This is intended for a player who is looking to move from an upper low-level, or low mid-level foreigner (D, D+) to an upper mid-level foreigner (C+, B-). Players below that level maybe still appreciate reading it, even if they cannot apply all the concepts. Players above that level will surely not get much out of it, but can possibly help by suggesting edits or adding overlooked concepts. Is this different than the “Tips” thread? Maybe not; it reads differently and I’ve been working on it for awhile, so I’m posting it anyways.
Special thanks to infinity21. I immediately started writing this after I got home from talking to you about how we each learned this game and how we both looked to different places for improvement.
Improving Your Strategy and Game Knowledge
Improving your mid-level game is less a result of countless repetitions as it is a mindset. The first step to improving is committing yourself to improving - switching from a “mindless playing” mindset to a “mindful learning” mindset.
Just as there are many different viable playing styles, there are many different learning styles in this game. Some look outward and draw inspiration from stronger players, before adapting that style to make it a more appropriate fit for themselves. Others keep the strategy the same while they look to improve their mechanics to be able to emulate stronger players. Others still look inward, analysing the game, their play, and the maps to develop a self-tailored game plan.
Eventually you will need to do all three, but depending or your personality you will focus on one area much more than the other two. I believe the best first step after a basic understanding of the game (Knowing what beats what, knowing how to micro, macro, etc.) is to look outward and sharpen your game analysis by watching replays and VODs.
Watching professional (or even amateur) games with a mindful mindset is much different than the mindless one. The mindless observer allows himself to be taken on a journey - a trip through a beautiful landscape. The mindless observer is awestruck by the beauty of his surroundings and shocked when a new piece of scenery presents itself. The mindful observer must ignore the surface and see beneath it. He is always looking to the future and past, and looking deeper than what is presented to him. He is asking why the scenery is laid out this way. What will it look like in the future? How would it look differently if a slight change in the past had occurred?
Let me step out of this metaphor. If you are watching a VOD just for fun, you will be amazed when you see great micro, strong macro, mind games, a brashly stubborn attack, an interesting feint, etc. Games are more fun when you watch them this way, and any game that you’re interested in the outcome, should always be watched this way.
When you’re in a learning mindset, however, you need to watch a VOD differently. You must always be asking what you would do next if you were playing. When the progamer does not do that, ask yourself why. Which is better, what you would have done or what he would have done? Is the play fundamentally better, or better because of his mechanics? Is it something you can emulate in the future? Is it something you should emulate in the future? If an attack fails, ask why it failed. Was it because of mechanics, or was the unit composition wrong? Was the timing wrong? Did he attack the wrong place? Had he not attacked would he have been better off, or was he in a deficit to begin with and attacking was his best option? Watching games like this is much less entertaining and is much more mentally tiring, but I guarantee it will improve your game.
As an aside, I find it’s easier to start this analysis with progamers before turning it on your own play. For whatever reason, it’s much easier to critique others’ play than your own. VODs can (and should!) be rewound to review key parts of the game, whereas replays have to be completely restarted. Finally, progamers generally have sound play – whatever strategy they play should have a fair chance of winning; you may analyse a game you play and not be able to find where you went wrong, when in fact the strategy you were using never had a chance to win to begin with.
The technique I use might not work for you, but I’ll mention it just in case it helps. I keep a running scoreboard in my head to help me identify the points of the game where one player took the advantage. This can also help you identify if the game was one in a huge battle, or if one player simply pressed his slight marginal advantage to victory. For example, in a Zerg versus Protoss mid game on Blue Storm, Zerg drops 24 Zerglings into a Protoss base (bottom left). Here are three possible situations:
- The Zerglings kill a few Gateways while Zerg expands (++Zerg)
- The Zerglings kill nothing but allow Zerg to set up an expansion and defend it (+Zerg)
- The Zerglings kill nothing but stop Protoss from expanding (Even)
- The Zerglings die to Cannons (+Protoss).
There are really only a few (<10) turning points like this in a game that you need to watch for, and they should help you realize the exact moments when the losing player went wrong.
What you should not do is follow the “I’m going to mass game 20 games every day for a month” methodology at this point. So many people fall into this trap, thinking they will somehow become strategically stronger by simply playing dozens of games without reflecting on them. If you’re not seeking to learn the game, playing a ton of games has a low improvement:effort ratio. Don’t worry, you’ll come back to mass gaming later.
From here, take the analysing skills you’ve learned from progamers and apply them to your own games. The pro games should have given you a sense of what beats what, but now it’s up to you to execute it. HydraLurker beats SK Terran, but you still lost. Why did that happen? Did you have inferior upgrades? Did you mismicro? Was your Hydralisk:Lurker ratio off? Did you expand too much? Too little? Did he kill too much economy at the start of the game and you couldn’t catch up?
