Starcraft Diary #10: Stuck in HotS

So, after getting a relatively strong computer on which I can consistently play SC2 in the summer of 2012, I have gone from top Silver to mid Diamond in the ladder on the North American server. I still don’t play nearly as much as I’d like, but I felt that my pace of improvement has been steady. That was until I started playing the Heart of the Swarm beta a month or two ago, when I’ve found myself stuck in mid Platinum, with barely a 50% win rate.

I do realize that the beta is just one server, which means that everyone from around the world is playing on this server, which also means there are way more masters, diamond, and platinum players on the beta. The game is great, the new units are fun presents an entirely new meta game (I shall discuss balance in another post). But in the past week or so, I’ve really felt that my pace of improvement has not kept up with the higher level of play that I’m confronted with in the beta, despite playing almost 400 games.

I should also note that I didn’t start to play Wings of Liberty regularly until maybe a year after the game came out. Furthermore, I wasn’t even aware that there was a competitive gaming scene, and an entire industry, behind Starcraft 2. I played Starcraft: Broodwar as a recreational thing but I didn’t realize that people can do things… so fast!

Nowadays, I’ve turned into one of the biggest fans of the game; watching Day9, Husky, State of the Game, Inside the Game, checking Team Liquid everyday, watching good players stream, watching tournaments… which all inspires me to get better.

Needless to say, I am way behind in terms of experience compared to people who have played way more. But is that the only thing? What’s missing in my game that’s needed in order for me to get to the next level? I don’t think my mechanics are too bad, but rather it’s my decision-making that’s losing me games. How do I achieve better decision making in SC2? Just play more?

The Sky Isn’t Falling: My Two Cents on the State of StarCraft 2

So, in light of all the buzz that’s been going around since Destiny’s vitriolic rant against StarCraft 2 and Blizzard, and having seen so many videos of players and casters discussing the issue, I feel the urge to also give my take on the current situation.

I’d like to draw a comparison between Blizzard and a somewhat well-known company known as Apple. This is not a point-by-point comparison, and I’m not suggesting that they are similar in most aspects or even how they function. But right now, it seems to me that, ultimately, Blizzard is so confident in their game that, like Apple, they are comfortable with implementing changes to their products at a glacial pace and still retain its consumers.

In a similar light, Apple has been hounded by fans, industry insiders alike for upgrading the iPhone at such a slow pace that it has been caught up by companies like Samsung. Components such as the front-pacing camera were not installed until the 4, by then many other phones already have the same features. In the end though, it seemed like only Apple knew best, as the iPhone 4 sales was through the roof. However, the post-Jobs Apple is showing signs of slowing down even more, as the iPhone 5, despite a complete new design, just doesn’t seem to be a giant leap from the 4S.

Meanwhile, Blizzard has also been blasted for being so slow, showing reluctance even, to implement simple changes that can improve user experiences. Features such as better chat channels, a more integrated arcade, ladder, leveling system have thus far been missing in Wings of Liberty. As such, without digressing too much, it is great to know that most of them will be included in Heart of the Swarm.

As most gamers are aware, League of Legends has overtaken SC2 as the most viewed and played ESports game. As has been discussed on the latest (57) episode of Inside the Game, SC2 can very much be viewed as the game that paved the way for such a vast online competitive gaming community, having started over two years ago, when LoL and Dota2 were in their infancy. Was SC2 overtaken by LoL because of its failures and slowness in implementing changes? I don’t think that’s the case. Here’s why.

First of all, they are two completely different games. League of Legends is purely team-based, and as such, naturally calls for communications between teammates during gameplay, which fosters a fast-growing community. StarCraft 2 is predominantly a one-versus-one game. Unless there’s something in particular you want to say, there’s not much of a point in chatting with your opponent. That’s just how the game works. Nothing can be done about it.

Secondly, and this is why I think for the most part why Blizzard is so slow in making changes, is that, well, they think StarCraft 2 is hands down the better game, that fans of the game won’t stop playing it, that new gamers will try it because of the fact that it’s a good game, and that there’s not even a chance that League of Legends will wipe SC2 off the map. Note that I don’t mean SC2 will mount a comeback and gain more viewers than LoL any time soon, but to suggest that SC2 will be dead in 2 years is plain ridiculous.

Similar to Apple, Blizzard are confident in their products, and thus are taking their time with their upgrades. Apple knew that the iPhone (and iPad, i-everything, really) are still hugely popular, so why make drastic changes when the current formula is working? Having said that, I think Blizzard has finally pushed its fans to the edge, and ought to finally make a sweeping series of changes to improve the experiences.

