StarCraft 2 Beginner guide

StarCraft 2 Beginner's Guide

What is StarCraft 2?

StarCraft 2 is a very complex game, everything counters something and learning what counters what is essential. However, speed is the best counter, utilizing every second you play to be doing something effective will make every game a little easier to win. The StarCraft main series is only available on PC through the Blizzard launcher. If you’re opponent has one Battlecruiser, is it not better to have 20 Marines with 2/2 upgrades? You wouldn’t know just yet so lets get the basics sorted out.

Is there a StarCraft Campaign?

I will always be an advocate for playing through the StarCraft campaigns, not only are they rich in lore and story building, but they slowly trickle in all of the units you need to learn about. Playing through the campaigns can’t hurt your progression as a player and only make the transition into competitive easier.

The way the Campaigns are played is vastly different than playing a competitive match, there is a common joke about players in Bronze and Silver building their bases like a campaign (race). 

Some things don’t translate from Campaign to Competitive, bust most things assist players in learning how the bare bones game works which is a stable platform to take into competitive. All of the Campaigns are fairly lengthy, It really is a good storyline and the more you lose the longer it takes. So tread lightly when starting the campaign and don’t play Brutal or even Hard as a first time player, It won't help you learn or give you a good experience playing the game for the first time

What are the Zerg?

Let's start to break down all of the different races and their basic level of play. The Zerg are focused on swarming the enemy with cheap, weak units that overtime can become overwhelming pests that eat everything in their path with relative ease. The trade off for this race is that their units and tech buildings cost a little less than the other races, but are also easier to kill early on.

There are a few other discrepancies but they become more important to know at later ranks. Try and focus on the overall strengths and weaknesses of a race.

Some notable Zerg pros are Serral, Rogue, Dark and Reynor.  Watching their games will assist you a lot in seeing what Zerg are capable of accomplishing in game.

28% of all StarCraft Ranked players are Zerg players, they are currently the least played race (not including Random) and have the lowest amount of players in Grandmaster.

These statistics include a shared pool of the whole World player base.

What are the Terran?

The Terran race is the games version of Humans. They are a more well balanced race where relative power and cost are between Zerg and Protoss. For the most part they require a minimal amount of understanding to be used effectively in a competitive match.

Obviously a more skilled Zerg or Protoss player will beat a Terran player, but again it’s an endless game of rock, paper scissors where ultimately the rock and paper are the individual players’ ability and understanding of their matchup.

Notable Terran pro players include Maru, Special, and TY. There used to be four players called the “Four Horsemen of Terran” but some of them have fallen off in recent GSL’s. Terran players make up the majority (barely) of all ranked players in the world at 33.26% but have fewer Grandmaster level players than Protoss.

What are the Protoss?

The Protoss are the technologically advanced alien race we all dreamed were real. Their units generally cost a bit more but are fairly strong in the beginning of the game. The Protoss pro players often get a bad rep when they play each other, as usually the games can be pretty boring, but most mirror matches are less fun to watch than cross races.

PvP, PvT, PvZ, TvT, TvZ, and ZvZ are all  the possible matchups simplified where P is Protoss, T is Terran, and Z is Zerg. this is important to note because whenever one watches the pro scene, or is looking up stats related to matchups they will usually be in this style.

Some good Protoss players to talk about would be Stats, Classic, and Neeb, who have all been prominent SC2 pros for awhile now.

Protoss players make up about 29% of all ranked players and boast 35%  of all Grandmaster level players. Oddly enough however they are the least winningest race in recent times With Maru and Serral dominating most of their tournaments.

What is Random?

Each race has so many little bits and pieces to them that some of us just can’t choose, or want an excuse for not being GM. We select the Random race before queuing to allow us to play a random matchup every single game. There are some benefits to this for those who take it seriously.

Playing as a Random race makes it more difficult for the enemy to prepare a perfect opening against you, which can stall them out of a few seconds to a minute of productivity. At higher elos this can be a huge advantage but for some of us, we just want to play all of the races. People like Wintergaming who play Random almost every single game ever type their race in the beginning of the game, most people believe you and prepare an opening for that race so you get the most standard openings which lead to standard matches.

On the other hand, people like to be “cheesie” in StarCraft and play tricks to beat their opponents. This goes for every race but it is arguably easier to pull off as a Random player by not telling your race or by lying and stating another race instead.

There can be some tactics to this that can be beneficial and there is no shame in utilizing them to your advantage, you just might get berated bny the players who fall for your trickery. Again, a lot of people don’t like the advantage you can have, but that advantage isn’t truly relevant until you’re edging into high elo because honestly, we aren’t good enough to abuse Random until we’re about Diamond and by then, players can recover the time lost very efficiently.

Random players make up about 9% of all ranked players, mostly because it is hard to learn every matchup and every race. To emphasize that there are only (as of writing this) 15 Grandmaster level Random players in the whole world. Only one player has ever tried to take Random into a major event, GuMiho qualified for GSL as Random, but was immediately knocked out and now plays as Terran. If you are looking for good advice as a Random player, itmeJP and Wintergaming (who more or less will meme and tell you not to). As a Random player myself, my advice is to practice every single race, for 30 or so games a week, just to hit Platinum.

