Gaming chairs are weird. They're expensive and their racing style frames don't really make sense for computer use, yet they're a permanent backdrop for streamers, tech YouTubers and esports professionals. Part of this is no doubt down to sponsorships - after all, gaming chair companies are common backers of professional gaming tournaments - but there are also a surprising number of people that buy these chairs outright with no intention of becoming Twitch streamers or esports pros. Are they falling for the hype, or are there some legitimate reasons for choosing a gaming chair over an ordinary office alternative? In the latest edition of "Digital Foundry investigates esports tech", we test out one such chair - the £400 Noblechairs Hero Black Edition.
Before we get into my thoughts on this particular chair after three months of use, let's quickly outline the common criticisms of gaming chairs and the corresponding strengths of good office chairs, often held up as an example of what you should be considering instead. Firstly, we have the shape - gaming chairs are offered in several styles, but most include a "bucket" seat, oversized shoulder supports and holes for a safety harness to be fed through. These make a lot of sense for keeping a driver planted in a car as it's being slammed around a track, but there doesn't seem to be any obvious utility to gaming. Style and appearance is also a key criticism, with oversized logos and loud colours contributing to designs that can be seen as tacky. More crucially for long gaming sessions, some gaming designs don't offer much adjustability either, with seat height, back tilt and arm height being the usual standard - there's often no arm positioning, seat tilt or lumbar adjustment. All of these points would be more or less understandable if gaming chairs were just as cheap as office chairs with similar feature sets, but often gaming chairs are sold at a significant premium.
So right away, there are a few points which suggest that the Hero Black Edition is able to resist at least a couple of these common category complaints. The most noticeable upon taking the chair out of the box is that the branding is more restrained, with the chair rendered in matte black throughout - no crazy textures, bright colours or added flair. There's nothing wrong with a chair that stands out, but it's nice to have a more minimalistic option. Likewise, I appreciate that this model doesn't include the two shoulder holes found on most racing-inspired designs. After all, I don't wear a seatbelt when sitting at my PC, so there's really no need for these apertures.
So far, so good, but what about more serious criticisms like ergonomics and material choices? After all, the best office chairs distinguish themselves through support and adjustability, and good gaming chairs ought do the same - given that gamers might well occupy them for longer sessions than office workers.
On the ergonomics front, the Hero is better than most, with full arm adjustability (with four dimensions of movement) and seat tilt (permitting a flat or reclined position). More importantly though, the Hero includes a lumbar support feature built into the back of the chair itself - a much more robust alternative to the small cushions provided with most gaming designs. These lumbar pillows can't support the entire curve of the back, they slide out of place easily and and I've even lost a couple of them, so having a taller and more permanent solution makes a lot of sense. The amount of support provided can be adjusted using a knob on the side of the chair, and you can certainly feel a difference between the minimum and maximum settings.
Overall, I feel well-supported when using the chair, and having a wide range of options means that I can alter my posture to suit what I'm doing or how I'm feeling. Playing Counter-Strike requires sitting up with my nose to the screen, watching Better Call Saul benefits from a more relaxed posture, and writing up reviews or tweeting deals is somewhere in the middle. There's even the option to drop the back rest all the way back to a nearly horizontal position, which I would have killed for when sleeping at overnight LAN parties - and still comes in useful for restfully listening to podcasts or talking on the phone.
The material here is also interesting. Most chairs are offered with synthetic materials, with real leather offered for a steep premium, but the Hero can also be configured with a hybrid material - and that's the version I've been testing. The "hybrid polyurethane leather" material feels significantly more breathable than the synthetics I've used on chairs in the past, which together with the less enclosed design makes it more comfortable in warmer conditions - although it still doesn't approach the feel of a proper mesh-backed office chair like the legendary Herman Miller Aeron or the affordable Ikea Markus. It's also proved easy to clean - crumbs collect naturally in the seat, ready to be vacuumed away, while the odd coffee spill has wiped off without issues.
Beyond my dream for even greater breathability - and my desire for a cheaper version without arm rests for those of us that habitually remove them from chairs they own - there's little else I can find to complain about with the Hero in the three months I've used it. Instead, I've been quietly satisfied, especially as the advent of lockdown has meant I've meant more time at my computer desk than ever before.
Based on my experience with the Hero - and a good half-dozen predecessors from both the office and gaming camps - I've come to the conclusion that this binary choice is largely immaterial. Rather than picking a side between the forces of Big Office Chair or the Gaming Seat Gang, what you should be doing is finding the chair that makes most sense for you. What shape are you looking for? What designs do you prefer? What features are essential? None of these questions really rule out one camp or the other, and I'd suggest that you're more likely to find a suitable model by keeping your options open.
If you want to get the most features at the lowest price, then an office chair might well make sense. Ikea, Herman Miller and John Lewis all have some great models, and office closures mean that there are tons of used models available right now for the new legions of home workers - use that to your advantage and scour Ebay or local classified ads/apps to see if you can find a bargain.
Conversely, if you want to get that gamer look and you like the feel of the racing-style bucket seat design, that's a totally legitimate point of view as well. It's reductive to only consider the physical features of a product when assigning value - how it looks and how it feels to own and use are just as valid metrics as weight capacity or dimensions of adjustability.
After all, with no real standardised gaming apparel, gaming chairs have become one of the most visible indicators of membership within this broad space. It reminds me of that Good Omens quote - "Offer people a new creed with a costume and their hearts and minds will follow." For many of us self-identified PC gamers, a gaming chair is part of our costume, a necessary accessory with value beyond its functional purpose... and that's OK.
So - gaming chairs can be 100 per cent worth it if you're invested in that lifestyle. And whether you're looking at gaming or office chairs, looking predominantly at brands with a reputation for quality makes sense - whether that's a budget office brand like Ikea or a premium gaming brand like Noblechairs. Companies that have been in the game for a while tend to do better at nailing the smaller touches that make a good chair for gaming into a great one. For the Hero, that's the ability to tilt the base of the seat back, the integrated lumbar support and the quality of the materials, all of which help to justify that model's more premium price. It also extends to a greater number of colours and varieties, including official game tie-ins, which could be neat too.
To sum up then - the Hero Black Edition has performed well in our testing over the past few months and I'm happy to recommend it - certainly more than those ridiculous esports socks. If you're after a chair that sits between those gaming and office categories, with that familiar design but a more restrained palette and good ergonomic adjustability, it makes a lot of sense. For gaming chairs as a whole, I think there's definitely more to investigate and we'll look to do just that over the months to come.
If you have any specific questions about gaming chairs, do let us know and we'll try to answer in the comments or in a future piece.