Keyboard Turning Is Killing Your Raid

I realize this is a very bold statement. I believe, however, it is as clearly as I can possibly state it.  The latent “keyboard turners”, are I am sure, offended, but there are times you have to be blunt.  It still seems astonishing the sheer number of players that use the inefficient method of turning with the keyboard alone.  This is an issue touted amongst the PVP circles, but in truth it is effecting your raid as well.

The act of rotating your character with the keyboard is physically slower than methods you can employ to turn with a mouse.  When you combine this with the fact that many fights in Warcraft require split second movement and decision making, this choice of turning means your reaction speed is greatly slowed.  Players who habitually move with the keyboard often have issues running out of area effect spells, staying out of the frontal cone of bosses, and can take as many as 2 extra ticks from environmental damage.  Standing in the “fire” for more than one tick means death for most classes. So quite literally keyboard turning might be killing your raid.

What caused the cultural divide?

The World of Warcraft engine was rather unique at the time of it’s release.  It combined the fast reaction time of a first person shooter, with the core of a role-playing game, creating a new paradigm appealing to proponents of both genres.  For players who cut their teeth on FPS games like Doom or Quake, the concept of using a mouse to turn is so ingrained that it is unimaginable to use any other method. 

However the large bulk of WoW players came from the older MMO genre.  These titles were for mostly designed around the concept of using the keyboard to turn.  Prior to Warcraft none of the MMO genre titles required fast paced reactionary movements, so this construct worked fine.  As players have moved from other titles to WoW, they have carried with them their game play habits and the game engine has done an amazing job of accommodating different play styles.  However in the case of keyboard turning it has simply reinforced bad habits.

How can I change my ways?

I’ve heard from the PVP circles that the single greatest thing you can do to improve your success is to abandon using the keyboard to turn.  This might be overstated but I believe that the transition is one that can benefit any player.  Using the keys to turn often means you are working harder than players for a less successful result.  There is an excellent guide to mouse movement on Allakhazams, but I will cover some of the finer points below. 



Above is a basic diagram of the default key binds WoW uses for mouse movement.  The W and S keys are used to control Forwards and Backwards movement of your character.  However soon you will have picked up several tricks that make using the “Back key” in almost all situations obsolete.  So for optimal motion your left hand should be centered over the Q W E keys, with your middle finger resting on the W key, considering which will be depressed when you are in motion.  Your mouse should be held in a way that it is comfortable for your right mouse button to be depressed at almost all times. 

Holding the right mouse button while moving the mouse allows you to spin your character easily in an arc by pushing out or pulling in on the lower half of the mouse turning it sideways on your mousing surface.  The effectiveness of this can be increased by employing the Q or E keys to “Strafe”.  Strafing is the act of moving your character to either side, and when combined with mouse movement allows you to rotate your character in a much more subtle manner.  After awhile it becomes instinctual but this is after lots of practice.

Advanced tips and tricks

Using strafing in combination with with mouse movement allows you to do a number of “special” maneuvers that can be valuable in certain situations.

The Circle Strafe

circle_strafeThe “Circle Strafe” is a maneuver that allows you to orbit a single point in space.  This is extremely useful when you need to quickly circle a mob.  Normally this is used by melee or PVPers in order to land attacks on the backside of an opponent, which negates certain defense mechanics.  However as a tank I often use this tactic in order to spin certain mobs like Maexxna that I wish to place in a certain way.  This tactic is achieved by sliding the base of your mouse in the opposite direction you are strafing giving your movement a nice wide arc.  One of the best ways to practice this is to target a player and spin around them in a public area.  If done correctly you should be able to easily “orbit” them with minimal effort.

The Instant Turn

The next trick uses two features of the game that I have not covered: camera movement and moving forward with only the mouse.  If you hold down the left mouse button while sliding your mouse to the left or right you are able to rotate the camera around your character model.  As a tank I use this functionality during almost every fight, since I need to keep aware of my surroundings and the positioning of the individual mobs.  The next feature of the movement system is the fact that if you press down both mouse buttons at the same time, it causes you to move in the direction the camera is facing.  When you combine the two of these together, you can rotate the camera in any direction and simply by pressing the right mouse button while the left is held down you turn instantly in that direction.  This is especially useful on fights like Loken and Murmur that require the player to run out of a point blank blast effect.  Using this trick to instantly run away from a mob allows you to shave a good 2 seconds off of the process and allows you to move out of these effects with plenty of time to spare.

