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?

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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!

Bad Manners and Liars in StarCraft 2

Just a little experience I had from playing ladder today. I lost a game to a terran where I went warp prism 4 gate, but was delayed and got crushed by a big terran army. When I gg’ed I said “nice all-in”; experience told me that that many units meant the terran was pretty much investing all his resources on units and not tech. Thus, I was surprised when he replied “2 base…” I checked the replay, and was comforted by the fact that I was right, and at the same time surprised (not even upset) that he flat out lied about how many bases he had. Doesn’t he find it embarrassing to be called out, especially when all I needed to do was check the replay to see if he was lying?

Anyways, such was just many examples of bad manners and liars I encounter at the ladder. It’s quite disheartening to see this as it just perpetuates a bad image for the community. Granted that there are bad manner gamers for all games, I think we owe it to the game to be better mannered. Who knows? We just might attract more players by just saying ‘gl hf’ before and ‘gg’ after every game!