Starcraft 2 – Just Play It

December 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

‘The match was on “Xel’Naga Caverns” – he was the yellow Zerg and I, the red Terran. I began my well oiled anti-Zerg opener – barracks with a reactor, factory (switch for reactor), another barracks, and started rolling out the Marines and Hellions. This should be fun…’

Starcraft 2 is one of those games you either love or hate. It attracts a certain breed of gamer – the kind of chap that would consider bringing a knife to a gun-fight purely for the challenge. It can be brutal for the unprepared, a world of jargon and unexpected defeats. Full of things to remember, and worst of all, a pace that will shatter your mouse.

At least, that’s the perception.

It looks difficult. This is a very common thing people assume about Starcraft 2. Watching pro SC2 gamers playing on YouTube, using monstrous-looking mice and neon keyboards, the commentators froth at the mouth over something called “cheese”, and reams of adoring fans cheering names that sound worryingly like someone got it from a Welsh dictionary. Why all of this if the game doesn’t require decades of effort and an index finger like a particularly buff pork sausage? The answer – Starcraft 2, like chess, is as difficult as the guy you are playing against.

‘Four Hellions streak towards the freshly scouted Zerg base. At this stage in the game, he will likely have bugger all bar a few drones and Zerglings – skittering little things that are hilariously flammable. The real trick here is keeping the Hellions moving, avoiding getting boxed in by the nippy little Zerglings, and crisping as many drones as possible… all while maintaining my own production of workers and possibly expanding to another mineral field. That all depends, of course, on what I find in the Zerg base…’

When I started playing SC2, I was terrified. A quick glance on the forums made me shiver – so many counters, so many threads yelling “OMG! OP STRAT!!” and the like – I felt completely out of touch. People take this game very seriously, and I felt I had no chance whatsoever. Fortunately, Blizzard have a clever(ish) league system; you play five matches against randomly selected opponents, and from there you are placed in a ladder that suits your skills. Oddly, winning isn’t the only criteria these placement matches take into account – I won three, lost two, and still ended up being stuck in the low Bronze league. And there I stayed for some time.

The matchmaking system works well, which is a relief if you are of a very low skill; you are never likely to face someone in the Gold ladders or above if you are in Bronze. Although being new in the lower brackets comes with its own problems, namely the “rush”.

‘No, this is not good. I killed a few drones, but, as a distinct lack of Zerglings should have told me, he already has Roaches. Armoured, and rather nasty looking, they made mincemeat of my poor Hellions. No panic though, I’ve already started making Marauders – a good Roach-counter – and now working my way to Banshees. They fly, turn invisible with a little research, and Roaches can’t shoot up… none of this makes much difference anyway, as the Roaches are now outside my front door, spitting their way in…’

The real issue with newcomers to Starcraft 2 isn’t the techniques, it isn’t even losing games. It’s getting hammered inside ten minutes by someone who is quite clearly better than you. Either by “cheese” – a term for strategies that fall inside the realm of “a bit dickish” – building a barracks inside your opponents base for example – or by simply going all-in, using all the minerals you have to build a force of units as fast as possible and charging the other guy. This can work, and against a new player it can be devastating. The big irony is, it can be avoided with the slightest of ease by simply scouting, and understanding the idea that someone who does this, leaves themselves utterly open to a counter-attack if they fail.

‘My Marauders hold the tide, and all I lose is a Supply Depot. Not too shabby. However, as my opponent seems to be going for the old all-in Roach attack, expanding my not be the best of ideas. So, instead of scouting further, I decide to take the fight to him; perhaps putting him on a defensive footing that will allow me to expand and get those Gas geysers I need for my cloaking Banshees.’

Every move in SC2 is balanced; if your opponent has an advantage, it’s because either you let him, or he has sacrificed something. It doesn’t always feel like that, but if you do lose to a cheap trick, watching the replay and looking at what you both do in the game can really surprise you. The number of games I have lost, feeling afterwards like I had been totally dominated… the replay then blows me away – if I had attacked at this point, I would have beaten him. If I had scouted here, I would have seen this attack coming. If I had moved up with my army before he built that, he would have had nothing to defend with… and so on.

This is something almost totally unique to Starcraft 2: the ability to see exactly what you did wrong. Or, conversely, what the other guy did right.

‘RUN! Damn it!!! My Marauders are getting picked off one at a time by a force of Zerglings and Roaches. He expanded and I didn’t scout… I knew I had forgotten something. My push at his main base was surprisingly uneventful at first, but my opponent had a second base nearby… and my Marauders were attacked from behind. My banshees are rolling out now, and although I don’t have enough gas to get their cloak, they are still air units. Handily, Zerglings and Roaches can’t shoot air units, so I might pull this one out of the fire yet…’

The most important thing to remember when playing Starcraft 2, particularly online, is this – losing is fun. Sounds idiotic, I know, but you learn an order of magnitude more from a loss than a win in this game. A win is euphoric, especially if it was a tough one, but to play a game like this is to aspire to be better. Losing to someone better than you allows you to see what they did, how they play and most importantly, how to beat them next time. If not, simply nick their strategy.

Don’t be afraid to experiment – I once had a game where I decided I was only going to build Marines (the most basic Terran unit), and nearly fell off my chair when I won it. Watch others play, watch replays, and try out pro builds and strategies. To play Starcraft 2 is to be part of a world-spanning community, and for every guy who beats you like a cheap rug, there are a hundred more who will give you advice and help on how to improve. And, to every one of you who own the game, yet have never ventured online, for whatever reason – you are denying yourselves one of the most rewarding gaming experiences on our beloved PC.

‘Banelings. Green balls of corrosive nonsense, that pop on contact with anything melt-able. Everything, really. My Marauders were brave, my Banshees held the Roaches back, but when I saw that ball of green blobs rolling into sight I knew I was screwed. They blew the buildings up at my base’s entrance – which were all that were stopping the remaining Zerglings and Roaches from piling in – and made a bee-line for my SCVs. Pop, squelch, and thats it. Oddly, rather than flattening my base, my opponent halts his units. He is waiting for the inevitable “GG”; he has won and he doesn’t feel the need to continue. A lone Marine stands at the back of my base, oblivious to the tide of death hovering nearby… so I do the only honourable thing.

I select him, type “/dance” and say “gg mate”.

I get a “LOL! GG” before I disconnect, which is of little consolation when I realise, too late, that one scout could have won me that game. Oh well, there is always next time.’

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