Esports Arms Race: Latency and Refresh Rate for Competitive Gaming Tasks
In the world of esports (competitive video games), hardware and software configurations are optimized for winning. In many games this means minimizing latency (‘I see you before you see me’) and maximizing refresh rate (‘I see your move more accurately’). Most esports athletes and competitive players ensure this by using high-end hardware (computers, monitors, and GPUs) while turning off superfluous in-game graphics features. By doing so, one can achieve a latency of 15 ms and a refresh rate of 240 Hz. These figures are remarkable, but do they benefit competitive game players? Gamers have made anecdotal claims favoring 240 Hz, but no scientific studies have yet demonstrated the competitive benefit of modern display technologies. We conducted two studies that compare esports performance using common display settings. The task was to click on a moving target (visual size: 1 deg, speed: 5 deg/sec, direction changing at 1.5 times per sec). Two task versions were used: hitscan (eliminating the target with a single click) and tracking (requiring one sec of accumulated aiming to destroy the target). Experiment 1 compared the effect of refresh rates (60, 120, 240 Hz) using an LCD monitor. The result showed that performance improved monotonically with refresh rate. Experiment 2 further examined whether the effect in Experiment 1 originated from latency only. With the refresh rate fixed to 240 Hz, we added artificial latencies of 0, 4, 8 ms; this created average latencies similar to 240, 120, 60 Hz conditions in Experiment 1. Although performance was worse with longer latency, the effect was less pronounced than seen in Experiment 1. We conclude that 240 hz, today’s highest-speed display technology, provides a competitive advantage. We also observed that latency, often considered the more important factor for competitive gaming, can matter less than refresh rate for some tasks.