Monday 18 July 2011

Let's Rock! - Week 4

Today is a good day. For today it is 1 month since I set out to drastically improve my 1v1 prowess. So I guess the question is, has any progress been made? Well simply put, yes. Lots of progress.

The first thing I talked about was the fear of playing or rather the fear of losing. Now while I still have a slight anxiety I find myself almost enjoying and even looking forward to playing 1v1. I have learnt that getting my ass kicked is all part of the learning process. With each loss I can learn something new, see a new build order or strategy that has to be countered and overcome.

I didn't work this out at first, with each loss making me feel like I didn't know anything about Starcraft 2 and that I could never improve. But its amazing how a few wins can improve your out look on life. I have come up against some tough opponents and played some close games but playing and even loosing these games has forced me to re-evaluate my game style and change my fundamental mechanics.

Thanks to these losses and having Comadevil watch me play and tell me where I am going wrong, I have learnt to play a very different Zerg game then I did before. Gone are the days when I would try to win the game by fighting off of 2 bases or doing some sort of crazy banneling rush. Now its all about the economic powerhouse. Its all about holding back and expanding, waiting until the last possible second to build an army once my economy is in overdrive.

I can already see that my games are progressing along the 'standard' play as Day9 would call it. This is exactly what I need if I ever want to survive outside of the gold league.

Aside from big game changing fundamentals that have been learnt, I am slowly improving lots of little things. I am now using my overlords more effectively, scouting the back of the enemy base, keeping one over my expansion so I can spot any cheesy cannon or bunker rush and lining the route to enemy Zerg base with Overlords so I can see whenever they move out. I have even re-arranged my control groups to give me more flexibility with my army and to more easily find my Queens so I can get those larvae spawning quicker.

I think If I went back and played myself from a month ago, I would kick my ass.

Although I have been playing much, much more then before (well its not hard to play more than zero), I am still not playing as much as I would like. I need to play more, I need to get those 5 games a day in. When season 3 starts I have a new goal: to keep my bonus pool at zero. That means never letting it build up, playing every single day. Only by doing this will I get anywhere.

Its been a great start and I feel more confident than ever in my 1v1 ability but there is a long way to go yet. Rome wasn't built in a day and a noob cannot be turned into a master in a month. I'm looking forward to seeing where I will stand in 4 weeks time, so here's to the next month!

Let's Rock!

Wednesday 13 July 2011

In the rear with the gear

So last night I had a revelation. Something I already knew but perhaps didn't understand its power fully. The secret to success with Zerg, is to build a massive economy. Zerg do not win fights with superior units, they win with superior numbers. To do this they need to have a huge economy, Zerg players have to have great macro games.

I did know this already, but I didn't know to what extent I had to build my economy. Apparently I still play in the mindset of the many team games I have played where you are limited to only 1 or 2 expo's (expansions) each. This means that you have to fully saturate each base with 3 drones per mineral patch and gas, roughly 30 workers per base.

However in 1v1's a lot of maps offer you way more potential expo's that need to be taken advantage off. But hey 60 workers spread over 3 bases is the same as 60 workers spread over 4 bases right? Well no. No times a thousand.

This is the part where anyone who considers themselves experienced or above average in Starcraft 2 looks away in derision. As I discovered last night the third worker on each mineral patch is only 50% efficient as the first two. This is huge! Understanding this one basic rule of Starcratt 2 will increase my economy by 50%. Now, say instead of getting 1000 minerals per minute, I can get 1500. That's like 20 zerglings worth per minute. That builds up over time to a lot and can mean the difference between victory and crushing defeat.

Or that extra 50% will mean I can build my Evolution Chamber earlier and get those critical upgrades or vital stealth detection out earlier. 50% might not sound much but in a game where every second you can shave off a build or that 1 extra Colossus you can squeeze out can make such a huge difference. If you can rush 20 seconds earlier the other guy is going to have less stuff to defend with. If you have 3 Colossi and the other guy only has 2, you are going to win (ignoring my horrible micro of course).

Check out this link for further information

To prove this point my friend Coma Devil suggested to play vs the AI and just expand a lot. As one of my goals this week was to get used to expanding a lot, I gave it a go. So for the first 10 minutes or so I just built Zerglings and expanded like crazy, making sure not to over saturate my bases and grab all the gases. At the 12 minute mark my economy started to sky rocket. I had so many minerals and enough gas to build an army of Mutalisks. Never during my ladder games could I afford so many mutas at once. With them I devoured the enemy army then ripped apart their base. And still I had enough resources to do what ever I wanted after.