What is the Objective in StarCraft 2 Multiplayer?

The beginning of the game two players start with their main base, Nexus, Command Center, Hatchery, and a handful of workers. Using these starting units and time players are to build up an army to fight each other. Normally the goal of either player is to destroy the enemies buildings, once all of the buildings are gone on the enemies side, they are forced to lose. Each race has a unit cap of 200 supply which starts low and requires a specific building or unit to be built in order to increase the amount of other units they have.

One of the most prominent parts of StarCraft has always been the “GG” surrender. The community for the most part isn’t toxic especially at higher ranks, everyone is more focused on achieving the next rank so when they lose, instead of monologuing about how broken Protoss is, they tip their hat and GG go next. That's just what we’ve always done, the game is hopeless we can’t mount the come back, it is more beneficial to leave six minutes before the game would actually end to find a decent spot to cool down and just start a fresh game.

On the other hand, every once in awhile you’ll face an opponent that just wants to beat you using words, they may win or lose the match and still just flame you and yours, this happens in every video game and is easy to get over, just remember you don’t have to be one of those people.

What should I play as?

There are four options to choose from when playing a competitive game, Zerg, Protoss, Terran, or Random. Random players tend to not reach the higher elos as it takes so much understanding of the game and the understanding of so many more matchups than a player that selects one race. It is still a good idea to play around with all the races to find a deeper understanding of how they work, but for the most part sticking to one race has the ability to carry you farther than playing Random.

There are many stereotypes that follow each race for some reason or another, from patch to patch everyone from every race finds some reason to complain about a different race being overpowered and their own race being nerfed into the ground. The reality behind this is that while sometimes it can seem that one race is better than the other, the real difference is the players own individual skill and speed. 

What are the maps like in SC2?

Every season there is a map pool, and new maps are added while some older ones are taken away, this helps keep things fresh as some maps are better for a specific strategy for a race and players will exploit that to try and gain MMR. This is important to be aware of if you’re losing a lot on a specific map as you are allowed to semi-veto it, making it so can find more games on other maps that you are better at playing on.

Sometimes though it is better to play on maps that may favor other races, if you can counter their build on that map you may just come out on top anyway.The map pool always hosts a few different styles of maps, in earlier ranks they aren’t exactly worth worrying about but they can have a bigger impact in later ranks if players know how to properly exploit it.

How does vision and Fog of War work?

Just like everything else, Knowledge is power in StarCraft, knowing what you’re opponent is doing and knowing how to beat it increases your ability to play the game effectively. There are many ways to acquire vision in the fog of war, and some maps even host little “Xel Naga Towers” that when controlled by a player gives a small circle of vision in key points on the map.

Terran utilizes Orbital Command Scans and scouting Marines later in the game, but usually send out an SCV to scout what the enemies current build path is early on.

Zerg have Overlords that are a little tricky to use for vision as they also count as the supply cap for  the race. There are some upgrades that increase the movement speed and morphing Overlords into Overseers will help their maneuverability and add other ways to get vision.

Protoss have a few options, but the most basic form of vision is the Observer, a pricey unit but invisible and can only be detected by specific units and buildings, they are visible to the naked eye as the disrupt the ground below them but it is very miniscule and difficult to see amidst all the action.

Are there Streamers and Pro Players?

There is a lot to StarCraft that can be really hard to grasp if you are a new player. Watching streams and interacting with the streamers and community can help you gain a better understanding. There are also plenty of guides on YouTube that are available to get deeper into the gameplay than you can alone. Because of how difficult StarCraft can be to learn, looking for outside help to improve on your game is highly suggested. Learning different openings to start however isn’t the goal for a new player.

The goals for new players are to play each race a few times to get a feel for the game, this is one of the scenarios where playing through the campaigns will help. Ultimately finding a race to learn more about. Learning one opening and repeating it until you can win consistently against players your rank, and being able to play it over and over again until you can play it as fast as possible is the best thing you can do to learn patterns and which units beat which units.

StarCraft 2 often times intimidates new players, because without any experience the game is hard to get into. Because it is an RTS style game, it requires a lot of time and dedication, objectively more so than other styles of games under the MOBA or FPS styles. The skill ceiling is so high, since rank is based off of MMR (Matchmaking Rating) that if a player just indefinitely went on a long enough winning streak they would create so much room between them and the next player that everybody in ranked would just get better and better, or quit playing because they can’t beat anybody.

Luckily even the likes of Flash, Serral, and Maru couldn’t go on such a big enough winning streak to force that scenario, Serral got pretty close at 7300+ but everybody else just learned and improved so the next closest MMR sits at 7025.

How does SC2 compare to other games?

To be clear, every video game is difficult to master and any game that constantly refreshes their game with patches and changing the Meta around takes a lot of time and effort to make it to the top. That being said it is commendable to reach the pro level of any competitive Esport. It takes a lot away from a person to put so much into a game, that it isn’t fair to say one or the other is harder or more notable, especially when considering they’re all different. One of the things that sets SC2 apart is that the 1vs1 style isn’t present in many other games with a pro scene.

