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ESDF: Elevate Your Game with This WASD Alternative

Written by Matthew DeCarlo
Last updated May 16, 2020

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ESDF, a WASD alternative

While not widely discussed among PC gamers these days, ESDF may be most memorable as being a popular keyboard layout among Doom and Quake players in the mid-90s. Today, ESDF isn’t likely to be on your radar unless you’re an old school PC gamer or someone who’s looking for an edge in titles such as Fortnite that can benefit from using it.

If you’ve never experienced the perks of playing PC games with ESDF, the idea of switching from WASD might seem like a waste of time or perhaps even discouraging since you’ll have to adapt to a new layout. But playing with ESDF makes a big difference once you get used to it.

There’s enough of a difference that for folks who have built their own gaming PC and disabled mouse acceleration (everywhere!), switching layouts is worth the effort involved. Going from WASD to ESDF could take your game to the next level.

Why Is ESDF Better Than WASD?

ESDF provides more familiar and natural hand positioning. Instead of being bunched up on WASD, your left hand is on the home row.

This makes it quicker to switch between typing in text chat and getting back to the game because your hand doesn’t change positions. And if you do have to break off the controls, there’s a nub on the F to quickly find your place again.

WASD ESDF

In addition to enabling touch typing, having your left hand shifted one set of letters to the right means that it’s surrounded by more keys. This makes it easier to reach more number keys as well as keys on the right side of your board.

What’s more, by moving from WASD to ESDF, you free up Q, W and A for binds of your choice. Your pinky is already on the A when playing with ESDF while Q and W are comfortable to reach with your ring finger. The V and B keys are also easier to reach.

Having access to all these extra keys makes a big difference in games with a lot of controls like Fornite or Arma 3.

WASD vs. ESDF: Drawbacks to Switching

There is a period of adapting of course but it doesn’t take super long if you’re already familiar with having your left hand on the home row for typing.

The biggest hassle is having to rebind your keys in most games. This goes beyond changing WASD because E and F usually have something bound to them, and you’ll probably want to move certain keys so they’re the right distance to match your muscle memory.

This isn’t a huge issue for most games. But it can be a chore to reset WASD to ESDF for titles like Red Dead Redemption 2 where there are many pages of key binds for different actions and in-game scenarios (on foot, on a horse etc.). Especially since you’ll probably also have to change other keys along the way.

The only other drawback that comes to mind is that the Control key is a little more awkward to reach with your pinky, but no different than some of the finger contortions you have to make when playing with WASD. Control is still reachable and it can be given a lower priority function or it can be moved to your Caps Lock key, which some WASD players do anyway.

Can’t rebind keys in your game?

It’s rare, but some games won’t let you change your keybinds. However, you can use software like AutoHotkey to automatically swap the input from your keyboard so when you press E, Windows recognizes it as W and so on.

Here’s a guide on getting started with AutoHotkey, and we’ve created a basic script that recognizes WASD as ESDF to give you a head start with configuring your keybinds. You can edit the script as a text document to continue remapping keys. Note that you may have to run the .ahk file as an administrator if it doesn’t work.

esdf ahk

But Wait, There’s More: RDFG and TFGH

Not enough keys for you? You’ll lose the efficient home row hand positioning of ESDF, but playing PC games with RDFG or TFGH opens up access to even more of your keyboard. Reaching for numbers and other keys on the opposite side of the board is a lot easier if your hand is already halfway there.

RDFG

RDFG keyboard layout

TFGH

TFGH keyboard layout
While shifting over to RDFG or TFGH lets you reach more keys overall, some of the keys on the left side of the board start becoming more difficult to reach.  These layouts are undoubtedly useful for certain people and specific games, but they aren’t as well-rounded as ESDF.

ESDF Is a Worthy Alternative to WASD

Switching from WASD to ESDF comes with a brief learning curve as your muscle memory becomes retrained, as well as the inevitable burden of having to remap keybinds in games. But that tends to be a minor hassle for how much more efficient ESDF is for playing PC games.

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