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If you're looking to get into league-style competitive Team Fortress, sign up for The Highlander Open, a new initiative to introduce non-competitive players into the competitive scene. Anyone and everyone is welcome to participate in this massive competition. Sign-ups close on July 7th, with Week 1 beginning July 10th and lasting for over a month. Click here to sign up or get more information.
WASD feels inevitable today. Once mouselook became standard in 3D games, it made little sense (at least for right-handed players) to hold your left arm across your chest to reach the arrow keys. The WASD keys were more comfortable, and offered easy access to Shift and Space. But even though WASD seems like the obvious choice now, far fewer players used it 20 years ago.
Our favorite four letter word was never a foregone conclusion, and didn't become standard through some gaseous enlightening that spread to every PC gamer simultaneously. The new movement scheme took several years to catch on, and while we can t know whose fingers found their way to WASD first, we do have a good idea of who popularized the style: the greatest Quake player in the universe, Dennis Thresh Fong.
Fong made history when he took home John Carmack's Ferrari 328 after winning the first-ever nationwide Quake tournament in 1997. And when he won that tournament, defeating Tom "Entropy" Kimzey on Castle of the Damned, his right hand was on a mouse, and his left hand was perched over the four keys we now consider synonymous with PC gaming. But even then, not everyone played that way.
In the early days of first-person shooters, Fong says the keymappings were all over the place, and even the great Thresh had only just started to play with a mouse at all. Imagine him just a few years before, sometime around 1993, as a teenager losing a match of Doom against his brother Lyle. Like many Doom players, Fong used only the keyboard. Without the need to look up or down, it was a natural choice so much that using a mouse was even considered weird. His brother, however, was playing with a keyboard and trackball, and he was winning. It wasn t every game both were excellent players but Lyle won enough that one summer Fong decided he had to learn to play with a mouse. After that, he was unbeatable.
Right after I made that switch, my skill improved exponentially, says Fong. Pretty much, from then on, I never lost.
It took some experimentation including a strange attempt to move with WADX but Fong settled on WASD and has been using it since Doom. Did he invent the scheme? No, probably not. Others were also gravitating to the left side of the keyboard for Doom at the same time. But without Fong's influence, the default could have ended up different. It might have been EDSF, or stranger configurations like ZXC to strafe and move backwards, and the right mouse button to move forwards. Some early shooters bound movement to the arrow keys. In 1994, System Shock used ASDX, while Descent used AZ for forward/reverse and QE for banking (if you didn't happen to have a joystick).
Fong tells us he even knew a player who used ZXCV to move.
I m certainly not going to take credit for the creation of [WASD], says Fong. I stumbled across it. I m sure other people started using it as well just based on what was comfortable for them. I definitely think I helped popularize it with a certain set of gamers, particularly the ones that played first person shooters."
It s likely that he did. The very concept of a professional gamer was new at the time, and Fong was well-known on the west coast as the best player around. As Fong s celebrity grew, the one question everyone asked him was: What s your config? His answer could be most readily found in , which describes the WASD formation as an inverted T. And his guide carried weight. Even before his success as a Quake player, Fong was a Doom champion, and so people imitated him, just as the kids at the basketball court by my house spend far too much time trying to hit Steph Curry s 30-foot shots.
The evidence can be found on old bulletin board systems. In , a poster recommends using Q and E to strafe and A and D to turn. Another suggests using the keypad for movement, and someone else says they use A, Shift, Z, X. It wasn't the case that everyone simply gravitated to the 'obvious' choice of WASD or ESDF, and in , we see how Thresh's performance in the Quake tournament spread his style. His play was so impressive, the poster looking for his config speculates that it was impossible for him to turn so fast with a mouse.
Another legend, Quake programmer John Carmack, took note. Even when I was hanging out with Carmack, wherever, at E3, random people would come up and he would hear them asking me what my configuration was, says Fong. So he ended up building a Thresh stock config into Quake 2.
It was a relief. Not only could Fong sit down at any computer with Quake 2 and instantly load his configuration, every time he got the question, all he had to say was type exec thresh.cfg.
Convenient as it was, Fong doesn t think the inclusion of his config was the main factor in the rise of WASD, and I d agree. By the time Quake 2 was out, WASD was starting to feel like common knowledge. I used it, and I don t remember hearing Thresh s name associated with it at the time, though it s possible his configuration entered my consciousness two or three people removed.
And yet games, strangely, took a while to catch up. Carmack may have bundled Thresh s config with Quake 2, but when it released in 1997 the default controls were still arrow keys. A year later, though, that changed. If Thresh's Quake tournament win was WASD's first watershed moment, the second came in 1998 with the release of Half-Life. The Quake and Doom players at Valve perhaps influenced directly or indirectly by Carmack, Thresh, and other top Doom and Quake players included WASD in Half-Life s default keyboard and mouse config, which helped solidify it as the first-person shooter standard.
Valve engineer Yahn Bernier checked Half-Life's original config file for us and confirmed it included WASD. "I remember finalizing this file (maybe with Steve Bond) during the lead up to shipping HL1 but don t recall specifics about when WASD was settled on or really why. We probably carried it forward from Quake1 " he wrote in an email.