While it is an RTS, it is very reminiscent of the game Chess. The game is always evolving as people learn more and more about the different possibilities and as people develop their own play styles. Chess doesn’t have the luxury of evolving as you can’t tweak how much damage a Queen does, or change how fast a Pawn can move. SC2 can make little balance changes that end up making certain strategies obsolete and less efficient than they were before.

How can I practice playing StarCraft?

Thankfully to the new player there are a lot of ways to practice for Ranked that aren't going to impact your MMR. There is a section for practicing specific counter compositions, as well as a rated vs AI that allows for you to learn alongside a computer that is ranked to your current ability.

The practice AI is the best way for new players to practice as it offers a stress free slow play environment that really allows for the player to experiment and learn at their own pace. There are a lot of community made mods that offer more in depth practice as well, some of them are super useful once you have a general idea of how the game works.

On top of all that, you can play 2v2, 3v3, or 4v4 with friends, although the overall situations are nothing like you’ll find in a 1vs1 scenario, they can help teach you if they're a long time player or learn with you if they’re also new to the game.

What should I be practicing?

Practice makes perfect but in SC2 if you don't know what to practice, it will be hard to progress fast enough. Practice specific builds and practice specific counter plays in order to smooth out your gameplay. Focusing on getting a consistent build path down will give you a clear thing to practice. 

Build Path is the way to describe what composition a player is going for, there is a quick and efficient way to do any composition and getting to the end as quickly as possible is the best way to help secure victory. If you are losing against a specific race or unit composition it is good to go back and figure out what kinds of things you can do to counter them and practice that, now you know two builds. Rinse and repeat.

It is often accepted that as any given race you should put in x amount of games per rank in order to improve. Once you have found that x amount of games isn’t working you then need to identify what issues are affecting you and drilling it into your head so you don't easily make that mistake, or more easily overcome that position the next time you’re put into it.

What is Macro in StarCraft?

Arguably the most important part of the game is remembering to utilize hot keys and memorizing what's in them. Being able to look elsewhere on the map while continuously pumping out units at home so that you can control your units in a fight while having stuff ready to reinforce your army if you win or having units to fall back on if you lose will help prepare you for any situation. 

Control groups are hotkeys you set for building types and specific parts of the map that you can look at by clicking that hotkey. Selecting multiple of the same building allows you to use and build from them all at once.

Hotkeys have many other uses as well, such as helping you section off a group of units that are spell heavy so you can filter through them fast in fights. When using them to build units out of multiple buildings you have to have the unit hotkeys memorized to quickly begin the production of units as you select a hotkey.

Hotkeys are fairly difficult for anybody to utilize perfectly and could be considered more useful to learn at a higher level of play, but starting with them early and forcing yourself to use them will increase your skill threshold early on.

Micro is often considered something that goes hand in hand with Macro, but in StarCraft, getting too caught up in Microing units in earlier ranks normally results in  a lack of attention to Macro which means anyone with more production will win a fight and steamroll across the map.

What is the Pro Scene like?

The pro scene in StarCraft is broken up into a few different main events with a bunch of minor ones that don't get as much attention as they should. The Global StarCraft II League hosts (mostly) the Korean players and has a few different qualifying rounds that aren’t usually streamed, but the main events are streamed in sections. The StarCraft II World Championship Series branches into two main events, WCS Europe and WCS Americas and also has some qualifying rounds that are streamed by the community.

The biggest events for StarCraft 2 are the GSL vs The World tournament and the WCS Global Finals at Blizzcon. The absolute highest level of StarCraft is played at both tournaments and are harder to follow but make for better game ultimately.

Watching any of the WCS or GSL matches will give you a great idea of what high elo play is like. The casters often give great insight to all of the different things that happen in all StarCraft games. Don’t try to emulate what the pros do, just take note of what they are capable of. You can find a whole new appreciation for the game when watching people at the top of the elo duke it out and using the units in a way some of us wish we could.

What is the Replay feature?

After every game you have the option to rewind the game and watch from both perspectives how the game played out. This is one of the most useful tools in any Esport as being able to quickly identify your mistakes or where the game went wrong and then remembering what you can do to change that position will help to ensure you don't repeat that situation again, or at least less often. Understanding where and how we messed up help create room to grow, filling the room with more knowledge and understanding of what we can do to fix it gives us a huge boost in ability to play efficiently.

Where do I go from here?

The most competitive 1vs1 game indeed. StarCraft 2 has earned that title from its predecessor and held it indefinitely against other games that feature a 1vs1 mode. The depth and complexity the game hosts and the constantly changing Meta along with how players learn and adapt to the game as it goes on really exemplifies the difficulty and glory that comes with the game. The best part is, it’s free to play now, so go try it out and when you reach the pit of despair that is Gold League, come back for our amateur guide!

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Cameron Carr

9 November 2019

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