooters it's about hitting the target in the exact place you need to get the kill more than getting the target on screen faster, and precise aiming is often easier with lower sensitivity. A lot of mice you can find these days go even higher than 5600 DPI, some sitting at staggering numbers like 8000. For most gamers in most situations, that's serious overkill.
So what should you really look for in a mouse? Check for two things: The polling rate of the mouse and how the mouse feels in your hand. Polling rate is how often the mouse sends information from its sensors back to your computer. A polling rate of 1000Hz means that your mouse sends feedback a thousand times per second. Most quality gaming mice these days have high polling rates and often come with a program that will allow you to shift it up or down at your leisure, but it's always good to check.
Now comes the tricky part: finding a mouse that fits your hand. Think about weight, height, how you grip the mouse, and how you like a mouse to slide across your surface. You want something that is comfortable and natural to move. This is a matter of personal preference and is different for everyone, and finding the right mouse can take a few tries to get perfect. Don't be afraid to try out several different mice until you find one that really fits.
GameCrate already has reviews on several mice that take a lot of what I've mentioned into account, giving detailed descriptions of how the mouse feels and moves during gameplay as well as showing off the physical form in great detail. You can find a review of the SteelSeries Rival here.
I personally like my Razer Star Wars: The Old Republic gaming mouse. It's a little larger than most mice which fits my shovel hands, but it also sits high in my palm so I can grip the sides easily. It has an MMO style selection of buttons that I can assign to a multitude of functions while also giving me a nice place to grip with my thumb during intense firefights. The weight is heavier than most mice because of the optional wireless battery pack. I consider this a plus because I like my mouse to feel meaty and like I'm actually holding on to something. It polls at a 1000 ticks per second and has more than enough DPI for the sensitivity I like to run.
We've discussed DPI and that a higher DPI isn't always a good thing, but what about in-game sensitivity? The honest truth is that everyone's ideal sensitivity is going to different. Maybe you're like me and you like your mouse to be just a little twitchy. Or maybe you're a born sniper who likes to set it extra low for even more precision when you're staring down the scope at your target. Again you need to do a lot of experimentation to find the perfect setting for you. After you make any alterations to your mouse settings it's a good call to force yourself to play with it for a good thirty to forty minutes before you render judgment, just to give yourself a little time to adjust so you can make an informed decision.
I've found that the best way to find the sort of natural sweet spot to set my sensitivity is to load up an offline map in CS:GO and practice two simple exercises. The first simply involves keeping your mouse on one point as you quickly side strafe back and forth. Try to not move your crosshair from your target at all. It should ideally feel natural and easy.
The second exercise entails flicking quickly between two chosen targets back and forth. You want to repeatedly land on your target without over-correcting. If you can do both of these exercises with minimal exertion you're on the right sensitivity.
This is a great map to use for training reaction time and how you react to shooting at odd angles. It has a multitude of settings and configurations for target size, how quickly they appear, and several types of challenges to keep you from getting bored. You can find the map here.
Once you think you've found your ideal sensitivity comes the fun part: training muscle memory. I again recommend CS:GO because it's full of community made maps custom built for this purpose. Muscle memory is pretty straight-forward, and you're looking to train your body to do things without thinking. You're programming your reflexes to transcend active thought. You see something, you do something, it's done.
The primary purpose behind this training is to improve reaction time. The average person takes about half a second to see a threat and react to it accordingly. If you translate that to in-game lag you're looking at an extra 500 milliseconds before you can respond to someone shooting at you. Muscle memory is a way to cut that time down. Your twitch reflexes are much faster than normal human reactions, but if they're going to save you they need to be accurate as well as precise. That's where training comes in. Play on a training map for fifteen minutes a day as a warm-up before you play your favorite game. Hard practice will never fail to help you improve, so stick to it and watch as you start to climb the leaderboards.
This map has multiple modes and focuses on using dummy bots that are constantly moving towards you. They don't shoot back, but remember the other team will. Check out the map here.