Lets go back to the nature of SC2 as a game. A lot of gamers, Destiny included, claim that casual gamers see no incentive in hopping onto ladder and play competitively to gain points; that the anxiety of playing against people who can cheese / 4 gate / bad manner you / crushing you, is enough to deter them from ever playing on ladder. I agree with that sentiment, to a certain extent. But to say that the game itself is difficult to get into because of the ladder system takes away from the nature of the game itself. StarCraft is an immensely complicated real-time strategy game that requires a combination of solid mechanics and strategy (which includes taking calculated risks, educated guesses, out-thinking opponents), both of which can be achieved through practice. The key to StarCraft being a great game is the enormous sense of reward when a player knows that all the playing and practicing has paid off and he starts winning games and climbing up the ladder.

There is an element missing when people talk about the state of SC2 and why it’s hard to get into, that is that not enough people are discussing the mechanics of the game, instead focusing on strategy on talk shows and interviews. While that might interest those who are already into the game, newcomers might be befuddled by all the strategy talk without knowing what they mean. That’s why Day9 has such an important role in SC2 because of his tutorial videos on both mechanics and strategy. The mechanics of LoL and Dota are easier, at the very least in the sense that you only control one unit. The mechanics of macro is much more of an elusive concept to grasp. But once a player starts getting the mechanics down and can competently macro and micro, the sense of fulfillment is incredible. It’s what keeps me playing.

And now, with the debut of the revamped User Interface in the latest Heart of the Swarm beta patch, StarCraft is more appealing than ever. So fear not, frustrated Crafters! StarCraft is fine. Let Blizard know your concerns, and keep playing!

Starcraft Diary #7 – Getting Sick of Losing… Time to Cheese

Are you sick of losing to Starcraft 2? Have you been trying all kinds of different builds, improve on your macro, and trying to get the appropriate army composition to for the mid to late game, only to lose game after game? I have a suggestion.

It’s time to cheese.

Without getting to ‘meta’ or abstract, what is cheese anyway? It’s a subjective concept. As long as you win games with it, it’s a good strategy. The only reason why cheese is labeled so is because the ‘cheeser’ will be economically behind his opponent if his attack fails.

But, at the same time, honestly, many players in Bronze, Silver, and Gold leagues aren’t very good at defending ‘cheese’ strategies such as 6 pool, 4-Gate, Cannon-rush, or Proxy Rax, so why not use them to win games?

Plus, after seeing GEGTGaulzi cannon rush in Day9 Daily #455, the cannon rush can be viewed as a perfectly legitimate pro strategy. In the daily, Day9 mentions that while most cannon rush videos submissions were fails, a pro like gaulzi is proof that high-level cannon rushes are done with amazing micro skills.

My point is to be good at cannon rush you actually need a high skill level. The same could be said of the 4 gate. For lower to mid level players, it’s actually quite hard to have a 4 gate ready and reach your opponent’s base in under 6 and a half minutes, let alone 6. And if you do, you are guaranteed to win more than lose.

So, if you are sick of losing with macro and micro in the mid-late game, cheese away! As per my hatred for the Zerg race, specifically the mutalisk, I plan to cheese every game against Zerg in the near future.

In the meantime, glhf!

Starcraft Diary #6 – Thoughts on Day9 Daily #447

I’m not going to summarize Day9’s comments or content here. That’s not the point of this post. What I do want to note, though, is the essence of what Day9 was getting at in the epic 4 part daily.

Throughout the process of talking through organization and execution of builds by several players, what Day9 points out in almost every case is the importance of scouting and knowing what the opponent is up to. For example, several times in the Daily he stresses that ‘this build works best against a fast-expanding Protoss, so if you check and see no expansions, [forget the build order and] do whatever you can do stay alive.

In other cases, he says outright that he would have preferred the player to have done more ‘checking’. In other words, knowing what the opponent is up to is the most important thing, not just for to make a point for this daily, but for me, in the whole game.

Starcraft is a reactionary game. Knowing what to do when faced with different situations works in tandem with taking the initiative and being aggressive. By constantly scouting your opponents, you will gradually figure out, intuitively, what unit composition to get.

For example, as a Protoss player, if I see mass roach or mass marauder coming, forget everything! Chrono boost out as many immortals as you can! If you haven’t got a Robotics facility, get one, and get immortals, because roaches are strong against gateway units, and marauders even more so.

Plus, knowing what your opponent is doing through scouting gives you confidence in your own build and makes you feel in control. So scout often, and win more games!

Starcraft Diary #4 – Dealing with the Zerg swarm: Broodlords / Mutas

The Zerg late-game is probably one of the toughest scenarios to play against. There’s nothing quite like that feeling when you march your army towards your Zerg opponent’s base and your leading stalker is struck by a flying broodling.

