Recent years have seen a rapid rise in the popularity of eSports, which is now played for the health promotion of the elderly and as a recreational event for corporate employees. With player numbers topping 100 million globally, its online viewer count has grown to exceed 450 million. One of the keys to successfully competing in eSports tournaments is a "gaming mouse." It's been nearly forty years since OMRON began offering switches that achieve the operational sensation users so desperately desire from a gaming mouse by applying technology for industrial microswitches, one of our founding products. Enjoying a 50%*¹ share of the market, OMRON's microswitches are rated highly by gaming mouse manufacturers and users for their perfect click sensation and excellent durability that allows gaming mice to handle tens of millions of clicks.
*¹ Microswitches for mice have been sold since the late 1980's and started sales of gaming mice in 2010.
*² Over 50% market share (company data)
With prize money and the scale of tournaments increasing with each passing year, the eSports market topped 1.0 billion dollars in 2021, attracting players who dream of making a fortune at the click of a button. Some of the common eSports genres include first-person shooter (FPS), real-time strategy (RTS), which allows players to compete in ever-changing situations, and multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), where two teams of players attack each other's territories. To become a competitive eSports player, you need lightning-quick reflexes, superior cognitive faculties to extract important information as needed, the ability to assess a situation, communication skills, and, most importantly, exceptional manipulation skills to achieve high-level hand-eye coordination, that is, dexterous controller work. Because a delayed response of less than 0.1 seconds can mean the difference between winning and losing, a gaming mouse is designed to operate with greater accuracy and a quicker response compared to a commonly used mouse, so as to accurately support players' deft mouse work. One of the key components of a gaming mouse is a mouse switch. OMRON customized technology which it had previously cultivated in microswitches for industrial equipment for mouse switches. Being the first to hit the market, OMRON's switches for gaming mice have become the go-to industry standard.
A renowned player of a 2D platform fighting game, Brawlhalla, and first-person shooting game, Apex Legends*³, as well as other titles, Dran (affiliated with Revo, one of the largest eSports teams in Japan) is a big fan of Logitech's Logicool G ProX Superlight optical gaming mouse, which incorporates OMRON's D2FC microswitch.
Dran plays for about eight hours a day on average. Of the many movements Dran makes, clicking is the most frequently done. And it's not just frequency, but the gaming mouse is often pressed and held for extended periods. On top of the need to withstand a sustained mechanical load, the operational feel is of paramount importance. "A mouse and a keyboard play a crucial role for Apex Legends, the most popular eSports title in Japan. In particular, to pick up items or to keep shooting at a target to beat the opponent, whether or not the mouse allows you to synchronize its response speed and your operational speed with characters' movements matters immensely," says Dran.
"Honestly, I wasn't really aware how good OMRON's switches were. As I used my gaming mouse more, I got to see the difference. G ProX Superlight is, as its name suggests, a very light-weight wireless mouse with the right click sensation. The sensation other mice give is, it feels to me, a bit too heavy, and I get tired after many hours of use or I find it difficult to click with the timing I want. This microswitch from OMRON doesn't give me a sense of fatigue after extended use. Also, it allows me to click exactly when I want to."
*³ A battle royale-hero shooter game played by teams of three players. The last team standing wins.
"What do you mean by 'clicking at the timing you want'?"
"For instance, when it comes down to the point where the next shot will decide who wins and who loses, it's super critical for you to be able to shoot at your timing. It's not just shooting quickly, but you have to click at the timing you want. This being the case, if the click feels too light, you'll get a misfire, and so this is very important. Say, when you want your character to turn around, you need to move your mouse around a lot. Moving the mouse to the edge of the mouse pad and then quickly back to the middle of it, I sometimes click by mistake with my finger if it is too light. But clicking with this mouse doesn't feel too light, which prevents me from making a miss-click. I like it very much--the click sensation being neither too light nor too heavy." (Dran)
"Other than the right click sensation, what else do you think is important to consider when choosing your mouse?"
"It has to be light and give me no stress. So, it's 'handling agility.' I must say it's very different from one mouse to another. About ten years ago, most gaming mice weighed 100 g, more or less, but now we are seeing waves of lightweight, wireless mice. I'm not that muscular, and I get exhausted after using a heavy mouse for many hours. But this G ProX Superlight weighs only 60 g and it's wireless. Once charged, the battery lasts up to 70 hours. Anyways, I just like a 'stress-free' mouse."
"Are there any targets or aspirations that you have been able to achieve because you used OMRON's mouse switches?"
