Brood War is a very versatile game, it's strategical depth remains, in my opinion, unmatched. While this is the reason it transforms people from interested observers into drooling fanatics, it also poses an obstacle for all writers trying to formulate their guides; and it doesn't stop there, it is a bigger problem on many levels.
Rookies used to be overwhelmed by the detailed Build Orders listed on Liquipedia, leaving them with no clue where to start. After dozens of different attempts this problem has been 'solved', meaning it satisfies the common beginner. However, there are still concepts, which, for the lack of a better word, can be summarized as 'other basics'. Abstract thoughts about this and that, things tutorials leave out for a good reason. This guide, as long as it might be, tries to cover them: Small and big advices will be listed to fill gaps, which would otherwise trick rookies into making the false positive assumption they already internalized every key aspect of the monstrous term Strategy. After reading total beginners and casuals alike might understand better how to read Builds and how to adapt to in-game situations.
A last word of warning: it may be dangerous to read at times (giving wrong ideas), although in my opinion it is relatively important. It might be worthy to read, dry at first, since I desperately want to avoid supporting wrong impressions. It's a thing for beginners, who already played around 100 games in each match up (1on1, low maps) against human opponents in a competitive environment (not Garena/home LANs in 1999), or at least enough to get used to their respective race and the match ups. In other words, rookies struggling to overcome the D+/C- or D/D+ border.
MMM („Beginner Builds“)
The golden rule of strategy advice for total beginners is „Macro, Macro, Macro“. Posts tell them to „use Build Orders aiming for macromanagement heavy strategies“ (hence MMM-Builds) – or the even less helpful term „standard Build Orders“.
Recommended Build Orders PvZ on Liquipedia
It's obvious why this advice is the first one pointed out to players. Other than for games like WarCraft III, base management makes more than half of the game in Brood War. Hence, trying to 'build as much as possible' makes sense on many dimensions.
On first glimpse a player with a bigger army always wins. This is true, as long as it's not 200 Zerglings running into six Lurkers. Aside from this trivial (nonsense) case of training the 'wrong' units en masse, a beginner can't really do much wrong here. Yet, there's more to the MMM-approach.
MMM-Builds guide any beginner through the early-, mid- and late game, so he learns about the game as a whole. Futhermore, the mechnical training is built in. The longer a game lasts, the harder it is to control. It's a lot less painful and more satisfiying to face a slow increase of mechanical demands, rather than being forced to learn all aspects in one go. Hence, macro openings create a somewhat understandable and motivating learning curve.
Advertisment: Use MMM-Builds
Each step of the long MMM-Builds are usually described, so the decision making part is taken from a beginner's shoulders, while not forbidding him to have own thoughts before and after a game. The first ten minutes (in nowadays meta game context) are more or less set in stone (for every action there's a reaction described), afterwards it's a giant sand box. Sooner or later any beginner will develope a certain feeling and basic understanding of his race, the match ups and what his own (mechanical) limitations are.
However, the MMM openings, often referred to as 'standard way to play', have their own traps. Generally speaking, nobody ever automatically wins using them. It is true that total beginners will improve a lot faster than their peers if they follow the MMM approach; it is false to expect that it will carry them to a yellow rank on ICCup or give them more than a small chance against regulars. It is pivotal to understand that MMM requires the player to think sooner or later, even though the previous statement and guides suggest otherwise.
That's the downside of MMM: The thinking part is mostly rendered to a minimum. Beginners rely to heavy on the Builds and might learn several of the „other basics“ the wrong way. This con outweighs the pros exactly at the point beginners have to face experienced players. The following paragraphs are designed to help to understand the own flaws in games, which were lost after using the MMM-approach.
To stress it out again: All of the 'other basics' should be used as add-on to the MMM-approach, not as magical solution / promotion to completely turn the back on what better writers suggest in this forum, VODs and on Liquipedia.
Understanding Build Orders
If a rookie has less than 100 games per match up against human opponents there's nothing wrong to blindly trust 'standard build orders', which were given as suggestions of better players or Liquipedia. Although it is paramount to realize that there will be gaps.
Understanding any Build Order starts with the reading part. By now the Protoss Strategy articles on Liquipedia are re-written and phrased differently. They now tell the goal of a Build Order. Losely phrased and for a very general summary, there are three different kind of Build Orders:
- Timed Attacks
- MMM Builds
All-ins are the ones anybody can play and understand. Few units are trained early on, the macromanagement part is almost completely neglected and the goal is to kill the opponent early on. Not really much needed to explain the execution, it's pretty straight forward. Live or die.
Timed Attacks are relatively easy to grasp as well. Any kind of fixed one time attack is prepared early on, usually as response to a specific opening, but not neccessarily. Regardless of the unit composition, this timing attack normally hits after the early game and exploits a weakness in the enemy's defense or is designed to create a chink in the opponent's armor in the first place. Other than all-ins the attack might fail, as long as it deals a sufficient amount of damage. It doesn't mean the opponent has to die, even though it'd be probably best if he did.
And here's the problem to draw a line. Timed Attacks and MMM Builds are similar. A good MMM Build offers several Timed Attacks along the way, however have more complex thoughts built in. For MMM Builds Timed Attacks pose an ulterior motive, usually enabling a player to transition from early- to mid-, or from mid- to late game in an optimal way. Personally, I draw the line once if the Build explains the way to the end game, opposed to „do freestyle if the attack fails“ Timing Attacks.
Means and Ends
So far this guide hopefully only told beginners what they already assumed. Now for the big mistakes. The first one out of many is about reading the goal without (fully) understanding it. Any Build Order is like a cooking recipe. Even if all ingridients are at hand, it doesn't mean every dish will taste the same. Any player will understand what this is meant to say. Any MMM Opening needs to be adapted, due to a great many of reasons, small or big. A delayed scout, a forgotten worker, a scouted all-in and so on and so forth.
Up until now every beginner seems to realize the problem, however not everyone automatically internalizes the concept. Build Orders are ideal case studys. They tell how a unit combination, expansion, transition, or whatever the underlying goal is, can be realized in the fastest possible way. This is rarely possible. A lot of small words, all of which will be explained in depth later on, are left out. In the execution part often phrases like „threat“, „contain“ and so on are used, yet a beginner doesn't try to understand them or thinks he did when the opposite is true.
