Thanks to all who participated on the next batch of arguments with constructive comments. Thanks to fulaghee for the pimped pyramid Change log at the end.
Throughout my recent coaching sessions, I have come to realize that there is a very structured way in which players will improve rapidly. This has manifested itself in a hierarchical manner in which the failure to master the lower levels prevent the full effectiveness of the top levels.
So, without further ado, here it is.
Budha’s Starcraft Pyramid:
Thx to fulaghee!
Here is a video summary of the pyramid:
Please Note: The video was produced with the first version of the pyramid and may not reflect the newer revisions.
I will start by going through every level and describing in details what they include, then explain what the pyramid actually represents and how to use it effectively. This might seem very obvious (since a pyramid is fairly straightforward), but there still are some subtleties
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At its base, Starcraft is a game of economy, as are most RTS games. If you don’t understand this, it is your first step into becoming a better Starcraft player. The very first fundamental concept behind the best players is economy. This implies constant worker production and taking bases in relation with your worker count (approx. 1 base per 25 workers). The sheer amount of money intake will be the foundation of the rest of your progression in Starcraft 2. This leaves us to the second ladder step in the pyramid.
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Production, production, production. The second brick in the Starcraft Pyramid is making as much “stuff” as you can. The sheer number of units popping out on the map will be enough to win against any player who has not mastered this step. At this step, the type of unit does not matter, as long as you fully utilize your economy with lots and lots of production. It can include army, defense and upgrades, just spend that money!
These two first concepts might seem obvious, but they are often the most neglected because they are overshadowed by the upper levels of the pyramid.
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This step happens out of the game. Knowledge, as in game knowledge, as in knowing what units are, their names, the upgrades they can have, their strengths and weaknesses, etc. You do not need to explicitly use this knowledge in this step, it will come naturally. Simply KNOWING will enable you to move up in the pyramid, and allow you to make decisions.
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Information is what is displayed to you in-game. This starts out with what race your opponent is playing. Then, where he spawned on the map, what he decides to show you, and finally scouting. With proper scouting, you will gather all the information necessary to capitalize on your new-found knowledge of the game and enable you to actually start making on-the-fly decisions about your game specifically. The information gathered will of course enable you to make the correct in-game decisions and follow the right strategy to plow through the opponents that have not achieved this rank yet!
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As weird as it sounds, the army is usually the most under-emphasized aspect of Starcraft. This level of the pyramid includes not only the army composition, but also it’s positioning on the map. This is where you will, for the first time, make in-game, in-the-moment-decisions about what type of units to produce, and WHERE to place them. Put the emphasis on the second part. The positioning of your army is just as important as its composition. You need to defend your bases and engage in the rights spots, with an advantageous position. The spot where your army awaits its order to advance is also crucial here; imagine your army being in the back of your base when the opponent pushes? Once this is mastered, you will plow through any opponent that has not reached this level. Next, we bring structure to your game.
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After the most underrated aspects of the game, comes the one with the most hype. The Build, or build order, the order in which you place down buildings and units to reach a certain goal. Now you have finally reached a point where you understand the game enough to actually optimize what you do and how you do it. This one should be higher in the pyramid if it wasn’t for one of the most awesomest (yes, it’s a word!...) things about Starcraft: The Pros. Professional players have made builds their career goals. They spend hours, days, weeks, months perfecting them. STEAL THEM. Use them! Take advantage of this, and after you master your builds, you will rampage through the ladder. This level emphasizes smoothness and optimization early on, and it will launch you into the mid-game with a huge advantage.
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A relatively small step inside the massive pyramid to mastering Starcraft is Control. This includes and emphasizes Map Control. Obviously, only one player can have map control. But what this level dictates is having map control when you want it, and especially making the most of this positional advantage. Extending on map control is your army control, i.e. moving your army forward and back, left and right, when appropriate. This section will also includes SPELLCASTING during engagements, like storms, fungal and stimpacks, and where to place your spellcasters inside the army. Controlling the bulk of your army and the map is an essential part of your RTS gaming career.
