Garmin Instinct Esports Edition Review: The Ultimate Gaming Smart Watch

The Garmin Instinct Esports Edition is a pretty novel device even among smartwatches. It combines all of the connected features of a typical smartwatch and an unbelievable amount of GPS and health tracking features with some fascinating tools for streamers and competitive gamers. Speaking as someone that has a lot of experience with smartwatches and connected devices from years of working in retail, I’ve never seen a watch do all the things the Garmin Instinct can do. What’s more, the Esports Edition features can add a really unique element to a stream and provide some genuinely useful data to help you improve your play.

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The Instinct really feels like three unique devices in one so it’s probably best to approach each use case separately. As a smartwatch, the Instinct has tons of lifestyle features to help you stay connected whether your streaming or on the go. By downloading the Connect app, you can get notifications on the watch for texts, calls, emails, Facebook messages, and pretty much everything else you get notifications for. You can read things like texts on the watch too. The shape of the watch face is irregular thanks to a circle on the top right that’s used as a separate display, so reading on the watch isn’t quite as easy as reading on an Apple Watch or other types of LCD smartwatches. But what I really like is that, unlike LCD smartwatches, the instinct uses buttons to navigate rather than a touch screen. It’s very easy to navigate through the various settings and activities on the Instinct — of which there are many — and I found operating the watch to be incredibly intuitive and straightforward.

The Instinct is also a robust GPS watch. This military standard 810 watch is lightweight with a rubber wrist strap but clearly an incredibly durable device. Aesthetically, the Instinct is very rugged and sporty, but I think the sleek black body with red accents certainly has a tactical, perhaps even gamer-y look that makes this a sports watch I’m very comfortable wearing around.

The library of available activities it can track is pretty comprehensive. The Instinct offers individual tracking for walking, running, treadmill, strength, cardio, yoga, cycling, swimming, and gaming. It has a built-in heart rate monitor that can provide an active heart rate readout at a glance, and of course, GPS for tracking and mapping. I don’t often engaged with rigorous physical activity, and unfortunate but often true stereotype of video game enthusiasts, but one thing that gamers and athletes can certainly agree on is that data is beautiful, and the Instinct offers a lot of it.

You’ll find all these features on a wide variety of GPS watches, including others made by Garmin, but what makes the Instinct Esports Edition so special are two features you’ll only find here: Esports activity tracking and STR3AMUP.

The esports activity tracker treats gaming like any other physical activity by taking careful measurements and providing data to help you improve. The gaming activity is the first one that comes up in the menu when you press the GPS buttons and can be started with the tap of a button. Once it begins, the tracker will run a timer while it monitors your heart rate and generates a stress index number based on heart rate variability. The Instinct will run for up to 40 hours in esports mode so you can even track for legitimate gaming marathons.

Why is this important data? Any coach or trainer of eathletes will tell you that stress and changes in your heart rate have a major impact on the way you play. The very definition of “choking” is when you let the hype, intensity, and importance of the game get the better of you. To play your best you have to stay in control, and the Instinct is a valuable tool to help you record changes in your heart rate while you play. This way, you can visualize and train to overcome those emotional spikes that hurt your game. I recorded several hours of Apex Legends while I ran the Instinct in esports mode and the stress level spikes line up so perfectly with every single clutch play I made as well as every time I choked. Were I training my mind and body to be the best player I could be, that data would be incredibly valuable to me. Seeing where I’m losing control and watching that improve over time is exciting and the Instinct makes it so easy to track that data.

STR3AMUP is essentially an overlay that allows you to take that data off your watch and put it up on the screen while you play. STR3AMUP isn’t meant to be a training tool I don’t think, and I personally found having my heart rate and stress level up on the screen to be detrimental. Maybe over time, I could learn to use it to center myself and stay in control, but every time I noticed that number start to climb I started to really panic.

I think STR3AMUP is valuable as a streaming tool though because it can add a really unique aspect to your stream. I love when streamers use overlays like the Destiny 2 loadout overlay or Tobii Ghost eye tracker because it adds a level of audience interaction and participation. ST3AMUP works the exact same way. Showing your audience your vitals while you game is a great way to build up hype in chat and create fun, clippable moments. Even if you aren’t a streamer that plays serious competitive shooters, it would be really fun to watch someone play a horror game like Resident Evil 7 with their heart rate up on the screen. STR3AMUP would even make a great companion for a game like Among Us because you could see fluctuations in heart rate when the streamer lies. There are so many great ways to incorporate vital stats in a stream and I just adore all the possibilities the Instinct creates.

At first, I thought the Garmin Instinct Esports Edition was a really niche product that would only benefit competitive gamers and streamers, but the more I used it over the last few weeks the more value it added to my life. As gamers, we need to take our health and fitness seriously and the Instinct has given me such an easy way to gamify physical activity while also serving as a useful tool to keep me connected. I’m checking my phone less, I’m checking my heart rate more, and I’m thinking a lot about ways to be more active. What more could you ask for from a smartwatch? The Garmin Instinct does more than any GPS watch I’ve used and what it does for competitive gamers and streamers is both unique and genuinely useful.

A Garmin Instinct Esports Edition was provided to TheGamer for this review. You can learn more about the Instinct Esports Edition on the Garmin website.

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Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.

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