Another word of warning: Regulars now typically point out that the 'ordinary' mistakes were done. Forgetting Overlords/Depots/Pylons for example would have screwed up the Build. While this is true, games are not always lost on casual level because of this. The 'ordinary' mistakes have to be pointed out; however, while they can be compensated by pure mechanical training only, the process of learning can be speed up already. Keep this in mind.
Back to square one. Instead of following the Build Order table blindly, each step should be seen as means to an end. Here the three categories of the earlier discussed scheme matter, it helps a rookie to understand where he should focus his energy and where he can screw up a little.
If a player attacks so he can expand in the meantime, it's more important to raise the expansion, than to completely destroy the opponent. Hence the focus should be on macro aspects: Spending money, opening the tech tree, defend and take map control. In contrast to this, if a timed attack has to do large damage, the energy can be spent on the attack, training re-inforcements and so on.
TL;DR: Decide what means (micro vs macro, attack vs. expanding) and ends (underlying goal of the Build Order) are. In an actual game this will help any player, regardless of skill and mechanical capability, to judge if/how a somewhat flawed performed 'mean' can still be used to reach the 'end' he aimed for.
For now the article described the first somewhat interesting concepts, although it was kept abstract on purpose. This example should show one of the 'ordinary' beginner mistakes in Zerg vs. Terran from a Zerg's perspective.
The typical opening done by a Zerg would be one of the many Fast Expansions, it doesn't quite matter if a 12 Hatch, 12 Pool or something else was used. Meanwhile Terran is most likely to expand fast towards his Natural Expansion as well. The early- to mid-game transition will be done by Zerg via a Lair, Spire and eventually Mutalisks. On the other side of the map Terran will slowly train more SCVs, add more Barracks and train a larger Medic & Marine force.
Up to this point it's easy for Zerg to understand what he does, the same will be true for Terran. Depending on the Spawning Pool timing and the amount of Zerglings trained, only the timing of the Expansions of both players will slightly alter. However, once the Mutalisks are out many beginners tend to misunderstand the situation; or, more likely, focus on the 'wrong' mechanical aspects.
In theory Mutalisks are there to harass. Their primary goal is to stall an initial Marine/Medic attack by attacking weakly defended spots in the Terran base. Terran now either has to raise additional Turrets or use his ground army to close these spots. Either way, Zerg has time to add Lurkers, get a third base and the important third gas, while preparing for a Hive Tech and eventually Ultralisks. The idea is straight forward, while the reality is more difficult. The means are the Mutalisks, the ultimative end would be securing a third gas base.
In reality Mutalisks are often used by beginners to fulfill a secondary goal: cause major damage. Beginners snipe SCVs, try to dance as long as they shoot down unimportant buildings like Supply Depots or to kill Turrets. Meanwhile Terran sneaks out and denys a third base or kills Lurkers before they are in position. The means (Mutalisks) were interpreted wrongly and the end (third base) was lost. Causing damage should be done, but not overdone; the macromanagement part (expansion) was forgotten or delayed for too long.
everyone wants to play like this
There are probably plenty of reasons why the gaming reality differs from grey theory. Be it that Mutalisk micro is actually fun, or be it that the beginner wasn't able to macro properly to begin with (e.g. missing every second Overlord). However, it is doable to focus on the macro part first, following the MMM-logic. To give a possible example of „how to do it better“ (careful here): If it is not possible to bind the Terran's ground army to his base, it's still possible to add up to 24 Zerglings (less are normally enough) to the Mutalisk army. With both Zerg can still try to intercept a larger Marine/Medic attack. The mean changes slightly (Mutalisks → Muta/Ling), the end (third base and third gas) is delayed slightly (sacrificed Larvae/Mins), but still possible. The most important aspect was still to get Lurkers and a third gas ready, even if it means giving up map control a few minutes early / „wasting“ minerals and Larvae on Zerglings.
Means and Ends Part II
The chapter 'Means and Ends' will not be closed yet. The complete article should be understood in this context from now on. All advices are designed to make a Build Order work. However, the understanding part should be done by each player. He must realize what the ends are, so he can apply techniques on his own.
The ultimate goal for this guide is to prepare any rookie to avoid becoming a so-called '15 Minute Player'. 15 Minute Players are good in the first 15 Minutes, if everything goes according to plan, but basically screws up afterwards. These special type of player doesn't realize his mistakes in-game or post-game. A path leading to a stagnation, or a slump. Usually the mistakes are found not so much in the mechanical aspects of his or her play, but in the means/ends misinterpretation.
The following text uses „threat“ as a way more complex and abstract concept than Liquipedia does. Please do not mistake my definition of threat as a global, objectively true version of the word.
Threats are one of the most basic techniques in Brood War; especially the MMM-Builds typically explain when and where to use them in between the lines. The other types of Builds, All-Ins and Timed Attacks, don't really, at least not too often. A threat, roughly speaking, is one of (the ways to change*) a 'mean' to an 'end'. In almost all cases a threat is designed to delay either the opponent's ability to attack or his production capabilities. In some scenarios both at the same time. In other words, a threat is done to buy time to gain small advantages.
It might sound a little confusing, but threats can not be done in all cases. It's trivial to explain with the example of an All-In: for now I'll be using a 5 or 6 Pool. This special Build Order aims to end the game in under ten minutes. In turns this means that either the first or the second attack has to be fatal for the opponent, or the passive damage of hurting the own Drone count will result in a loss of the performing player. There's not much point in delaying counter attacks. It either works or it doesn't.
Threats can be understood in the best way possible if time is considered as resource. The more time a player has to react, the better – as help for decision making and actual performance (be it micro- or macromanagement). Hence, threats are more common in Build Orders, which allow more leeway to make room for adaptions. A 5 or 6 Pool can not be changed much, a 3 Hatch Mutalisk Build Order can; compare this trail of thought with the example given in the means and ends part. This also explains why All-Ins offer almost no options to use threats, while MMM-Builds use them all the time.