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Finally we get to Force! This is one of the less defined and explored steps of the pyramid. It includes, but does not limit itself to, harassment, pressure, drops, etc. Force does not only mean knowing when to force yourself through the main defense of your opponent, but also knowing when to move forward to FORCE units instead of harvesters (**cough** vs zerg **cough**). It includes making drops happen to FORCE your opponent to lose map control, to FORCE him not to push your base, to FORCE him to rebuild harvesters. This step makes your opponent do what he does not want to do.
Now that you have mastered the lower and mid-levels, you are already well beyond the average skill level. Now comes the refinement, where you will finally get promoted.
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This is the first higher step of the pyramid. This is when you will get harassed, you will lose bases, you will be overwhelmed by the amount of stuff going on. Management is keeping your cool - Of course, you should be keeping your cool and stay on top of all the other steps before this! - So let me rephrase that: It is performing actions you would not perform without pressure. It is rebuilding your base after you lose it. It is having – and keeping – the correct hotkeys during the action (don’t forget to use them!). It is keeping vision of what is happening to fine-tune your reactions, staying on top of the lower levels of the pyramid during heated moments. This goes beyond the information gathered, and focuses on smoothing things out after your build has evaporated. This is obvious, but hard to accomplish and often neglected or forgotten. This one will take practice and experience!
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Finally, we arrive at micro! Why is it so high up? Because it is the single-most overrated aspect of Starcraft 2. If you have not MASTERED the previous steps, don’t waste your time micro-ing units. Not to say it won’t help, but you can spend your efforts somewhere else. This one has a lot of hype because it is “What the Pros do” They show of their micro, and commentators and spectators love it. You probably all know what micro is: splitting marines, perfect kitting, magic-boxing Thors, blinking away at the perfect moment. The real specific stuff! Again, not to say your micro won’t help you before, but it will never reach its full potential if you do not absolutely master the lower levels of the pyramid.
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Again, one of the more refined and overrated aspects of the game. I take it back, not overrated, but mostly misunderstood. Tastosis (Tasteless and Artosis) love this aspect in their GSL commentary – with good reason. But you must understand that “Timing Pushes” are incredibly small windows of opportunity that are PLANNED BEFORE THE GAME. They exploit a known weakness in your opponents’ normal build at a very precise time. Do not confuse them with a strong mid game push, or a build order win. Because of their nature, timing pushes usually occur in the early game and sometimes (in very advanced play) in the mid-game. This part of the pyramid also includes very precise timings within your build order (ex.: building your Queen and Roach warren precisely when your pool finishes and you have exactly 300 minerals at that moment). Another note about timings are the ones that will manifest themselves inside the game itself. For example, killing off many harvesters will leave you a open window where you can push because your opponent needs to rebuild his workers. Fine tune and master this top level of the pyramid and you are well on your way of becoming a professional StarCraft player.
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This Final step is called dusting because I did not know what else to call it. Imagine building a table. All the levels of the pyramid are a part – Economy is the legs, Timings are the polish. No matter what you do from here, the table will get dusty! At this point, the game will evolve, both the MetaGame (notice how I just NOW mention this!) and the patches (once again, notice how just NOW do I mention patchnotes and balance!), and it will be your job to stay with it and refine your play. Think up new small tiny changes to get your edge (A good example, I saw MMA vs Nestea (I think that was the game) yesterday from GSL August, MMA placed a supply depot to wall in his marine next to the Xel Naga watch tower!). No one will be able to think for you at this point, it’s all up to you! The dusting phase is limitless, and now is when you know you are a true Starcraft Master!
PLEASE READ THE DESCRIPTIONS OF EACH LEVEL BEFORE CONTINUING Just click on "show spoiler"
What about Mechanics?
Mechanics are a key factor in your success as a Starcraft player. Although they are very important, they are not explicitly dealt with inside the structure of the pyramid. This has happened for two main reasons:
- Each step of the pyramid assumes that you have the mechanics to follow. To actually master economy, production, information, Force, etc. you need to have the mechanics to perform such tasks. This is the main reason why they are not there, it is implied in each step.
