Saturday, 10 November 2012

Learning to use keybinds

How do you control your character in World of Warcraft (or any other similar MMO for that matter)? There are two main ways: with keybinds and mouse turning, and with clicking and keyboard turning.


The latter is not efficient. It’s easier to start playing with, and people can become quite proficient with it, but it has two major drawbacks:

  • Attention – every time you need to click an ability, you’re diverting attention away from what’s going on around you and focusing on your UI.

  • Speed – it takes time to move your mouse and aim it correctly at a button, and turning with the keyboard also takes a lot longer than with the mouse.

Many ‘clickers’ know this, but after up to eight years doing things the same way, it can of course be very hard and uncomfortable to change.

By using keybinds and mouse turning, you can avoid both of these major issues. With the right UI setup, you can even hide your main actionbars completely and track cooldowns via other means. You can also react to things much more quickly and calmly, and you can cast your spells in the correct with barely any thought; it becomes an automatic response, something you can do with your eyes closed.


It’ll be hard at first, and your performace will be terrible while you get used to it, but the benefits are worth it.

The first suggestion I have regarding specific bindings is to try to limit the keys to those which are easily reachable, i.e. `, 1, 2, 3, 4, Q, E, F and Tab. Those, combined with Shift, Ctrl and/or Alt, should give you more than enough to control all important abilities.

Ideally, to practice you’d start a new character and start from the beginning with keybinds, but obviously that’s not always practical. Instead, I’d suggest clearing your bars of all your main abilities, and building things up gradually. Start with your main ‘filler’ ability, and bind it to something like 1. Practice pressing it and moving around, switching targets, and most importantly, not looking at your keyboard or actionbars. This is important. The whole point of using keybinds is so you can keep your attention on important things like where mobs are, whether you’re standing in fire, etc.

Finally, since you’ll be using the mouse to turn, re-bind A and D to strafe left and right. It’s a quicker way to move out of bad stuff, and you can also cast spells at mobs whilst strafing away from them, if you turn in a very slight circle.


Training dummies are invaluable when learning keybinds. I used them all the time, even though I only play with keybindings, because the practice is so valuable. It’s useful to use Recount to measure your performance on them, although obviously the numbers you generate are only meaningful to you personally, as a way of measuring your progress.


I mentioned ‘the right UI setup’ earlier – this is another factor that’ll help you stay on top of what’s happening. Addons like Fortexorcist, PowerAuras, NeedToKnow and TellMeWhen are really good for letting you keep track of important things like cooldowns, DoTs and so forth in an easily monitored way.

The general idea is to put the most important things near the middle, then less important things further out. As an example, if you’re a shadow priest you’ll want to keep track of Vampiric Touch and Shadow Word: Pain, and the cooldown on Mind Blast, so you’d put those near the middle. Something like Shadow Fiend, on the other hand, has quite a long cooldown so you could relegate it to a lower level of attention.


As I said, I know it’ll feel horrible and slow and uncomfortable, especially at first, if you’ve never played this way before. I truly do believe, though, that it’s a better way to play, and the only way to reach optimal performance.