A threat, in opposition to the later on discussed special case Fake, also means a player has the option to follow through with his threat. A threat is always revealed to the opponent, or it can not possibly work at all. The enemy has to know that if he doesn't react to the threat, he will face dire consequences. If he does, the maximum he should be able to do, is to trade whatever was thrown at him. For now consider threats as 'an offer you can
What should be learned from this part are two things:
- A Threat buys time
- A Threat is an offer to trade something for something
To pick up the basic example of the previous chapters, Mutalisks are used as threat against Terran. It was already shown that Mutalisks are there to prepare the mid-game transition into a Lurker/Zerging army and to buy time the third base needs to get up. This was the means part.
However, to get the point across, a few more words on the situation. The primary goal is to keep the Terran in his base, if possible, or to destroy a small attack he launches. Therefore the Mutalisks will roam Terran's base and snipe everything they can without being damaged. In almost all scenarios Zerg will be able to get a few units, most times SCVs constructing buildings or stray Marines. And that's enough, like already pointed out. Terran now needs time to build Turrets or raise a sufficient amount of Marines to defend against an ordinary sized clump of Mutalisks before he can safely move out.
If he doesn't prepare/defend, Zerg offers to trade. He knows he will most likely not be able to defend his third, but will have enough Sunken Colonies to defend his Natural Expansion. If Terran attacks, he can instead sacrifice a few of his Mutalisks and take down one of these:
- The Main Base workers / Command Center
- The Barracks (thus denying any re-inforcements)
- The Natural Expansion workers / Command Center
Ultimatively, one of the three criterias needs to be fulfilled, or the threat doesn't work, as he can not trade in equal terms; in the context of this article it means that Zerg has to trade one of his (temporary) ends against one of Terrans (temporary) ends. In this case his third base (not his Lurker Tech) against Terran's option to macro properly (Main or Natural economy potential / Unit Production Facilities (Barracks)).
Again the reminder: My personal definition of threat my may vary a lot here compared to the more common versions.
It might seem trivial, but the words 'weak spots' are important. A threat can only work if the performing player, the one to pose the threat, knows where weaks spots are. A threat done without a good intel on the opponent's situation is nothing than a coin flip. The odds are most times stacked against the unknowing player. Hence, any rookie should not try to make soemthing happen, if he has other options.
Anyhow, to get back to the point, threats can be performed differently. The first technique is to abuse any unit's characteristics. One of the basic features of units is their movement pace. There are fast and slow units, Speed Vultures and Reavers for example. These determine if a player acts (threatens) or reacts; however, do not take this for granted. Later on examples and techniques are given in which this concept is turned upside down, even though most of them are already listed in a different chapter.
In most situations and match ups the slow units also deal the stronger damage output (e.g. Archons vs Mutalisks), or are at least „easier“ to control (Marines vs. Mutalisks). However, the faster units, limited with a lower damage output, can attack weak spots faster than their pendants.
Consequently, faster units are always used to bypass their defending counter parts. In the ZvT Mutalisk examples (Speed)Zerglings and Mutalisks outrun stimmed Marines. This means that Mutalisks have to constantly adress different spots in the Terran base. If they constantly attack one spot only, it's relatively easy for Terran to react with Turrets.
The effect of mobile units stands and falls with how they are used. They should be constantly threatening spots they can reach, a constant back and forth towards the opponent. And again for the means/ends part – they do not need to deal a deathly blow, more often than not, it's enough to deny mining time for a few seconds, stall the enemy's superior ground force or to force static defense buildings (thus wasting minerals).
Bisu's weak spot
If this fact is combined with the knowledge part (weak spots), it is easy to see that the effect can also be maximized by having the own harassment (threatening) units to appear and disappear shortly again and again inside and outside of the opponent's vision range. As long as the opponent doesn't exactly know the numbers of the threatening units or their position, he has a harder time to decide if he should engage in a trade.
Sooner or later the mobility part will have run its course. Less Marines (in the ZvT example) will be needed to make up for few Turrets, when Medics, Range Upgrade and +1 Ground Weapons come into play. However, if everything went according to plan, the harassment (threat) is not needed anymore.
Two more examples to avoid suggesting the only way to threaten an opponent would be using Mutalisks against Terran. Instead some more prominent players are shown in Zerg vs. Protoss and Protoss vs. Zerg respectively.
The first player is notable for Zergling threats is Christoph 'Mondragon' Semke. Back during the TSL 2 Ladder Phase, the German Zerg was known to end games with a special form of threats: Runbys. However, in Germany he was already known for his impeccable use of the highly mobile units in different ways. Regardless of the in-game situation Mondragon's Zerglings were used slightly different, or at least more efficient, than most other foreign Zerg's.
In most Protoss vs. Zerg games the expansion timings of Protoss play an important role. A rule of thumb suggests that Protoss needs to have one Vespine Gas expansion less than Zerg in order to be able to keep up with his opponent's Tech Tree and the resulting army mix. In turns Zerg tries to deny a third/fourth/... Protoss Gas Expansion as long as possible. Futhermore, Zerg also always has the upper hand in terms of speed. The so-called Protoss Death Ball (army composition after the early game) is slow, while Zerglings, Hydralisks and Mutalisks are a lot faster. The fragile but fast units have a hard time to engage a Protoss army. How to deny expansions?
Zerglings are used to scout, constantly. In low numbers they can not possibly attack a Protoss army. However, they can attack unprotected expansions, while they are still being warped. Mondragon abused this factor relatively often. If Protoss tried to expand, he tried to run behind his lines and attack the unshielded expansions, or if not possible, attack a seemingly well guarded Natural Expansion. In turns his opponent had to use his Death Ball to shield his bases – and could not attack the Zerg. Hence, Zerg had two options: either kill the opponent's third base (deny the opponent's end) and delay his fourth gas a little (delay the own end → trade), or get his fourth up faster than his opponent. Either way, it bought time. A good example displaying that threats can be used in all stages of the game.