The Jump Spin

Using this trick properly allows you to quickly shift the position of your player while continuing motion in a forward direction.  This functions through a quirk in the WoW movement engine which allows you to rotate your character model completely while jumping.  This maneuver is performed while moving in a specific direction, most often while moving forward with the W key.  While moving forward you press your jump key, which is by default bound to the spacebar.  As your character model leaves the ground you slide your mouse to the left or right while holding down the right mouse button.  This will cause your player model to spin freely while in the air.  As you land, you will be facing in the direction that your model now is.  Hunters who are extremely quick about it, can jump, rotate, fire an instant shot, rotate back, and land without ever losing forward momentum.  Personally as a tank I use this trick often to run through a mob without ever exposing my backside to harmful attacks.

Pulling it all together

Shifting from keyboard turning to mouse movement will not cure all problems.  These tricks will not replace good situational awareness, but they will buy you much needed time to react to changes in the various fights of the game.  A player who simply does not pay attention will still “die in the fire” each and every time.  However a player with good reaction times and a high degree of movement skills will be able to move in and out of fights more freely.  For casters this means more time to land your attacks.  For melee players this can often mean the difference between life or death.

You should realize going into a major shift like this that it is not going to come immediately or easily.  However changing your movement style will make you a more efficient player.  One of the best means to practice this is by playing First Person shooters in your downtime.  A great free to play shooter is Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.  It runs on the Quake3 engine but offers all of the basic constructs of game play driven by mouse movement and it is playable on both the PC and Mac platforms.  Another great resource is the positioning and movement video provided by Ciderhelm at Tankspot.

39 thoughts on “Keyboard Turning Is Killing Your Raid

  1. You can do all of those tricks with a keyboard. Especially the jump turn. I am a tank whose cleared 13/13 heroics and to be quite honest with you I have a higher survivability then 99.99% of tanks who play this game. To put this into perspective I use combinations of strafes and turns to more accurately and efficiently play this game. IF I do need to make a 180 degree turn for some reason, (most likely the fact that I failed positioning myself properly) I have a mouse which I can grab in less than 0.25 seconds and turn in less than 0.35. But mouse-turning as a whole is so overrated I don’t even know where to start. If you’re not using a gaming mouse you’ve completely eliminated the efficiency of using your right hand.
    The majority of mouse players first impression is that a keyboard turning will hold A or D to turn, by itself. Combine strafes with these turns and see where it gets you, go on!

  2. Just leaving my opinion here, though the post is a year old.

    I suppose I count as a “keyboard turner”, though I use my arrow keys and not the letter keys. I just learned today, after playing WoW for FOUR YEARS, that you can move using the mouse. Obviously it hasn’t hampered my playing at all. I’ve also strafed all of once, and that was an accident, before I removed those keybindings. If I happen to die because I was standing in something causing damage, it’s generally because I wasn’t looking at my own health bar, and didn’t notice that the health was going away. If I know that I have to look out for things like that, then I get out of them promptly when they occur.

    I really think, as some other commenters seem to, that it’s not keyboards vs. mouse that leads to raid or party wipes. You’re placing too much value on it. It’s more inattention or general ignorance about the situation.

  3. In defense of the key turners, as I am one of them.

    If you set your left and right turn on ‘A’ and ‘D’, as not shown in the graphic above, You can pull a mighty Circle Strafe by pressing ‘Q’ and ‘D’ or ‘A’ and ‘E’ at the same time. and by releasing the turn key while keeping the strafe pushed, with good timing, you can start running in your desired direction …

    anyway my 3 cents.

  4. Sarducci, on May 8th, 2009 at 3:01 pm Said:

    “Try keyboard turning on mimiron or hodir and see how much you live (answer: you don’t).”

    I do quite a fine job of living, thank you very much. Nothing in those fights requires me to turn on a dime. Mouselookers seem to be overestimating their abilities. As they might say on the official forums, “lrn2keyboard”?

  5. Great write up and good solid advice. Though I have never been a keyboard turner. I can understand a see where they come from. Most of them this game is their first MMO, and heck their first video game. With the ever increasing popularity of this game advice like this is needed more and more .

  6. Another tactic I use is the fact that when holding down the right mouse button, the A and S keys cause you to strafe instead of turn. I use this method a lot, and it allows for re-binding of the Q and E keys, if one desires, as mentioned above. Personally, I prefer this – and it’s the one big thing that actually got me into mouse-turning.

    Maybe it would be better, as others have suggested, to rebind the strafe keys, but I still like to have the option to turn on the keyboard for auto-run situations when I want to control my character but want my mouse-hand free to use my secondary computer or eating/drinking. (Yes, I have an old computer that I keep up and on the internet, for strategy pages while raiding and for IM applications that I don’t want running on my gaming rig.)

