One of the World’s Best Esports Players Uses Just an Xbox Controller
In July, when Counter Logic Gaming signed Jack “NiceWigg” Martin, a 22-year-old up-and-coming professional Apex Legends player, his resume didn’t look spectacular. He had no competitive experience. He hadn’t played at a LAN tournament. And he used a controller.
“They took a huge risk on me,” Martin says. “I’m just a controller player on PC so people, obviously, were doubting what I can do against other PC players.”
The other top players on the Apex Legends esports scene, a battle royale game where squads of three players fight to be the last team standing, almost exclusively use a keyboard and mouse. It’s not hard to see why — controllers can’t match the precision of mouse aiming, which is based on exact positioning. To bring an opponent into the crosshairs on a mouse, a movement of a certain precise distance is all a player needs, corresponding to a near-instantaneous result on the screen. Aiming at the same opponent on an analog thumbstick, on the other hand, requires the player to control the velocity of the crosshair’s movement on the way to the target, wrestling with both its speed and position.
It’s not only aiming where controller players are at a disadvantage in Apex. Movement is also based on precise adjustments of the cursor. And some in-game actions, like moving while looting, are actually impossible to execute using a controller. And yet Martin persists, playing at the top level of the game against keyboard and mouse pros.
Martin’s unusual style of play hasn’t just landed him a place on the professional Apex scene. People log on to Twitch to watch him every night, thousands at a time. They’re drawn by his idiosyncratic way of playing, by the thrill of seeing a high-level athlete doing something in entirely the wrong way. It’s like Jimi Hendrix playing his guitar upside-down, or Roger Federer out on the tour with a squash racquet.
When he streams, Martin keeps a camera on his controller, letting his fans get a sense of his frenetic pace and breathtaking assurance on the sticks. Never one to pass up an opportunity, he is seeking a sponsor for his socks, which occupy a prominent role onscreen, waggling back and forth between matches or stoically planted, as they often are, in the middle of a firefight.
He’s famous now in the world of esports, but getting there wasn’t exactly easy. Martin toiled for months in the vast underclass of Twitch with hardly anything to show for it. He had been wearing a Super Saiyan wig on stream (hence the name NiceWigg) as a gimmick to attract viewers, grinding up to 15 hours a day while entertaining an average of 10 people at a time. The schedule was unsustainable, and Martin considered quitting.
Then came a lucky break. He randomly matched up with Dizzy, a professional Apex player and one of the top streamers on Twitch, who boasts over 700,000 followers. Martin outperformed the talented pro in a few of the games they played together, and afterward Dizzy ‘hosted’ him, sending his horde of followers over to Martin’s stream. Martin gained 5,000 followers almost instantaneously.
“This is 100% a dream,” he said to the 10,000 people who were suddenly watching him. “There’s no way this is real. I’m dreaming…”
The dream was real. Recognizing what those kind of numbers can do for a streamer’s career, he broke down, sobbing in his anime wig.
Since his big break, Martin is often the top Apex streamer on Twitch. He’s gone pro as the IGL (In Game Leader) for Counter Logic Gaming’s new Apex organization. He’s hit 100,000 followers on Twitch and just inked a deal with SCUF, a company that makes high-performance controllers for players who demand more than the standard-issue Xbox or PS4 controller.
“If I wasn’t a controller player, this wouldn’t have taken off the way it did,” says Martin. “Me playing on mouse and keyboard would have attracted no one. We [controller players] are at such a disadvantage other than close-range gunfights, because that’s how Apex is. I think that attracted so many people coming to the stream.”
Bil “Jump” Carter, as the MC of the largest Apex tournament to date, the Apex Preseason Invitational in Poland, had a slightly different take on Martin’s success. Carter believes it’s Martin’s pure skill and his infectious energy that brings viewers to the stream again and again.
“It’s just another day of doing what he does best — be himself,” Carter says. “Playing device doesn’t matter when you factor in game knowledge, reaction speed, strategy, and everything else that goes into being a professional player.”
But there is a strong culture of keyboard-mouse use in high-level esports, and controllers, due to their lack of precision and use on consoles, are often associated with ‘casual’ play. Many keyboard-mousers feel that aim assist, a subtle game mechanic that allows controller users to help track their shots, is unfairly advantageous — a sanctioned form of the aimbotting that gets pros banned for life. In reality, the effect of aim assist is subtle and hardly compensates for a controller’s limitations. And, as Martin is always quick to point out, if playing on controller were such an advantage, more players would use them.
“I don’t want to say it’s a cringey thing, but it is kind of cringey,” he says. “To judge someone by their device is so weird to me…Like ‘I’m better than you because I use a different device.’”
Games like Apex and Fortnite are changing that culture of keyboard-mouse snobbery by appealing to the rapidly growing audience in the console and mobile markets. Fortnite has already gone cross-platform, so that all players are matchmaking together regardless of whether they’re a 24-year-old pro on a high-end gaming PC or a 12-year-old tinkering on their mom’s iPad — and Apex has plans to follow suit.
Though he plays on a PC, Martin’s distinction as one of the first Apex controller pros is emblematic of these changes. It seems hardly coincidental that he doesn’t use an expensive gaming chair, but squeezes his beefy six-foot-four frame in a fold-up metal one he once joked he got from a church basement.
What’s more, he’s changing the face of esports. His example has led to wider acceptance of controller players. Controllers are no longer a novelty, but an actual option.
“We have seen a lot more,” says Martin, describing a cadre of teams in the amateur league and on consoles playing with controllers who will look to move to PC as the competitive ecosystem develops.
But when the world zigs, Martin zags. As controllers become more commonplace, the gamer has toyed with trying out a keyboard and mouse on recent streams.
“I love the mouse, I can’t even lie,” he says. “I’m never going to fully switch, but I definitely want to be the first one to be a dual-wielder.”