How To: Become a Gaming God

Nathan Edwards

All right, newblet. You’ve eaten your dog food in Wolfenstein 3D, done your spirit quest in Prey, and even managed to set up a bomb or two in Counter-Strike. If first-person shooters were massively multiplayer role-playing games, that might qualify you to step out of the kindergarten zone. Maybe. The big leagues of head shots, m-m-m-monster kills, and first-person-shooter fragfests have no room for subpar playing performance.

Top players—including PC Gamer’s very own Norm the Intern—all seem to have an innate talent for running-and-gunning. At least, that’s the nice way to put it when you’re on the receiving end of one of their rockets. But being awesome at shooters isn’t just luck; follow our guide to becoming a better gamer, and you’ll be on top of the leader board before you can say “pwnd.”

1. Know Your Maps

The best first-person-shooter gamers spend just as much time researching as they do button-clicking. For even the twitchiest of reflexes is worthless on an unfamiliar map; you’ll be riddled by railguns from every direction as you struggle to find even the most minimal of upgrades to your starting weapon. And in games like Quake, your opponents having quad-damage plus a knowledge of common spawning points equals you minus your body parts—plus an explosion of fire and guts. What fun!

You don’t have to get served up and down the battlefield to begin your most important of research tasks. After all, most multiplayer-themed shooters come with single-player bot modes. Fire up a one-on-one, set the computer to “bunny rabbit” difficulty, and resist the urge to spawn-camp your frustrations away on such an easy opponent. You’re here to research, not eradicate.

The world's top TF2 players (conveniently found on the official Maximum PC server) memorize their maps: it turns the routes, choke-points, and strategies into a chess game... with flamethrowers.

So what are you trying to learn? Start by sauntering through the level to find the spawning points for the map’s many weapons. You’ll want to be able to get to your weapon of choice—newb-cannon rocket launcher, sniper rifle, or some other ingenious combination of death and destruction—from any position on the map (especially the spawn points).
That’s just the beginning. In theory, you’ll work your way up to creating actual routes. You’ll be able to count the seconds between each power-up or weapon spawn. And you’ll be constantly running a loop around all the major power-ups—health, armor, ammunition. Even if your game doesn’t feature these goodies, you’ll want to know all the possible chokepoints, so you can mount the best offensive with each spawn.

2. Know When to Wuss Out

If you’re playing in a professional gaming setting, this tip is undoubtedly worthless. The second your opponent spots you, consider yourself three seconds away from corpsedom. But if you’re playing an everyday match on the Interwebs, or even a match against some of your more talented friends, then you’ll need to suck it up so you don’t suck it down. Humility is an important part of the FPS experience.

What does that mean? Don’t go charging off into battle with your starting weapon, even if your most hated of opponents just ran past the spawn point. You will die. If you’re obviously outgunned in a firefight, don’t keep shooting. You will die. If you’re facing off against a sniper who just head-shot two of your buddies in the face, don’t run toward him. You will die.

When trying to trap an opponent, make sure you’re using a weapon that’s going to get the job done. You’re in for a ride on the pain train if you don’t get the one shot, one kill.

Play smart. Turn tail. Run away, and perhaps you’ll hit a teleporter and confuse your opponent. Or better yet, pull a Macaulay Culkin and set a trap—run through a doorway and immediately hug the wall on the right. Stay put, and if your opponent is stupid enough to just run straight ahead, you might be able to catch him with a quick shotgun blast to the face. Advantage: you.

3. Gear Up

It’s important to customize your hardware for the kind of gamer you are. That includes redoing your keyboard’s keybindings to best facilitate your fragging experience. It’ll add about 10 minutes to your prematch startup time, but the payoff is worth it. Swap the weapons you frequently use to buttons more accessible to your WSAD-style controls. And if you indeed rock with a gaming keyboard, then make sure you’re using its extra input keys to their fullest potential.

Some keyboards come with fancy applications and feature a number of preset hotkeys. Use them as a base to save yourself some tweaking time!

If you can pick up a fancy gaming mouse, do it—you might not see an increase in overall accuracy from higher DPIs, but you’ll likely be able to switch your sensitivity on the fly. Need a little more machine-gun spray action? Kick the mouse up to a high sensitivity and let ’er rip. Camping spawn points in Facing Worlds? Lower your sensitivity and buzz the eyebrows off your opponents. Remember, reacting to an enemy is akin to raising the white flag; you want to anticipate your opponent’s movements at all times.

How2Mini: Waiting for a Respawn?

Here are some quick tips for your next few rounds of gunplay.

300 Pick on the weak. That’s right. We said it. If you’re in a 15-player deathmatch and getting rocked by three or four people you can’t compete against, stop fighting them. Find the guys you can utterly stomp on and hunt them mercilessly. They’ll call you names and hate your very existence, but hey, you’re on the top of the kill boards. They’re just jealous.

Be a Planeteer We might be speaking to deaf ears with this one, but hear us out. In team-based shooters like Counter-Strike and Shadowrun, you need to do just that: act like a team. Fun as it may be to entertain your dreams of becoming a virtual Rambo, it just isn’t going to work. Like wolves, you need to hunt in groups—use each person’s strengths to your advantage. And get on your headset!

Dance, Monkey! Standing still and shooting never works, but neither does jumping around like a chinchilla on speed. Create a dance—a few standard strafing/jumping moves that you’re familiar with, so you can always keep your mouse targeting trained on a player while you’re moving in-game. Otherwise, you’ll spend half the gunfight trying to react to your own dodging attempts instead of your opponent’s.

Talk Like You Mean It Psychological warfare is every bit as important as good accuracy. So the next time you get that sweet head shot, feel free to let your fellow players know just how newb they are in your favorite combination of obscenities, epithets, and physical gestures. It works in every cartoon; it’ll work in your first-person shooter.

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