What is keybinding?
Keybinding is a method to optimize your gameplay by customizing the controls of a particular game, according to your own needs. Most gamers don’t focus on keybind much. Normally when someone starts playing a game, they will look at the preset controls and get used to it with time. It is a complicated subject, cause there is no perfect way to keybind. It’s mostly preferential. Considering this, I will try to list some good practices and my personal experiences on keybinding.
Advantages of keybinding:
1. Keeps your base gameplay performance constant across multiple games. You don’t have to learn different keybinds across different games. You set your own keybind and keep that constant across all the games which help to keep your reaction time static. Reaction time is a good measurement of your gameplay performance.
2. If you follow a similar pattern of keybind it completely removes the step to remember the key and then pressing it. Your muscle memory will do that for you. For an example, I always keep my defensive abilities bound to “1”. So when I am playing PUBG its first aids/drinks. In, world of Warcraft it’s my defensive cool downs (pain suppression), In DOTA, it can be bkb, in League of legends, it can be Zhonya’s hourglass. So whenever I am in a bad situation and need to pop my defensive cool downs my muscle memory automatically presses “1”.
Disadvantages of keybinding:
1. You should know what you are doing. You need a certain amount of gameplay experience on different games to understand your needs.
2. One of the major disadvantages of keybinding is that people tend to copy pro-settings. DO NOT DO THAT. Copy the methodology which went behind that professional keybind but not the actual keys.
For example, na’vi sonneiko used to bind camera control on arrow keys for Dota 2. It’s perfect for him. But if I copy that and start playing Dota 2 I won’t be able to do anything to move the camera cause I am not used to it. Technically I can get used to it but that is just forcing yourself to fill in his shoes. Which will hurt your own skill curve. So always keybind as per your own need. Never blanket copy someone’s settings.
Most of my experience on keybinding comes from World of Warcraft (will be referred to as WoW). The complexity of keybinding increases exponentially with the number of buttons you have to press. World of Warcraft is a great example of that. The number of buttons you have to press to maintain a decent level of gameplay in WoW is massive compared to other non-RPG games. But I think the thought process is transferable to other games. Always remember that keybinds are highly preferential. There are some different train of thoughts behind keybinds so let’s talk about those.
We all are familiar with WASD. WASD is bread and butter of gamers. But did you know there is a school of thought revolving around ESDF? As per my knowledge, this method first came in WoW. There is a great YouTube video about it. If you look at your keyboard (US QWERTY standard layout) you will see there is not much difference between WASD keys and ESDF keys. They are placed almost in the same manner. The major difference is on the left side. ESDF opens up more keys on your left side. WASD gives you Q and Tab to bind on the top row. ESDF will give you Q W and Tab. Now we all know Tab is mostly used for scoreboard or some basic UI function. It’s not a modifier key. So we won’t count Tab as a potential keybind. ESDF will give you a Q W A to keybind on the left side where WASD will only give you Q. which will make your keybinds evenly spread out on the left and right which is not possible in WASD. WASD binds are mostly right side heavy. You can try out ESDF yourself and see if it fits your criteria or not. Again, Do not force the keybind to yourself. I know I keep repeating this but this is the most common mistake everyone does.
Dota 1 players will be highly familiar with this. ZXCV layout is mainly a moba keybind practice. 4 abilities on ZXCV and all other commands (attack/stay/move/stop) are on ASDF row. This was later converted to the QWER layout. Which kept the same ASDF row for other commands. Both ZXCV and QWER open up Left-shift, Left-control, Left-alt and spacebar to bind according to your need. But QWER will make 1234 easily accessible and ZXCV will make the modifier keys more accessible(LSHIFT LCTRL). In both the cases, Alt and Spacebar should be equally accessible. My personal preference is QWER cause I don’t need more than 1234, Alt modifier and spacebar to bind my inventory.
I have seen this recently. Mainly in WoW PVP scene. Q to strafe left, W to move forward, E to strafe right. Backpedalling is a bad practice in WoW so some people just remove the keybind for backpedalling. One row 3 buttons to bind all your movements. This opens up ASD row which can be used to bind any other controls.
The above-mentioned layouts are some innovative ways to suit your gameplay needs. All of them inspire my keybind. I will be explaining from WoW standpoint. I use WAD to move around. W front A left D right. I don’t use S for movement, I do not backpedal in WoW. The other binds I use are 12345678 and QSER. Seems very complicated, right?
Let’s break this down. I do not press 1-8 on my keyboard. Keybinding is not only limited to your keyboard keys. Always keep in mind that your mouse keys are important as well. I took this a bit too far and got an MMO mouse So I have 12 keyboards like keys in a 4X3 layout on my mouse. The layout looks something like this with my key binds in place.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 q s e r
So on the keyboard, I only use WAD to move. And modifier keys LSHIFT LCTRL and LALT. Modifiers keys are amazing. Every modifier key can double your existing keybinds. For example, I use 12345678QSER, so a total of 12 keys which translate to 12 gameplay controls. Now if I add shift modifier to all of those binds. I have access to Shift+12345678QSER, so now it’s 24 keys, which translate to 24 gameplay, controls. Now in the same way Alt+12345678QSER and CTRL+12345678QSER increase the total count to 48 combinations. So I can access 48 different gameplay controls with least amount of effort possible.
Let’s take a deep dive, Normally when you use movement and abilities on keyboard your left-hand does most of the work. Similar case for right hand and mouse if your controls are mouse heavy(I am a right-handed gamer). My goal/principle/philosophy behind my keybind was balancing this out. Suppose you use WASD to move and you have to press shift+Q for some ability. When your left hand is pressing Shift Q your pinky will be pressing SHIFT and your ring finger will be up from A and move to Q. So for that instance, you cannot move to the left side(if A is used to move left). I saw this as a limitation to my gameplay. For my case I have Q bind on the leftmost button on the bottom row on my mouse. So when I need to press shift+Q my fingers don’t move from WAD at all. Only my pinky presses SHIFT and my right thumb presses Q on the mouse. Because of this my left hand never moves from WAD. So I can move without any compromising other gameplay elements.
Hopefully, my thoughts on this matter have helped you to understand the basics of keybinding. The possibilities are endless. And it is a continuous process. I have had at least 4/5 different sets of keybinds before I decided upon this layout which I am currently using. I want to improve more as time goes on.
TL;DR Always binds keys according to your own need. Try to keep the basic binds or the philosophy behind the binds constant across different games (as much as possible). DO NOT COPY SETTINGS OF OTHER PEOPLE, this does not mean you have to be completely different just tailor according to your own preference. Try to balance out the involvement of both of your hands (this will help reduce the strain on one hand when playing for a longer duration). Always use modifier keys to multiply the available options. Do not shy away from using modifier keys.
Happy Gaming! 🙂