This is why I feel there should never be a “Why did I lose” thread, because your own analysis should make it perfectly clear. (as shown in this thread). Using the “scoreboard” method, find the key points that defined the winner’s advantage, and understand if you reacted properly at these moments.
While you are in this “learning mode”, play to learn, not to win. This doesn’t mean trying to invent ridiculous strategies that are destined to fail. It does mean stepping off the common path and seeing the results. What happens in ZvT if you make 12 Mutalisks? 14? 16? 18? What if you delay carapace, how does that affect the late game? Should you get melee or ranged attack with your second Evolution Chamber? What if you get Hive off 2 bases? Go through the motions of playing a few non-standard games to understand why the optimal strategies are optimal, and how the game gets changed when you deviate from that path.
It’s important to mention you learn from not playing. Very few people fail an attack and then have an earth-shattering realization about why their play has been flawed for so long. During a game, you are trying to figure out how to win this game. Afterwards, you are trying to figure out how to win every game you’ve played and are going to play. This is why it’s so important to reflect on your games. You don’t need to invest a huge amount of time into this – simply watching a loss with a mindful eye should improve your game knowledge instantly.
Also keep in mind that you have too much going on in a game to consciously think about this. You aren’t going to remember that one game where a harassment drop worked well when you’re playing against a Zerg at 250 apm. What you want to do is understand the game at its fundamentals, so your strategy becomes subconscious and you can focus your entire mind on your mechanics during the game.
People often wonder why they are playing so much and not improving, while other people can spend months away from the game and are still just as strong when they return. The more your game relies on a strong set of fundamental strategy, the more consistent you will win, the more quickly you will improve, and the less susceptible to short term losses of skill you will be.
Once you have the skillset to analyze the game, it’s time to improve your mechanics.
Improving Your Mechanics
What are mechanics? Starcraft can be split into two areas: Mind and body. The mind portion was covered above, and is labelled strategy (although tactics should probably be grouped in mind as well). The remaining body portion is mechanics. In essence, how well you control your hands are mechanics.
Surprise, surprise, I believe improving your mechanics is a mindset. Once you’ve improved your game sense to the point you know what you should be doing, the first step to improvement is convincing yourself that you can do it. There are no real tricks here, and people who tell you to spam to raise your APM are beyond stupid. It takes a concerted effort, telling yourself “I can play faster”, to improve your speed. You will increase your speed in steps; making a conscious effort to play uncomfortably fast for awhile until that becomes routine, and you must again realize that you can play faster.
Mechanics must come after game sense, or you will be controlling your units very quickly and accurately, but giving them the wrong commands. For example, many people can control a few speed Zerglings very well against a Marine and SCVs, but it takes someone with a good understanding of the game to realize when they should charge the Marine, when they should target SCVs and when they should retreat and target buildings.
As I continuously reiterate, I truly believe having good mechanics is a mindset, believing you can micro extremely well and breaking actions down to their most basic fundamentals. Plenty of players have accurate, fast clicking, but many of them don’t rush in to target Templar, don’t control Vultures well against Workers, don’t use Reavers as well as they should. Break the actions you need to do in your head into their most basic form when you are learning: “I’m going to run slightly past this Templar with Zerglings and then a-click it and then run away”, “I’m going to right click this SCV with my Mutalisk and at the perfect time right click away”, “I’m going to continuously select Templar, hit ‘t’ and click the center of groups.” Often actions like these seem daunting during a hectic game, but if you break them down to their most basic actions it becomes manageable. Again, once you’ve mastered this it all becomes subconscious, but at the moment you are trying to improve, it must remain on your mind.
I suppose this is just an elaborate “You can do it” message, but it’s true! Mechanics in StarCraft, at their very fundamentals, are very simple. We can all play quickly and accurately, you may just sometimes need to be reminded that you can.
Sometimes newer players find mechanics difficult because they are “wasting” clicks on useless actions. Let the unit AI do its work. Newer players often fall into the trap of over-microing every battle, or even worse, watching all the battles. A quick way to become a better player is to realize that you only need to control a battle for a little while to use your main abilities, get a proper flank or positioning set up, or to target their key battle-changing units. Once that has been done, let the unit AI finish the battle while you return to macro. The losses you suffer while not watching your units as the battle trails off will be more than made up by the new units you are getting more often.
Mind and Body as One
Now it’s time to bring both together and play to win rather than learn. Experience is the third component of a champion. Every win will be an assurance of your play, while every loss a reminder and learning experience.
There isn’t much more to say. At this point I feel like there isn’t much people will get from this, but I’m going to post it anyways in hopes that a few people learn to learn. Plus I’ve had this document open for about two months adding to it bit by bit, so it’s time to get rid of it. StarCraft is a fairly simple game, both mechanically and strategically. Hopefully you will realize why you aren’t improving and how to change.
I want to end by saying that it’s alright not to want to improve. Sometimes you just want to play a few games at any level to have fun. If you’ve already committed to improvement, you might as well know how to get the most out of it.