Starcraft 2 has had 5 years of history. In that time we’ve had numerous patches, 2 expansions, hundreds of players and 196 Premier tournaments, and countless major, minor, local and online events and show matches. In that time we’ve had 5 years of data from all levels of competition from players of numerous styles.
So why does any of this matter? I believe that going forward from HotS to LotV, a historical perspective is needed to see from a design perspective on what went right, what went wrong and to extrapolate what we consider to be the core experience of the matchups and keep them or improve upon them while expanding the game. This sentiment was mirrored here:
Something we touched on previously is that we strive to locate and improve specific parts of the game that aren’t working well without taking away from the good parts. We understand that it’s tempting sometimes to just make extreme statements that only look at a part of a system, but what makes the process of improving StarCraft II difficult is trying to look at a system from all possible angles. Our goal isn’t to scrap main systems in the game or to throw away fun elements just because there’s a possible alternative path.
July 22 Community Feedback
In the end, SC2 is a game of the individual. It is up to the player to find their own path to victory and through that path show the self they wish to be.
As for what the design goals, I can only guess as Blizzard has never expressly said what type of game they want LotV to be. For now here are a list of qualities that are generally desired:
Small scale skirmishes
Strategical/tactical positioning of armies
Strategic/tactical positioning based on economics
Varied build orders and mindgames
As for unwanted qualities, these were:
Overpowered Strategies or Compositions (BL/infestor era was an era where it was never a bad decision to make an infestor. Blink Era was an era where it was never a bad decsion to do a “Blink All-in”.)
Easily acquired deathballs (When a composition is too easy to get to and is the ultimate army composition. - Collosus/Void Ray vs Z in early 2011, BL/infestor, Mech deathballs now)
Static defensive play forced by deathballs (On the rare occasions where bl/infestor had to play vs mass air Protoss strats/mass air mech strats or SH 40 spore 5 viper vs Tempests/mothership)
One spell engagements - When one spell decides the game (Blackhole and mass fungals)
First I will list the eras that we need to avoid. In particular there were 4 eras that the community generally hated. They were:
GomTvT - Terran was the closest to its BW equivalent, maps were in favor of 1 base builds, ppl didnt know how to scout or if they did, what it meant, and both Protoss/Zerg were effectively weaker back then (post 1 army 2 armor roach nerfs). The underlying reasons for why this era of dominance happened are the least likely to repeat (though Protoss seems to be the most changed from their meta styles going from HotS to LotV).
BL/infestor - Zerg hit a strategic dead end. Once they got to lair and 3 bases, there was no more decision making to be made. The answer was always to make more infestors. The ZvT, ZvP matchups ended the same way. Either Terran or Protoss busted Zerg before they got to a deathball (effectively putting the game on a timer) or Zerg won. Certainty in the lategame ironically opened up variation in Zerg opening builds, as the need for greedy economic play from opponents made certain 2 base strategies (2 base muta, 2 base infestor, fast nydus worm, early speedling timing, etc.) deadly; by my count there can be somewhere between 10-15 ways to reach victory. All of this was heaven for Zerg players, but a false panacea for viewers. But when it was the BL/infestor era there was just 1 for either side (2 if you count the Soul Train as separate from 3 base all-ins).
Blink Era - In many ways this was similar to BL/infestor in PvT. The reason I say that is because it pigeonholed Terran into 1 build. They only had 1 build they could use that would not die outright (but did still die fairly often) to Blink stalker pressure, illing all other build orders or strategies. It forced the matchup onto one railroad that was driven by one player (the Protoss player). There was no back and forth, just Protoss either winning, or getting so far ahead they just won later anyway, or in the rare cases of getting behind (like Arthur vs Bomber) they could just all-in harder and win anyway.
