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Do snipers ruin multiplayer shooters?

A sniper in front of a wall of fire.
(Image credit: EA)

The conversation started with Tyler getting mad about Chivalry 2's archers, who stand on the outskirts of sword fights shooting arrows into heads. Not long after, we got to talking about sniping in general, and then the sides formed. It turns out PC Gamer is a deeply divided team.

Some of us think that sniping in multiplayer shooters is good. Some of us want all snipers banished to hell. We decided to talk it out publicly, and although we didn't resolve our differences, we at least established where we all stand. (Or lie, on a hill, clipping through a bush a little bit, staring down a scope.)

Does sniping ruin multiplayer shooters?

Tim Clark, brand director: No, don't be ridiculous. The sniper rifle is a gentleperson's weapon. It is the velvet glove to the shotgun's mailed fist. Clicking on heads from the other end of the map is core to the rock-paper-scissors of any meta. The problem comes when it's the only or best available option, which is more a failure of map design and how stuff like flinch is balanced than anything.

Tyler Wilde, executive editor: I don't know Tim, snipers can be pretty annoying.

Emma Matthews, guides writer: I do have a strong dislike for snipers in Warzone and Call of Duty's multiplayer modes, mainly because there's no risk in picking them in casual modes. They can suck the fun out of matches.

Tyler: Before we go further, I have to confess that I am a reformed sniper. I used to be the guy lying on a hill at the edge of every Battlefield map, trying to score highlight reel headshots while ignoring the objectives. It's all I did. I'm sorry.

Morgan Park, staff writer: Tyler… wow. You think you know a guy, then you find out he played Recon.

Tyler: My glowing bullets made such pretty arcs as they missed enemies running between Bravo and Charlie, helping no one.

James Davenport, editor: You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, Tyler. I understand that people generally do not like dying from a well-aimed shot across the map, but it's madness to suggest that snipers at large ruin multiplayer shooters. 

Tyler: It does feel pretty bad to get sniped, though. What can you do? You have to stand up sometimes. It can feel like snipers are playing a different game, one that's just about frustrating you. I get why people hate snipers.

James: A designer can't write drama into the dynamics of a multiplayer game, so something's gotta stand in to create the peaks and valleys that allow for miraculous high-skill plays and for the very same playmakers to eat shit. If you feel bad, this is intentional. Use that anger to fuel your revenge. Snipe back, or, even better, knife the sniper. Complete the circle.

Above: A gif from Tyler's shameful Battlefield sniping days.

Fraser Brown, online editor: There are plenty of ways to generate drama that don't involve me being taken out by an asshole hiding a mile away. All snipers are bad. I tried to snipe once, and it made me a worse person. I feel awful just admitting it.

Jorge Jimenez, hardware writer: I like how James is painting snipers as masterful agents of chaos when really they're just selfish players who would rather inflate their stats than coordinate with teammates. 

Jody Macgregor, weekend/AU editor: Which means snipers suck even when they're on your side. I don't want to be one of two people playing the objective in Team Fortress 2 because the rest of my team watched Enemy at the Gates and are now broken inside.

Tyler: Damn, you got me. That movie is probably why I thought it was cool to snipe in games.

Emma: It is really irritating when you're trying to complete an objective and an ally sniper is only interested in popping skulls from a distance. Nice work, but that doesn't help me collect tags in Kill Confirmed, does it? 

John Strike, art editor: Snipers are the adoptive class of lone wolves. I've put a lot of hours into Battlefield games, and I don't think DICE has ever quite integrated the class into team play properly.

Morgan: John's right about that. There are obviously many varieties of FPS snipers, but Battlefield's brand of hill-camping feels particularly anti-fun for everybody that isn't also sniping. You can call it realistic, I guess, but a competitive FPS should be more balanced than the real world.

Above: Another shame gif from Tyler's collection.

James: Balance, schmalance. I long for the early days of Battlefield, when it felt like a malformed, living organism. When the field of battle became too lopsided with snipers, you'd just get in a vehicle and root 'em out. Battlefield constantly self-corrected like that. Yeah, matches weren't these action-efficiency machines that always felt fair or exciting, but I miss those long stretches of nothing, of finding where the action is. The early days of lobby shooters, just hanging out, barely eyeballing the score in matches you can log in and out of over the course of a day. Lone wolf sniping was a perfect fit. 

Morgan: Schmalance, James? Schmalance? I love a lowkey "chill in a server" shooter too, but they're a rarity nowadays. Sweaty is the name of the game in 2021.

Tyler: You can still go kill the snipers in modern Battlefield games. It's just that I don't really want to do that anymore. 

Jorge: Dealing with snipers always felt like pest control in order to properly enjoy your match. 

Jody: And they create secondary problems. Because of Battlefield snipers, vehicles are grabbed as soon as they spawn by players who just want to get to a point without being shot. Someone impatient will grab the helicopter because they're sick of Recon players making them do the Battlefield Jog, and then crash straight away because they never learned to fly it. That makes me hate snipers even more. And like Tyler, I used to be one.