"To have reached the top 1% rank, which is called Diamond, in Apex Legends. I'm certain that, as you get ranked higher, you may lose because of your device. Speaking of myself, I don't think I can win in this tier if I don't use this device, on top of rolling up my sleeves, which has become my routine for winning. I don't think I could deliver 100% if I had to use a different device all of a sudden. Also, as I get more professional, I feel I get to choose my products because they are easier to use and fit better, rather than because they are new."
"What do you mean by 'fit'?"
"I need to be able to move my character as I want. At the same time, I know that no device is perfect. Whatever mouse I choose, it won't be a perfect fit because it's not custom made specifically for me. So I need to try different devices. I think it's important to keep pursuing a mouse that gives you a better fit, rather than being content with your 'favorite' mouse."
"Plus, I like how a new one come to fit comfortably in my hand as I use it rather than when it was brand new. Because they age over time, there comes a time when it becomes just right for you to use. That's the time when you get extraordinary performance, I believe."
A gaming mouse requires an extremely high level of durability as it is liable to be clicked far more often than an ordinary mouse. Also, above all, it needs to precisely reflect a user's intentions. To achieve this, one of the issues that must be avoided is "chattering," which refers to an unstable condition while a switch is turned on, and it is a phenomenon in which a switch that is pressed once turns on and off repeatedly. In the case of a mouse, it means that a phenomenon like double-clicking occurs even though it is only clicked once. This must never happen with a gaming mouse.
A mouse is a device that is used in varying environments. OMRON's mouse switches are designed to prevent chattering by considering resistance to environment.
"Some kinds of metal are liable to cause chattering as, in an environment where gases are likely to be generated, the contact gets a rough surface or is tarnished. Some users might smoke cigarettes, right? With that also in mind, we are in constant pursuit of optimal contact shape and materials and select more optimal ones," says Kazufumi Osaki, Product Development Division, Electronic and Mechanical Components Company, OMRON.
Even before this, OMRON's mouse switches had already reached the pinnacle of durability, with the latest model able to handle over 60 million clicks. To aim even higher, we are working to develop switches that provide a longer service life, higher reliability, and a super-fine feel.
"We spent several months testing the durability of our switches and our competitors' to see what changes and how. Based on such analysis, and with the help of CAE (computer-aided engineering) and other analytical techniques, we design switches in what we believe is the optimal shape." (Osaki)
During the production process, OMRON manage the process to ensure that the quality of built-in springs remains consistent and assemble the switches in a way that realizes a stable operational feel. To maintain the same operational feel, production team uses special evaluation jigs to test endurance of switches tens of millions of times faster than humans do. To minimize occurrences of defects, it also reduces the number of parts used as much as possible.
"We perform tests and analyze behaviors beforehand so we can provide products that cater to users' needs in a timely manner. As for the operational feel, we quantify operating force and the click sensation and use unique control techniques to assemble top-notch switches." (Osaki)
Of all the ingenious ideas it puts, spring design is the most important. "OMRON is responsible for the development and design of the shape of springs, which determines the operational feel. We place top priority on the design of 'feel' to ensure that the contact inside a switch clicks when it switches. That's where force onto the switch declines from where it was the highest. If the drop does not occur all at once, you don't get a sharp feel. Instead, the feeling is rather dull. So, we deliberately designed a switch that produces the sound of the contact switching. We also chose a material of springs that meet the strictest specifications." (Osaki)
OMRON also employed CAE analysis to simulate movements of leaf springs to put every single piece of data into numerical terms so that it can find the appropriate force and click sensation that determine the operational feel. By now, it is aware of the standard operating force, which it uses as a target to design switches with the minimum deviation, and subject them to a 100% inspection for the production process.
At OMRON, it quantifies the click sensation, which is a subjective sensation of each user. More recently, it has begun incorporating ergonomics and other elements in order to produce an overall feeling of comfort for our users.
"We hope to expand our selection of switches in order to allow more people to enjoy the click sensation, which is appreciated in the market, longer, more stably, and more accurately. Sensation is a rather subjective issue, as well as a complicated and ambiguous indicator. We hope to tap into our experience and technology to quantify and control this elusive indicator to grasp a novel sensation. That is my quest," says Yoshihisa Ishida, Application Product Division, Electronic and Mechanical Components Company, OMRON who talks about the future direction of the team with passion.
"eSports is a computer-based digital gaming competition. Players' moves are reproduced on the computer via an electronic device. A mouse is an input-output interface. Put more broadly, sensation technology will give birth to products that bridge the physical and virtual worlds."
"As evidenced by the greater attention being paid to a metaverse, a 3D virtual space built online, the virtual world is expected to grow at an exponential rate. Therefore, we believe that a 'sensation' connecting physical and virtual experiences will be required more and more, which we gather will necessitate input-output devices that go beyond mice. Our goal is to continuously offer the value of sensation technology to emerging interfaces, thus creating customer value."