You don’t need a gaming mouse to play PC games—just about any mouse with two buttons and a wheel will play anything you want it to. But that’s no reason to deny yourself the wonderful variety of gaming mouse designs on the market. A gaming mouse won’t make you a pro, but it can give you a slight competitive advantage and make some games much more comfy and convenient to play.
What Differentiates a Gaming Mouse from a Regular Mouse?
Gaming mice aren’t all that different from regular mice. Just about any design can be designated “for gaming,” and it doesn’t necessarily have to have a dozen extra buttons and an acid trip’s worth of flashing LED lights. But generally speaking, any gaming mouse worth considering for purchase will have at least the two following characteristics: an advanced optical or laser sensor that allows for faster or more precise movements, and some degree of user customization.
Gaming mice often feature extra buttons for the player’s thumb, on-the-fly adjustments to sensitivity and speed, extra-long cables, or even exotic functions like adjustable weights or button tension springs.
In addition, almost all gaming mice are wired, not wireless. This tends to be put down to “input lag,” which is a debatable advantage for USB input. Even a basic wireless mouse will only have an input delay of a few hundredths of a second, well below the threshold of most people’s reaction times (to say nothing of the similar delay for monitors and laptop screens). But real or not, the perceived advantage of a wired connection means that non-mobile wireless gaming mice are hard to find. Those gaming mice that are wireless are marketed with custom, super-fast wireless connections, so they tend to be even more expensive than regular models.
More expensive gaming mice generally have more bells and whistles than cheaper models, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll just get a better experience by spending more. Here’s what you should consider before you lay your money down on a new design.
Know Your Grip Style
The kind of grip you use, specifically when you’re playing a PC game versus using a mouse for more mundane tasks, is important. While every player is different, you can generally separate the grips into three broad styles:
Palm grip: a standard grip used by most players. Your fingers lay flat on the mouse buttons and your entire palm rests on the body of the mouse.
Tip grip: only the tips of your index, middle, and ring fingers rest on the left, center (wheel), and mouse buttons, with your palm not touching the body of the mouse at all. Your thumb grips the side of the mouse.
Claw grip: a mix between the palm and tip grip styles. Your palm rests only on the back edge of the mouse, with your finger and thumb tips angled in towards the buttons.
Different grips can be more or less effective for different types of games, but it’s not a great idea to try and change your grip type intentionally. Simply use whatever grip feels right to you and lets you play well.
However, different mice may favor different kinds of grips. Larger, wider mice are good for a more general palm grip—these usually assume at least some of your hand will be resting on the mousepad at all times. Short mice, without a large palm area and ideally with a lighter overall body, make maneuvering with a tip grip easier. Claw grip users appreciate relatively narrow mice with skinny, elongated primary buttons.
The Customization’s in the Software
Most dedicated gaming mice come with their own PC software, either as a stand-alone package or in a “suite” with compatibility for other gaming gear like keyboards and headsets. This software allows you to set up the lighting profile (not all that important), customize button assignments (useful, but usually available in individual games as well), and set DPI options. The latter is particularly important, since it allows you to change the sensitivity of the mouse for faster or more precise tracking—and some more advanced mice will even let you adjust this on-the-fly with mouse buttons.
Mouse software may also allow you to customize macros for different buttons, make adjustments for specific mousepads, and set up custom button profiles for individual games. All gaming mouse software will handle all of these functions to a greater or lesser degree. A particularly useful tool is the ability to save profiles directly to the memory on a mouse itself, allowing it to be moved from PC to PC with its settings intact, no extra setup required. Note that Razer software does not offer local device memory profiles, unlike most modern “gaming” software packages.
The Different Types of Gaming Mice
As PC gaming itself has become more complex, so too have PC gaming accessories. There are a few distinct subdivisions of gaming mice that we can take a look at, most of which have button designs and placements meant to aid in very specific types of games. Note that these subdivisions are independent of the body and grip styles mentioned above—a shooter mouse can be wide and low for a palm grip or skinny and shallow for a tip grip. So once you decide what type of gaming mouse to buy, be sure to look at our recommendations with grip type and software in mind.
Shooter Mice: Fast and Basic
This is the most common type of gaming mouse. Shooter mice use a conventional left button-mouse wheel-right button setup for primary input, mirroring most regular desktop gaming mice, plus two to three thumb buttons. In most first-person and third-person shooting games, these correspond to primary fire, weapon selection or zoom, secondary fire or iron sights, and grenade or melee actions, respectively.
Shooter mice are relatively simple, allowing gamers to quickly adapt to all kinds of action games using only three fingers. In addition to DPI up and down buttons on more expensive models, some shooter mice have a precision or “sniper” button, which when depressed temporarily lowers the DPI for super-sensitive shots.
“MOBA” or “MMO” Mice: Big on Buttons
Massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft, strategy games like Age of Empires, and MOBA games like Noun of Other Noun League of Legends all have some common design elements: a bunch of very specific, very contextual skills that don’t necessarily need to be used all the time, but have to be activated quickly to stay competitive. Thus the “MMO” mouse was born, with a crazy 12-button grid just for the thumb.
MMO mice are excellent for games that benefit from a lot of custom-bound skills or unit groups. They take some getting used to for new players, not to mention a lot of setup for the ideal skills or units for each button. The smaller, harder-to-distinguish thumb buttons make them less ideal for faster-paced action and shooter games.
Ambidextrous Mice: Southpaw’s Special
Most left-handed gamers—like yours truly—simply grin and bear it when it comes to mice, using our right hands just like our cruel anti-sinister oppressors. But for those who refuse to compromise, gaming hardware companies do offer a few lefty options—or, more often, ambidextrous options, with perfectly symmetrical bodies and buttons rather than bodies curved for the right hand. Most of these use a relatively simple shooter-style button layout with thumb buttons on both sides, with the assumption that players will disable the buttons for their off-hand. Some even come with replaceable blanks for unused buttons.
Examples of ambidextrous mice include the Razer Abyssus and Diamondback, the Logitech G900 and G300s, the SteelSeries Sensei, and the Roccat Kova. In addition, the older version of the Razer DeathAdder is still offered in a true left-handed design.
Mobile Mice: Good Companions for Gaming Laptops
For the gamer on the go, some manufacturers offer smaller, more portable versions of their mouse designs. While these are often wireless and much lighter than standard gaming mice, they also offer a specific advantage to gamers who prefer a tip grip style, as the smaller body can be more easily maneuvered while physically touching less of the mouse.
Hybrid Mice: Jacks of All Trades
“Hybrid” gaming mice try to offer the best of all worlds, being flexible enough to work with any gaming genre without excelling at any particular task. These typically include more than the standard two “shooter” thumb buttons, but less than the elaborate “MMO” grids. Hybrids can be an interesting choice if you’re looking for something more flexible.
A few specific examples include the Razer Naga Hex V2, with its thumb wheel that more easily shifts between shooter and MOBA tasks, the Logitech G602 with its 2×3 grid of shooter-style buttons, the SteelSeries Rival 500 and 700 with unconventional grids, and most of the adjustable mouse designs from MadCatz, which are now veering into truly insane territory.
With all that in mind, you should be able to narrow down your search quite a bit. What kind of mouse are you looking for? What kind of grip do you use? Do you care about extra features like RGB lighting and on-device profiles, or will any software do the trick? The gaming mice market may seem huge, but once you whittle down the stuff that really matters, you should have an easy time finding the perfect one for you.