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The School of StarCraft
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Date: 05/30/06 05:05
Game Type: Starcraft
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The School of Starcraft

Yes, this is a strategy guide. Everyone eventually does one. It's about time I gave it a shot. Prepare to be schooled.

This guide views best in Moz, and probably works equally well in IE... It was written for a resolution of 1024 wide, and probably works for other resolutions too...

The Lines of Communication

One thing I've never seen in a StarCraft strategy guide is discussion on communication. With the rising popularity of team competitions, a lack of literature on "chatting tactics" leaves many gamers in the dark about the most efficient way to transmit their plans to their allies.

Obviously, communication is very important. At the beginning of the game, always, always, turn on allied chat. Unless your team is physically located in the same room, you and your allies will doubtless be discussing early game plans by using the only comm option available: the in-game chat. Spilling your intentions all over the public airwaves is a great way to provide your enemies ample time to prepare counters.

Some pro players advocate the use of non-allied chat to spread disinformation. Quite frankly, as beginners in SC, I would not recommend that you spend time on this complicated strategy. Just ally your chat so you can concentrate on the game.

Once you've properly secured your comm frequencies, you have to huddle with your team and decide what you'll all be making. The earlier you set things in stone, the earlier everyone can start teching to the units they've promised to provide to the war effort. Wasted seconds at the beginning of a match can often spell the difference between easy victory and ignominious defeat.

If, at the game's start, you have no leanings towards one branch of the tech tree or another, don't be afraid to solicit team members for opinions. Their goals may require you to produce specific support units for specific purposes.

It's also beneficial to message as tersely as possible. AOLese, 1337-speak, spamglish -- call it whatever disparaging name you like -- but the shorthand reduces the keystrokes you have to initiate in order to get your point across. For example, instead of typing, "Let's hit the terran at the bottom middle," you could propose, "go 6?" This reduction in keystrokes translates directly into time you could use for more important things: base management, scouting, keeping an eye on the minimap, whatever. Additionally, it reduces the amount of text your allies have to interpret. Everyone wins.

So it's clear that the ultimate goal of any typographical shorthand is to reduce the amount typed. It's easier if your team is a group that often plays together, and knows each other well. I therefore leave it up to you, in your individual squads, to develop a language useful to the situations that typically arise in the games and matchups you play.

And, most importantly, once you've made plans with your teammates, don't deviate! Good communication isn't happening when teammates' expectations aren't being met. Nothing is more irritating than expecting goons/tanks/mutas/whatever from your partners and instead getting zeals/vultures/zerglings to support your own forces. The point bears reiteration: build what you promise to build, or renegotiate!

Micro and Macro

Even players new to StarCraft can see pathing problems: when moving out, larger armies tend to string out into line formations. This means that in any attack, the defending army will always have a slight formation advantage over the attacking one, with the more-or-less stationary defenders focussing all their attacks on the leading invaders. The most unbalanced case, of course, is when one tries to break a terran siege camp. However, the same applies to low-tech units as well.

Consider the early zealot vs. zergling matchup, certainly one that pops up often. Conventional wisdom says that without any micro or upgrades, when there are five or more zerglings per zealot, the zerglings will win. Now consider the same example, except the zealots come in disorganised with units behind each other so they end up getting in the way, and the zerglings are evenly spread out. The zerglings can concentrate their attacks on the first attacker, quickly dispatching it, and then move in unison to engage successive zealots. The conclusion is clear: a proper defensive posture will allow your troops to turn back more enemies than otherwise would be possible. So whenever you have a moment that can be spared, spend it arranging your armies into ordered formations.

Your neatly-arrayed troops are also a way of waging psychological warfare against lesser opponents: upon witnessing your disciplined micro, the only people who could even contemplate attacking you would be those who are much more skilled than you.

One important aspect of micro is being able to exert control over each individual unit in your army, leaving nothing to the vagaries of SC's algorithms. Though individual control has applications in melee or ranged combat (goon dancing, focus fire, etc), it is especially important in the case of casting units. Mainly because, except for the medic's healing, no spells are automatically cast. "Cloning" is when one takes a group of spellcasters, and quickly orders each caster to target a different area or unit, usually by ordering an entire control group and successively de-selecting a member while issuing new orders to remaining members. In this way, you can keep your casters moving in the same general direction while minimising your fiddling with unit grouping hotkeys.

Having discussed some areas of micromanagement, I would like to go on record as saying many players focus too much on micro, to the detriment of their macro game. As a result, though their units in the field last longer, they cannot produce reinforcements quickly enough against opponents who have a good sense of macro. Therefore, I would warn those of you who mindlessly chase the micro rainbow, ignoring your macro, which, quite frankly, is equally important.

