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?

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.