- Most players don't agree on what the best mechanics are. They are very subjective and vary widely from one player to the other, according to personal preferences.
How to use the Pyramid
The pyramid is primarily a Tool. Nothing more, nothing less than an approach to improve your game, as well as a utility to take advantage of. It is a structured way of learning Starcraft and improving. It’s your road to the top!
The point of the hierarchical structure of the pyramid is to illustrate the importance of the lower levels in comparison to the top levels. It is not to prove that the top levels are impossible to achieve without the lower levels, but that their effectiveness will be drastically reduced. For example: imagine you have great micro. In average, you can pick out 5 zerglings for each marine! If you have 4 marines and you micro perfectly, you will take out 20 lings, great! But unfortunately, your macro slipped and you now have 200 minerals. Instead, if you have those 4 additional marines, and position them correctly against a wall with your first 4, without micro, you will probably be able to take out 4 zerglings per marine – a total of 32! This is only one – hypothetical – of many examples out there!
The hierarchy implies that the top levels of the pyramids will be scaled down - their importance and effectiveness diminished – if you cannot keep up and master the levels below it.
Also note that no one is placed inside a level of the pyramid and is tagged as "being at the Force phase". A player will sample every step as he progresses, and keep getting better at the lower ones until he is ready to progress.
I think that the concept of the Starcraft Pyramid will be mostly used in coaching – since that is the latest trend! – and I encourage it! Most coaches – amateurs and pros alike – tend to focus on in-game details and lose the big picture.
When using the pyramid in parallel to a game or replay, you always need to look at the base of the pyramid first.
- If you lost an engagement because of bad position, ask yourself if your army could not have been bigger because of bad economy or production.
-If you miss-micro your blink stalkers, see if you used them enough to harass and force units. Is your build smoothed out?
You can find an infinite number of these examples in Starcraft.
Misconceptions about the Pyramid
Well this is because we have had a lot of people that pass right besides the goal of the Pyramid. 1.
I want to put the emphasis on this; THIS IS NOT A SET OF RULES. The pyramid is a guideline - not even a guideline - a path, a vision, an approach to the game.
It is a tool, to help low level players define a path to follow. It is a utility to help coaching and identifying the most fundamental flaw in a player's game. It is used to avoid beeing blinded by the details of the game of Starcraft, and find the base, the fundamental reason you lost a game. It is also structured to show the importance of some elements of the game on - and over - some other aspects or elements. I have spent time and effort reading every single comment and tweeking this so that people can USE it as a guide, not as an absolute truth.
2. The levels I mention in the discussions are just a personal observation and have no actual credit on the skill level of a player who has mastred a step.
3. The pyramid does not imply that you have to master a step to start the next one. That would be ridiculous! It simply shows that the higher steps will not be as effective if you neglect the lower steps. A player will have to sample everything in this post - even at bronze level.
4. The pyramid is a CONCEPT. I hesitate to say this, because people might interpret it in the wrong way and do their own thing, but here it is. If you do not agree with the order of these things, it does not prevent you from using it. Reorder it the whatever you feel is right and USE IT. It is meant to be a tool, nothing more. But keep in mind that I have tweeked it time and time again according to arguments made in this post so to best reflect the game (See conclusion).
Interesting Discussions (Q&A)
The Short Games
Many Comments are about the shorter games and how this approach deals (or does not deal) with them. This has been one of my concerns while making this pyramid, and I think I have managed to define every stage so that this also applies to short games (some changes with v.2.0)
Let me explain with an example that has come out a lot, the 4gate vs 4gate in PvP:
People have said that Micro will take an overwhelming importance in these games. That is TRUE, but there is a reason for that, and the pyramid can actually explain it. In these short games, the macro in general (economy, production, information, up until micro!) because very very very easy to manage. Ergo, players easily reach the micro phase very rapidly, and this will take up all the importance. To illustrate why the pyramid still applies, lets start a thought experiment:
What if, during a 4gate, one of the two players stops production? What if he stops reacting to his opponents pressure and restarts building probes? Whats if he screws up his build and his opponent gets there 10 seconds before him? The answer, in all these cases, is that he will lose. As you can see, all the lower steps still apply and have predominance on the upper steps, but the upper echelons are just a lot easier to access!