For the Protoss' perspective on threats the Korean professional Bisu is a prime example. His strategy against the former tyrant sAviOr relied heavily on Dark Templar harassment. It was by no means new, nor introduced it mind blowing perspectives on the match up, however the sheer control of Bisu's Templars changed the meta game of the match up greatly.
Dark Templars are good harassment (threat) units. They're not only fast paced, but also cloaked. As a consequence Overlords are needed for defense, or Zerg has no information if he can trade or not. The cloaked units could either deny a third / fourth base, if no Overlord was at hand, prohibit a Zerg from attacking before Overlord Speed, or sufficient numbers of units to counter Corsairs. If Zerg moved out with Zerglings to pose a threat like described for Mondragon, he might've lost them too early; if Zerg moved out with enough units and an Overlord, a Dark Templar could have bypassed the Zerg's defense at the Natural and started harassment in the Main Base.
These combination of Corsair harassment and Dark Templar threats usually bought a lot of time for Protoss, while messing up the Zerg's Build Order.
By now hopefully any beginner understands why I did not use the term 'harassment' instead of threat. Harassment has the negative, subtile note which can be mistaken too easily. It isn't there to 'stress' the opponent, but to realize own goals.
This paragraph is closely related to what will follow later on as another major principle of 'other strategies'. Map features do play a big role whenever a player decides to threaten or has to face a threat.
In nowadays competitive 1on1 scene, most maps are a relatively similar to each other. They're rather big, they do not feature extremely difficult pathing obstacles, such as narrow gaps in cliffs (Blue Storm, Peaks of Baekdu) or walkable cliffs behind Natural Expansions (Lost Temple). However, it doesn't mean that every map can be played only in a standard way.
To contain the mass of text, the map features will focus on what was explained so far. First off, the mobility of the threatening unit has to be considered before performing a threat. Mobility might be the wrong word, as the ability to access points at the enemy base are more important. That being said, it should be trivial that flying threats, e.g. Mutalisks and Drops, work on literally every map, while the actual pathing, walking distances and familiar features are less important.
In the previous two examples Zerglings and Dark Templars as threatening ground units were introduced. To determine whether or not a threat is possible for these type of units, the choke points and the central space has to be considered. Generally speaking, wide open centers (like on Python or Jade) support fast paced units, as they offer more room to run around outgoing attacks.
At the same time narrow choke points make it harder for ground units to actually deal damage to Expansions or bases. It is therefore pivotal to know how these points are defended before attempting to sneak in or bypass an army. At the same time, maps like God's Garden or Andromeda aren't that great for runbys and attacks, as only one spot needs to be closed to secure more than two bases.
More importantly, most threats (harassment) open timing windows, as dicussed already. The longer Mutalisks (for instance) are able to attack spots in the Terran base, the longer the inevitable attack is delayed, the more time the third base expansion gets. Regardless of the outcome of the actual threat, the timing window can be wider or smaller, depending on the walking distances in between where the threat happens (Terran Base) and where Terran can engage in a trade (Natural Base or Third Expansion).
Warning: This concept, as good as it was performed, might not work against lesser or better opponents. Use with care!
Fake Threats are the last example of 'Threats' for this article. Fake threats are no threats at all. In contrast to my definition in previous chapters, a fake threat means that the player who started it has not the option to actually engage in a trade if push comes to shove.
A mild example of a fake threat can be given with the standard example so far: Terran vs. Zerg, now from the Terran's point of view. If both players opened with a Fast Expansion Build, both will have few units in the early game – a trivial scenario. Usually Zerg will place a few Zerglings in front of Terran's base in order to scout any kind of attack early on. Typically, Terran will 'fake' an attack by killing the inferior Zerglings with up to eight Marines. This is not really a threat for Zerg if he realizes the attack right away. However, if the Marines continue to move forward, Zerg might be tricked into wasting a single Drone into a Creep Colony (or Larvae into Zerglings), just to be on the safe side.
This example has a few bits of information, which can be extrapolated easily: the player to fake a threat doesn't commit to an attack, but tricks his opponent into believing a threat is there. Moreover, the faker will also try to benefit from the situation.
In more commited scenarios, the fake can be extraordinarily strong and dangerous. Liquipedia lists an example of Protoss vs. Terran, in which Protoss builds an empty Shuttle to fake an upcoming Reaver Drop without following it through. Instead, the minerals are spent on an early third expansion, with the underlying assumption Terran will not dare to move out and/or wasting Minerals on static defense (Turrets).
Ultimative Fake: Casy's „Expansion“
Fakes are usually a strong tool for Timed Attack or Cheese Build Orders. Personally, I do not advice total beginners to try these strategies right away, especially not against weaker opponents. Fakes require the opponent to know about the current meta game, or differently phrased, to be smart enough to realize that there could be a threat. Beginners often do not realize there is a potential threat present, hence they continue to play like they would without the threat; this means they'd do the right reaction for the wrong reasons. Consequently, the benefit part of the threat vanishes, or in a worst case, will end in a devastating counter attack. The same might be true for a opponent higher skilled than a beginner or casual. These type of players will either recognize the fake as fake or decide the weaker player can't possibly perform such an action, resulting a naive counter attack yet again.
Map Control isn't explained at all on Liquipedia Brood War and only got two sentences on Liquipedia SCII. It's not surprising that this basic concept is hard to put in words. Many use it intuitively to describe something relatively similar to what was written in the long 'Threat' Part. However, there's definitely more to it.
So far 'Threat' reads like 'Harassment'. A threat can be harassment, but not every harassment is a threat. Harassment can be a tool to distract the opponent in the late game as well, or one of the many techniques to hurt the opponent directly without too much of an effort; things like Storm Drop come to mind.
Threat on the other hand is a form of map control, however map control is not limited to threat. The Liquipedia definition comes relatively close, as it explains map control as abstract resource, characterized by the vision and the „mobility“ one player has. The term mobility is a little odd and not described futher.
