Apex Legends: Tap Strafing Removal Fuels Controller vs. Mouse/Keyboard Debate

Apex Legends' recently removed "tap-strafing" technique shines a light on the heated debate between controller and mouse/keyboard players.

Apex Legends
Photo: EA

Apex Legends developer Respawn Entertainment has decided to remove the “tap-strafing” technique from the popular battle royale, and the decision has only fuelled an already heated debate between console and PC players regarding the benefits of controllers vs. mouse/keyboard.

What is tap-strafing? Well, I recommend checking out a YouTube tutorial (such as this one) if you want a better idea of what the technique looks like and how to perform it, but it’s basically an advanced movement technique that allows (or allowed) Apex Legends players to change directions quickly in the air without losing forward momentum. It’s an incredibly complicated movement technique that allows Apex Legends players to pull off some truly impressive plays. It’s also only possible to execute via a mouse and keyboard set-up.

According to their official statement on the matter, Respawn decided to remove tap-strafing from the game because it is “inaccessible, lacks readability/counterplay, and is exacerbated by movement abilities.” However, more than a few mouse/keyboard players at the moment suspect that the biggest reason why tap-strafing is being removed from the game is that it couldn’t properly be performed by controller players.

See, Apex Legends fully supports crossplay multiplayer, which means that console players (controller users) can be matched against PC players (mouse and keyboard users, traditionally). Furthermore, PC players have the option of using a controller rather than a mouse/keyboard set-up. In reality, then, this is less of a console vs. PC debate and more of a controller vs. mouse/keyboard issue.

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If you’re an old-school mouse and keyboard user or FPS fan, you may be wondering why people would choose to use a controller over a mouse and keyboard. After all, the consensus has long been that a mouse offers far more precise aim than a controller could ever naturally provide. Indeed, there was a long stretch of time when people wondered if competitive console FPS titles would ever “catch up” to competitive PC FPS games, largely due to the input differences. The gap has certainly been closed since the ’90s, but it’s still an issue.

Well, one “solution” to this problem that developers have been relying on more and more in recent years (especially since the rise of crossplay) is to implement variations of an “aim assist” system. Just as it sounds, aim assist is designed to compensate for the inherent input differences between controllers and mouse/keyboards through automatic aim adjustments.

Every game uses aim assist differently, but the basic idea is that the system will “autocorrect” your aim slightly in order to compensate for the level of precision aiming that typically isn’t possible via a controller. The extent of that compensation varies, but in an ideal world, you’re talking about a few pixels of compensation designed to ensure that the reticle movement you made that would have landed on a target actually does land on the target. Of course, it’s also possible for aim assist to overcompensate from time to time and actually throw you off your intended target (which is one of the reasons why not everyone uses it). Despite what you may hear, it is not an auto-aim system or a hack. Aim assist isn’t designed to do all the work for you.

However, the rise of controller use among top esports players (especially in Fortnite) and the very nature of the aim assist system has caused more and more competitive shooter players to ask the simple question “Does playing on a controller offer any kind of competitive advantage?”

This is where the discussion gets complicated. While you’re not going to become a pro Apex player just by plugging in a controller, some pro (or very high level) mouse/keyboard Apex players are saying that removing a fairly high skill level technique like tap staffing is more about making mouse/keyboard input slightly worse than it is about improving the controller experience. Some lament not being able to use an advanced movement strategy in a game that they feel was designed to reward advanced player movements, and some worry that removing too much of the mouse/keyboard skill ceiling and raising the controller floor will eventually bring us closer to a point where it just makes more sense to play on a controller despite your input preferences.

The situation is further complicated by the nature of Apex Legends‘ core gameplay. Not only does it offer a slower “time-to-kill” speed than a battle royale like Warzone (which means that aim assist theoretically has more of an opportunity to impact the average encounter), but some tests of the Apex‘s aim assist capabilities suggest that certain weapons benefit more from the feature in a way some argue makes them “better” for controller players. As we mentioned above, Apex is also supposed to emphasize precision movement more than other games in this genre (it is a Titanfall spin-off, after all), which certainly makes it somewhat awkward to “nerf” advanced movement tactics.

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Before we get lost in any potential “anti-controller” rhetoric, though, it should be noted that the fact this conversation is even taking place may be a sign that Apex Legends is on the right track. The playing field between controller players and mouse/keyboard players is arguably more even than it’s ever been before, which is really an incredible accomplishment when you consider how far apart the two methods once were. Things aren’t perfect (and they likely never will be), but if we’re going to accept that crossplay is the way to go moving forward, then it’s going to eventually be necessary to constantly make adjustments in the name of making things as even as possible.

Having said that…I do get the concern from PC players. In a world where crossplay isn’t a thing and mouse/keyboard players are far more likely to be matched against each other, techniques like tap-strafing probably wouldn’t be removed. Indeed, many PC games over the years can trace their success on the competitive scene back to the fact that they supported such advanced movement techniques that allowed the best players to separate themselves from otherwise very good players (though there has always been a debate regarding specific examples).

It’s pretty clear at this point, though, that this particular debate/divide will also go on. Maybe it’s rough from time to time, but as we’ve seen in so many other aspects of life, complicated discussions are sometimes a sign that you’re on the path towards a complicated solution that will ultimately be better than the short-term solution of simply going back to the way things were.

Where do you stand on the controller vs. mouse/keyboard debate? Let us know in the comments below.