  7. Given appropriate time to practice, a player can become adequately skilled in moving regardless of what method they use. This is true, and it may be true that if you’ve been keyboard turning for a while you might put forth the argument that you have never had a problem with it, or that you find mouse turning too difficult. The problem is, given the same amount of time to practice, and assuming the same general level of player skill, a person who uses their mouse to turn as oppose to the sluggishly slow keyboard buttons will generally be at a much greater advantage. If you are an extremely skilled keyboard turner, I can pretty much guarantee that if you switched to the mouse and got used to it, you’d be an even better gamer overall than you were previously. Don’t waste your talent by impeding your game.

  8. @Synergistic:

    Don’t tell anyone in my raid, but if there is a basketball game or some such on the tele I am probably playing on my laptop and sitting on the couch. The trick is just to sit on one cushion while giving you the whole other cushion as a mousepad. Obviously this works best with infrared mouses, but even so, when using a laptop you should still turn with your mouse. 😛

    and Belghast you may want to add an article about keybindings. You wouldn’t even know the times I’ve heard a tank say “Whoops I clicked the wrong icon” 😕

    (wall of text crits blog!)

  9. Along with the mouse turning tips people should also learn not to back out of the fire using the S key. You move much slower that way but I see people dying over and over again because they are trying to back out of something killing them and taking too long to do it.

  10. If you really want to kick the habit, bind your strafe keys to A&D instead of Q&E, completley eliminating keyboard turning (unless you use the arrow keys of course).

    This also opens up multiple bindings. You can now use your Q&E buttons to bind spells, plus their modifiers (Shift, Alt, and Control).

    If you wish to go even further, you can also bind your S key to spells. Giving you a total of 12 new bindings to use for spells that were previously used to move your character.

  11. The one thing that you’re not considering is the number of people who play the game from laptops. They may not even own a mouse, and if you’re sitting on a couch in front of the television where are you supposed to use the mouse?

    This is not me, if I tried to play WoW without a mouse, I’d get frustrated after about five minutes. My middle click isn’t working properly in WoW with a new mouse I bought, and I can’t fly properly anymore and its really irritating.

  12. @sarducci:

    I’ve had no trouble with hodir or mimiron while keyboard turning. Fast reaction times are needed, but spinning on a dime isn’t. I wonder how many people would have died durring frozen blows if all of the healers were spinning around instead of healing?

  13. I’ve played MMOs older than WoW wherein, well, keyboard turning will hurt you just as bad as it does in WoW. One example would be City of Heroes, which is 1 year older. Another would be Guild Wars, likewise a year older.

    The article is good, but its note that needing mouse turning is a WoW innovation is incorrect.

  14. @Shionia
    “Find me a way to mouse move AND target via mouseover, and you can have my house, my car, all my money, and my undying affection and complete obedience until the day I die (or stop raiding).”

    I use a G5 mouse. I’ve bound the extra buttons to movement (mousewheel left/right is strafe, for example), so I can mouse move and mouseover at the same time.

  15. @BC:

    I suspect you’ve never been in ulduar. Most boss fights, and several trash fights, require extremely fast reaction times.

    Try keyboard turning on mimiron or hodir and see how much you live (answer: you don’t).

    I agree with you 100% on naxx/sarth. 3.0 content didn’t require fast reaction times. You’d see slightly improved performance on thadd mouse turining, but it wasn’t make or break.

    In Ulduar, there are many situations where non tanks have <2s to observe some horrible environmental damage is under their feet or some one-shot boss ability is about ti fire, and move.

    • @Sarducci: That is precisely what I am meaning. Ulduar is quickly sifting out the players who have been playing well all along and the players that need help. I wrote this quick guide as a way of helping some of my friends who I noticed were having movement issues, and in each case they were keyboard turning.

  16. Good article but I totally agree with Shionia. It is impossible to turn and target. I use ASWD for movement and Q & E for strafe. If I use Q+D or A+E I can make a circle strafe.

    Mouse over macro’s will help a lot. Same as Focus macro’s. As a hunter I never managed to make a jump shot. How ever strafing and looking sidewards is fine for kiting mobs.

    When I play 2 hours with turning with my middle finger (MB2) my hand really hurts.

    I also increased mouse sensitivity but it didn’t work out. And I am using a logitech G5 mouse without any weight. Any suggestions about camera angels ? Or auto follow ?


  17. @KB: I said that the number of boss fights that all but necessitate mouse-turning is “vanishingly small”, as distinguished from “zero”.

    Reading comprehension is your friend.

  18. “The next feature of the movement system is the fact that if you press down both mouse buttons at the same time, it causes you to move in the direction the camera is facing.”

    How is it that no one has told me this before?

  19. I hear you …

    However, as healer, the MOST effective way to rapidly heal, cleanse, and shield the raid is with mouseover macros*.

    Find me a way to mouse move AND target via mouseover, and you can have my house, my car, all my money, and my undying affection and complete obedience until the day I die (or stop raiding).