James: OK, but Battlefield isn't all games. I'm a big fan of Halo sniping. Gimme a four-hour CTF match on Blood Gulch. Let those rivalries stew. Sure, it sucks to get sniped, but in a game with quick respawns it doesn't sting too much. I suppose that's why I avoid the more competitive games like CS:GO, Siege, and Valorant. Getting sniped out of a round sounds painful, but so does every other form of elimination. Getting shotgunned? Also sucks! Do you anti-snipers just want all shooters to melt into a grey, assault rifle slurry?

Morgan: My most controversial take is that the one-shot-kill sniper rifles of Valorant and CS:GO (the Op and the AWP) actually do make every round a little less fun. The Op isn't totally overpowered or anything, but their one-shot potential has the side effect of forcing the game to revolve around it. Either they hit you and you're dead, or they miss. The skewed power dynamic creates snowball scenarios where the rich can get richer and a team on the backfoot can take ages to recover.

Emma: The AWP is probably the only sniper rifle I can use without disappointing my team. It can feel broken in the hands of a competent sniper, but there are a few ways you can deal with it—smokes, flashbangs, and rushing with a P90 will do the trick. Once you work that out it doesn't feel as scary anymore. And an AK-47 can get you just as well as an AWP.

Your shameful shirt is bringing me back around.

Tyler

Jody: After we get rid of snipers, assault rifles will be next against the wall.

James: I feel like map design can make sniping interesting for everyone. Snipers make traversal through some sightlines dangerous, and I like the tension the possible presence of a sniper adds when I'm moving through a space. I have to seriously consider my routes and positioning in relation to threats at all distances. Snipers force me to 'see' and use the whole damn map.

Wes Fenlon, senior editor: In a moment of pure horror I just remembered that I bought, and wore, this shirt in high school. It may be the most embarrassing thing I ever owned, and I owned an anime wall scroll. I will never touch a sniper rifle again.

Tyler: Actually, your shameful shirt is bringing me back around, because now I'm remembering all the times I got yelled at for camping in Quake 2 or Medal of Honor: Allied Assault or whatever else I was playing a couple decades ago. It is a legit strategy. The server admins can shut up! 

Even if people hate you, is it fun to snipe?

Tyler: Yep.

Tim: Yes, obviously, if you can hit your shots. Which I cannot. Just be glad you don't have to deal with sniper rifles that can do this in your serious soldier games:

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Pretty sure that collateral also uninstalled all his opponents' games. 

John: For me, games are about having fun and escapism, and playing as a sniper in games like Battlefield is the most fun way to play by yourself if you’re not keen on vehicles.

Tyler: Sniper vs sniper battles are a lot of fun. You develop a rapport with the little rival dancing around in your scope, whizzing bullets past your head. Love it. The two of you get to have your own little game within the game, which doesn't matter to anyone else.

Fraser: There's undeniably something seductive about putting bullets in skulls while you're safely tucked away in your hiding spot. When things are going well, you can feel like a god of the battlefield. But it's also kinda boring, just sitting there, biding your time, waiting for some clueless soldier to wander into your crosshairs. Maybe I just can't sit still. And I don't want anyone to think I'm a coward (which, to be fair, I am).

Tyler: I like the waiting. It's like fishing, which is also mainly waiting. Why is fishing enjoyable? I'm not really sure, but it is. (I don't do it, though, because I don't want to hurt any fish.)

Morgan: Also good is the 'David vs Goliath' scenario where I manage to counter-snipe a sniper by pecking away at them with long SMG or pistol shots. Imagining their reaction after being killed at range by a non-sniper is life-affirming.

Above: Awkward singleplayer sniping in the John Wick VR game.

Tyler: In Action Quake 2, you could headshot people from across the map with the handgun. That's basically all I tried to do. In regular Quake 2, I only wanted to use the railgun. Putting the range part of sniping aside for a moment, one-hit-kills are just fun, even when everyone's doing them, like in Unreal Tournament instagib matches, or in one of my favorite games, Ratz Instagib. In other words, I don't think instagib is what's on trial here. It's always great.

Jody: It's fun to snipe in singleplayer games like Sniper Elite. Shooting Nazi brains out in slow-mo rules. 

Tyler: Singleplayer sniping definitely isn't on trial, either. Sniper Elite 4 is great.

Do any multiplayer shooters do sniping well?

Fraser: No. It's always bad. 

Tyler: Can't it be good sometimes

Morgan: Sure, just not in Battlefield.

Tyler: Fair. I wonder what the Recon class will be like in this year's new Battlefield.

Jody: For me, only in co-op games. When I hear a blightstormer chanting in Vermintide 2 and then snap off a crossbow headshot the moment it teleports in, before it has a chance to summon a storm and whip up half my teammates: That's a good feeling.