How could I have not seen this before? Just expand. Always. Build enough to survive and then when you have 3 or 4 bases up build an army. This way you can just replace your losses instantly and easily afford it. Sticking to 2 bases for so long and then building a 3rd only once I have fully saturated my other bases has cost me more than I know. How many times have I lost 1 base and just fell apart because of lack of income? How many times have I mined out my main base and not had another base to send my Drones to?

Its past time I realized that expanding is the key to Zerg success and now I know how to distribute my Drones. Its time to stop focusing on my army and focus more on those hard working under appreciated guys in back who do all the heavy lifting and are the true key to victory. So in honor of the hardest working of all the worker units, the SCV, I will sign out saying:

In the rear with the gear!

Monday 11 July 2011

Let's Rock! - Week 3

Here we are again. Another week, another Monday and a chance to go forward and kick ass all week! If only. Its week 3 on my journey and its time to settle in for the long haul. The last two weeks I was still getting used to everything, buying new toys to play with and working out a timetable to play. Now I must concentrate on nothing but getting my games in and improving my game style.

Last week was not good for my ego. I took loss, after loss, after loss but with each loss came a determination to get another win. Determination is good and all but determinedly trying to lift a car with your mind is only going to give you a headache if you ain't got the midi-chlorians.

So instead of gritting my teeth and diving head long once more into my next match, I have realized that taking some time to stop and watch the replay of the game I have just played might be a good idea. It might give me a chance to settle down and see just where I went wrong and the other guy or gal went right. Doing this I might discover that going 14 pool isn't such a great idea in a Zerg vs Zerg (ZvZ) on Xel'naga caverns with its close base proximity.

I faced a lot of cheesy 6 and 9 pool rushes last week that left me feeling frustrated and cheated and I need to look into how I can beat those back comfortably. Whether it is just a question of going for an earlier pool or better drone micro to kill it off.

One thing I have discovered from my games so far is that my Zerg vs Terran or ZvT, is by far my weakest match up. I don't know what it is about Terran but I never feel in control in those match ups. If I'm not losing my expo to a bunker rush then I'm living in fear of a fast banshee rush or blue flame hellion drop. The ability they have to wall up with supply depots and Tanks whilst simultaneously making multiple medi-vac drops leaves me running round in circles trying desperately to defend whilst unable to effectively attack. Always ending in the same way as the Terran's brutal death machine gets slowly bigger and bigger until their unstoppable army comes to my base and squashes my army like the insects the Zerg are. But the Zerg are not insects! We are the Swarm, the bringer of death and darkness and we shall flow over the Terran and devour them until nothing is left but ash and dust. After that I feel like an evil laugh is needed: Muh ha ha ha ha.

But how to bring about this grizzly end for the Terran? Well to start with I will read and try to understand
SieGe’s excellent ZvT guide found over at Team Liquid. Understanding theory craft and what to look out for and how to play against Terran is essential if I am to get anywhere higher than Gold league.

Despite the losses I was happy with how I have started to rally Overlords away from my base. It felt clumsy at first having to mentally think: don't build that Overlord yet, deselect the Larva you have just started to morph and reselect them, then build only Overlords then manually rally them somewhere else. The end result however was a much easier time finding my units at my rally points and not losing loose Overlords to counter attacks at my front. Hopefully after another week of doing this it will become second nature.

One final thing that I need to do in all my match ups is to aggressively expand. My friend Coma Devil watched one of my streams and told me I needed to expand more. I was like I just got my natural going I'm good. Of course I was wrong. After losing a number of games because I failed to secure a 3rd or 4th and falling onto one base as my main dried up, I realized he was right. Watching some replays and the pros at the North American Star League opened my eyes to just how much Zerg expand. Win a fight? Expand. Terran is building a command center? Expand Got 600 minerals? Expand. Expand. Expand. Expand. This way not only does Zerg get a massive economical boost, they gain access to loads of Larva with which to build units and can control more territory making your main more secure.