My definition replaces mobility with 'access to key parts of the map'. This means all areas a player can enter with his army without having to face an immediate (hard) counter attack by his opponent. Map control means (examples):
- having fortified own Expansions and a well defended Main Base (denying map control)
- having access to neutral expansions (the ability to take them)
- having access to Choke Points (the ability to defend or walk through them)
- having the ability to attack the opponent's Expansions (or Main Base) without having to sacrifice the own army in the attack (or trading own expansions)
- the total amount of vision of the map
If the means/ends part is taken into consideration, it might get a bit easier to grasp. Threats are the means to an end, map control is not. It rather describes the situation of the game at hand. Casters and commentators often tell the audience a player was 'ahead'; they jump to this conclusion with the help of judging the 'amount of' map control, after comparing it to possible ends in context of the match up.
The guide already listed that a Zerg should be up one Gas Expansion against Protoss. If he isn't the Zerg is 'behind'. He can not cope with the more advanced Protoss high tech units if he does not have the third Vespine Geysir ( → can't build enough high tech units on his own continously). If both players use the MMM-Logic, Protoss tries to get level in terms of expansions (the end of Protoss), while Zerg tries to get ahead with Gas expansions (the end of Zerg). If both do well enough, it will be a run for the last expansions. All timing windows (threats/means) will be used to cause enough damage to reach the described end – force an expansion stalemate (Toss) or avoid an expansion stalemate (Zerg).
This is where map control gets important. It allows or denies threats, harassment and fakes. If a person does not have the ability to realize his ends with his means, he will be 'behind'.
My definition of map control (opposed to threat) will be clearer, once the features and techniques are discussed. Threats should be considered as Cold War Scenario, in which both sides just offer trades and constantly improve their arsenal, while map controlling techniques are go one step further; in these trades are not just 'offered', but followed through with (which make them the clear opposite to fakes).
Scouting / Information
Before this chapter continues, more explanations about the importance of information and how to obtain it has to be done. Always having a maximum of information is paramount for efficient map control.
In earlier days of Brood War some tools like First Person Replays were offered. Sadly, nowadays this feature mostly vanished. Whenever a play from a top tier foreigner or even Korean professional was re-played, it showed some interesting facts. Almost all of these elite players added tons of tricks to widen their vision of the map. Flash's ComSat usage comes to mind – once he had more than two Stations he constantly uncovered the key points of a map.
Other than for pure Build Order planning, map control needs a bit different scouting. It was already explained that threats, or on a more global level, army movement makes up for a major part of map control. The player who can control choke points, high grounds, cliffs and so on, also controls whether or not the other player can threaten / attack. It's one of the more abstract rules, that the player who's able to chose the battlefield always has a big advantage.
Therefore, a player should always aim to keep vision on several things:
- The opponent's choke point (Base Exit)
- The most popular army routes (including Drop Routes)
- All mineral bases
- Enemy's army composition and upgrade status every two minutes
To keep this article short, not all methods on how to obtain this information are listed. Any beginner should try to understand for himself what he can use to observe these spots closely. It can be done via Overlords for Zerg, Observers for Protoss and floating Buildings/Scans for Terran, as well as by placing stray and cheap units on the pathways between bases / the map center.
The latter option works best, whenever an incoming attack needs to be scouted. Armies are always moved with the attack command, hence the cheap scouts will be attacked. In turn, this will activate (hopefully) the alarm sound for the opponent – he's warned beforehand and can reposition his army or react in a different way.
Closely related to the scouting information, a constant map analysis has to be done. This is just the consequent next step after gathering intel. However, just to avoid giving the wrong impressions, a few more words on some seemingly trivial thoughts.
First off, any player has to know the basic features of the map before playing on it. If a rookie doesn't know how many starting positions there are, he can't possibly scout well. Secondly, the most important parts of the maps must be seen as important places. High Grounds are good to defend a position, as well as Choke Points to artificially funnel incoming armies, so Area-of-Effect units can cause major damage. Thirdly, the walking distances have to be (re-)calculated throughout the entire game.
The third point is probably the most important ones. As mentioned earlier, threats, army movement and the re-inforcements have to walk across the map. As a result, the walking distance – or in other words the chosen battlefield – plays a role for the outcome of a fight.
To avoid repetition this chapter is kept short, it will be explained later on in more detail. For now it's important to realize that there battles will happen in all stages of the game, which are not neccessarily 'threats' or 'fakes'. These are 'global attacks'.
Global Attacks, in opposition to Threats, are real combats. These are not soft blows anymore, but hard and big scaled attacks. Their goal is to secure or deny expansions, while they're still being constructed, or as one first attempt to end the game before the very late end-game.
Example I: Neo Bisu
The 'Neo Bisu Build' is the second great contribution of the Korean professional in the Protoss vs. Zerg Match Up. To fully understand where rookies and more experienced players alike read wrong information into the Build, the example has to be thoroughly discussed.
Before Bisu 'invented' (again, not really a new strategy) his style, Zerg players have been dominating in South Korea. They opened with Three Bases, Five Hatcheries and quickly massed Hydralisks. During the mid-game Mutalisks have been added (3 Base Spire 5 Hatchery Hydra). With the help of improved Zerg Wall-Ins and an early Spire the usual early Zealot Timed Attacks and Corsair openings were rendered useless. Futhermore, the Mutalisks sniped High Templars off the ordinary Protoss mid-game army, while the masses of the Hydralisks cleaned up what was left. For a relatively long time no efficient counter was found – no threat, not fake, only customly made and highly risky Builds.
Bisu's „Neo Bisu“ was a reaction (thus reactionary Build) to the Zerg meta game back then. His Zealot attacks were slightly faster and he also added more Corsairs than usual. Consequently his mid-game attack and his third base expansion came up in the usual time frame, while having the opportunity to engage Zerg in the open map; in other words minimal changes lead to a better map control.
In the context of global fights, the rookie mistakes start to matter. The classical newb mistake back then was to assume the earlier Zealot go (more a Threat) was meant to end the game. This wasn't true. However, the more important false positive was the assumption the newly added Corsairs and their harassment would be the key to the strategy. The key was to engage in Global Fights for Map Control. Thanks to the Corsairs Protoss could kill the Zerg army in the open map; what the Protoss Death Ball couldn't do was to end the game in the middle game, like the Three Base Spire Build could a few months before.
