Are Console Overwatchers Really Cheating?
Overwatch

The Overwatch community, no stranger to controversy, is dealing with yet another heated debate. Luckily, instead of character models’ butt-viewing angles, this time the concern is over what appears to be a legitimate issue with how players interface with the game in its competitive environment. Anyone familiar with competitive shooters is also familiar with the life-long mouse-versus-controller conundrum. Less familiar, perhaps, are devices sold by third-party companies which allow mouse/keyboard setups on consoles. One would think this should be a non-issue, a glorious bridge alleviating any perceived, artificial gaps in competition. However, many gamers disagree, along with Blizzard itself, as revealed by a take on the option by Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan.

In a Blizzard forum post, Kaplan lays down the law, saying “The Overwatch team objects to the use of mouse and keyboard on console.” At first glance, that seems like an odd stance to take, right? After all, Overwatch on PC, despite not being cross-platform, natively supports controllers. Plenty of other PC shooters do as well. Personally, as a more casual PC player, I am certainly guilty of using and in most cases preferring to use an Xbox One pad over a mouse. Why can’t the opposite be okay for folks playing their shooters on PS4?

Kaplan even goes as far to say Blizzard has straight-up contacted console manufacturers about this whole situation, and has pushed for developers to “disallow mouse and keyboard input conversion devices.” Again, sounds nuts, but the story doesn’t end there. The alternative is to “openly and easily support mouse and keyboard for ALL players.” Suddenly, we find ourselves teetering on the edge on an “ah-ha moment.”

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Using a keyboard and mouse on consoles is not the equivalent to slapping a USB cord into your PC to use a gamepad. X-Input drivers rule, because that means anyone with a Microsoft-branded pad these days can simply plug and play. No button-mapping, no messing with settings outside of the game. Done deal, advantage or not. It’s a choice, readily available for anyone to make.

On the other side, using a mouse and keyboard not only requires additional technological savvy, but also significantly deeper pockets. The console in use is also a factor, meaning an Xbox One user is not going to have the same native options as a PS4 user. For example, the PS4 has an officially supported keyboard and mouse, but with a huge caveat. The devices may look like a keyboard and mouse, but the keys and buttons map to a DualShock 4. That means the same dead zones and issues with a pad still apply to the mouse, to a degree.

However, a device does exist, compatible for both consoles, that ostensibly even solves that issue. Known as the XIM4, the adapters claim to use a unique “Smart Translator” software that gets the mouse and keyboard closer to the real thing than anyone else. Sure enough, much of the discussion on the Blizzard thread is centered around the XIM4, and the number of high-ranked players using it.

Overwatch

The XIM4 seems like what we want – an even playing field. Unfortunately, it’s kind of an underground piece of tech, something the casual player can’t walk into a GameStop and find sitting on a shelf. It requires downloads and firmware updates, another use barrier. Also, it’s expensive. Really expensive. Double the cost of a game expensive. Even if the price is necessary for this sort of device, it reeks of competitive gatekeeping in full effect. If having a fully-functional (or close to it) mouse and keyboard is objectively superior to controllers in the shooter domain, the XIM4 does effectively shut out a significant percentage of the player base.

Kaplan’s argument is either don’t do it, or open the floodgates. If Sony and Microsoft want to allow third-party devices, he wants the companies to allow them directly, not technically. That means officially supported devices that properly act like mice and keyboards, not goofy proxies. That way, players can have the out of the box functionality that PC players get with either input method. This would (in theory) ensure fair prices, and much more accessible products.

Is using a mouse and keyboard on consoles cheating? Not literally. One could successfully argue the devices are freely available and require no modifications to use. However, due to matters of cost and accessibility, adapters do present a much larger, unsanctioned barrier of entry to competitive play. This is likely a huge headache for developers, who already must support PC and console versions separately. It also can do a ton of long-term damage to the fandom and competitive scene. Why bother when hanging with the pros is impossible? Most players won’t.

Image Credit: anoncraft

Lucas White
Lucas White
@HokutoNoRucas

Contributing Writer
Date: 02/07/2017

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