Coma Devil told me that Zerg must always have one base more than their opponent to stay on even terms with them. Well if you think about it, that makes perfect sense. As Zerg one Hatchery spawns 3 larva plus 4 more for every time the Queen uses the Spawn Larva ability and vomits extra all larva all over it. This means that from this building you are building both your economic units and your military might. So generally you must choose to either build an army or build Drones and beef up your economy.

Terran and Protoss can build both at the same time giving them an immediate advantage. So in order to catch up you need to build twice as many hatchery's so you can build both army and economy at the same time. A simple concept, yet one I have failed to observe so far.

So this week
besides playing more, I have a few objectives:

  1. Watch replays of games I have played
  2. Rally overlords out of the way
  3. Expand. Expand. Expand.
  4. Read up on ZvT theory
  5. Don't loose to any more 6 pools
That last one is something I should know already yet apparently don't. Lots to do so lets get cracking. Its time once more to kick ass and chew bubblegum.

Let's Rock!

Thursday 7 July 2011

"Mayday! Mayday!"

What do you do when you lose a bunch of games? Lose some more. At least that's what I did. After a successful start to my 1v1 sessions I hit a brick wall on Tuesday and Wednesday. A brick wall covered in spikes. Which I hit with my face. Repeatedly.

That is to say I lost a bunch of games. The thing about becoming good at Starcraft 2 is that you have to resist the urge to crawl into a corner and cry when you go on a losing streak. Because you will lose games. A lot of games. If you win a thousand games, expect to loose a thousand games as well. At least while you are learning and ranking up. Every time you start to do well you will find yourself playing better and better people until you loose a bunch. So get used to it.

But more than that, learn from it.

Every time I lose I must force myself to watch the replays and see what went wrong: when was I ahead? How did I fall behind? What was my biggest problem? No easy task when stuck in a rut and all I want to do is play 1 more game and get that all redeeming win. From now on though, I must stay calm and ignore that search button until I have watched the replay and figure out what happened.

But what did I learn from my 2 day bludgeoning? Well firstly little things held me back and slowed me down. A few things noted were:
  • Forgot Zergling metabolic boost
  • Didn't expand enough
  • Made to few Drones when pressured
  • Didn't have Overlords rally out of the way
  • Failed to scout with overlords and observers
  • Didn't spread creep
  • Got control groups confused
A big list for sure but all things that can be worked on and improved easily by just playing a lot or playing vs the AI. To try and fix all these things at the same time won't do me any favors. I will take up too much and get overwhelmed by how much I need to remember. So I will just focus on a few issues and master them until I do the right thing without thinking. Once it becomes second nature to do one thing I can then try and master something else. I think for starters I will concentrate on rallying my Overlords out of the way.

This might not be the biggest game changing thing to learn that once mastered will instantly see my skill increase, but it is a small thing that leads to many other problems. Having Overlords all over your base and hovering over your army makes things very difficult. Just trying to find where your Queen is under that mass of floating fat gas balls is a mission in itself. Time wasted trying to find things under Overlords can lead to other problems such as slow lava injects, miss-clicking units, not seeing idle Drones, missing key units such as Infestors and creep tumors and a host of other things.

On the plus side though I was always looking towards getting Brood Lords as was my intent for this game and in a few games they saved my ass. The horrible, nervous, fear of losing was replaced by a grim determination to just win one match. Maybe I have improved since my first post and opening 1v1 session. So its not all bad.

With a bit of luck and a lot of practice, in my next battle that starts to turn ugly I might be able to resist saying the Banshee's distress call:

"Mayday! Mayday!"

Monday 4 July 2011

Lets Rock! - Week 2

So its Monday, everyone's favorite day and the start of another week! As such its time to write down my game plan for the up coming week and review last weeks progress (or lack of).

Last week I began my long journey to be a master Starcraft 2 player. I never expected it to be easy and indeed working up the nerve to play 1v1 has required some determination, but still I didn't play anywhere near the number of games I wanted. I did however play my first 1v1s in many weeks and from a shaky start identified some key points that needed addressing in my game. Mainly: pick a race and stick to it, and to have a plan. My race is Zerg. My plan, well that's not so easy.

As the saying goes; 'a bad plan is better than no plan at all.'

