Answer by Max Loh:
Yes, surround is worth it for gaming, if you are that type of person which appreciates sound (and judging by the fact you are asking this question in the first place, you probably are).
Rather than surround sound headset, use emulated surround on headphones by a good algorithm/soundcard. I use X-Fi’s CMSS-3D for headphones. The algorithm is very good and sounds are very believably behind you. I remember the first time I tried it on, I looked behind me expecting there to be a speaker when there wasn’t.
Don’t do what Kevin Kappel did and use a no-name emulation algorithm that sucks balls. Don’t do what Daniel Super does and use the game’s emulation algorithm (which also sucks balls). Proof that soundcard emulation still provides industry-leading realistic/immersive 3D in headphones can be found in this Youtube video (CMSS-3D and THX are clearly superior, Dolby Headphone is good, and software rendering is so bad it sounds like vanilla stereo). USE HEADPHONES when listening:
Now keep in mind that there are a lot of complaints about Creative’s X-fi brands of cards for having horrendous customer support. But their sound is very good — if it works. I’ve been lucky enough that my card is still working without flaws after all these years. However, other brands might have sound cards that also emulate 3D on headphones very well. For example ASUS cards use “Dolby Headphone” (as in video above), which in my opinion doesn’t sound as great, and even adds room reflections for no reason, but is still decent.
Most people who have compared the two agree that the emulated 3D with a dedicated card is better than actual cumbersome surround speakers built into the headphones.
When playing a sound-heavy competitive game such as counter-strike, it is essential to have surround sound because often you hear someone coming from your left, but it could be left-front or left-behind. With emulated surround in headphones it is extremely easy to pinpoint their location. In fact it is much easier than in real life, since they don’t model reflections off of walls. There is a location in a particular map where if I stand, I can know where the whole team is headed and call out to my team “they’re going through apartments” or “they’re going through tunnels”. When I only use stereo, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the two.
For immersion and cinematic quality, real 5.1 or more speakers is probably best, but for pinpointing location in competitive games, nothing beats headphones with emulated surround.