A StarCraft 2 Viewer Guide
What is StarCraft 2?
StarCraft 2 is a very complicated game to learn how to play at the highest level, but it is arguable less difficult to watch. Especially because when you’re watching you aren’t physically playing the game. This is what makes it so easy for us to watch GSL or WCS because when we play it we are constantly thinking about everything that is or could happen. When we watch there are plenty of visual aids and Casters are often able to break things down for everyone in each game, making it even easier to follow than some other Esports. Still, here is a good place to learn what to look for in each game to make it even easier to watch.
What are some of the Visual Aids on the screen?
There is a specific format that we can utilize when we watch replays that is the same one used in most professional matches. While that may not be useful for someone who doesn’t play it can still be helpful to anyone who does play and wants to learn from their mistakes. The Visual Aids are rather simple, and don’t take up too much space on the screen, and knowing what each one shows and what the numbers mean actually makes it so easy to follow along with games.
The top left has a big variety of things that it shows, but more often than not it is showing the Production tab for each player. This can be rather difficult to understand if you don’t play the game, but it shows you everything that each player has building or researching at any given moment during the game. If you watch this then you’ll be able to see each players initial build order and any other plans they have in the works.
The Production tab can also show units/resources lost, how many units and what units each player has, and some other things that aren’t often looked at as the rest of the Observer graphic shows them.
In the game when you are playing there is a HUD that spans across the bottom of the screen. The minimap and gametime are shown on the bottom left and this holds true for the Observer mode. When using this Observer mode it acts as the HUD which is really intuitive.
So going from left to right of the Observer HUD you can see the Match Score and what the series is Best of X games, An emblem for each of the players Esports Organization, the players names and colors, as well as a little depiction of what race they are playing. When things get intense player cams will pop up to the right of the mini map but these aren’t necessarily important.
When a player is losing a lot of their Drones/Probes/SCVs there is a little tab above the minimap that will show you how just how many are lost and you will hear casters exclaim the importance of losing however many are lost. Sometimes they will even speculate on how many need to be killed in order for a player to catch up in the game. Not always super important but can be a neat little bit of information or even hype moment.
Everything else except for the far right side is clearly marked and colored so people can better keep track of what they are as time goes on as well as from game to game to make it easier to flick your eyes somewhere and recognize what you’re looking at.
Continuing left to right however, let's go into further detail of what they all are and mean. Supply is labeled in white and tells the viewer the respective unit population each side has. The cap is 200/200 and this is made up of all of a players units. Usually when one players Supply is higher, it means they are the bigger threat in most scenarios where the two players fight. It is important to remember that this usually is a generalization and isn’t specific enough to always tell the full story of a game.
Next is Minerals in blue, because minerals in game are blue. As well as Gas in green, because Gas in the game is green. These two things make up the entirety of players’ economies. Economy is what players use to build everything that they do. The more money you have the more units you can afford to make and the more structures you can build and the more upgrades you can research. The solid big numbers are referred to as the players “Bank” next to the Bank numbers, the AI can usually show a smaller (+number) that will tell you how much of each resource the players are mining per minute.
Knowing this information is more about seeing who’s safety net is bigger, especially when games go past the 40 minute mark where resources on the map are scarce. Players with a bigger Bank are able to take less cost efficient fights, not that it’s their ultimate goal but it gives them some wiggle room in late game fights as they are able to replace their army easier than the opponent with a smaller Bank. Reversely, the player with a smaller Bank has to be able to take fights that are cost efficient so they don’t have to replace as much of their army.
The next two tabs break apart the Supply section into Worker supply and Army supply. This is why the overall Supply doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story, the two parts that make up Supply are very important for different reasons. Worker count is always important to track, the player with more workers often has a better economy but if someone stops building workers before 65 then you can expect a big fight to come soon. Army supply shows the relative strengths for each player and unless it is absolutely one sided, like 30-100, it isn’t surefire who is going to win. With Micro and defenders bonus along with counter units, sometimes a 50-75 army supply split is really a 50-50 fight.
When Zerg goes up against Protoss the army supplies are often vastly different. 120 army supply for Zerg can turn into 30 in a split second in the mid game if they don’t correctly engage a 55 army supply Protoss with Psi Storm. There are many different variations of this but when you put the entirety of the HUD together you can often figure out a situation easily.