Indeed this is as true in the universe of Starcraft 2 as any other battlefield. My first games played last week saw me stumble with my next move, with how I would go and win. I knew how to open more or less but when things went wrong I panicked and just kept attacking in the same old way losing many young, brave, valiant, winged insectoid bug things along the way. Alas the Queen that spawned my horde did weep mightily on that first day of 1v1s.

But those deaths were not in vain for I learned my lesson and went into my next few games with a plan. Get: Brood lords. Short, simple but it won me a very close ZvP where both of us scrapped together an army from the remnants of our shattered economies for one last throw of the die that saw me victorious! All because of those wonderful Brood lords.

So what is the aim for this week? Well I have a plan but it needs fleshing out. Get Brood lords is not the most detailed of plans. I think even Baldrick has come up with more detailed plans. So this week as I play I will experiment with a few builds and try and work out the best way to get Brood lords out and the best timing for when this should happen. I will also need to look at how I will survive to this point, as not getting killed is an important aspect of Starcraft 2. As I am fast learning - its a lot easier said then done.

However this week sees the end of season 2 and a ladder lock. This means that for 2 weeks until season 3 starts I won't be able to advance between the leagues but on the other hand I can't plummet to the bottom either. For a period of time then there is no risk to playing, which means there is no excuse to not play 1v1. So expect to see a lot of games appearing on my stream in the next 2 weeks!

To aid me in this I have just received a new gaming mouse, the appropriately named DeathAdder. So armed with my new weapon of choice its time set forth once more and crush my enemies under the weight of the swarm.

Lets Rock!

Thursday 30 June 2011

"Oh suck it up! You act like you got BOTH arms blown off!"

Well my first 1v1 session taught me a lot. It taught me that if you don't play for a few days you may forget to build an overlord at 9 supply or get your first expansion slightly late. It taught me that if you don't play everyday you will not be at you best so prepare for some tough games. It taught me that to miss a day will slow you down but to miss a week or more is disastrous! Don't play any Starcraft 2 for a few weeks and when you come back nothing feels right, you feel slow, lost, wondering what to do next with all timings gone out the window.

This is how I felt in my first 1v1 game. I felt this way mainly because I forgot to switch to Zerg before playing and loaded as Protoss. Yeah...

You can imagine how I felt when the game loaded and I had no creep, no hatchery, no overlords and funny little floating probes instead of insectoid drones. Lost, slow, helpless and all of the above. Not a good start. Needless to say I lost that game horribly but I learn't possibly the most important lesson and topic of my last post: stick to one race (and for the love of God make sure you select them before entering a game).

My second game went better. It was a Zerg vs Zerg on Tal'Darim Altar. My over arching plan for Zerg vs Zerg is to get really quick zerglings and then bannelings right after. To do this I sacrifice getting an early hatch. My opponent decided to get a second hatch early and then zerglings/bannelings. This immediately put him on the defensive which suits me. I knew I had a window of time to break him before the extra hatch gave him the edge and the tables will turn.

So we trade blows for a while, losing zergling for zergling with me trying and failing to get a spine crawler in his expo. We both end up with bannelings at the same time so any hopes of me winning that way goes out the window. We are both microing about the same and I refuse to give up pushing and keep sending more and more lings down. Eventually he gets his base secured with spine crawlers and I have almost mined out my main base.

I am just thinking the whole time, "I must break through or he will get mutalisks and beat me with his better economy." Well I failed to break his defense and he destroyed me with mutalisks as I predicted. I knew what he was going to do and yet I failed to prevent it.

This got me thinking. What do I do if my first push fails? I had no answer for this in the game and it cost me as I stubbornly sent more and more zerglings to die. But hey that's what zerglings are good for. This is the most important revelation I had this session (well second after picking the right race to start with). I need a game plan. I need to know how I will open each game, what my end game is going to be and how I will get there.

It made me realize that I don't want to be going for an all in lets kill him now opening, but to do enough to survive to reach the end game where I will be comfortable enough to kill him. I didn't have a plan that game and that is why I lost. If I had a plan then not doing much damage with my rush would have been ok, because It would have given me enough time 2 get my second hatch up and tech up to lair. Then make a spire and harass until I am ready to start massing Brood Lords and then go kill him. With a simple plan like that I would have done much better.

So lesson learn't. Have a game plan.