As someone who has fought Zerg in the bronze league, the key lies in switching from colossus tech to templar tech as soon as possible. Basically, if you see corruptors during the mid-game, that is the cue for you to switch to templar. Don’t forget to research psionic storm, of course.

If you are lucky and you engage in a head-to-head battle against a broodlord (plus roach/ling/infestor) army, preferably you’d want to have a good mix of stalkers, zealots, archons, and of course, high templars. The quickest way you can defeat that zerg swarm is to storm the be-jesus out of the broodlords and the ground army underneath them, and proceed to blink the stalkers underneath them and take them out one by one.

Now, the mutalisk is a different story. I am one of many who often fall victim to the dangerous muta-ling strategy because the mutalisk harass is too annoying and frustrating to be up against. While the bronze level muta harass is easy to deflect, anything higher than bronze starts to get a bit tougher. I’m in no position to provide any detailed tips as to how to deflect mutas, suffice to say that I generally rely on a combination of stalkers and cannons to protect my base while massing up an army to kill the opponent. This often doesn’t work.

For a better way to defend against mutas, check out Day9’s daily on LiquidHero’s PvZ play, where he stations high templars at his main and expansions and storm mutas as they come in to harass.

Starcraft Diary #2 – Protoss-ing in the Bronze League

I am a pure Protoss player. For someone who has to play with (for the time being) a computer that lags during game play, Protoss requires the least micro to achieve decent performances. With that in mind, I have two very basic observations that has helped me plow through the bronze league with relative ease.

1. [If opponent has little air force] The death-ball: This is perhaps the most common way to play Protoss – amass a maxed-food, max-upgraded army full consisting of Colossus, Immortals, Stalker, Zealot, Sentry, and maybe some high/dark Templar, Void Rays, and Archons. It is the easiest way to achieve the moment where you march your army head-on against your opponent’s army and completely demolishes it. Basically with this death ball you can crush any Zerg player going just Roach-Hydra (plus Zergling), or any Terran player going Marine-Marauder-Medivac (again, in Bronze and Silver) because the Colossi and Immortals basically go unscathed as they use their powerful attacks to crush their enemies. Even with the stimp-pack, the marines and marauders are still no match against Colossi-Immortal.

2. [If opponent has strong air] The Mass-Storm Play: Despite the fact that Bronze is the lowest league in the ladder, some players are still aware of the fact that they need a strong anti-air presence against Protoss in order to defeat the death-ball. As such, Zerg players will mass up Corruptors while Terran players will get Vikings to counter the all-powerful Colossus. Once the the Colossi in a death-ball falls, its power diminishes significantly. I have lost many games were my Colossi are killed right in the beginning of an engagement and the rest of my army is quickly wiped out after that.

There is a very simple solution to this problem. Replace the majority of the Colossus with High Templars. This works for several reasons:

– Most Bronze / Silver Terran and Zerg players almost always expect their Protoss opponents to mass Colossi, which is most common and usually made most sense for the Protoss players. As they would counter accordingly with the Corruptors (and Mutalisks) and Vikings, making High Templars would dramatically lower the usefulness of these units, therefore indirectly wasting their food that could otherwise be used to produce other units.

– The Psy Storm is powerful in all levels of play, but it is especially potent when playing against lower level players because of their lower micro skills and therefore less likely to dodge storms. As a result, what you very often get is Zerg and Terran players running head on into battle with Corruptors and Vikings only to discover there are no Colossi for them to kill, and to eat repeated storms in the face.

– Where as this strategy is decent against Zerg (as it is harder to storm fast-moving Zerglings), it is especially powerful against Terran armies. Basically, instead of making 3 or more Colossi, stick with two or less, get as much High Templars as 5 or more (basically as many as you can afford). Make sure to wait a while until their energy is high. Then, when you engage a mass Terran MMM-Bio-Ball, when you see their troops stop and start shooting, select the Templars and go ‘t-click-t-click-t-click-t-click…’ – CARPET-STORM that bio-ball until all of your Templars are out of energy, then morph them into Archons to keep fighting. Often times though, the Archons are not needed as the opponent’s entire army is dead from taking so many storms.

– Finally, the carpet-storm strategy also works, particularly in the lower leagues, because lower league Zerg players seldom use infestors, while, more directly, lower league Terran players seldom use Ghosts. Ghosts serve as the arch-nemesis of High Templars; they counter each other. In the pro-level games, sometimes the game comes down to whether the Ghosts can snipe the Templars or the Templars can Feedback the Ghosts first. But in the lower-level games, Terran players rarely use Ghosts, allowing your Templars to freely be in your army-ball and storming the heck out of the opponents’ bio-ball.

So, try it out! It is especially gratifying when, after both sides have massed a maxed army and they clash, your opponent leaves the game without saying ‘gg’ because his army has been stormed into oblivion.