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Ask the Strategist: What’s the Deal With Gaming Chairs?

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In our new advice column, Ask the Strategist, we take your most burning shopping questions and scour friends, call up experts, and draw from personal experience to answer them. As always, please comment with one of your own — we’re here to help.

Question: I’ve always wondered about those gaming chairs. I’ve seen quite a few people sit in them in Twitch videos, and if anyone sits in a chair a lot, it’s professional gamers. But they look so uncomfortable.

Gaming chairs: so obvious, so niche, so fugly. We’ve written about the best home-office chairs and the very weird, but also very comfortable, ergonomic kneeling chairs, but wouldn’t a seat specifically designed for people sitting and practicing video-gaming for 12 hours a day actually be the best?

“There’s a perception that they’re only good for gaming, but they’re good for anyone who spends ten hours in front of a computer,” says Daniel Yamilkoskim, a full-time, professional Overwatch player for CL Gaming. “Once more people try them out, they’ll become more acceptable.”

So let’s begin with a little history: The first gaming chairs arrived in the mid-aughts, around 2006, with a company called DXRacer that originally manufactured seats for luxury sports cars. Ever since then, gaming chairs were designed to look like race-car seats, which kind of makes sense, considering that’s really the only possible way to make sitting for long periods of time look sporty.

DXRacer makes an office version of their gaming chair.

But there was something else about racing seats, “That’s how you get the most possible support without feeling compressed,” says Thomas Klein, the CEO of Need for Seat, a gaming-chair company founded a few years later. “The main secret with gaming chairs is that the backrest is much higher than a regular office chair. We support the shoulders and back so you don’t start feeling tired. The more support your muscles have on the back and shoulders, the more the chair pushes you straight.” It’s a mix between being comfortable and being challenged, so your body is pushed upright and doesn’t feel pain from sitting in the same position for so long.

And they were also more adjustable than any other chair on the market, “Gaming chairs are more comfortable because they’re very customizable,” says Yamilkoskim, the Overwatch player whose first gaming chair was a DXRacer that he bought even before he went pro. “You can adjust the back of the chair, the lumbar support, the tilt, the headrest, and the armrests go all possible ways.”

The key with PC gaming, and sitting at a computer in general, really, is that the desk is fixed, so the chair should be completely adjustable to make you as comfortable as possible at that unmoving desk. That’s what gaming chairs do. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a regular office chair that can adjust in as many different ways as a gaming chair is designed to do, like sitting back at a full 165-degree angle, or angling the armrests every which way, or just taking them off completely. Even the lumbar support moves up and down according to the user’s needs.

Back when DXRacer decided to get into gaming, there wasn’t much else going on in the space. But a year later, Twitch — the online service where gamers livestream themselves gaming — was founded, and it became even more important to have a cool chair, one of the only ways to stand out and also mark yourself as a legit gamer. Since then, DXRacer sponsored several tournaments in 2014 and 2015, inspired other companies to get into the gaming-chair market and remains the original inventor and standard-bearer of the chairs.

As eSports expanded, so did the gaming-chair market. Now, a company called Need for Seat, named after the founder’s favorite game, Need For Speed, has become the official chair partner for Microsoft (and Xbox), the League of Legends Championship series, Red Bull gaming, and CEO Thomas Klein told me that Shaquille O’Neal uses one when he covers sports on TV because it’s the only comfortable chair for his seven-foot frame.

Klein admits that when he started Need for Seat, he was selling adjusted DXRacer seats, but he’s since become the official distributor of his own brand, Maxnomic chairs, and specifically advertises his midrange chairs as being fit for the office. Klein also makes sure to note that his chairs mimic the firmness of a Tempur-Pedic because they’ve found that when the chair is too soft, muscles get tired quicker, and they’re made of cooling materials that’ll regulate body temperature as you sit all day.

Alexander Müller, managing director of SK Gaming, prefers Noble Chairs. These land on the higher end of the gaming-seat spectrum, are made in Germany, and claim to be the first gaming chairs made out of real leather. They are perhaps making the biggest push of the gaming-chair circuit to look less like they’re meant for teen gamers and more for a corporate executive (with a price tag to reflect that as well).

We’d love to hear from you. If you have any burning questions, please leave them for us in the comments.

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Ask the Strategist: What’s the Deal With Gaming Chairs?