The same year, and less than a month after Half-Life, Starsiege Tribes also made WASD default. Quake 3 followed suit in 1999, and WASD's popularity grew even more. It was also the default binding in 2000's Daikatana, but Half-Life, Tribes, and Quake 3 probably had a bit more to do with its popularity.
There were still plenty of heretical control schemes in 1999 like System Shock 2's, which defaulted to WADX (and S for crouch). But WASD had momentum. If it wasn t already ubiquitous by 2004, World of Warcraft defaulting to WASD codified it for millions of PC gamers. Now it s in RPGs and MOBAs and even strategy games, controlling camera movement over maps.
Interestingly, Valve boss Gabe Newell doesn t use WASD. I personally don't like WASD as it takes your hand away from your typing home keys, he wrote in an email to PC Gamer. I always rebind to ESDF. Newell's not alone there. Do a little Googling and you'll find plenty of people arguing that ESDF is the more natural configuration.
More surprisingly, another Half-Life developer, level designer Dario Casali, also rejects WASD. Instead, he prefers ASXC. It feels natural to me, where WASD feels odd, wrote Casali. But lots of people scoff at my config.
What would PC gaming be like had EDSF or ASXC been Half-Life s default? No offense intended to Newell or Casali, but I shudder to think of it. ASXC just sounds bonkers to me. Newell's fairly commonplace ESDF is more palatable, but as Thresh echoes, it feels harder to hit Shift and Control while easier to mispress one of the surrounding keys. For me, Thresh, and millions of PC gamers, it s WASD for life.
You can read more about the history of Quake celebrating Quake's 20th anniversary. We're also celebrating by , and Thresh himself will be playing on our US-West server today, Friday, from 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm Pacific time.
Wes Fenlon also contributed to this article.
There's lots of competitive gaming to watch this weekend, from top-tier Hearthstone and Street Fighter V to the Dota 2 scene's frantic scramble to make it to this year's International. Skilled players will win thousands of dollars over the next two days: an impressive sum in and of itself if you're American, getting more impressive with every minute that passes if you're British.
Hearthstone: Americas Spring Championship
Starting at 09:00 PDT/18:00 CEST on both Saturday and Sunday, this is a showcase of top talent in the American Hearthstone scene. There's $80,000 on the line, as well as a spot at the Global Finals at BlizzCon. Here's the stream.
Dota 2: The International 2016 Regional Qualifiers
Qualification for the remaining spots at The International begins tomorrow. Play begins at 18:00 PDT on Friday night/03:00 CEST in SEA and at 01:00 PDT/10:00 CEST in Europe. As Europe wraps up, expect play to begin in North America followed by China. It's a packed schedule, so check out GosuGamer's match page for the latest info and stream links.
CSGO: Esports Championship Series
FaceIt's Esports Championship Series concludes this weekend with a dramatic faceoff between the world's best teams in London. You can find the livestream and schedule information on the official site. Up-to-date schedule information is missing at the moment, but expect play throughout the day on British time (CEST-1).
League of Legends: NA Championship Series
Another weekend of play in the NA LCS. Games run today and continue throughout the weekend, starting at 12:00 PDT/21:00 CEST each day and continuing for four-five hours. As ever, the best resource for further information and livestreams is lolesports.com.
Overwatch: OG Invitational
One of the biggest events in NA Overwatch so far, the OG Invitational has a $25,000 prize pool and showcases the region's best teams. Play begins at 10:00 PDT/19:00 CEST and you'll find the livestream right here.
Rocket League: Qualifier 2 Group Stage
After a few weeks of open qualifiers, the pool narrows. NA is playing on Saturday starting at 12:00 PDT/21:00 CEST and Europe plays on Sunday from 09:00 PDT/18:00 CEST. Here's the livestream.
Street Fighter V: CEO 2016
One of the liveliest events in the Street Fighter V calendar, Andi sung the praises of CEO in his column this week. It's a premier event, so expect a very high standard of play. You can find the extensive schedule here and the action will be streamed on Twitch.
The Steam Summer Sale is on! Lots of good deals to be had, including the famous team-based FPS Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which is currently half-price that's $7.50/ 6. There's a catch, though, and it's kind of a strange one: If you buy it during the Summer Sale, you can't gift it to someone else.
The restriction came to light on Reddit, when a CS:GO redditor said he was unable to buy the game as a gift and asked if anyone else had experienced the same thing. A Valve rep quickly stepped in to confirm that everyone would experience the same thing.
CS:GO will not be giftable during the sale, the rep said. Our goal with sales is to grow the community and historically, during sales, the new users that stick around are mainly the ones that purchase copies for themselves.
That sounds to me like a nice way of saying that Valve wants to crack down on alt-accounts, which is understandable and even admirable, since it's effectively prioritize that over sales of the game. It's a bit surprising that there's no up-front warning of the game's current ungiftability, though; it's not like people are losing money on it, but a heads-up would go a long way toward avoiding unhappy surprises.
(And if you do actually want to gift it to someone? Just PayPal 'em the money or wait until the sale's over.)