Frame Rates And Response Time
There's a lot of debate out there about whether or not having a higher frames per second rating can actually improve your aim. Some people like to talk about how the eye can't distinguish between framerates higher than around 30. But if you ask any professional player out there whether there's a difference, every single one will tell you yes.
I've always felt that the disagreement results because we aren't dealing with a simple eye-to-brain sensory relationship. There's also the movement of the mouse to consider, and the way that interacts with our perception. A lower framerate means that the mouse doesn't appear to move as smoothly and lacks the responsiveness that can help in a tight situation.
It's easy to see a visual difference these days, and once you've seen it, the difference in speed of movement, smoothness, and general realism suddenly becomes obvious. There are many examples of 30 FPS vs. 60 FPS content on YouTube, but here's one centering onProject CARS. Make sure you turn up the quality settings to 1080p HD!
Now imagine what it's like to play a game at the 120 or 144 FPS like most professional gamers strive for. That isn't to say that you can't play well at lower frames, but if you're looking for an edge. higher FPS rates matter. If necessary, jump into your game's graphical settings and switch to low or medium quality visuals. If your system can run it on high or ultra and still keep consistent frame rates you're golden, but if you're like me, medium is good enough. If you absolutely, positively, must run high or ultra settings but can't maintain high FPS, It's time for an upgrade.
If you really want to maximize your aim don't be afraid to look at a new monitor. Most monitors run at a refresh rate of 60Hz, meaning that their max displayable frame rate is 60. You'll still feel a difference in response time if you're running over 60FPS on a 60hz monitor but the difference between that and a 120 or 144Hz monitor can be significant. Running on a 144 HZ monitor makes it feel easier and faster to aim and will improve your performance significantly. You can check out some monitors with higher refresh rates here.
There are a final few tips and tricks to mention when it comes to your aim. For starters, no matter what game you play you want make sure that you disable anything that can cause mouse lag. The most common causes are the settings for Ambient Occlusion, Anti-Aliasing, and anything that has anything to do with Post-Processing. These settings are meant to smooth textures and layer on extra effects that are definitely pretty, but can be murder on your ability to move your mouse consistently.
The next big issue comes from mouse acceleration. Is mouse acceleration bad? No. Some people like it. But it makes your mouse more sensitive based on the speed you travel across your mousepad. If you twitch one inch you'll move farther than if you slowly move your mouse that same distance. This can cause you to over-correct for no real reason. So if you see a setting for raw mouse input you should enable it as that will gather the input data directly from your mouse rather than running it through the filter of mouse acceleration first. If you see a slider anywhere that says acceleration, turn it down to zero. Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 have a small amount of mouse acceleration enabled by default, but it's possible to remove this extra acceleration by using third-party programs (with the usual caveats and warnings about such software).
The final thing to remember is that every game calculates sensitivity differently. A sensitivity setting in Far Cry 4 will be different than one in Battlefield 4. If you end up playing on the wrong sensitivity all your muscle memory is going to be off. There are a lot of sites out there that offer calculators and tips on how to set your sensitivity perfectly, but I'll share the technique I personally use.
First, look at a target in a game you have a lot of experience with (and which feels like it has the sensitivity setting just right for you) and mark where one side of you mouse is on your mousepad or a piece of paper. Then slowly move your mouse until you've rotated a full 360 degrees in game and your crosshair is back on your original target. Now mark the new location of your mouse. Switch to whatever new game you're interested in playing and repeat the process. Adjust your mouse sensitivity up or down based on where your original marks are and voila! You're good to go.
Your Aim Is Only Half The Battle
So now you've optimized your aim. The next step is to get out there and get in-game experience. Start trying to out-think your opponent. Focus on how you move from cover to cover. Ask yourself before you do anything, “How is this going to help my situation and the situation of the rest of my team?” Don't be afraid to run away if you're in a tight spot. Just make sure you come back with a better position and finish the fight. Most importantly, fight smarter. No situation benefits from just endlessly stacking up bodies in front of the enemy.
Have any tips for improving your aim in FPS games? Let us know in the comments below!