I haven’t checked in on the game’s community since my first article on it back in October 2019, but with the conclusion of the 2022 osu! World Cup in November 2022, it’s as good a time to follow up on it as ever.
What is osu!?
osu! — still spelled all lowercase, and the exclamation mark is still mandatory — is a free-to-play rhythm-based video game by indie developer Dean Herbert, released in 2007. You can download it here.
The Standard mode of osu! involves clicking on circles that pop up around the screen to the beat of a song, and sometimes sliding between two of them or spinning the cursor around one. And it’s notable for being one of the few video games primarily played with creative pen tablets like the Wacom Intuos.
As the slogan of osu! — “Click those circles!” — implies, the game was originally made for the mouse: in a fascinating bit of crossover, the game’s own artist, Daru, may have been the first person to try it with his tablet. And although many still play the game by clicking and dragging, other early adopters soon found they could take their speed to the next level by playing with a pen hovered over the surface of their tablet, tapping the cursor around the screen with flicks of the wrist and using the Z and X keys. Because this forces players to gauge distances by muscle memory in air, it’s a tricky playstyle that takes a lot of precision to get right — but that kind of coordination, taken to the extreme, is exactly what makes the best players so impressive.
The games’ community has grown consistently, passing 20 million active players in 2022. Over time, top players have reached previously unthinkable speeds and achievements. Watching them play is hypnotic — one hand darts around the tablet with machinelike precision while the other tapdances on the keyboard, and all the while the beat of the song bumps in the background.
In the early days of the game’s community, Wacom was the only tablet brand to speak of. As such, the scene was built on them — but even now that there are alternatives, due to their high responsiveness, stable drivers, and rock-solid build quality, Wacom tablets have remained the standard.
The last article’s titular “King of Osu!” was the 2013 Wacom Intuos Pen Small, model CTL 480, which at the time was so coveted that used ones were getting increasingly rare and expensive. Prices have gone down, though — because there’s a new king in town. Which model? Read on to find out.
What’s changed since 2019?
Aside from the shift from the Intuos 480 to new tablets, other things have changed as well. The situation in 2019 looked like this:
- 15-year-old Vaxei had become the first to crack 1,000 performance points in a single game. His record would be snatched within a day by idke, then reclaimed the next week.
- Early prodigy Cookiezi/Shigetora/Chocomint was virtually undisputed as the game’s greatest player, with the longest time as #1 on the global leaderboards in history.
- That year, the US team would go on to sweep the osu! World Cup.
- Many more players have broken 1,000 performance points. Mrekk, the new #1 player and challenger for the title of GOAT, set the current record in October with 1,322.
- Vaxei is on indefinite hiatus and idke is mostly inactive. Chocomint plays more than ever, but has slipped in the rankings.
- BTMC (formerly BeasttrollMC) has risen to become the most popular osu! streamer on Twitch and unofficial “face of the game.” He’s a force to be reckoned with as a player, at #38 on the boards, but it’s his funny, passionate, and entertaining commentary that’s earned him the title.
The osu! World Cup
As the name implies, this is the official worldwide tournament run by the developers of the game. Teams of four representing each nation compete in a double-elimination tournament.
Team U.S. has long been dominant, making it to the final round for seven years straight, taking home the title six of them, and reigning undefeated in a single match for the last four years. By this point, even the potential for an upset was big news –which this year finally brought … kind of.
The game’s continuing global popularity has spawned some fierce challengers, and “this time, everything felt different,” says osu! Youtuber n3rdiness, “because of one word: balance. For the first time in a long time, It felt like every single team had a legitimate shot at taking first place.” And sure enough, the U.S. team was trounced for the first time since 2018 by South Korea, knocking them down to the losers’ bracket.
The U.S. fought through the losers’ bracket, made their way back to the finals, and faced South Korea again — and beat them. While fans of the U.S. team were happy as ever, the result was disappointing to many viewers, even in the U.S. — in osu! as in many sports, it’s fun to root for the underdog.
The star of the whole tournament, however, was South Korea’s [Karcher]. He stood head and shoulders above most players on both teams with his inhuman accuracy, “full-comboing” half the songs he played in his team’s winning match. This was after already making the news earlier this year by winning a $3,333 prize for being the first to “full combo” Japanese death metal band Imperial Circus Dead Decadence’s “Yomi Yori” — tapping along to double-kicks and blast beats was exactly as hard as it sounds.
And he had to do it twice. Because the first time, they couldn’t accept that he did it without him filming his hands to prove he hadn’t cheated.
The most exciting weekend in osu! history
2022 was a huge year for osu! In addition to the World Cup, two new tournaments came along simultaneously and generated unprecedented amounts of hype.
Charlie’s Perfect Math Class was a tournament which featured a record $10,000 prize pool and was hosted by MoistCr1tikal, one of the most popular Twitch streamers of any kind. This gave it “a legitimate case for the title of ‘greatest osu! Tournament of all time,’” according to n3rdiness. And it had the competition and viewership numbers to match.
Simultaneously, BTMC was putting on The Roundtable, a rare in-person, invite-only tournament, in Los Angeles. Top players flew in from across the world for it, including Australia’s mrekk, who ended up facing #5 player Utami — famous for his meteoric rise through the ranks — in the finals. Utami eventually clinched it, but very, very narrowly. Coming down to a slight accuracy difference after multiple tiebreakers, it might have been the closest tournament win ever.
And if that wasn’t enough, due to the different formats, several players participated in both tournaments at once!
The new king of osu!
The Wacom Intuos 480 was the king of osu! in 2019, even though it was many years old at that point. But it’s been dethroned!
The One by Wacom had just been released as of 2019, with early reviews from players already calling it a solid alternative to the 480. Add that to being one of the most affordable models Wacom has ever released, and you get what Youtuber Project Ace calls “The only tablet you need for osu!” Some pros have even switched over by choice.
“I’ve used many tablets before from brands like Huion, Veikk, Galmon, as well as other lineups from Wacom, and in my experience, this tablet outshines everything I’ve used before,” he adds. “When it comes to comfort, adaption, performance, pricing, and just overall functionality.”
The current-gen Wacom Intuos Small, the CTL 4100, is also praised by some as an equal alternative. EssentialPicks called it ”hands down the best OSU [sic] tablet.”
However, others on Reddit have warned that it has cursor smoothing, which is great for artists but can slightly throw off the accuracy when playing osu! as fast and intensely as you do at high levels. This can be fixed by using OpenTabletDriver to switch to raw input, though.
Closing us out, here’s Utami’s CTL 472, signed by all the players at The Roundtable tournament — including, once again, BTMC:
Want to pick one up for yourself? The One by Wacom (CTL 472) is only $49 at the Wacom eStore! Want to play osu! for yourself? Check it out and start playing here.
About the Author
Cameron “C.S.” Jones is a West-Philly-based writer and illustrator who’s been contributing to Wacom for three years now. You can see more of his work, including most of his contributions to this blog, at thecsjones.com, or follow him on Instagram or Twitter.