How To Master a new BuildThu 20th Sep 2012 - 5:32pm Category: Starcraft II
Let’s say you’ve battled your way out of the Bronze and Silver leagues. You’re now in a position to call yourself suitably “average” at Starcraft. Awesome. It’s at this point in your gaming career that you might be interested in looking at strategies from your favorite professional Starcraft II player and copying what you see.
An early Nexus into a Gaway, eh? I must try it!
It’s not a bad idea, but you need to understand what you’re watching.
When a professional Starcraft II player plays the game, part of what he’s executing is a simple build order. This is the “Build structure A at time T” sort of thing. A supply count is often used in place of the time, but the effect is exactly the same.
These super-simple build orders tell players how to open the game.
Openings are created and fine-tuned to be as efficient as possible at what they do. If the goal is to get on two bases quickly, the build will get you there. If the idea is to build a fast army and kill your opponent, the build order will get you that, too.
If you’re not sure what constitutes an opening, then here’s a good rule of thumb: if the strategy is described as a number followed by a type of building, it’s an opening. 2-Rax, 6-pool, 4-gate, 1-gate expand, 15-Hatch, 2-port Banshee, etc. The number sometimes tells you the supply at which you put down the building. Other times, it refers to the number of buildings you want.
A 15-Hatch. Build the Hatchery on 15 supply. Questions? No? Good.
The Forge Fast Expand is a noteworthy exception to the nomenclature.
Copying an opening from a professional player is usually just fine. Part of the reason a player chooses the opening before the match is because these openings have withstood countless hours of practice time to ensure that they were safe against anything the opponent might try in the early game.
While you’re attempting to nail down the exact timings of an opening, be sure to also find a game in which that opening is interrupted by the other player. Most openings require just a little micro and some extra units to ensure you stay alive, but others require that you build defensive structures and wall off in order to stay in the game. This isn’t a big deal, and the timings of the opening are what they are specifically to account for these eventualities.
But pro players don’t just execute build orders. They react. It is here that us lower-level Starcraft players tend to misunderstand exactly what’s going on. It is here that we try to copy the pro player click-for-click on the ladder and end up stomped into the ground.
Here’s where things start to get tricky. Copying an opening is a simple enough matter of monkey-see, monkey-do, but once that opening is finished, copying the pro player blindly is liable to get you killed. This isn’t because the pro players are playing super risky, and it’s not because your opponents are stupid cheesers (though sometimes they are).
Stupid Proxy Gate. I was trying to play like Stephano!
No, copying players blindly won’t work past the opening because from here on out the pros are playing reactively. That’s not to say the player isn’t using a build order. The pros are familiar enough with the game that they often have pre-planned timings well into the midgame, but it’s still reactive. The player scouted his opponent and knows what’s going on. Furthermore, he’s used that knowledge to select one of a number of builds that he can use given his opening.
Take a 1-Barracks Expand play against Zerg, for example. The opening is one Barracks, then a Command Center. Easy. You see it in a tournament, you copy the play, and all goes well. Then you try to copy the pro player further, which means Double Starport and Cloaked Banshees. Then you die to a Roach-Ling all-in. What went wrong?
Every time . . . .
Simply put, you didn’t react. After your opening, Banshees were not your only option. You could have gone for Marines, Tanks, Helions, etc. The pro player looked as his Zerg opponent and saw that opponent playing economically. Lots of Drones, but no army. Banshees work in that situation.
You, on the other hand, should have scouted and seen the Zerg player staying on two bases. A proper response to that information isn’t Banshees. They're good, but they can't kill Zerglings fast enough.
Finding the Crux of a Strategy:
The easiest way to understand a strategy completely is to play hundreds of games with it against high-level opponents. It’s brute force, but effective at demonstrating what parts of a build are necessary and what parts are optional.
If that’s an option for you, right on. The rest of us have to rely on our powers of observation.
To properly analyse a pro strategy, you’re going to need to see it more than once. Replays are the best way to look at a strategy because you can pause and backtrack, but even watching games on stream can help in a pinch. The more games, the better.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell if you’re even watching the same strategy over the course of multiple replays. As stated earlier, good players will often play reactively. In doing so, they change around their timings and even unit composition.
What you’re looking for isn’t one build order, but an opening followed by a goal. The opening we’ve already covered. A goal is a place the player settles at time and time again. It doesn’t have to be specific. For a protoss, it might be three bases and High Templar. For a Terran, it might be two bases with a strong force of Marines and Tanks.
For a Terran going Mech, the goal is Tanks, followed by more Tanks.
That’s what you want to focus on. The timings change and maybe you build an extra defensive structure or two, but the opening and the goal inevitably show themselves every game.
Putting it together:
Once you have a clear idea of an opening and a goal, then comes the real thinking. Look at the strategy you’re emulating and understand how everything the strategy does helps the player accomplish the goal.
Take, for instance, a Zerg player that wants a booming economy with Brood Lords and Infestors as fast as possible. You see this often enough on the ladder and tournament play. When executed perfectly, the Zerg player builds just enough defense to keep himself alive while he secures four bases and a Greater Spire. Part of the reason this build is so popular is because it’s so unbelievably intuitive for players to just pick up and use: Survive, survive, survive, build Brood Lords, then attack and win. There’s no specific timing or need to adjust your end-game unit composition.
Even when dealing with a strategy as simple as this one, there will be inevitable deviations in the build order. Maybe a player can’t take a third base early because of heavy Helion pressure. Extra roaches need to come out as a result.
You can copy this build order if you wish, but it isn’t actually helping you get Brood Lords as fast as possible. Against a player who isn’t pressuring you with Helions, all you’re doing is delaying your third base and delaying your Brood Lords by building unnecessary Roaches.
Building a dozen Roaches at the 8 minute mark is useful here, but not every game.
All too often I see players miss the point of a strategy and follow deviations that were designed to prevent something that isn’t happening (like an early attack).
Early Evolution Chambers (for spore crawlers), extra Bunkers, precautionary Sentries, and other defensive measures are common plays in Tournaments, but you have to keep in mind that these maneuvers are usually deviations. In a perfect world, they wouldn’t be necessary, but players use them to stay safe while they execute a strategy that gives them an advantage later in the game.
Knowing how to deviate is important, but not half as important as knowing when it’s avoidable.
Keep in mind:
Copying a build isn’t just memorizing a build order. It’s actually easier than that. Once you understand the goal, it’s easy to see where the strategy works to facilitate that goal and where it deviates in the interest of survival.
Now enough analysis. Go to the ladder and show off your new strategy.