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Blood Sport: A guide to PvP keybinding

C. Christian Moore
February 22, 2011

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Every week, WoW Insider brings you Blood Sport for arena enthusiasts and The Art of War(craft) for fans of battlegrounds and world PvP. Want to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women? C. Christian Moore, multiple rank 1 Gladiator, examines the latest arena strategy, trends, compositions and more.

Listening Music: Radiohead's The King of Limbs. How could I not post a brand new album from the greatest band on earth?

Many (if not most) high-caliber PvPers will speak poorly of players who click in arena or battlegrounds. Keybinds are a tool that many newer players do not take advantage of -- much to their detriment, since keybindings allow the PvPer to keep the focus where it belongs: on the battle at hand.

However, even seasoned gladiators can improve their keybinds by changing the specific keybinds of individual abilities. I have my own personal way of assigning keybinds to class abilities that I want to share with you today. Don't worry, I have lots of color-coordinated pictures via the magical wonders of Microsoft Paint. Want a taste?

Ooh, ahh ... What do all those colors mean? We'll get into that shortly.

The above picture is how the hand rests on the keyboard when the majority of WoW players play the game -- index finger on the D key, middle finger on the W key, ring finger on the A key, with a "roaming pinky." Many first-person shooter enthusiasts are very familiar with this type of hand positioning.

Keyboard turning versus strafing

The red keys are what players normally use to move with (that is, movement keys). When you first download WoW, the arrow keys on the right hand side of your keyboard as well as the W, A, S, D, Q, and E keys move you around.

The Q and E keys are used for strafing (keeping your camera facing forward while your character moves left or right), while the A and D keys are used for turning (something your mouse is perfectly capable of).

Most high-rated PvPers use the A and D keys to strafe left and right respectively, leaving the Q and E keys for spammable attacks, heals, or often-used abilities. These two keybinds are of crucial importance, as they are located very close to your left hand and take very little time and effort to use.

If you are still using A and D to keyboard turn, I would highly recommend getting in the habit of strafing with them and using Q and E as ability keybinds. It feels a little weird at first, but by pressing in the right button of your mouse more often, it'll feel very natural in a short amount of time.

The S key debate

Some players keybind the S key to a spammable ability (or an ability that doesn't punish you for accidentally hitting it). Many PvPers consider "backpedaling" (using the S key to move backwards) to be a telltale sign of a noob; it is often considered inferior to strafing.

Personally, I still have my S key bound to backpedal. I find it can be helpful against classes that want to see your backside to get more damage off (Backstab, for example, can only be used from the rear). Backpedaling can also interrupt spells (so you can juke opponents) in a discreet way that doesn't expend another valuable keybind.

Whatever side of the debate you're on, it's not a giant deal. If you play a melee class and you never find yourself backpedaling, I would recommend trying out keybinding your S key to an often used ability with no detriment if you use it (don't pick an ability that is an important cooldown; S tends to be hit accidentally pretty often).


Some players swear by using Caps Lock to talk on Ventrilo. Others go through some red tape to use it as a modifier similar to Shift or Control. Others (like myself) don't like checking TO SEE IF WE ARE YELLING ALL THE TIME, so we just leave it be. I've colored it brown because it's a debated keybind, much like the S key.

Green keys

I recommend keybinding spammable abilities (usually damage and heals) to the green keys. These keys (1, 2, 3, Q, E, and F for most players) are incredibly useful and easy to access while on the move. The hand does not have to travel far to hit any individual one of these keys -- spammable instant-cast abilities should be keybound to these keys.

For instance, Ice Lance is a fine keybind for a green key, while Frostbolt is not. If possible, spells with cast times should be placed elsewhere, as these green keys are prime real estate when you're moving around very quickly.

The space bar is a green key because it's actually very useful when combined with modifier keys like Shift, Control, or Alt. It's a very accessible keybind that most people only use for jumping around. It's particularly useful if you want to keybind certain abilities that you only get to use on a proc or when you're in a special stance or form. On my warlock, I've been using Shift + Space for my Immolation Aura keybind and Control + Space to Demon Leap.

Yellow keys

I reserve yellow keys for important abilities that might not have cooldowns but aren't terribly relevant in high-pressure situations. Shadow Bolt, Searing Pain, and Curse of Tongues might fit the bill here nicely.

The abilities placed on yellow keys can also be used for incredibly important cooldowns that need to be quickly accessed in order to survive. On my warlock, I use Tab for Demonic Circle: Teleport and the R key for my Death Coil. I would hesitate putting survival cooldowns farther away from your hand because they can be so crucial in PvP.

Blue keys

We're starting to get pretty far away from the starting position of our WASD-based hand.

A lot of PvPers use short, powerful cooldowns or abilities on 5, T, G, and V. Offensive cooldowns or abilities like Recklessness, Kill Shot, Execute, Drain Soul, and Shadowburn are perfect for these keybinds. Any closer to the hand and they would be taking up the space of something more valuable, but they are still close enough to pile on the pressure on the enemy team.

Purple keys

These keys are usually reserved for very long cooldowns (or keys that are not used very often in combat) that are not pressure-situation abilities. Examples would be Soul Harvest, Demonic Circle: Summon, an eat + drink macro, bandages, or a mount.

Keys beyond purple keys

You have long fingers, which is pretty awesome because it gives you four or more keybinds. You can figure out what to do with the extra keybinds you are blessed with, especially if you play a class that has a lot of random abilities that are helpful in combat every 1 in 100 games (I'm looking at you, Curse of Weakness).

So, in summary...

Pink keys (F1-F4)

These keys are sometimes completely ignored, which is fine. They're pretty far away for most people and are generally a pretty giant pain to get to. However, these keys get much more accessible if you're used to using them for abilities or you play on a laptop that has the keys just slightly above your number keys.

I find that they're great for targeting teammates or opponents in arena (depending on what you want to bind them to).

New tips for using modifiers with keybindings

Next week, I want to discuss different ways to use modifiers and some lesser-known tips and tricks with keybinding. I also want to talk about the benefits of drastically altering your hand positioning, including lots of MS Paint diagrams, but that will have to wait -- I didn't know I could talk for so long about something that appears so simple! If you're looking for something more in-depth, stay tuned for next week.

Read PvP keybindings: ESDF and roaming index finger variants.

Want to ascend the arena ladders faster than a fireman playing Donkey Kong? We'll steer you to victory with the best arena addons and let you in on some rank 1 gladiator PvP secrets. If you're looking for the inside line on battlegrounds and world PvP, read The Art of War(craft).

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