TL;DR: The Neo Bisu aimed to re-introduce the Global Fights for Map Control. These were no real Threats in the context of this article!
The example hopefully showed what Global Attacks do: Help to establish or maintain 'map control'. Other than for threats, these fights actually happen. The only thing left out previously was the factor of „trading“ in Global Attacks.
Trading here doesn't neccessarily mean that an army is traded for the opponent's economy, or tech tree, but more likely to futher one of the many 'map control' aspects. Sometimes such fights happen to shield an expansion, or to destroy one; sometimes they happen to keep important path ways of the maps clear.
Hence, trades do not require a player to come out on top. They can mean a player trades his army for future benefits. It's important to realize that the beneficial part might be delayed. A Terran destroying a Fourth Zerg Gas Expansion would be an example – even if he loses two control groups of Marines and Medics, he will delay Zerg's option to constantly produce Defilers and Ultralisks. In other words, the benefit is the fact that Ultralisks happen in the future instead of happen in the very near future.
Technique: Denying Access
Theoretically speaking, this technique could have been explained in the Threat department earlier on. However, Denying Access or 'Static Threats' are more of a Map Control Technique; it fits best here.
If the Scouting, Map Analysis, Global Fights and Trading part of Map Control was considered, Static Threats become important. Performing a Static Threat means to (temporarily) deny access to certain features of the map. They are mostly done by the player controlling the slower units.
It can best be explained by looking at the ordinary Terran army movement against Protoss. Terran attacks slowly with Siege Tanks and Vultures; Vultures are fast, Tanks are slow. While they move, they can be attacked. Now Protoss can actively threaten Terran by running around the incoming attack and go for unsecured expansions or other weak spots. Terran denies access by putting down Spider Mines. This helps him to stall potential counter attacks, most times long enough to defend with his re-inforcements.
Remember this game? Mines ARE Powerful
Zerg might use Lurkers the same way against Terran or Protoss, depending on the strategy. Protoss usually does not have an option to deny wide spaces strategically like this without using his entire army.
However, before giving the wrong impression and to explain why Denying Access isn't limited to pose Static Threats, it should be pointed out that this techniques focus mainly on sealing gaps: Choke Points, Walking Pathes and Drop Routes as well.
Consequently, static defense buildings, such as Turrets, Photon Cannons and Spore Colonies matter as well. A Protoss against Zerg can take a 'new' Natural Expansion on a four (or three) player map, fortify this position with tons of Cannons and Reavers, in order to 'close the gap' (the Choke Point) leading towards the Main Base. Zerg modern Sauron strategies abuse this logic the entire time – taking a third Expansion in the first minutes of the game, only to secure a potential fourth Gas later on.
Technique: Doom Drops & Recall
Theoretically speaking, Doom Drops and Recalls have little to do with Map Control on first glimpse. However, if map features and scouting information are taken into account, they can be used as powerful tool to indirectly further 'Map Control'.
A Doom Drop is usually done by Zerg against Terran or more likely Protoss: More than five Overlords are used to drop a bigger number of units into the opponent's base. A recall works similarly against Terran for Protoss. Still, there are plenty of mistakes beginners do attempting such a tactic. First off, they do it when they can, instead of when it makes sense.
Massive Drops work best if the opponent has no option to defend against them, following the logic of Threat (consider the Mutalisk Harassment and Weak Spots). Unlike the previous Threats, Massive Drops will be followed through with, regardless of the situation, there is no turning back once the units touched the ground. Consequently, it's obvious that a Massive Drop's efficiency will be maximized if these pattern is fulfilled:
- The opponent moves out with a slower (maybe more powerful) Ground Army
- The opponent's main force is half way between the drop location and the location it seeks to attack
- The Drop hits the biggest cluster of production facilities the opponent has (e.g. Main Base Gateways)
In such a scenario the opponent is forced to make a quick decision, based on little information. He can either try to trade or go back and defend. In either way, it should harm him on a larger scale.
Beginners often make the mistake to drop when the opponent's main force is still around; e.g. Protoss recalls into a Terran Base with the Terran still idling close to his Natural Expansion. It does a little damage but not much. The option of a Recall is wasted, at least if it was compared to a possible better outcome a few minutes later. As a result, Terran will now fortify and anticipate future Recalls, making it harder to use this benefit in an optimum way.
To stress out how crucial a failed Mass Drop can be is to describe the worst case scenario a Zerg can commit to against Protoss. If he drops a Main Base when the Protoss Death Ball is gathered in the Natural, Zerg might lose up to 50% of his Ground Army overall – all units he just dropped. Protoss loses a few Zealots, which he immediately re-adds in his Gateways. The immediate Counter Attack might be fatal if Protoss and Zerg are 'equal' in the game.
Map Control II
What should be taken from this long chapter is that there are typical attacks a player commits to throughout the entire game. The longer a game lasts, the bigger the fights will be. Moreover, the attacks a player really does follow through with (opposed to fakes and Threats) should serve the underlying goal of the Build Order – or the means/end logic described. Map features, unit mobility and other characteristics also play a bigger role.
Formulating an ultimative End (Game Plan)
So far MMM-Approaches have been explained with different aspects, from big to small. As the introduction of already mentioned, the MMM-Builds require a player to think at the moment they wear off. When the usual threat-logic of offered trades runs out, the cold war scenario becomes an open war, blows will inevitably exchanged. When (1), where (2), why(3) and how(4) are the questions, which cause beginners the biggest problems. The questions 1-3 will be answered soon, the number 4 is answered by micromanagement techniques. Chill once wrote a longer article answering the questions losely, however not in (easily) understandable words for rookies. This article hopefully does better and less abstract.
For the early- and mid-game the questions can (more like should) be answered within the MMM-Builds. Each mean can be turned into an end, if the opposite player performs badly: Each Mutalisk Harassment can be turned into a deathly trade if Terran misjudges the situation. Each Zergling Scout against Protoss can be turned into a 12 Zergling attack against a badly built wall-in. Each Neo Bisu first time attack can be deadly, if Zerg forgot an Overlord. And so on and so forth.