My third game was again a Zerg vs Zerg. I did much better this time. Not because I made a plan, I didn't really figure that out until after the session and I watched the replays. But one thing I took straight from game 2 was that in a banneling war the guy with more bannelings wins. So I made much more bannelings in my first push and pretty much won right out when I exploded all his lings and drones. An easy win but enough to make up for the two previous losses.

In short my first 1v1 session on the road to awesomeness, was a nervous affair that started off with an epic fail and ended with a conciliatory victory. But it was fun and eye opening at the same time.

As a Medivac pilot with their sympathetic ear to the blight of the lowly infantry soldier would say:

"Oh suck it up! You act like you got BOTH arms blown off!"

Wednesday 29 June 2011

"This better be good..."

When it comes to playing 1v1 there is one important question that every aspiring gamer must answer; "which race shall I play?"

In other words will I conquer the galaxy with Terran, bend the light with Protoss, harness the swarm of Zerg or play all 3?

In Starcraft 2 this is a very important question to answer. There may only be 3 races but they do not play the same. You can argue that maybe two of them are kind of the same, but that is only because the third race is so completely different. There are similarities for the sake of balance, mainly that they:

  • have the same UI and controls,
  • use gatherer units to get minerals,
  • build military units to attack with,
  • upgrade armor and weapons
  • use the same resources: supply, minerals and vespine gas.
Looking at that list you may think that if you master one race you can master them all. This is simply not true. The thing about Starcraft 2 is it has depth, there are so many potential strategies and tactics that each race can use and when you get to the higher levels the depth only increases. Something as simple as getting a warp gate at 10 supply instead of 12 can change the whole way you play that race! Timings become all important and you need to know exactly when you can do something and more importantly, when you should do something.

Its not enough to simply say I'm going to make roaches this game. You need to know when are you going to take a gas. If you should expand before or after getting a pool. Should you go pure roach or start of with lings? Do you forgo ling speed in favor of earlier roaches. And these are just the possibilities me as a noob can think of.

It is possible to learn everything about all the races and play random, but it is no easy task and if you can do it then you have my respect. But as Day9 says, if you can master 1 strategy then you are a master level player if you are OK with all the races and all strategies then you are only an OK player. Depth beats breadth in Starcraft 2. I doubt I can get the depth needed to be a good player by playing all 3 races.

So with that in mind I will pick one race to play. But we are back to that all important question, which one?

I have played all 3 races a lot in 4v4 so I have a good place to start in picking which race I should learn. With Terran I do well with MMM (Marine, Marauder, Medivac) massing. Stim packs and siege tanks are powerful and walling in saves me from many a rush.

With Protoss I love that I can warp in units quickly wherever I want, their units are strong and the Protoss death ball has got to be the best with colossi who have great range, attack power and mobility. Not to mention I can use chrono boost to help speed up whatever tech or units I want. Oh and how could I forget Dark Templar's! Those things kick ass! What can be more annoying then a unit that one hit kills workers and is invisible to boot. Protoss truly have a lot going for them.

Sounds like the choice is obvious then and it would be if it were not for the Zerg. The Zerg play a little differently from the other two. Unlike Protoss or Terran all their units come from the same place and cost lava and every time you build something you have to sacrifice a drone to do so. In a lot of situations with Zerg you either make an army or build your economy. Unlike the other two races you can't really do both. It may sound like they are at a big disadvantage there, but they aren't called the swarm for nothing. Out of all three the Zerg have the ability to mass lots of units very quickly and keep massing. When a Zerg army dies, you just build another one, provided you have the minerals of course.

This I like. I like a big horde of fast moving zerglings swarming over my enemies and over whelming them. I like that the Zerg look and feel different from the other two races, that they are truly Alien. I love exploding bannelings all over marines and watching them melt, burrowing with infestors and popping up to spew acid all over my enemies. Most of all the ability Zerg has to take control of the map with fast moving units and creep spread fits my play style well. I am not good sitting back and waiting for the other guy to make his move. I have to be aggressive and control how the game plays out, not wall up and react to my opponents moves. Mostly though, I just have fun playing as Zerg.

So there it is. After a lot of thought I have gone with my gut instinct and will play the race I enjoy the most. Zerg.

All I can do now is get cracking on learning Zerg vs X strats and hope I have made the right decision. To echo the sentiments of the Marine "This better be good..."