This is what makes the flashy plays and out maneuvers that much more exciting to watch when players perform above what the numbers say they can.
To the right of that is the Upgrades counter. While there isn’t too much more to explain about it I have found it to be super helpful when following mirror matchups. When the game is Zerg vs Zerg and both players are going for a Roach/Ravager build, the first thing to look at is who has more, and immediately after that, the question becomes who has what upgrades. Normally upgrades are even but if the research building gets killed and the upgrade ends up being cancelled, a player that is down 7 Roaches and 2 Ravagers but has their 2/1 upgrades while the other player is still stuck at 1/1, the odds swing slightly in favor of the one with less units.
There is a really good example of how Upgrades impact games. In a TvT if one player has 5 Battlecruisers with no upgrades and the other has 2 Battlecruisers with 3/3 upgrades, and neither side has Yamato Cannon researched. The 2 Battlecruisers win because they take so little damage and deal so much more than the 5 Battlecruisers combined.
Sometimes an APM (Actions Per Minute) can appear to the right of Upgrades and in truth this information is utterly useless, it is really only there to impress the people watching with how high players can get because of them performing so many actions at once. These numbers are a little inflated in some scenarios but realistically the numbers are only off by less than fifty.
Serral is probably the only player to breach 600 apm, while actually doing meaningful and game impacting decisions, at a high level, consistently. All of these stipulations matter because anyone can doo 600 things a minute, but what does it really matter if nothing you’re doing has an impact on the game. To the far right you can see whatever the Observer has clicked on,, this is used to emphasize some miniscule things and help the viewer see what specifically the Casters may be talking about, or to emphasize something the Observer sees that is important to the game that the Casters haven’t talked about yet.
You can see things like a Units health left after a crazy play or a building or unit that has something special happening with it at that moment and things like that. Above this will occasionally show how far off upgrades are starting at around 15 seconds or so. Sometimes in a high pressure situation players need to wait to engage until their upgrades finish up, or they end up taking a fight they could have won 10 seconds later with their upgrades and lose it because their upgrades came in in the middle of the fight and they already lost half their army.
The HUD shouldn’t be what you are staring at the whole time the game is played. It is there as a guide and to show the things that can’t be seen while a game is going on. That being said, it is a helpful tool to glance at everytime you’re wondering exactly how a game is playing out. For the most part though, you can watch the action and listen to the Casters for an easy understanding of what you’re seeing.
What is the GSL and the WCS?
Everyone has a preference for which regional scene they want to watch. It can be difficult depending on your timezone but relatively speaking, you can’t go wrong. The Global StarCraft 2 League is based in South Korea and arguably offers the highest consistent level of pro play of any other scene. That isn’t to say that World Championship Series for StarCraft 2 in both North America and Europe are weaker or worse to watch (who doesn’t want to watch Neeb or Serral or Reynor play?) it is only to say that things may be a little harder to follow along with if you want to watch GSL. Luckily, the all time undisputed best casters in the world (no seriously check online) host the tournaments in South Korea, and they are Tastosis. Daniel “Artosis” Stemkoski and Nick “Tasteless” Plott have always been the Casting Archon in the entirety of the Esports scene.
These two make watching pro play exhilarating and comedic. Being able to masterfully cast in such a way to control emotions assists the viewer in being able to follow along with the game. They can dumb everything down without meaning too, as well as say things that would go over even a pro players head.
Just like in GSL, the WCS hosts a wide variety of great Casters that have great interactions and invite the viewers to stay awhile. One thing Blizzard has done right with StarCraft production has done right, is finding the right people to cast their game. This isn’t all that important as to how to watch, but more why to watch.
What are some of the words the Casters use?
While we are on the topic of Casters, StarCraft is full of lingo that isn’t found anywhere else. Some of it is even specific to StarCraft and dates back to the olden days of 1998! But in all seriousness, a rich history of the game has brought around some very strange words that can barely be understood by us long time players. They aren’t all that hard to learn however, so let's go through some.
A lot of build’s have really long names because they are all pretty much based off of the build path required to do it so a lot of names are shortened when Casters reference them.
