The other day, my friend and I were watching a pro-gaming tournament streamed over youtube. While guzzling down a few beers, I noticed something that sparked my curiosity: All the players were playing with the same size monitor.
Wondering if this was the case with all pro gamers, I eagerly hopped onto my computer and started searching for answers. And it turns out, nearly all Pro gamers tend to use high refresh rate 24-inch 1080p monitors.
But why do pro gamers use 24-inch monitors? There are multiple reasons why…
Pro gamers use 24-inch monitors because:
- They can achieve extremely high frame rates
- A larger monitor would increase head movement which would decrease reaction time
- They are the standard size used at tournaments so there is no unfair advantage between gamers
- They fit more tightly around our eye’s main focal point.
In the following sections, I’ll look at each one of the above reasons in a little more depth.
24-Inch Monitors Can Achieve Extremely High Frame Rates
For pro gamers, super high frame rates are much more important than high resolutions.
For most games, a resolution of 1080p is high enough for enemies and obstacles to be picked out by the human eye. There are diminishing returns with higher resolutions. And pro gamers, aren’t looking for pretty graphics as a single-player gamer might.
All the pro gamer wants is the situational information that the pixels show him.
Think of the heads-up display a fighter pilot wears. It doesn’t offer super high resolutions or fancy graphics. But it does supply key life-saving information through the pilot’s eyes.
So the resolution of the game just needs to be good enough. That’s all.
Conversely, high refresh rates make a huge difference to a pro gamer’s ability to react to ongoing information on the screen.
The quicker the information is shown, the quicker the gamer can react to it.
To give you an example of how refresh rates work in this situation, let’s look at a single second of gameplay.
A single second is made up of 1000 milliseconds. That means a 60 HZ monitor is producing a frame every 16.66 milliseconds. This is called the frame time.
Unfortunately, this frame time is dead time. If you input a reflexive shot at the beginning of that 16.66-millisecond time-frame, say after 3 milliseconds, the game will have to wait an additional 13.66 milliseconds until it registers the shot input.
That tiny amount of time may sound inconsequential, but, a gamer with a 120hz monitor sees their controller inputs registered twice as quickly. And for a player with a 240hz monitor, their inputs are registered 4 times faster.
For example, for a 120hz monitor, the frame time is only 8.33 milliseconds long.
For a 240hz monitor, the frame time reduced even further to only 4.16 milliseconds.
The problem is, achieving these super-high frame rates is incredibly taxing on a graphics card.
A game will need 4 times the amount of graphical computing power to run at 240hz over 60hz. Additionally, 4k needs 4 times as much compute power than 1080p.
So if you combine 4k with 240hz you need 8 times the amount of graphics power!
That’s just not possible in modern graphically intense games. Not even with a beast graphics card such as Nvidia’s RTX 2080 ti.
To give you an example, even a simplistic looking game such as Counter-Strike can’t maintain a consistent 240hz frame rate at 4K when using a GTX 1080 Ti (my graphics card).
However, drop down to 1080p and the same graphics card easily sustains 240hz.
So the 24-inch monitor is the monitor of choice for pro gamers because it offers the right mix of resolution and frame rate.
As a rule of thumb, the higher the frame rate, the quicker you can respond to the unfolding action.
Smaller Monitors Decrease Head Movements
Another reason why the smaller 24-inch monitor is used by pro players is that the smaller dimension of the monitor decreases head movement.
When playing high-speed FPS games, every millisecond counts. A single frame can be the difference between a game-winning headshot and a humiliating defeat.
The problem is, head movements are an order of magnitude slower than eye movements. You can turn your eyes to look at different parts of a monitor over 10 times faster than your neck can turn your head.
When playing with a large monitor that is fairly close to your face, I’m thinking within 25-inches, your natural tendency is to look with your head not just with your eyes.
For the most part, your focus will be on the center of the screen. But the monitor will be so big, that when you look to the corners, say to look at the score, the information will be too far outside of your peripheral vision for you to read. So you turn your head to give you a better view.
Unfortunately, as you turn your head, you completely cut the other side of a larger monitor out of your peripheral vision, so any enemy that attacks you from there will be missed.