    *No, Clique is not an option for those classes who have 12 or more different healing / shielding and cleansing spells.

  20. Good stuff! I’d also suggest remapping strafe left/right onto the A and D keys. If you’re used to FPS controls, WASD will be very familiar, and if you aren’t, this is a good way to ‘make’ yourself learn to work with the mouse. It also frees up ‘Q’ and E’ for those ‘must react RIGHT NOW’ abilities.

  21. Without a doubt mouse turning > keyboard turning. With that said, the impact varies depending on what raid role you play.

    – As a Druid healer using Grid and Clique, I tend to button turn a little if I’m throwing HoTs on the run. The trade-off is losing a little movement response time for a whole whack of healing response time.

    – Ranged DPS is also pretty forgiving for button turning. Ranged DPS is pretty forgiving for just about any playing deficiency.

    – If you’re planning on melee DPS or tank, do yourself the favour of unbinding the left and right movement keys from your keyboard right now.

  22. This is an otherwise good article with some very useful pointers, but its credibility is impaired by the claim that “many fights in Warcraft require split second movement and decision making”. Unless you’re talking about Arena and BG play, that’s simply false. The number of boss fights with insane levels of environmental damage, such that keyboard-turning is going to “kill your raid”, is vanishingly small.

    Is mouse-turning faster? Sure. Does it let you do things you simply can’t do with the keyboard? Sure. Will it make some boss-fights somewhat easier? Absolutely. But this idea that FPS thumbtwitching is the One True Way, to the point that keyboard-turning is a “bad habit” that needs must be ditched in the name of raid efficiency, is pernicious nonsense.

  23. @Threeve I made that recommendation myself at the end of my post with a link to Wolf: ET as a free shooter you can use for practice. But the general idea is the same. Playing an FPS awhile will improve your ability to move in WoW.

    @Drwatson There are folks that keyboard turn and do fine, but why put yourself through more work than you need to 🙂

  24. Never before have I seen a guide to mouse movement as accessible as this.
    Consider at least one raider helped by this information. Thanks!

  25. I started playing FPS with Wolfenstien 3D, and having been using the mouse as my primary form of turning since Quake and continue to use mouse turning for every FPS I play.

    I use a keyboard to turn in WoW most of the time. You act as though there is no downside to mouse turning, and that the only reason to avoid it is a lack of understanding. WoW allows the use of the mouse pointer to both click on abilities, and to target raid frames and enemy units. Neither of these options are available while mouse turning. When I play a healer I still have to heal while moving and turning. Using clique, raid frames, and keyboard turning I can effectively heal on the move for any target in my raid.

    Obviously clicking on abilities can be avoided by keybinds, but how do you get around targeting on the fly? When I’m tanking multiple mobs, it is not okay to waste several seconds tabing through a group of mobs to find one that is about to break loose to drop some serious threat on. Mouseover macros, and such can let me drop a high threat ability on a mob I don’t even have targeted (and with keyboard turning I don’t even have to stop turning to do it).

    When ever the situation warrants it I can mouse turn. When ever it isn’t demanded I keyboard turn because it has it’s own advantages. Don’t pretend it doesn’t.

  26. “These tricks will not replace good situational awareness” This sentence says it all. People who aren’t aware of what’s going on will ALWAYS die in the “fire”. No amount of skill with a mouse can fix that. I use my keyboard to turn, and never die on fights that require movement.

  27. Good article. You may not like my recommendation very much, but I quit WoW for almost a year during BC and during this time I played a lot of great FPS games on PC. When I returned to WoW shortly before wrath launch I realized that I was making a lot more use of the mouse than I had previously, and it just felt more natural.

    So basically I recommend taking some time off and playing FPS on the PC to get used to it.

  28. Nice post. Another thing is that “target must be in front of you” includes a full 180 degree arc, so you can strafe away from a target at full speed and cast instants without using the jump turn. It’s faster and easier, but loses style points.

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  30. Excellent post! I’ll definitly try some of the tricks you suggest. I’ve never played any fps game and I honestly suck a bit at the movement part. There’s a lot of room for improvement. Just found your blog through BA by the way. It looks very promising indeed! You’re likely to end up on my blogroll…

  31. Great post, Mark! I think this was excellent advice. Anything to make healer’s jobs easier, be it moving quicker or whatever, makes them love you more. Hehe

    FPSs are great for learning prediction/reactionary movements. I love playing Battle Field 2142 and Team Fortress 2 for these reasons. Keeps reflexes up and puts you in situations where you learn to not panic in situations you can’t predict where usually they require you to be fast using the same method that you just graphed out with the mouse and other keys on the board that allow you to strafe.

    Love your blog! <3

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