Specifications and statistics influence purchasing when it comes to PC gaming accessories. Gaming monitors gained popularity because of their lower latency or higher refresh rates, and gaming mice gained popularity because of their better tracking and higher sensitivity. Mechanical keyboards, in particular, appear to be exempt from this quantitative tendency. Although there isn’t a single factor that distinguishes mechanical keyboards from their non-mechanical counterparts, mechanical keyboards are frequently suggested over alternatives that are much less expensive. How come this is the case? Exist real benefits to gaming?
The answers can be found in how mechanical keyboards, formerly a specialized accessory used exclusively by retro fans, quickly become a vital component of the multi-billion dollar esports sector. We can learn more about what first drew gamers to these keyboards, what measurable benefits they provide, and which models are still viable options by looking more closely at this brief transitional time.
Mechanical keyboards were formerly a tiny niche kept alive mostly by the rediscovery of artefacts from a different age, until they were hawked by the biggest gaming firms and championed by esports personalities. For years, fans traded disassembly tips on forums, reported their most recent purchases from corporate auctions or thrift shops, and carried out rudimentary experiments to better understand how their favorite “mechs” were created.
Keyboards with mechanical switches were only employed in retail or industrial settings where durability was important, as rubber dome keyboards provided the same fundamental functionality as pricey mechanicals for a minuscule fraction of the cost. However, a few small businesses in the US, Japan, and South Korea made high-end keyboards for programmers and other professionals who were ready to pay up to $100 for a keyboard that provided a superior typing experience using these mechanical switches. Professional gamers, particularly those residing in Seoul, South Korea, the Mecca of esports, became fans of these keyboards as well.
Around this time in 2010, broadcast websites like Twitch made it possible for gamers from all over the world to watch games like StarCraft 2 and League of Legends. Larger gaming companies like Razer and Corsair began supporting professional gaming teams, and they quickly began selling mechanical keyboards of their own. Sales and exposure soon followed, and within half a decade, many PC gamers considered these keyboards standard issue.
However, it’s difficult to tell if mechanical keyboards gained popularity because they were cleverly promoted by sophisticated gaming businesses or whether they really do offer a gaming advantage over non-mechanical alternatives. Let’s look at the first mechanical keyboards that professional gamers began using nearly ten years ago in an effort to provide some insight into that subject.
There were several distinct models of these keyboards, but the Cherry MX Brown and MX Blue mechanical switches were the most often utilised. These switches both have bumps that appear when the key is pressed down around halfway, which gives them more tactile feedback than non-mechanical keyboards. The bump helps you to swiftly switch to other keys and lets you know exactly when the key press has been registered. The MX Blue switch offers additional feedback in addition to an audible click and requires a little bit more energy to push. These switches were widely used in keyboards because they made typing faster and more accurate. These benefits also transferred well into strategy games like StarCraft, which required extremely quick and precise key strokes from players in order to compete at a high level.
Dependability was a benefit that both typists and gamers shared. Non-mechanical keyboards have a rubber dome that becomes harder with use, requiring more force to press a key. Mechanical keyboards are rated for more than 50 million keystrokes, but rubber dome keyboards may only be approved for less than 10 million. In fact, some elite StarCraft gamers in Korea had to replace their rubber dome keyboards every few months. While 10 million key presses may seem like a lot, both expert typists and professional gamers may reach that number in a few years. Because of this, mechanical keyboards may end up being more affordable in the long run, particularly if you value reliability.
Additionally, manufacturers were unable to instal a diode on each key of rubber dome keyboards, which was a common feature of mechanical keyboards. As a result, the keyboard’s rollover count—the total number of keys that could be successfully recognised at once—was larger than that of non-mechanical equivalents. While USB keyboards were only capable of six-key rollover, older mechanical keyboards that used the PS/2 connector could recognise as many simultaneous key presses as there were keys on the keyboard. Contrarily, many rubber dome keyboards have a two-key rollover maximum, thus Q, X, and C frequently don’t function as intended. Few typists need to press more than a few keys at once, but it’s particularly useful for quick-handed gamers, especially those playing rhythm games like Osu or shooters like Counter-Strike.
Smaller keyboard form-factors became increasingly popular since they could be sold for less money due to the expensive cost of mechanical switches. Because they enable the mouse to be held in a more comfortable posture in line with the shoulder, tenkeyless keyboards—so termed because they do not have the ten keys of the number pad—were popular with many StarCraft players. As long as you don’t play games that frequently use the number pad, these can lessen stress on the neck, shoulders, and back. Therefore, they are worth taking into consideration.
These famous pro-gamers were primarily drawn to mechanical keyboards because they provided superior tactile and auditory feedback, lasted longer, and accurately recognised numerous key inputs simultaneously. While gaming companies undoubtedly helped mechs gain popularity, mechanical keyboards’ quick expansion was supported by a number of genuinely useful features. The absence of several of the most popular mechanical keyboard technologies of today, like as backlighting, macro keys, and game-state integration, in these early versions is telling. Instead, the focus was on the fundamentals: a well-made keyboard that was comfortable to use and could be customised to suit your preferences.