This isn’t a problem with a 24-inch monitor set at a 24 inch distance. Why? Because you can see all the action without needing to instinctively move your head.
This way, your eyes can do the looking, and this greatly increases your response times.
Monitors Are Standardized Across Tournaments
One of the main reasons why most pro gamers play with 24-inch monitors is simply because the 24-inch 1080p monitor is the standard size used in tournament play for many games.
These monitors are standardized across all players. Players and teams are not permitted to use their own hardware as wealthier teams may be able to gain an unfair advantage by using larger monitors with higher resolutions and refresh rates.
So a universal monitor size, resolution, and refresh rate is used.
So this forces gamers to practice on this type of monitor.
After all, there is no point in practicing on an ultra-wide, 36-inch, 4k 240hz monitor, if you’ll only be playing on a standard, 24-inch 1080p 120hz monitor.
A 24-Inch Monitor Fits Around Your Eye’s Focal Point.
One of the key reasons why 24-inch monitors are used instead of larger monitors is largely down to the limited field of view that human eyes have.
As you know, you have two eyes. These two eyes work together to create a stereoscopic image of the world. Or, in other words, it helps you see in 3 dimensions and judge an object’s position in 3d space more accurately.
This would have been great for our tree-dwelling ancestors as they judged distances between leaps high up in the trees. But it also means that our peripheral vision is pretty terrible.
In fact, humans can only focus on a very small area in the middle of their field of view. This area of focus is about the same size as a post-it note held at arm’s length.
Try this for an experiment. If you are reading this on a monitor, try looking in the top left corner and, without moving your gaze from the top left, try reading what’s in the bottom right corner. You’ll find you won’t be able to.
So your eyes can only see a small area. So what’s the point of having such a wide field of vision?
Well, on the far reaches of your vision, your eyes can only pick up two things: movement and large shapes. This is great for spotting large predators bearing down on you. And it’s also great for picking up movement in computer games!
But I know what you are thinking, your eyes can move.
Yes, they can. But…
The more you move your eyes the slower your reaction time is. You want to limit eye movement as much as possible just like you limit head movement.
So it’s a balance between having a monitor big enough to offer a good peripheral vision in-game. But not so big so as to make your eyes dart all over the screen.
In a perfect world, you’d want your eyes fixed to the center of the screen, and let your peripheral vision pick up any threats.
Ok, so we’ve looked at four main points here. The first was that a 24-inch monitor can offer superior frame rates. The second point was that smaller monitors decrease head movements and thus speed up reflex time. The 3rd point shows that 24-inch monitors are standard throughout many tournaments and so practicing with a different type of monitor would be pointless. And the final 4th point showed that smaller monitors work best with the limitations of the human eye’s focal point.
But will a pro gamer’s monitor choices change in the future? Will ultra-wide monitors become the new tournament norm?
Well, I think that we are reaching a point where increased refresh rates are going to offer no tangible increase in gamer performance. A typical human can reflexively act in about 80 milliseconds. Somebody trained can react in half that time. So our continued chase of super high refresh monitors seems misplaced.
So what about resolution?
I’d say that though marketing departments would have us believe that resolution is the be-all and end-all, the problem is increasing resolution takes already limited GPU power from the ability to produce frames. Increasing from 1080p to 4k generally takes 4 times as much computing power. And that compute power could be better spent on churning out high frame rates.
So, in the near future, unless there is a revolution in display technology, I’d keep your ultrawide 4k monitor for single-player gaming, and keep an ultra-high frame rate 24-inch monitor for pro gaming.
What are the best monitors for pro gaming? There’s not actually a great article on what’s the best Pro Gaming monitor. We’ll have to write it! In the meantime, I’d recommend this “Best Gaming Monitors In 2020” article from PCGamer.
Why do most pro gamers play at 1080p resolution instead of 4k? Pro gamers need to play at extremely high frame rates, such as 240hz, to increase their response times. And modern graphics cards, even the most powerful of them, don’t have the computing power to render such a high resolution at such high frame rates.
Should I use an ultrawide monitor for pro gaming? Because ultra-widescreen monitors are not used in gaming tournaments it would be pointless using one as you would be practicing on a monitor that would give you an unfair field of view advantage.