Some of you have commented that Starcraft players always fall back into a cycle which is not illustrated in this pyramid. This is true in most parts, but a player that follows a cyclic process will have to go through these steps once again. I thought of adding arrows that shoot from each level and end up at the base, but it doesn't truly represent the game. So here is a metaphor to illustrate the cyclic approach to the game that almost all players (pros stay at the top!) go through:
Imagine standing at the bottom of the pyramid and having to walk up it's wall to reach the top (literally!). As you walk up, the Gods of Starcraft open a faucet on top of the pyramid, transforming it in a huge waterfall. As you go up, you will have to work hard to advance. If you let go, the water will drag you back to a lower level.
This is how I see the cyclic approach to Starcraft. Most players will eventually let go of one of the concepts and fall back down. It is easier to get yourself back up, because you know the way!
Player levels and Skill Measurement
This is by no means a skill measurement technique. This is not intended to be a way to put yourself against your friends and opponents and gauge them or tag them.
I HAVE TAKEN THIS PART OUT OF THE POST.
People misinterpreted this way to much. Sorry.
Morghaine brings us:
"The best example that your lower steps are right is Phoenix. Watching him play always makes my jaw drop. He can get away most games with pure ling and sometimes blings (or he used to, on KR GM ladder). He nowadays actually discovered a ressource called "gas" and has implemented it in his play (playing Muta Bling Sling most of the time).
But he used to produce pure lings and has crushed HT / Zealot / Archon comps with Lings just because his production and economy is so superior to everyone else "
I say : This wont work anymore because the game has matured a lot, but it was viable when people didn't master the lower levels, and the same concept applies directly to anyone who is not an epic starcraft player as are these pros
Thanks to all the comments and very interesting discussions posted here, I have tweeked time and time again this article to best reflect the game of Starcraft. Arguments have been made for and against what I have originally posted, and changes were made to entire sections and ideas when I was convinced that I did not have the best answer. There still my be some advancement to be done, but I think it has reached an undeniable level of maturity Thanks to everyone who made a constructive comment and argument
Please read all comments and discussions before posting "You're wrong", and elaborate on your position, as well as posting proof and examples. I have rarely been convinced to change the article based on 2 line comments.
I hope this has helped you understand the game better! Post comments, suggestions, and discuss on the actual order of the levels! PLEASE IF YOU ARE GOING TO DISAGREE WITH THE PYRAMID – I am open to it, just bring some facts, examples and solid arguments. I will gladly change it if you can convince me (I am not that hard-headed!)
PS.: If anyone feels like pimping out the pyramid and make it look better, email me email@example.com
There was some talk about the Build being replaced. After some thought, I found it inappropriate. I think that the Build should stay here because that is what this step will focus on. I was hesitant on replacing it with something like "Solidness" or "Smoothness" but those two concepts are cover by other levels, as well as reaction after your build is complete. The "Build" step emphasizes on the early game and how important it is to launch you in the mid-game.
Edited the timings section to add some that manifest themselves in-game. This could be argued that it should be included in the "Information" section, but it is by no means at the bottom of the pyramid, so it has been included here. Plus, they actually fit quite nicely with the idea of a timing being a very small window of opportunity!
I tried being a bit more precise on what I meant by management, adding that it goes beyond reaction and applies when the build is far gone.
What about mechanics section
Changed guideline to approach
Interesting Discussions (Q&A) section added.
Suggestion to put video after picture was accepted
I kept all the original names because names are that important. Keep suggestion name changes, I will change them when I feel it is appropriate! :D
Edited information section a bit
Update on management section
Misconceptions section added
Added to conclusion
Removed skill level association