Jorge: I like games that limit the number of classes you can be on each side of the conflict. 

Tyler: Then do I ever have the games for you. The Red Orchestra and Rising Storm games limit class selections. You get one-shotted a lot anyway, but not just from snipers—unscoped rifles, machine guns, artillery shells, and lots of other things can kill you instantly. Drawing fire is part of the experience, and the attack-and-defend maps keep one role from dominating too much. Snipers never stopped a 10-player charge. The key, I think, is that the games are about team success more than individual success.

Rising Storm

A Rising Storm sniper. (Image credit: Tripwire Interactive)

Morgan: In a sim-y FPS, imbalance is supposed to be part of the fun. Tanks in Red Orchestra are all-powerful gods and snipers are elusive assassins that you'll never see coming. It is kinda interesting to face the unfair reality of it all, but snipers are a big reason I ultimately put those games down.

Tyler: That surprises me! I never thought of snipers as being particularly annoying in those games. Annoying is when you get kicked for teamkilling because your team refused to get out of the way of the artillery you told them to get out of the way of.

John: I do think sniping's at its most effective if you're defending an objective. It's at its worst when you're on rooftops pinning an enemy back in their respawn zone.

Tyler: Yeah, Rainbow Six Siege is a good example. The emphasis on objective control within buildings creates an interesting context for sniping. It's only really annoying when you're being spawn peeked, but that Siege-specific irritation is more about reading or misreading opponents than big guns and scopes. And counter-sniping a peeker as Glaz or Kali is satisfying.

Morgan: Couldn't agree more, Tyler. I'll just leave this here:

These are all excellent points that have failed to change my mind. Snipers suck.

Fraser

Tyler: Nice.

Morgan: I also love the power weapon dynamic in Halo multiplayer. Getting the sniper rifle in Halo 3 wasn't about saving up money or choosing it in a loadout menu, you have to know where it spawns and fight off everyone else who wants it just as badly. It's just as good as the AWP once you have it, but it has so little ammo that you can't just dominate the entire match with it.

Jorge: I agree that Halo did it well by treating sniper rifles like power weapons that needed to be fought over like a rocket launcher or plasma sword. No one spawned with one and the ammo was limited ammo. If you were lucky enough to pick up a sniper rifle, you had a clear advantage and it forced your opponents to change their strategies once the power weapons were in play. 

James: Over in the battle royale genre, I love Fortnite's sniper bouts. Even if you're pegged out in the open, you can make cover out of nothing. Throw up a 1x1 and get your bearings. It results in these tense peekaboo duels with a lot of opportunities for misdirection. I love building out my cover in odd configurations, moving around and popping out from random places.

Alan Dexter, senior hardware editor: I'm not usually any use behind a scope, but I love the feel of the sniper rifles in Apex Legends. Kraber aside, they don't feel too ridiculously overpowered, either—unless some helmetless poor sap manages to wander in front of my crosshairs and I've managed to pick up a skullpiercer for the Longbow DMR, I'm not going to one-shot them. Hurt them, sure, but it's rarely fatal. Do non-lethal headshots even count as sniping though?

Tyler: We'll need a ruling on that from the Judge of Sniping, who is busy today, I'm afraid.

Fraser: These are all excellent points that have failed to change my mind. Snipers suck. 

Can snipers and non-snipers ever resolve their differences?

John: Try and see it from both points of view. Play by yourself and enjoy sniping, play with some buddies and enjoy killing the snipers. Either way it’s up to the games to make the sniper class into something useful for teams and fun for everyone—or banish it forever. 

Fraser: No, there's no common ground to be found with these villains. 

James: I think we're seeing stances slide to one side or the other based on why we play multiplayer games. I'm in it for the playfulness, the chance to occasionally pull something impressive off without much stress on team or individual performance. Snipers fit pretty well into games with fast respawn times and looser competitive formats. But for you bloodthirsty competitive types, I suppose I can understand why snipers feel like an odd, lopsided fit at times. 

Tyler: I thought I was through with my sniping days, but talking about it has reminded me of how nice it is to lie down in some dirt, sip a cup of tea, and occasionally hit someone. Quickscoping is another thrill that we didn't get into here—it might be more reviled than regular sniping, but it sure is fun to run around with a weapon not meant for close-quarters and dominate anyway. (However, my ability to actually do that comes and goes, and mostly goes.)

Jorge: Snipers are fiends and devils but sometimes you need a devil or two to win the game. Sniping is fun in moderation.

Morgan: If snipers went away, I'd have nobody to counter-snipe. Every Yin (me, a respectable rifleman) needs its Yang (a sniper who's only in it for the headshots).

Jody: Nah, Fraser's right. Villains one and all.

Hey folks, beloved mascot Coconut Monkey here representing the collective PC Gamer editorial team, who worked together to write this article!