Gamer Guidance: Are mechanical keyboards really necessary?

Competitive gaming has grown over the last couple of years and has branched out into some exciting directions. With TBS and ESPN announcing they’ll be broadcasting pro gaming matches, multiplayer gaming is becoming the next big sport. Games like League of Legends and DOTA2 have blown up in the competitive gaming scene and fighting game tournaments such as EVO have ended up being pretty major events each year. Tournaments offering reward prizes in the millions often surface around the world, peaking the interests of gamers in hopes to win large cash prizes by simply playing a game they enjoy. With the increase in gaming tournament attention, folks start looking into top quality equipment in order to give themselves an in-game edge or boost in skill.

One of these pieces of equipment that is largely sought out are mechanical gaming keyboards. These high-end, pricey keyboards are said to be a requirement when it comes to PC gaming; however,  are they really worth the substantial asking price? Will these keyboards really give you a huge bump in skill?

Mechanical keyboards are pricey pieces of equipment, with most surpassing the $100 mark. A mechanical keyboard basically replaces each individual key on the keyboard with a mechanical switch, instead of the typical rubber membrane found in standard and stock keyboards. What makes these switches so special is mainly due to how the keys actually press in. There are many different types of switches that can be found in mechanical keyboards, such as Cherry Blue that produces a large audible click when pressed, or Cherry Brown that operates much quieter but still delivers a nice tactile feeling when pressed. When these keys are pressed in, the input is sent immediately to the PC even if the key isn’t pressed in all the way, unlike membrane keyboards that require the key to be pressed in completely in order to send the signal. So in conclusion, gamers swear by these keyboards due to how quickly inputs can be detected against your standard stock keyboards thrown into every computer bundle.

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Another reason mechanical keyboards are popular is the durability factor involved. Membrane styled keys are known to break down more quickly than mechanical keys, especially when liquids such as soda or coffee are spilled on the keyboard. For mechanical keyboards, this issue is far less apparent and typically allows the keyboard to function for many years after being purchased. Even though mechanical keyboards sound great, they do have some disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage one will find is the price. Generally, a mechanical gaming keyboard will require the user to drop at least $150, and that is without a ton of bells and whistles like LCD screens and multiple backlight colors. Also, mechanical keyboards can be very large and heavy which make them a pain to lug around to your buddy’s LAN party. Depending on the chosen keyboard and switch type, the keys can be very loud when typing, disturbing those around you.

The ultimate question is this — are these mechanical keyboards worth it? Will they make me play games better than the average player? Will they help me play like a pro League of Legends or Counter-Strike player? The answer is no. Mechanical keyboards are largely dependent on personal preference. Some players may like the nice, loud, tactile feel of the mechanical keys, while others may prefer the standard membrane keys due to their mushier feel. Others may prefer the chicklet style keys found on Macs and many laptops due to the low profile of the keys. Yes, a mechanical keyboard will detect keystrokes faster, but it isn’t the sole aspect that makes a pro gamer good at PC gaming. That, my friends, is all skill.

Being extremely talented playing a game 100% dependent on the player’s skill, practice, dedication and knowledge of the game. If you take the world’s best DOTA player and hand them a crappy Dell membrane keyboard, they are still going to dominate. The mechanical keyboard may help the player a bit, but it ultimately comes down to skill. Counter-Strike players win because they have quick reflexes, they know the maps like the back of their hands, and they can anticipate what moves others may pull off. A mechanical keyboard will not give you that skill; practice and dedication are required in order to become victorious. I know a few hardcore PC gamers who still swear by older membrane keyboards, and if you hand them a high-end mechanical keyboard, it may handicap them because the keys simply do not feel right to them.

The only high-end PC peripheral I find useful for PC gaming is the gaming mouse. A standard stock mouse lacks the side buttons that can make opening doors, reloading and lobbing grenades much easier without playing finger Twister on the keyboard. Also, many gaming mice include DPI (dots per inch) buttons that allow the player to change the motion and speed of the mouse cursor on the fly, making mouse movements suit their needs without backing out of the game and changing settings. Still, even these mice are not necessary seeing as any added buttons on a mouse can be substituted with keyboard keys as well. It just makes it a little easier when the buttons are so close to your unused fingers laying on the mouse.

I often find that users on gaming enthusiast forums will often lead gamers astray, making them feel like in order to play the RIGHT way, they must purchase these expensive mechanical keyboards. I am here to tell you that is simply not true. If a player wants to gain higher in the ranks of professional gaming, their practice and dedication will get them there, just like any other sport. Normally, fighting game players will tell you that pricey arcade sticks are required for competitive fighting game play, yet two of EVO’s best Street Fighter IV players use gamepads that are said to cripple fighting games. Mechanical keyboards are mainly a personal preference, a cool looking piece of hardware and a luxury. I won’t deny that mechanical keyboards are nice (I own one myself), but I’ve never felt like they made me play games any better than I did before. So boot up your favorite PC game and rock that $20 Logitech keyboard. You’ll be fine.

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Josh Faulkner

Josh is a native Ohio-an who grew up in a small town that had very little for kids to do. As a result, Josh picked up video games at a very young age. Video games played a huge part in his childhood and continued to do so in his adult life. Starting out on an Atari 2600 when he was 3 years old, gaming has sort of grown up alongside with Josh and continues to be his biggest hobby. As an IT technician by day, Josh is an aspiring gaming writer by night who founded a few websites including 16 Bit Heroes and Too Busy Gaming, while also dabbling in retro gaming YouTube videos and live streaming events.