It is funny how most gamers spend a fortune on the best gaming rig and expect to start fragging n00bs by the truckload. The truth is that you won't be any good if you leave the keyboard and mouse as an afterthought. The mouse especially so, since it contributes significantly to overall control and accuracy in FPS games. Before you whip out your wallet to address the problem by throwing a lot of money at it blindly, let me assure you that will not work. Mice are a bit like running shoes—they are pretty much useless unless you find one that fits your play style perfectly.
Not everyone needs fancy high-sensitivity mice or expensive hard mats. If you aren't well prepared, you might end up with very expensive gear that doesn't suit you well. Therefore, it pays to see which play style work for you and then narrow down mice satisfying those parameters. This is exactly what this article aims to do—dissect each play style and explain how to choose the right mouse for it.
Wireless mice don't really work for gaming
Wired or wireless?
If you've ever wondered why all gaming mice are corded; trust me, it's for a very good reason. The conversion of electrical signals into wireless ones and then back again adds a considerable amount of lag. In the cutthroat world of first-person shooters, just a few milliseconds could mean the difference between victory and crushing defeat. Moreover, the slightest amount of input lag rends to diminish overall control and accuracy, so it's imperative that you opt only for wired gaming mice. Several manufacturers have tried in vain to make gaming-grade wireless mice, but the results have generally been substandard. Even Razer's Mamba 4G, the last serious wireless gaming mouse I had tried, couldn't change my reservations about the technology.
Sensitivity, resolution, and polling rate
Generally measured in Dots per Inch (DPI) or Counts Per Inch (CPI) by most manufacturers, mouse resolution is a measure of the image sensor's tracking capability. This figure determines how many pixels your mouse pointer will move on screen for every inch you move the mouse. The higher the resolution, the more sensitive your mouse will be. As you can see, mouse sensitivity is directly related to resolution. However, it has little to do with accuracy, and is often wrongly used to compare mice. There are gamers who prefer high sensitivity, whereas others like to keep it much lower. It's a matter of personal preference and none of the approach is better than the other.
Mice such as the Razer Lachesis are optimised for the claw grip
Larger monitors with higher pixel counts might require higher resolution mice to maintain comfortable sensitivity, but that still doesn't mean everyone has to go for the crazy 5600 dpi mice. In fact, most gamers using Full HD monitors will find their sweet spot somewhere between 800 and 1600 dpi. Other factors discussed below, in fact, contribute more towards mouse performance than sensitivity. The truth is that all modern gaming-grade mice are of a high enough resolution to satisfy the most demanding gamer. So make it a point to disregard this common marketing ploy and remember that a higher resolution doesn't translate into a better performing mouse by itself.
Polling rate, on the other hand, indeed has a major bearing on mouse performance. It is essentially the rate at which the computer is updated with the position of the mouse pointer. The default Windows polling rate is fixed at 125 Hz, which means that your mouse tells your PC once every 8 milliseconds, or 125 times a second, exactly where the pointer is located. The faster the polling rate, the more accurately the cursor will be resolved on screen. Almost all gaming mice these days have a polling rate of 1000 Hz (1 ms), so they are equally good in this respect.
The palm grip is used by gamers preferring low sensitivity
The primary play styles
FPS gamers usually adopt either of two major play styles. Those who use close to medium-quarters weapons prefer playing with high sensitivity, whereas those who stick to long-range weapons adopt low sensitivity settings. High-Sensitivity Gamers (HSG) don't really require pinpoint accuracy, but they need to cover a large degree of their Field of Vision (FOV) without having to lift and re-center the mouse on the pad. Snipers invariably are Low Sensitivity Gamers (LSG), who have no choice but to sacrifice speed for accuracy.
Most HSGs employ the claw grip, which is a rather wrist-heavy style, where the mouse is held with the finger tips, while the base of the palm is used as a pivot. The palm doesn't touch the mouse surface in this type of grip. It requires steady hands and lighter mice for best accuracy. The mouse itself doesn't move much on the pad. Most Razer mice such as the Boomslang, Copperhead, and Lachesis, or Roccat products such as Kova and Kone+ are optimised for this style of play.
The claw grip works best for high-sensitivity gamers
On the other hand, LSG tend to use the palm grip, which involves resting their palms on the mouse. Unlike HSG, this control method doesn't really require steady hands and benefits from slightly heavier mice. The mouse itself covers a lot of ground to compensate for the low sensitivity, which can cause a lot of issues for laser sensors that cannot handle high speeds. Most of Logitech's gaming mouse range and mice such as the Razer DeathAdder or the Mionix Naos are the best examples of this.