Swarm Hosts - This was the most balanced of the 4 eras (in the sense that it didn’t let any race dominate every tournament, arguably it barely did that well in terms of tournament wins - the only Zerg that did well during this time was soO and he only used muta/corruptor and roachy/hydra builds), but was also incredibly stale from a viewers perspective. It stalled out games interminably. I believe the idea was that the SH would be used as a multitasking harass unit (like what Soulkey/Revival did in early HotS), but it was found to be most effective as a slow turtling unit. Some expected it to force Protoss/Terran users to be more aggressive on the map and try to out maneuver the SH, but instead forced both races to turtle even harder creating a WW1 maginot Line that was similar to the bl/infestor vs Mothership archon toilet standoff. Neither can go forward, neither can go back, the games were won off of one side slowly chipping at the other. Boring to watch, excruciating to play.
Matchups need to be designed with three things to keep in mind: A similar chance for either player to win the game given equivalent skill levels, enjoyment of the match for spectators, allowance for multiple types of play styles with no strategical dead end i.e. where the answer is the same no matter what you play against (BL/infestor, Blink era, SCV Pulls).
History: ZvZ started as ling/bling wars for three reasons: lack of knowledge of the game, 3 range queens and small maps. Once those things were figured out (and Queen got the range buff) it became a 50/50 between either going mutas or roaches, but it eventually settled on roaches after the infestor buff. Then it went into mass muta vs muta because of the increased regen mutas and nerfed infestors. This style was nerfed by the buff to spores effectively reverting the meta to Roach vs Roach and the Roach triangle (Roach/hydra > Roach/infestor > Roach/Bane > Roach/hydra).
This is currently the most problematic matchup (for entertainment). Yes it requires skill, mind-games, and is a good mix of mechanics/strategy/army/economics. However from a spectators point of view, it is by far the most stale of the 7 matchups possible. It almost always ends up being Roach Wars.
There are three circumstances under which ZvZ becomes a great matchup to watch: Ling/bling wars (Nestea vs DRG, DRG vs Effort, Life vs Leenock), Roach vs Muta (ByuL vs Revival, Curious vs Rogue, DIMAGA vs Soulkey) or two extremely strong players can play Roach vs Roach (Life vs Leenock MLG Finals, Hyun vs Sniper GSL Finals). The third cannot be replicated very often, so we can ignore that. So to make ZvZ a good matchup to watch they either need to find a way to revert all ZvZs into ling/bling wars or make asymmetrical strategies.
History: ZvT started as muta/ling/bling vs 2 base (and later 3 base given increased skill/better maps) Bio/Tank. Eventually it became either ling/infestor or roach/infestor. Mech was introduced as a main stream style with Mvp’s hellion/banshee. HotS went into the MMMM parade push (briefly went into Hellbat/thor styles from Taeja and later on Flash/TY), some mech into bio and some turtle mech (lillekanin, Reality). But mostly the MMMM style has defined TvZ in HotS.
TvZ has been the most loved matchup in SC2. It is highly mechanical, action packed, very asymmetrical and filled with a lot of varied builds on both sides. 2011 ZvT, 2012 ZvT 2013+ ZvT all have positives and negatives.
2011 was the most imbalanced for Terran, but it was also the Apex of Bio/Tank styles which create a completely different type of rhythm than current BioMine games. The sieging, unsieging, positioning and tactical game was probably the most complex. (MKP vs Kyrix, Mvp vs idra, idra vs Bomber, Clide vs Leenock, sC vs Nestea, Nestea vs TOP, DRG vs MMA, MMA vs Losira)
2012 can be split into two eras. Before bl/infestor became big and afterwards. The period where BL/infestor wasnt the meta defining strategy was short. Here were the games that defined that era (Supernova vs DRG, Leenock vs Jjakji, Leenock vs Mvp, MKP vs DRG). BL/infestor was the most imbalanced for Zerg. Mechanics mattered the least during this era and only made an impact when talking about the best mechanical players of that time (Innovation’s first GSL run). Despite being imbalanced, it forced Terran players to play the most strategical/tactical TvZ games of SC2 history to make a win happen. (Mvp vs Life, Mvp vs IEM Cologne, Polt vs DRG, Ryung vs DRG, Hack vs Roro, Leenock vs Bomber, Gumiho vs Losira, Polt vs Stephano)
2013 onward is the most mechanically oriented of the time periods and is often decided by the macro/micro of the individual players. (Inno vs DRG, Inno vs Curious, Inno vs Soulkey, Supernova vs Soulkey, TRUE vs Fantasy, Dream vs Life both series, Life vs Maru, other significant games were Taeja vs Z games, but due to his stylsitic tendencies they do not play like the standard MMMM styles at all).
