Starcraft Diary #11: The Slump Continues

After losing 12 of the last 14 games, I’ve decided to call it a night. Nothing is going right; I get crushed in macro games and my all-ins are held off. And this losing streak is not coming off a long winning streak that had boosted my MMR. I’m just getting outplayed all of a sudden.

As I mentioned in my last post, perhaps part of it has to do with everyone being in one server in the beta, meaning that all of the world’s Grandmaster, Master, Diamond, Platinum, etc.. are on one server, which pushes the level of play up, and my place on the ladder down. And I’m guessing as we are nearing the release of Heart of the Swarm, more and more people are are switching over from Wings of Liberty, further heightening the level of play.

Nonetheless, it’s still incredibly disheartening to lose game after game, most of which aren’t even close. Call me dramatic, but to some degree, I did some Starcraft soul-searching in the shower and figured that, ultimately, I need to get back to the basics. So I’m going to write out what I think has been going on in my games, in all three match ups, and flesh out what I need to do to improve on a faster rate.

In general, most of my losses usually stem from tech-ing too fast, and not having enough army to defend as a result. The reason for this is perhaps I’ve been wanting to add Stargate units to my army, which actually takes a toll on my army as the building of the stargate(s) and the slow making of the units costs me both resources and time. I’ve heard almost everywhere that Skytoss is unbeatable, and I still believe that, if I can get to it. I guess I have to sacrifice another tech path if I wanted to go Stargate, that’s the solution that makes the most sense.

Analysis of how I’ve been matching up against all three races in the next post!

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 #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.