However, the late game works slightly different. What do you do once you obtained your third (Zerg: fourth) base? Does the MMM-Build give you adivce? Most times not. This chapter therefore explains how a rookie can cross the finish line after a long game. Again, consider the 15 Minute Player analogy, the ultimative goal for any player is to know how to win the game at any stage, not just as long as his Build Order tells him when and where he might be able to end it.
Scenario 1: Equilibrium
„Scenario 1: Equilibrium“ describes a late game situation in which both parties are 'equal' in map control. Nobody screwed up, nobody has the upper hand.
Following the MMM-advice one possible solution for the Equilibrium scenario can be found in macromanagement, the so-called 'a-clicking' mass attacks. The trivial case works best against beginners and casuals – building more units than the other player. It's simple, rookies build „units“ (whatever units), spam them onto the opponent and hope it's enough to end the game. Try. Fail. Repeat. This works so-so, basic statistics suggest that sometimes it has to work if done randomly; the opposite is true as well, if attacks are done randomly, the game won't be won, if the wrong targets are chosen.
Against equal opponents and better players, this concept is less effective. Under the assumption that both players have a flawed control over their army and bases, Protoss most likely wins against Terran and Terran against Zerg in open MMM-Endgame-Battles, simply because the other side (Terran and Zerg respectively) has the more „fragile units“ (die faster in a-click mass combats). For Protoss vs. Zerg it depends on each player's personality; moreover, all match ups also rely a bit on the 'defender bonus'. Blindly a-clicking into a fortified base ends the game for the weaker player (assuming a strong player never attacks without intel) – remember the thoughts on Denying Access here.
Since most MMM-Builds will end with their Build Order list after the third expansion timing (might be fourth for Zerg), the end game is only losely described. At exactly this point the match up guides should be considered, as well as the experience a player gains by playing and/or watching other games. For each match up an overall plan should be formulated, a new end not noted in the MMM-Build for the very late stages of the late game.
To stress it out again: a Build Order might tell a Protoss to get three bases and describes a world in which Zerg has four bases. At this point it ends. A Map like Fighting Spirit has thirteen Expansions. This means that there are still six more expansions remaining for the two players. Are these ends or not?
Generally speaking (read with care), ends might be defined like this:
- Mirror Matches: Obtain as many Expansions as the opponent. Have the same army (size and composition). Deny opponent's expansions. If stale mates (50%-50% map split) occur, trade armies with slightly less casualties.
- Protoss vs. Terran: Terran tries to force a stale mate, since he trades armies more efficiently. Protoss tries to gain one base (or two) more to starve Terran.
- Protoss vs. Zerg: Protoss does the same as Terran against Protoss – force a stale mate and trade better in order to starve the opponent. Zerg does the opposite before starting to starve (gain one or two Expansions more than the opponent).
- Terran vs. Zerg: Terran does the same as he would against Protoss. Zerg the same as he would against Protoss.
- Starving is always an option if defense can not be broken; when this can be done can be extrapolated out of the previous points!
These (very rough) priorities hopefully help a beginner to make up his mind. Please note that these are my personal priorities and they work up until C-/C relatively well; however, they might have to be altered for better players!
The biggest mistake a rookie can read into an „equilibrium late game“ is to assume he is forced to be pro-active, at least in the context of 'being forced to attack'. Being the passive-aggressive player sounds boring and dry, but is still a good option for a rookie. It requires less control compared to an offensive style and is easier to realize. In this scenario the rookie rarely is the person forced to judge whether or not to break fortified bases and most times gains the 'defender bonus' if performing correctly.
The objective goal for any player is to expand, following the 'real' MMM-Logic of focussing on macromanagement aspects. The expansions in turn have to be defended, which can be done in two general ways: Being passive-aggressive or passive-interceptive (I hope this is a word).
Constantly Threatening the opponent's many bases with small scaled attacks (e.g. Mondragon's Zerglings described earlier) would be the passive-aggressive option. Instead of fighting the big part of the opposing army (the Death Ball), the enemy's army is forced to roam the map, rather than the expansion spots. This works best for the more mobile player controlling the more fragile units. (Protoss in PvT, Zerg in PvZ, Zerg in ZvT); however, the seemingly slower opponent has still viable options to be passive-aggressive: Drops for Terran vs. Zerg or Vulture Raids for Terran vs. Protoss come to mind.
Flash outmacroeing ZerO
If the vision of the map is well enough for one player, he can simply slowly cover the map with his expansions, only offering big Global Attacks; in other words, the opposing Threats and Global Attacks are intercepted before they can do damage. This strategy works best for the less fragile party with the slower units. A Terran using Mech armies plays like this, a Protoss Death Ball (like in the Neo Bisu example) is used to like this. It doesn't matter if the opponent takes Expansions, as long as the own Expansions are taken as immediate counter. It's less about denying the opponent new grounds, more about standing the own ground.
Scenario 2: Desperation
„Scenario 2: Desperation“ describes a late game situation in which both parties are 'not equal' in map control. It's written from the player's perspective who is an a minor or major disadvantage
Out of the three possible scenarios for a late game, the Scenario Desperation is probably the one most likely for a rookie trying to fight a player better than him. The disadvantage, or the gap between the player's ability to control the map, might be small or large. A Protoss for example, might be equal in supply numbers with a Zerg, which is generally bad, but not too bad. It could be worse, if he was on four bases, while Zerg has the double number of expansions.
Regardless of the situation, the previous chapters do play a pivotal role now. For the late game the ultimative ends discussed in the first Scenario (Equilibrium) still have to be reached. In this scenario it is important to not reflect what happened so far, as this opens the doors wide to panic. The future can still be changed, while the history is already written. Instead, the ends have to be categorized:
- Immediate (Temporary) Goal
- Ultimative Goal
The first one describes what is still possible. For example, if Protoss in the discussed example is behind by two expansions, he should focus on expanding himself with the highest priority. Denying yet another expansion off Zerg is secondary. All means he has have to be focussed on this temporary goal he can reach. The knowledge, that the situation only offers limited means, needs to be embraced.
