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Why owning the best PC hardware didn’t make me a better gamer

Logitech G Pro X mechanical gaming keyboard.
Digital Trends

Give it up, guys. It turns out you can have every possible advantage going for you as a gamer — the most powerful PC, the fastest gaming monitor, the lightest of gaming mice, and the most low-profile of gaming keyboards – but if you just aren’t very good, none of it makes much of a difference.

I really hoped it would, too. I’ve recently been dabbling in some competitive FPS (first-person shooter) play on my PC and decided to give myself every leg up my combined salary and review sample back catalog could manage. And though I’m sure it helped, I didn’t receive the advantage I was hoping for.

The man

Let me set the stage for you. I’m a mid-30s, typically single-player PC gamer who hasn’t taken competitive gaming seriously since the launch of Rocket League. I used to play Unreal Tournament 2004 in my teens, along with Half Life mods, some Counter-Strike 1.6, and a little Halo when we could get enough original Xboxes and TVs together. More recently, I’ve dabbled in the odd Call of Duty single-player campaign — and I loved Evolve while it lasted — but I haven’t played much in the way of PVP (player versus player) FPS games for a decade or more.

That said, I am a regular gamer. When my kids allow it, I play RPGs and strategy games. I also enjoy some first-person survival experiences, which are closer in perspective to competitive FPS games, even if they aren’t exactly as taxing.

So, while I don’t see myself as a good FPS gamer, or even a recently experienced one, I’m no noob. My hand naturally sits in a WASD claw shape on a keyboard, I know to use numbers for weapon switching, and I’m not above toggling my DPI to get an advantage on a slow-moving turret.

But I know I’m not good. So, when I had to do some esports performance tests for Digital Trends, I decided I’d like to dip my toe into the competitive scene again, just to see if I’ve still got it. But I’m not some cash-strapped teen playing custom UT 2004 Assault maps on my Athlon 64 and CRT monitor anymore. Now, I’m a cash-strapped dad with access to a lot of tasty hardware from my various writing jobs. It’s time to show these kids what a dad can do when he brings some real gaming hardware to the table. Or so I thought.

The machine

Jon's latest gaming and work machine.
Bonus points if you spot the LED gloved-hand reflection. Image used with permission by copyright holder

To start with, I built myself a whole new PC. It was time to upgrade my aging 5700X and 3070 Ti anyway — that’s the excuse I gave myself (and my wife). I’d been lucky enough to have been sent a stack of the latest hardware from all the major camps by a couple of companies I write for, so I had the pick of the litter. I ultimately settled on the following:

  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 7950X3D
  • Cooler: MSI MAG CoreLiquid 360R
  • Motherboard: Asus ROG Crosshair X670E Hero
  • RAM: 32GB Kingston Fury Renegade 5200MHz
  • Graphics: PowerColor RX 7900 XTX
  • Storage: 1TB Samsung 980 Pro, 2TB WD SN770
  • PSU: EVGA SuperNOVA 850GT Gold
  • Case: Fractal Design North

For those of you raising a couple of eyebrows, let me say that, yes, I did all the BIOS updates to play safe, and I’m aware I could have used faster memory. I was keen to use the hardware I have, when I could, so I saved a bit by using this slightly slower RAM. I thought about using an RTX 4090 instead, but the old Athlon fan in me liked the idea of an all-AMD PC, and ultimately, the RTX 4090 clearance in my mid-tower case was tighter than I’d like, so I went with the XTX instead.

It’s not the most powerful gaming PC money can buy, but it’s pretty close. I paired it up with an Asus MG279Q gaming monitor, which might not be the fastest in the world anymore, but it still has a 144Hz refresh rate. Having played on faster monitors, I’ll be honest: I can’t really tell the difference above 160Hz anyway.

I used the Logitech G Pro Wireless mouse with Lightspeed gaming mat for wireless recharging, and the Logitech G915 low-profile gaming keyboard with its 1.5 mm actuation depth and fast tactile switches.

I hooked all that up to a fast modern router with a Cat 6E Ethernet cable, enabled AMD Anti-Lag (before AMD removed it), turned on Smart Access Memory, used DT Computing writer Jacob Roach’s guide to tweak my in-game performance settings, and sat down to some serious gaming with every advantage I could think of.

It didn’t go well.

The legend … of the terrible gamer

Testing smoke physics in CS:GO 2.
The new smoke physics are not making my job any easier. Jon Martindale / DigitalTrends

Spawn, dead. Spawn, dead. Spawn, dead. That was my experience during my attempt at Valorant performance testing. “Yea, this game’s not for me,” I told myself. It’s not me, it’s the game that is wrong.

On to something I have at least kind of played before. Counter-Strike 2. I’ve played a few rounds of de_dust2 in my time, so surely with my newly built monster machine, I’d be able to hold my own a little more. And I did, but man do I not react fast enough for this game either. I played for a few days taking performance results, while also taking the game more seriously than my dalliance with Valorant.

But whether it was the opening round with pistols and smokes, or a later one with shotguns and rifles, I could barely last half the round. I got a little better with some practice, and I could definitely see myself reaching a level of competence with a lot of practice, but I was starting to draw a conclusion beyond the best Counter Strike 2 settings: All the advantages I had given myself at the start of this journey were making no discernible difference at all.

The high frame rates, high refresh rate, and anti-lag software tweaks weren’t letting me react faster than the enemy. My gaming mouse might have been super lightweight and unimpeded by cable drag, but that doesn’t stop my accuracy from being terrible. The gaming keyboard doesn’t do much if I die while I’m already flooring the W key.

My only real win came in testing Fortnite. I won my first round! I had one of those coveted victory royales that all the kids have been talking about for a few years. I even did a stupid dance to celebrate.

It turned out the whole game was full of bots. Of course it was.

The takeaway

So, I’m not a very good competitive FPS player. Perhaps I never was, though it’s clear to see why pro gaming is so dominated by those with younger eyes and faster reflexes. However, what is abundantly clear to me is that you can tweak your system until your input lag is almost zero, and unless you can react fast enough to take advantage of it, it doesn’t matter. You can have the highest frame rates in the world, but if you don’t know what you’re doing tactically and strategically, you’re going to have a bad time.

It’s probably still worth making those tweaks if you can, and if you take your games seriously or are legitimately good, then a faster gaming PC will help a bit. It might make you a slightly better gamer, but it won’t make you a good gamer. I learned that the hard way.

I also reminded myself why I don’t play esports games. It’s not just that I can’t be bothered with toxic chat — us parents with young kids get yelled at enough as it is — it’s that that style of game is just too fast and too demanding for the kind of casual gamer I’m morphing into as I get older. I’m not ditching the genre entirely, though. This recent spate of shooters has rekindled a real joy in that kind of combative game. I just need something slower and more objective focused.

So, I’ve been playing Hell Let Loose. I’m still dying a lot, but at least I get to spend a few minutes crawling through hedgerows first.

Jon Martindale
Jon Martindale is the Evergreen Coordinator for Computing, overseeing a team of writers addressing all the latest how to…
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