If you’ve ever attended an Overwatch League match in person, you’ve seen each player perform a certain pre-match ritual. Before the spectacle of walkouts, team introductions, and crowd high-fives, each player approaches their seat, gently carrying computer equipment.

Perhaps it’s a keyboard with the cord wrapped tight, stuffed under an arm, or maybe they’ve gathered everything inside a massive mouse pad, folded like a taco. These tools of the trade are then uncovered and plugged in with care usually reserved for holy relics. Like their counterparts in the non-virtual world, esports pros take their equipment seriously, for the purposes of comfort and competition.

Sometimes, gaming runs in the family. Boston Uprising flex tank Lucas “Note” Meissner logged nearly 4,000 hours in other games before Overwatch arrived on the scene, and it was his brother who led the way with a similar pace. As Lucas zigged towards Overwatch, the older Michael zagged towards Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and both brothers have now achieved success in esports. Note anchored Boston during their incredible Stage 3 run, leading to a playoff appearance. Michael, as “tenn1s,” recently won the AVGL collegiate CS: GO league alongside his York University teammates.

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As the older brother, Michael led the family gaming passion—at least when it came to top-of-the-line computer components and peripherals. And, like any little brother, Note was stuck with Michael’s hand-me-down computer components when he first began his esports career.

“I’d classify my first build as a mistake,” Note says. “I took a bare bones kit from Newegg or something, with an AMD FX 8120 CPU and I believe a Radeon 770 1GB edition. That CPU was an absolute nightmare. Single and Duo core games had awful FPS, and it crashed frequently. My motherboard [had] a fake value for how much power it could handle for CPUs, and it couldn’t handle AMD’s ridiculous power draw.

“After hours of research on the blue-screen errors [I was getting] with the crashes, absolutely nothing fixed it. Then I switched over to the PC that my brother had built, because he was upgrading his computer. It was definitely not the ideal setup, but it had an old i5 CPU with a GTX 960 GPU, with a 60Hz monitor, and non-mechanical keyboard. That poor CPU ran at like 4.5 ghz for at least six years.”

Because of financial constraints, Note would often buy gear from his brother.

“My brother would frequently upgrade his computer, and whenever he did I would swoop in and get the part for extra cheap or no cost at all,” he says. “I slowly upgraded my [components] one by one, monitor was first I think. I was using a pretty standard 1080p 60Hz monitor, then played briefly with my brother’s 1440p 60Hz before he returned it because neither of us liked it. Then I moved to the cheapest 144Hz monitor you could buy at the time, an Acer GN246HL 24-inch. It was a solid monitor with a lot of ghosting issues, but it worked and that’s all that mattered.”

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The performance difference between 60Hz gaming and 144Hz and beyond is something that nearly all pros can agree on. Note believes that the competitive advantage it confers is significant enough that for many, it’s the first big step from casual to competitive gaming.

As Note continued his gradual upgrade path, utilizing what scraps he could get from his brother, he noticed different bottlenecks in performance.

“As I kept changing out parts, there was definitely always one that I considered the bottleneck for the frame rate, the [GTX] 960,” he explains. “It would constantly be at 100 percent usage when playing Overwatch, and I was convinced that it was the weakest link. What I didn't know back then was that RAM speed is super important to Overwatch frame rate, and I most likely had some pretty awful RAM back then. [I tried upgrading] to a 970, then to two SLI-ed 970s, and there wasn’t much change for Overwatch. Until [I built] my most recent PC, I never singled out my RAM for upgrading, I just took what my brother had.”

Note also picked up a mechanical keyboard along the way, which “definitely made me feel like I had more consistent movement and ability usage.” He also eventually upgraded his 970s to a 1080—once again, from his brother—and his CPU to an i7 4790k before moving with his computer to Los Angeles to play in the Overwatch League.

By Note’s estimation, the greatest upgrades in his long journey to a high-level Overwatch rig rank as follows:

  1. Monitor
  2. CPU
  3. RAM
  4. Keyboard
  5. GPU

Previous interviewees focused heavily on computer mice as the equipment that allowed them to level up the most, so it’s surprising that Note is nonchalant about them. “I never made any mouse changes that I would consider upgrades, just moved from mouse to mouse and liked them all,” he says.

Could the decreased emphasis on mice have anything to do with being a tank player? Note doesn’t think so: “It’s more of an individual thing than a role-based thing, in my opinion.”

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As for peripherals, Note trusts his friends’ opinions when finding new gear to test. “I like to get people’s thoughts on different keyboards and mice for my own testing, and I also go to specific friends that I met on Discord through Overwatch for their knowledge on the subjects,” he says. “For example, if I wanted keyboard or high-quality headphone recommendations, I would talk to Shu from Shu’s Money Crew.”

Note has some great recommendations for building or upgrading a PC to maximize Overwatch performance while on a budget.

“If you wanted to upgrade your setup purely for Overwatch, it is much different than upgrading for other games,” he explains. “To get the most FPS for the cheapest cost, you want to invest in a newer Intel i5 CPU and get RAM with at least 3200mhz of RAM speed—ideally more. The graphics card isn't super important, and you can get away with cheaper cards like a 1050ti or possibly a 1060. The focus on CPU and RAM speed will net you a lot more frames in Overwatch, but will often struggle with Triple-A games and ones that require more GPU.”

Elaborating further, here are “Note’s list of dos and don’ts when upgrading for Overwatch, when you aren’t buying gear from your older brother”:

Do:

  • Look on eBay or your local listings for cheap parts
  • Focus on RAM speed and a good CPU
  • Plan out your build/upgrade beforehand and buy parts when they are on sale

Don’t:

  • Spend a ton of money on an expensive GPU
  • Worry about getting less than 300 FPS if you aren’t on a 240Hz monitor

Now that Note has graduated to the Overwatch League, he plays most of his competitive Overwatch either onstage or in the Uprising’s practice rooms. He did, however, leave behind a cheaper, Overwatch-optimized setup back home in Canada.

He also put together a great PCPartPicker list with the less flashy—but still essential—components.

Thanks to Note, we have the blueprint for upgrading any PC setup for Overwatch. Whether you have the budget to copy his setup or upgrade piece by piece, or have an enthusiast older brother you could look to for help, his journey from crash-filled beginnings to the Overwatch League stage is one that we can all follow.