The current era of ZvT games have been reverting to mech play with the nerf of the swarmhost. And while I disagree with mech being unbeatable, it is still the most favored composition with the least interesting qualities to watch as a viewer. It is mostly based on defensive play, getting to the deathball off 3-4 base, and then pushing out. There is counter play on both sides, but it is generally decided by who wins the decisive fight.
Bio on the other hand has two interesting and contrasting eras. First is the era from 2011-early2012. This era had the least diversity, but it also had harassment, constant engagements, strategical and tactical positions in regards to terrain, armies and expansions. The other era for Bio compositions was 2013-2015 where it has mostly been focused on parade pushing and ending the Zerg. It it much less meaningful strategically and positionally, but it generally had more action.
History: It started as 3 gate builds vs ling/roach all-ins. Later on due to maps and knowledge, FFE became the norm as Protoss learned to stop ling/roch all-ins (This is a continuing problem for Protoss in all 3 matchups. Every matchup for them is constrained by build orders). Eventually Stalker/sentry became a problem once it became codified as a 2-3 base build. Stephano solved it with 3 base hatch max roach builds. Eventually that was beaten by 2 base stalker into immortal and then a 3rd nexus. Which was then solved again by Stephano using infestors, which created the BL/infestor meta. 2013 HotS ZvP was varied because no one knew what the ideal strategy was. It was a mash of 2012 PvZ builds and sOs builds while Zerg tried muta/corruptor, roach/hydra/viper and a smattering of some SH builds. Later on stalker/sentry eventually found its way back, but could not beat SH which led to end game Air-Toss vs SH. After SH was nerfed, stalker/sentry reigned supreme. Currently Zergs are using econ risks, early pools, proxy hatches and gold base builds to get wins. Also using roach/hydra viper into BL/corruptor or some variation of ling/infestor/ultra into BL/corruptor.
ZvP has the problem of being defined as either one side or the other having a unit comp that is too strong for the opposing side to fight head on. I won’t comment on the current era of ZvP as Zerg players are generally using a diverse array of strategies and all-ins to win the matchup.
2011 ZvP (Nestea/Losira vs anyone)
2012 ZvP (Any Stephano game. Hero vs Annyeong, Hero vs Leenock, Stephano vs Kiwikaki, Grubby vs Slivko)
2013 ZvP (Soulkey vs Rain, Parting vs Roro, Parting vs Soulkey, HerO vs Hyun, Snute vs anyone, Hero vs Jaedong, Dear vs Soulkey)
2014 ZvP (Snute vs herO, Snute vs Protoss, soO vs Zest)
2015 ZvP (Snute vs Rain, Snute vs Classic, Rogue/ByuL/Curious vs anyone)
History: In 2011 it was 4 gate into the RPS version (Robo beats stalker beats stargate beats Robo, DT beats everything but Robo), until Rain’s era. Rain perfected Collosus/immortal PvP off 3 base. HotS 2013 was chargelot archon vs chargelot archon until the oracle nerfed which made it unstable until Zest. Currently it's a combination of mindgames, army compositions and trying to do small amounts of harass throughout the game to eventually win the deathball battle. 2010-2011 was defined by build orders. specifically what can you get away with without dieing to 4 gate.
This matchup is fine as is. The most important things to avoid here is the 4 gate era, where one strategy defined the entirety of the matchup or the possible increase of too many viable openings that could increase the variability of openings.
