Targeting, slashing, hacking, attacking: The key actions you take in any PC game happen at the click of your mouse, so you can’t skimp on your weapon if you want to win. Today, though, the quality bar is high for all but the cheapest gaming mice, so you can afford to be picky. Nowadays, you should expect reliable connectivity, smooth and responsive tracking, and crisp click and scroll functions. Those are the table stakes—it takes much more to elevate a “good” gaming mouse to “great.”
So, what makes the difference? Comfort and accuracy come more naturally to some models than others. An extra button in the right spot can speed up switching modes or weapons, saving you life-or-death fractions of a second. And the right supporting software can power simple or complex shortcuts that decide defeat or victory.
Here’s what to look for in a right-fit gaming mouse.
Sensors and Resolutions: Don’t Overthink ‘Em
Nailing down a high-quality mouse sensor is tricky without getting hands-on time with a given mouse. The two key sensor types are “optical” and “laser” sensors, but you can’t apply absolutes when judging them. Your best bet is to try out a mouse in person, or to rely on formal reviews like ours, as well as online forums, for the skinny on how a mouse feels in specific play situations.
Less-expensive mice tend to have optical sensors, which offer good tracking sensitivity and tend to map well on a variety of surfaces, including textured ones such as cloth. Laser sensors, on the other hand, map onto the same or more kinds of surfaces (including some smooth or glossy ones that may give optical sensors fits), but they can be more finicky about rough surface textures. That said, we wouldn’t let one kind or the other be the main reason you choose a mouse. Likewise, some vendors market branded versions of sensors that track, say, on glass or reflective surfaces. Don’t take them too seriously, as you can solve any challenging mousing surface with…a $2 mousepad.
See our favorite wireless mice.)
More the issue is knowing how your mouse connects to its host. The three main possibilities are USB (via a typical cable), USB (wirelessly, via an RF USB dongle), or Bluetooth (also wireless, usually via the host’s built-in Bluetooth radio). Bluetooth is the least common of the three among gaming mice; it tends to be found more often in productivity or mobile mice. Note that some wireless models with rechargeable batteries come with a USB charging cable that can double as a mouse cable while you’re juicing back up, letting you continue using the mouse with the battery depleted.
games. Blazing away in a firefight, staving off an advancing horde in a real-time strategy (RTS) title, or commanding an NFL franchise: Game genres have specific needs, and some mice outright target specific ones.
Mice aimed at first-person shooters, for one, tend to feature ratcheting scroll wheels—letting you cycle accurately through your arsenal without selecting the wrong weapon—and on-the-fly resolution switchers mentioned earlier. The latter will help you snap-change between the broad tracking you need in a frantic shootout and the tight control for lining up a precision shot. (Sometimes this feature is dubbed something like “sniper mode,” and it may involve a dedicated button for getting granular.)
the best mice for MMO games.)
Another, newer niche variety is mice aimed at esports players and professionals. The games they play vary widely, so there is a lot of crossover between these and MMO or other more generic gaming-mouse types. Indeed, many esports players don’t feel the need to gravitate to an “esports-specific” mouse at all, and find that general-use gaming mice work just fine. Nonetheless, a subgenre of esports mice has emerged that emphasizes light body weight and simplicity of design, in terms of buttons and overall sculpting. At the extreme, some lightweight esports mice have holes molded into their shells to reduce the mass of the mouse itself. (See our guide to our favorite esports mice.)
Customization Software: Why It Matters
Just as crucial as shortcut buttons and tracking-speed toggles is the software utility—if any—that the mouse maker provides for the hardware.
All of the major (and some of the minor) gaming-gear manufacturers have developed their own mouse-control customization software, which usually encompasses advanced macro programming. Often, the software also enables you to control and customize a gaming keyboard of the same brand. In addition to recording macro commands, these software dashboards let you activate premade, game-specific profiles; create your own profiles; and adjust any on-mouse lighting/LED bling. Many also offer presets for non-gaming use, letting you leverage your mouse’s programmability in Excel or Photoshop when you’re not blowing up starships or hapless zombies.