Eric's Sick Picks

The only thing you need to step up your gaming is less than $20 on Amazon

KontrolFreek's performance thumbsticks are two pieces of rubber and plastic. They're all you need to climb the top of the leaderboards as you wait out quarantine.

Based on statistics, there is a good chance you've spent the last few weeks of quarantine playing video games. Most have chosen Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a relaxing game about turnips and homeownership. (I've never played it myself.) But around 60 million people have opted for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, specifically the stand-alone battle royale mode known as Warzone.

I'm one of those 60 million. I also play with an advantage, an affordable edge that has significantly improved my ability to gain kill streaks, nail headshots, and sit atop the scoreboard with the highest kills, the highest score, or both. There's no cheating or hacking involved, either.

We only recommend products we love and that we think you will, too. Inverse may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article.

I'm talking about KontrolFreek. The Atlanta, Georgia-based company specializes in what it calls "performance thumbsticks." These bits of rubber and plastic basically add height to your controller's thumbsticks while providing ergonomic comfort. The science, KontrolFreek claims, is that the height improves accuracy for shooter games while allowing you to play longer and feel more comfortable. All without straining your hands.

I don't know if any of that is true. In my day job typing words, I still get wrist cramps on long gaming sessions. But after comparing my 2020 Modern Warfare stats to the abysmal scores I had ten years ago when I played Call of Duty in high school, I believe KontrolFreek's gospel. (I unfortunately have no way of digging up my stats from junior year so you'll just have to take my word for it.)

Behold: My 'Modern Warfare' stats. Your younger cousin might have more impressive percentages than I, but when your primary strategy is YOLO run-and-gun, it feels good to be in the top one percent of something.

I also agree the thumbsticks make my controllers comfortable. KontrolFreek's rubber feels nicer to rest my thumb or push down on (melee kills!) than my actual Xbox One or PS4 controller's thumbsticks. (It should be said that the thumbsticks are not universal. So if you have multiple consoles, you'll have to buy thumbsticks for those particular controllers.) The raised textures compensate for sweaty slipping, also a plus.

Prior to quarantine you might have seen KontrolFreek's products at GameStop, but to actually use them is indeed a game-changer. KontrolFreek's thumbsticks do make a difference if your in-game performance matters to you. I know that's like saying "This new cologne will morph you into a mythical sex god," but trust me: You're still scoring.

Allow me to clarify that I don't win every game of Modern Warfare. I've yet to actually win in Warzone and not every game of Team Deathmatch or Domination is mine to own. But at the very least, I have far more confidence in my ability to drop into any game and play to win than when I was a goofy teenager who resigned himself to playing "for fun."

If KontrolFreek sounds like what you need to up your game, there's a lot of options. KontrolFreek has its own "Buyer's Guide" that selects for you a set of thumbsticks based on specific console and game choices. Some games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Destiny 2, and Overwatch even have branded thumbsticks inspired by their games. But the options we provide below are virtually universal and will serve you well no matter what battlefield you're dropping into.

We recommend this model because it is available in all three console flavors: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. Its concave spiral keeps your thumb centered and prevents slipping, and adds 9.9 millimeters of height for 120 percent improvement in range of motion. The red and black color scheme, reminiscent of Darth Maul, affirms you are not to be messed with. So if you want to be really accurate in your, uhh, farming in Animal Crossing, these are a must-buy.

Tailor-made for the battle royale player (Fortnite, Apex Legends, and more). These sticks add 11.3 millimeters of height to both thumbsticks, allowing 120 percent improved range of motion. You don't have to use as much force to get your aim right, which makes a serious difference in battle royale games where quick targeting is your first line of defense.

Don't let the purple and silver color scheme fool you. This is one of KontrolFreek's most popular thumbsticks for a reason. The laser-etched ridged detailing helps keep your thumbs centered, while the mixed height combination — one stick adds 10 mm of height, the other 6.5 mm — enables overall better control in FPS games. The higher height of the right thumbstick allows for better shooting accuracy while the lower height of the left reduces wrist and thumb fatigue. I've personally had this specific pair for five years and they haven't let me down yet.

This is Eric's Sick Picks, a weekly blog recommending cool gadgets and peripherals in tech, gaming, and culture to improve your lifestyle.

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