It's all about the sensor
There are three main types of sensors; but only two of these apply when you consider gaming-grade mice. The budget to mid-end segment features mice with infrared sensors, whereas the more expensive mice employ exotic laser sensors. The two differ mainly in terms of resolution, with laser sensors offering much higher DPI/CPI. However, as it's already been mentioned before, this resolution business has little bearing on mouse accuracy. I have personally found good infrared sensors consistently outperforming laser mice costing twice as much in terms of stability as well as control and accuracy.
Laser sensors may offer higher resolution, but they are sensitive to dust and debris, need extremely high surface uniformity, tend to cause more jitter, and are prone to skipping when under high acceleration. Very expensive and specialised hard surfaces are a must if you wish to use laser mice. Infrared sensors, on the other hand, work well on cheaper cloth mats and are more tolerant to dust, debris, and surface irregularities. What's more, they track well even under extreme acceleration—all that despite being much cheaper.
Steelseries Sensei uses the popular Avago ADNS 9500 laser sensor
The very heart and soul of a mouse is its sensor. As a matter of fact, most gaming-grade mice employ laser or infrared sensors from either Avago or Philips. This explains the similar levels of performance and features from competing brands. The manufacturer can only make a difference a in terms of the number of buttons, ergonomics, sensor optimisation, and driver suite.
Among laser sensors, mice using the Philips Twin-Eye sensor (most of Razer's high-end range) tend to be horrible, whereas the Avago ADNS 9500 sensor (Used by Roccat, Steelseries, Cooler Master, and Logitech) may not be perfect, but it at least has fewer problems. The best mice I have used (Razer DeathAdder for one) use Avago's S3000-series infrared sensor, which is both accurate, stable, jitter-free, and holds up well under high acceleration.
The ground beneath the (Teflon) feet
You can choose the best mouse there is, but it won't be better than your cheap 300-buck rodent unless you pair it with the right surface. No matter what sensor you choose, each one is rather picky about which surface it will perform the best upon. Laser mice, for example, don't work well at all on cloth surfaces. You need to use hard mats, which in turn tend to wear off the mouse feet. So using a laser mouse is an expensive proposition since it involves an expensive hard surface and the recurring cost of replacing mouse feet. Factors such as play style also dictate the size of your mouse pad. LSGs, for example require oversized mats, which lets them cover large distances without lifting the mouse off the pad. HSGs, however, aren't handicapped by small to medium-sized mats.
Hard surfaces are a must for laser sensor
Infrared mice also have their own requirements. Although they don't fail catastrophically like the ones with laser sensors, they still perform significantly better when paired with the right surface. Most infrared and laser mice, for example, have issues with the popular Steelseries QCK cloth mats (except the Steelseries' own mice). The Razer DeathAdder works best on Goliathus cloth pads. The difference in tracking accuracy is clearly palpable. Unfortunately, the only way to gauge the best mouse and surface pairing is by trial and error. Additionally, there are other factors such as smooth or textured surfaces, which are optimised for speed and control, respectively. Try to experiment as much as you can, before zeroing in on a combination.
The devil is in the details
Apart from these major considerations, every mouse has its own idiosyncrasies that still have major effects on performance, and can clash with your play style. Angle snapping or prediction is the tendency of a mouse to filter out judders and keep tracking in a straight line. While that may be helpful in a headshot-heavy game such as Return To Castle Wolfenstein, where the mouse doesn't have to move along the Y-axis, it is catastrophic for games such as Quake 3 or Unreal Tournament that have a fair bit of verticality. While some mice let you switch this on or off through the driver suite, others force it by default. Choose your mouse accordingly.
The DeathAdder is the best infrared sensor-equipped mouse
Lift-off distance (LOD) is another factor that is more relevant to LSGs than HSGs. Snipers used to low sensitivity and wider mouse movements have to lift their mice often when they reach the end of the mouse pad. Having a smaller LOD prevents the cursor from going astray when lifting off and placing the mouse back on the mouse pad. Mice using the Avago ADNS 9500 sensor, for example, let users adjust the LOD to their liking. This parameter is also affected by the type of mouse surface. An incompatible surface can increase this distance considerably, leading to a great hit on accuracy each time you lift off and replace the mouse on the mat.
These are the major game-changing issues that need to be considered when choosing the right mouse. There are also other basic parameters such as the malfunction speed (IPS), negative/positive acceleration, jitter, and firmware idiosyncrasies. However, these factors are generally straightforward and easy to spot, so it's just a matter of avoiding mice exhibiting these traits. This may seem obvious, but there's no better way to steer clear of these than with thorough research before buying a mouse. Hopefully, this article can point you in the right direction to identify your play style and choose a mouse accordingly.