2011 (Inca vs MC, MC vs Huk, Naniwa vs MC)
2012 (Rain vs Parting vs Creator vs HerO vs Squirtle, Genius vs MC)
2013+ (Rain vs Parting vs Zest vs Classic vs sOs vs herO vs Stats)
From 2011-2012, the defining build in PvT was the 1-1-1 and all P builds were created knowing that that could kill them at any time so every build must by necessity have a solution to that (MC vs Thorzain, HerO vs Puma, MC vs Puma came to define all of 2011). Afterwards it was the optimized medivac timings (MKP style) that came to define the matchup. Jjakji vs Parting was a landmark series for introducing viable 2 base storm. Then the matchup was split into three things: SCV pulls (Mvp vs Parting, Mvp vs Rain), collosus first games and storm first games. HotS TvP was formed mostly by Hellbat drops, mine drops and then the blink era. Blink stalkers could transition into either collosus or storm based mid games. After the nerf to blink era/buffs to widow mines, Maru continued to refine the MMMM style he had usedsince the end of 2013 and it became the standard TvP. This killed the storm-opening games, and revived some phoenix openers, but mostly blink stalkers on defense and some tech (Oracle/DT/Warp Prism) into collosus three base.
In terms of pure enjoyment TvP reached its apex in 2012 (barring the SCV pull): Both sides had aggressive openings, back and forth games, active mid-game, stable late games. (Baring the SCV pulls Mvp created). It created games that required mechanics, strategy, build orders, tactics, economic expansion, generally all the qualities fans wanted in a matchup. (Dream vs Rain, Dream vs Parting, Jjakji vs Parting, Parting vs MKP, Rain vs Taeja, Mvp vs Rain, Jjakji vs Trap, Taeja vs Rain).
*There were two odd small periods that go unaccounted for. Maru vs Dear TvP era at the end of 2013 and Taeja 2014 games as Taeja once again does not play like anyone else from that time period.
WoL TvT nearing the end of 2011 to the end of 2013 was arguably the best matchup in SC2. It had Asymmetrical matchups that people liked (Bio vs Mech, Bio vs Bio, Mech vs Mech), could be played on 1, 2, 3 bases all the way to split map scenarios. Allowed for all victory conditions to be possible. Made things like strategy, positional, economics and tactics just as important as the army composition and supply size. It allowed for preparation and counter builds without the complete instability of later HotS TvT.
What eventually changed it was three things. First was the increased skill of Terran players in using mines and medivacs. Secondly it was the medivac boost. This unit gave a disproportionate advantage to the aggressor in the matchup making games end very quickly, whereas before doing a drop came with significant risk. With boost there is no risk so long as you are paying attention to the drop at hand. Finally it gave too much power to Doom Drops. Strategy, positioning, economics, tactics all took a back seat to doom drops as doom drops directly threatened the infrastructure of an enemy Terran base and could instantly win the game. Ghosts and nuke player were used with some regularity in WoL TvTs but have since disappeared in HotS TvT because all harassment situations can be solved by a doom drop (whereas before you needed a nuke to take out turrets, now you just need more medivacs to fly by).
2011 (TOP vs Polt, MMA vs Mvp, Byun vs Bomber, Bomber vs Mvp, Jinro vs Ensnare, Mvp vs Puma
2012-2013 (Ryung vs Polt, Polt vs Taeja, Taeja vs Ryung, Mvp vs MMA, Flash vs Ryung, MMA vs Gumiho, Supernova vs Mvp, Supernova vs MMA, Inno vs Taeja, Inno vs Mvp)
2014 (Polt vs Bomber, Bomber vs MMA, Maru vs anyone)
From the different eras of SC2, I’d argue the most interesting matchups were 2011-2012 ZvT, 2013-2015 Bio TvZ, 2012-2013 TvT, 2012, TvP, Post Rain PvP (When he came in to solve the matchup). ZvZ and ZvP have been the most problematic and have generally been the most interesting when there was no clear defined ultimate answer on either side as to the ultimate army composition. These were the matchups and the eras that generally exemplified the qualities I outlined above and should be things we should keep in mind when considering new units, maps, design, balance and economic models when looking at LotV.