The blue terran in the next picture is a glowing example of what I mean when macro is important. Check out his unit production facilities -- four barracks, four factories, and four starports. Additionally, the weapon and armour upgrade facilities are close by. The production capacity is staggering, especially considering the awesome firepower that four factories could output while pumping tanks. Blue's centralised industrial quarter is also highly efficient -- a few seconds in one area of the map, and he can train many control groups of units and upgrade their equipment, and then bring his full attention to bear on battle micromanagement.

Those of you who are more astute will have noticed that the terran commander also has lots of supply room. That's another thing that I've noticed many players just can't do properly. While busy microing, they run out of supply, and can't create more units. This is truly dangerous in team games, where an enemy's partners can counter while your army is out in the field. So make sure to build lots of supply in advance.

In my years of StarCrafting, I've come across many, many players who just mass one single unit and attack-move their armies across the map. Aside from being boring and taking no skill, this tactic is a gamble. Veterans of the game know that every unit in the game can be countered. Massing one single unit is therefore putting all your eggs in one basket -- if your enemies are on the ball, they can just produce units to counter your army, and then roll over you. The lesson, then, is to mix up your forces. Strength in diversity. Make sure your army is balanced, and no matter what your opponents throw at you, you'll have units capable of meeting the challenge, and you won't have to waste time rebuilding a broken army.

Getting the Priorities Straight

In the first section to this strategy guide, we considered how efficiency in team communications could improve a team's odds of winning. In the second section, we examined how building and unit formations and a steady climb of the tech tree led to further gains in efficiency. Do you see a pattern here? I think you do.

Being good at StarCraft boils down to knowing when to do what. Meaning you don't waste your time doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, the right thing at the wrong time, or the wrong thing at the right time. You use your time efficiently. So the question to ask yourself when you're faced with a command decision is this: would going through with these orders constitute an efficient use of my time and resources?

We illustrate this question with several examples.

Ever since Brood War was released, invisible mid-game enemies became a serious issue for every race. So seriously, put some detection at the entrance to your main. There's nothing worse than dying early to DTs or lurkers when a few simple cannons or turrets at your choke/ramp could render cloaked opposition useless.

Q: Is building early detection an efficient use of my time and resources?

A: Compared to dying to rush/cloaked units? My death is not efficient. Warp them cannons!

As illustrated above, it's even better when you block off your entry so no one can get in. The opposition will be forced to team up against your allies, who will consequently be "too busy" fending off superior numbers to assist you when you're attacked. No team play, I know, it sucks. It's possible your partners will be unable to withstand the constant pressure, but if they're not as skilled as you at fighting outnumbered, hey, that's their problem, not yours.

While your team is dying, your choke defence will buy you time to tech to your race's capital units before your enemies can get tanks, reavers, or mass hydra/ling. With a little planning, you'll be able to take on the entire enemy team, and pull your allies' undeserving butts out of the frying pan.

Q: Is sacrificing early resources for static defence an efficient use of my early game? What if my allies die?

A: Yes, everyone needs something to defend their bases. And if my allies die, the very fact that they died early proves they were worthless and could not have contributed to a victory. Carriers or bust!

I've watched many replays of students asking me for advice, and I've noticed that a lot of players have no idea when to attack and when to sit still. Often, they'll be bullied by their allies into attacking before they can cobble together a critical mass of units. The result? They lose what little military might they had to start with when the other team drubs the half-hearted attack squad. And the enemy gets an easy time of countering to boot!

So what can you do when you don't feel ready to take it to the next level with your partners? Like any good teacher, I can only tell you not to give in to peer pressure. Don't do anything you're not ready to do!

Q: Is attacking before I'm ready an efficient use of my units?

A: What am I, stupid? Sending unprepared soldiers into battle? Definitely not efficient. I'll attack when the right moment comes. The right moment always comes.

The Ultimate Strategy

So far, this guide has gone over several broad-based areas where you can improve your StarCraft game. I know you've carefully studied my teachings, and I judge you ready to learn the ultimate strategy. Once you master this strat, even progamers will fall to your might.

The main thrust of the plan is --

Oops, looks like class is dismissed. Guess it'll have to wait until next time. Remember that your battlereports are due at the beginning of the next lecture. Nubs.

So that's that. As always, thanks for reading, and I hope you reaped some measure of enjoyment from my work.

Until next time, remember: any fool can teach you how to play StarCraft.

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