Beginners often do panic even if they're not much behind in terms of game play. Even if they know they should, speaking in long terms, force a stale mate against Zerg, they don't know how to realize it in an unequal scenario. Doing one step after another leads out of panic mode and into planning.
It is a false positive to assume the goal would be to add more means; a trail of thought like this is tricky:
„If I get the next expansion soon, I can raise a big army again and start Global Attacks and thusly turn the game upside down“ (1)
More realistically, a situation in which the current (existing) means vanish should be avoided.
„If I get the next expansion soon, I did not lose the game yet. I might be able to get another expansion and he will bleed out“(2)
Both thoughts are viable. Thought (1) plans longer ahead, which follows the advices listed in Scenario 1. However, it might trick a rookie in overestimating his position. The second his new expansion warps, which he defended with 50% losses, he tries to move out again; or worse moves out, because he thinks that's something the opponent doesn't suspect. It will end badly.
For Thought (2), the player is on the safe side. He didn't lose, nor win an advantage. He stays in the game. In cases in which one player has half the map, there's the huge potential he starts to waste, because he wants to end the game right away. Scenario 1, the Equilibrium, states that a +1 or +-0 expansion scenario is the only way a stalemate can be forced.
In line (2) the focus is a lot more centered on trading fights as best as they can go. This means relying almost purely on small harassments and heavily on the 'Defender Bonus'.
Very Memorable Come Back: Boxer beating Pusan
Another word of warning: Now the Trading of Global Attacks and Threats is really important in such a situation. It will take a lot of blood, sweat and tears (lost games), until a rookie learned how much he is behind. In thought (2) more conservative Trades are done. As a consequence the game will last longer and is harder to play. In thought (1) more dangerous Trades are done. If they fail, the game is over; if they succeed an Equilibrium is reached. Poker odds come to mind. This concept can applied to all previous chapters: Global Fights, Threats and Fakes.
My personal (!) advice is to not commit to (1), but to use (2). This offers more data to analyze post-game for a rookie's training, while (1) is mostly a tool for more experienced players.
Scenario 3: Supremacy
„Scenario 3: Supremacy“ describes a late game situation in which both parties are 'equal' in map control. It describes how to pass the finish line.
A surprisingly high number of games are lost by players, who have a major advantage. This is true for almost any sport out there: Be it Chess, Snooker or Soccer. In all cases the opponent was underestimated for one or the other reasons.
Following the previous advice for the Desperation scenario, the overall situation has to be judged. It might sound like irony, but an Equilibrium is easier to see than long term power shifts in the beginning of the late game. If a beginner already internalized the logic of means/ends and the ultimative goal of a game, it will be easier.
To use a Day quote (iirc): „If you're ahead, get more ahead“. Considering the first example of this guide, a player to use Mutalisks might be in a situation in which he killed a bigger amount of Marines, Turrets and SCVs than he normally would. Instead of trying to do the final blow, he should still go as planned. Add Lurkers, go for a Hive, get more Vespine Gas Expansions. A good method to „get more ahead“ is to do what would normally be best. Never waste, never commit to one attack only and hope that's enough. That's what separates good players from 15 Minute players.
To pick up one of the most standard mistakes a PvZ is chosen. It displays that Supremacy (and Equilibrium and Desperation) are not limited to the late game. In this example Protoss started with a Fast Expansion, walled himself in and faces a Zerg opening with a Three Hatchery Zergling All-In. Protoss scouted, reacted well by adding a third Photon Cannon. Zerg's first wave of attack failed and the game should be over. By now two Photon Cannons are in red health and four Zealots are over, all with yellow health bars. Protoss does a counter and the second wave of Zerglings runs over him, as the Zealots are in open field. Protoss loses. What should be done instead was to wait for the second and probably third wave, while massing the ordinary number needed for an attack against Zerg; this attack would most likely have ended the game.
Another Example of a failed Supremacy Assumption: JangBi beating ZerO
It's a constant trade between playing too safe (and thus giving the opponent an opportunity to get back) or playing too risky (and thus losing the game to a bad attack). Rule Number One should be the assumption, that almost 100% of the games are not lost because of one mistake on casual level. Any mistake can be compensated. Hence the conclusion: Continue with the typical responses, no matter how big the advantage is.
This guide aimed for players thinking they'd face a slump. This feeling usually is overwhelming after the first two hundred games are played. At the beginning of a player's „career“ on servers like ICCup or FISH the training pays of relatively soon. In contrast to what wannabe hipsters tell the rookies, it's easy to compete with the „average“ casual (the average rank of ICCup are ~2300 points). However, the step from defeating a once-per-week-player to a more experienced regular with years of experience is hard to do.
It's pivotal that a beginner „slumping“ on ladder keeps going. A rookie should never consider himself to bad to carry on, most times it's only little what really does separate him from the better rank. It's less of a burden and lots of physical training, the hardest parts were already done. Instead, the real fun starts, the ability to recognize more in-depth theorycrafting ideas – how versatile the game really is. Details matter, and details can be changed fast.
In my experience crossing the border between the ICCup Ranks D+ to C- is the one describing the situation the best. A high level D+ has a hard time beating a stable C- player; suddenly the experience of the higher ranked player shows and what worked so far doesn't anymore. This guide hopefully helps to widen the view of strategies. It contains all information needed to change the own game in order to take down even C gamers if the mechanics are developed enough for it.
My last words: The advice I dislike the most is to simply go and watch Snipealot games. This is an eternal advice. It doesn't help. Koreans are the top of the skill pyramide and what they do theoretically follows everything described so far, yet on a level hard to grasp if a rookie has less than 2k games. Details are not visible anymore to the untrained eye, but need a microscope.
However, with this guide it might very well be possible to know what details you're looking for. It's not so much a microscope (to use the bad analogy), but a magnifier. It could help you to appreciate the top level plays more. Don't mistake my dislike for the ordinary advice as me forbidding you to watch; rather take it as „if you watch for educational purposes, watch for the right things“.
Thanks go out to Cryoc and Cele for giving opinions.
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And thank you for reading all of it. Here are pictures of nice animals.
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