- Things like “proxy rax/gate/hatch” refer to some builds but there are other ones as well. Knowing the names of all of the building and units will help identify what exactly the casters are trying to explain to everyone.
- Cheese can be referenced in many ways, by calling it cheese or by calling it a specific cheese, but it all means to reference an objectively unfair build order that can instantly win a game if the other player is ill prepared. The overall opinion on the matter is that the build path is broken, but if a player knows to look for it than it can easily be stopped.
- Baiting is when a player reveals only a small amount of units to try and coerce the other player out of their safe position to more easily win a fight.
- For whatever reason, in SC2 when both players are attacking the opposite player’s base we reference it as a Basetrade rather than a base race like in other games. This discrepancy is more or less irrelevant as it means the same thing, just an interesting sidenote.
- Economy refers to how many minerals and gas the respective players have, this can also refer to the mineral line of a player and usually comes up in reference to it being destroyed or threatened.
At the beginning of each match both players are introduced and the Casters will often talk about their views on each player and how they think should win, SC2 Casters are some of the best at filling time. The casters will consistently deconstruct the game currently on screen and explain almost every little detail as well as predict what is coming next.
For the most part SC2 Lingo falls in line with the words used in game and not too many things should be all that confusing unless of course we take into consideration someone not having played the game. Everything is nearly a reference to something in game and how it is being utilized in each individual game.
For instance, Storm Drops are when a Warp Prism carrying two or more High Templars quickly drops the High Templar, who then let out there Psi Storms on a Mineral Line or bio army, and then are picked back up again and moved somewhere else.
The real key to learning the lingo the casters use is to play the game, though some of it is self explanatory and whereas most games have a few different types of Casters, Analytical, Play-by-Play, and sometimes a second of either one to more so keep everyone on track with the flow of the game.
For more intense games or matches, there is a Clutch of Casters that will rotate in and out between Series to keep each Cast fresh and gain different insights into different matches. StarCraft 2 doesn’t offer require more than two Casters as everyone is forced to be proficient in both play-by-play and analytical casting, because the way StarCraft is played means that one is the other. It is often true enough that the Micro value of a play is less impressive than the Macro and build order.
What about watching the game itself?
While understanding the Visual Aids and listening to the Casters explain what’s happening, there is still the actual game taking place that can be a little difficult to follow for new players or viewers. The best things to remember are that the Observer usually will only show you something of importance rather than something that is relatively useless information. The production tab will often explain the less useful information so whenever anything unusual pops up the Observer will just find it and show it to everyone.
The reason this is of any importance is that, much like Chess, a lot of these positions and games have been played before, if not by retired players than by the players themselves. Often times a style of play will be attributed to a specific player and whenever there is a different variation on a playstyle the Observer will notice or the Casters will point it out.
Really try to take in what the Observer is showing you, if two armies are massing up nearby then there will probably be a big fight coming up. While if both players are a little more reserved in their unit placement then maybe the game is going to be a little more drawn out and end with a bang. The more you understand the tempo of a game, the easier it will become to already know what the Casters are going to say, thanks to the Observer also understanding the importance of every move each player makes.
Most games don’t go into the late game, understanding who is playing can also help you to figure out how long a game is going to go however. If a player is considered to be much better than their opponent, the game could go anywhere from 5-10 minutes.
There are many other inferred game times that can happen, if a player is known for their cheese, a whole series can be over in just a couple of minutes. If two players are known to be equal in skill level then it can prove to be a very long series with one or more games reaching the 25-30 minute mark. Sometimes these games can be over quickly if one or the other player falter just one too many times as well. Recognizing how all the pieces fit into the puzzle is just as valuable as understanding what the puzzle looks like.
What should I do next?
As one of the most competitive Esports and one of the most intimidating games to be a part of whether it is playing, casting or watching, StarCraft 2 offers the most depth of any Esport. Luckily for us, even if we aren’t very good at the game or don’t even play it, it is very easy to get into because of how the Casters approach casting the game. As they are all high ranking players themselves they are able to enter the minds of the pros and dissect what is happening, then relay it to us in an easily understandable fashion. Again it is always recommended to try out the games you want to watch as that will always increase your understanding of what you’re watching as well as the game being extremely worthwhile to play and very rewarding when you start to get the hang of things.