How To Enjoy Competitive StarCraft

by Jack Gardner on Aug 22, 2012 at 01:00 PM

StarCraft II is an incredibly deep and complex game of strategy. For those new to the game or for those who have never played StarCraft, it can be difficult to comprehend the action on-screen. This guide gives you the tools you need to appreciate professional StarCraft II play.

The Basics 

One of the most difficult parts of learning to enjoy any game, either as a player or a spectator, is learning the rules. In the case of StarCraft II, there are numerous places where you can go to learn some of the guidelines of the game. I highly recommend the web series The Day[9] Daily, which is a dedicated show covering StarCraft II strategy. The premise of the show is to look at high-level games and translate different tactical decisions into easy-to-understand language for noobs and veterans alike. The coverage is often laugh-inducing as well as educational. Sean “Day[9]” Plott, the host, is also a high-profile eSports caster for StarCraft II. 

Resources and Troops

StarCraft II is all about juggling between managing resources and troop production and movement. Each race builds workers to harvest minerals and vespene gas, both of which are used to produce workers, structures, and military units. A good player is able to maximize the amount of resources gathered, while effectively spending as much money as he or she can. 

Fog of War and Tactics

A perpetual fog of war blankets the map that obscures all structures and units. However, if a unit spots an enemy structure, that structure is marked on the map. Some units, like the siege tank, have range farther than their vision, but can only attack within the player’s vision. 

Effectively collecting resources doesn’t do much good if a player can’t defend himself or herself. This means players need to build up their military strength and effectively use it to minimize damage done by the enemy and maximize the damage done to the enemy. This is done in a variety of ways. One of the key advantages in the early part of any game is having the high ground. Troops on high ground can shoot at enemies on the low ground if they are in range. However, if low ground units have a flying unit to scout for them, they will be able to attack high ground units. 

Another tool that players use, but is incredibly difficult to effectively implement, is micromanagement. This involves quickly directing small segments of troops to do specific attacks like splitting troops to surround an enemy force or avoid a sneak attack. Another rule is that only some units can shoot up at flying units, down at ground units, or at both. Marines can shoot at both airborne and grounded enemies, while marauders can only shoot at land enemies.

General Strategy

The basic objective of any game of StarCraft II is simple: defeat your enemy. This can be accomplished in many ways. You can outmaneuver the enemy army, destroy it, and then move on to attack the base that they have built. Another option is to blockade your opponent in their base and prevent them from expanding, giving you an economic lead that allows you to build more units and win the game. A different strategy is to harass an enemy to death by constantly conducting small, damaging attacks until the adversary is too weak to defend itself. Still another strategy is to bypass the enemy army entirely, allowing the opposing force to begin attacking your undefended base while your army attacks the undefended enemy base. 

These are just some of the most basic scenarios that can occur in StarCraft II matches. Strategy really relies on the individual players, how fast they can play, which of the three races they are playing, when they decide to build their structures, what types of units they are making, what upgrades they are researching, how they position themselves on the map, and many other factors. However, understanding the basic strategies can help illuminate the more complex or unique tactics employed by professional StarCraft II players. 

The Terminology

You can understand the rules of the game as much as humanly possible, but if you don’t understand some of the basic terms, professional StarCraft II matches can quickly become confusing. Some of the terms are easily taught, while others are quite obscure. Bio-ball, for example, is a term used to describe a large, mixed group of marine and marauder units (usually supported by medevac shuttles). Here are a couple lists of helpful StarCraft II terms and definitions:

Liquipedia II – General Gameplay Terms

Ten Ton Hammer – StarCraft II Terminology Encyclopedia

You can also look through other pages on Liquipedia for info on different units, abilities, upgrades, and more.

The Skill

There is a difference between playing a game as an average gamer (or even a dedicated gamer) and a professional gamer. Players like MVP, IdrA, or White-Ra know StarCraft II inside and out, and it shows. They know how to outsmart and outplay opponents. Also, StarCraft II players play fast – blindingly fast. 

This is an older video of players competing in the original StarCraft and Warcraft III, but some professional StarCraft II players can reach speeds of 400-600 actions per minute (APM). StarCraft II requires quick, strategic thinking and reaction speed, and incredible multitasking. Professional players play at around 200-300 APM. That’s making an average of five unique actions every second.

The Appeal

Basically, StarCraft II is like chess…set in space…if both players could make as many moves as they wanted and make new pieces…and neither player could see what the other was doing. Seeing player’s thought processes, multitasking ability, and APM speed translate onto a screen can be hard to appreciate or even observe to an untrained eye, but once the game is learned, it can be enjoyed for its depth, strategy, and space lasers.

Here is an awesome game to watch that might help you determine if you will enjoy watching professional StarCraft II.