TheStaircase is an alternative improvement method that focuses on creating a fun, and motivating experience for the player. It utilizes unit constrictions to prevent the player from being overwhelmed by the complexity of the game, and to encourage creativity and exploration. It uses measurable benchmarks for the absolute core elements of Starcraft 2: Gathering and spending resources efficiently. These benchmarks are recorded using GGTracker, allowing the player to devote all of their attention to playing the game.
- What to Expect
A short explanation of what your experience will likely be should you choose to try TheStaircase.
- Getting Started
Step by Step instructions on how to start playing TheStaircase right away!
- The Benchmarks.
Specifics on how Spending Skill and Satuation Speed work, and why we chose to use them.
- Why TheTheStaircase Works
The psychology and philosophy behind what make TheStaircase an effective training method.
- Frequently Asked Questions.
The Stuff League is the league in which, a player that consistently has more “stuff” than their opponent will win more than 50% of their games. Currently The Stuff League encompasses the Bronze, Silver, and Gold Leagues. That’s right, all is required to obtain a promotion to the Gold League is the ability to make more stuff than your opponent (more commonly referred to as macro). This is the point where most readers will experience a healthy amount of doubt and skepticism. Not to worry, the ladder is waiting to challenge this theory: prepare to be surprised. Professional players have proven this again and again, some making it as far as Diamond League with mass drone! However this is easier said than done, and the classic advice “just macro better” is still as annoying and unhelpful as ever.
TheStaircase is designed to help guide you through the basics of Starcraft 2 by playing games. There is no out of game practice, study, or memorization needed. With this method you can jump right on the ladder and start winning games now, even if you’ve never played Starcraft before. You will start with the most basic units and explore their strengths and weaknesses by playing games and experimenting. This will be guided by the Spending Skill benchmark. Focus on Spending your resources and work your skills up from bronze to grandmaster. Once you’re a grandmaster mineral-only macro-er, you’re ready to move on to the next step. After completing TheStaircase you will have a solid foundation of mechanics that will make learning strategies, build orders, and keeping up with the meta-game of Starcraft 2 easier and more fun.
Step 0: Play "Creep or Die" in the arcade and use "TheStaircase" mode against no opponent.
Step 1: Play a melee game* of Starcraft 2 (Mine only Minerals. (no gas) Attack Move on the minimap only. (do not look at battles)
Step 2: Mine only minerals (no gas) and Control your units to the best of your ability.
Step 3: Mine Gas and Minerals and Control your units to the best of your ability. Given Units only.
Step 4: Choose 1 unit from the Battle Units List. Aside from the Given Units, this is the only unit you may build.
Step 5: Choose 2 units from the Battle Units List. Aside from the Given Units, these are the only units you may build.
Step 6: Choose 3 units from the Battle Units List. Aside from the Given Units, these are the only units you may build.
Step 7: Repeat Step 5 until you are satisfied with your progress and are ready to move on to build orders and strategy.
The foundation of Starcraft 2 is the gathering and spending of resources. Without these two elements Starcraft 2 wouldn’t be what it is. The metric we have developed regarding these aspects of the game is called Spending Skill.
Spending Skill is measured by league. This means that each game will be compared to the average game of each league and given a corresponding badge. So if you spent your resources as well or better than the average gold league player, but not as well as the average platinum league player you would receive a gold badge in the Spending Skill column.
Spending Skill is measured from the 8 minute mark until the 30 minute mark (in-game time). If a game exceeds 30 minutes, a snapshot of the metric is taken from that point in the game and that metric appears on the score screen of ggtracker. This helps to avoid super early game cheeses, in which the player did not get adequate time to demonstrate their abilities; as well as super late game scenarios in which Spending Skill loses its relevancy.
Spending Skill, to put it briefly, measures how fast you spend your resources in relation to how fast you are gathering them. The specifics are best explained by GGTracker:
Spending Skill is an improvement on an earlier established metric called Spending Quotient, and you can still see your SQ when you mouse over the league badge in the Spending Skill column. The difference is that it takes game length into account as well as a larger pool of data to assign leagues to particular SQs. These metrics have been at the core of TheStaircase since its inception and continue to prove to be essential to improvement in Starcraft 2.
The LAN Experiment
Starcraft 2 had just come out and I had planned a big LAN party with many of my friends. Some of them had never played Starcraft at all before, but were very excited about the new game and wanted to try it out. One of my friends, we’ll call him Yukon Cornelius, had never played Starcraft before and came early so that I could show him the ropes a bit before everything got started. I found a safe build for him to learn and wrote it down for reference and tried to explain as much as I could about the game: Unit compositions, counters, strategies, and all the things that I learned to play the game. He was eager to learn and began working on his build order. When the rest of my friends came and we started playing games and setting up brackets, I checked in on Yukon to see how he was doing. He had been playing for about 9 hours at that point and he was getting very frustrated and not showing very much improvement. Many of my friends chalked this up to the idea that “Starcraft is a really hard game”, but I wasn’t satisfied with stopping there.
After watching him play, I came up with an experiment. I told him to only focus on 3 things: Keep your money low, build pylons ahead of time, and build only zealots and probes. The result was mind bending. He wasn’t only beating some of my other friends who had just recently picked up the game; he was beating me; he was beating my friends that had been playing in the beta, with our build order notebooks, counters, and strategies; and he was having fun doing it. I had many LAN parties to follow, and repeated this experiment; the results were consistent. The players I taught with this approach had more fun, improved faster and won. The players I taught with the strategic approach got frustrated, overwhelmed, and lost.
Psychology and Starcraft
Games use a variety of psychological methods to get you to play and to keep playing. The Skinner Box is one of the more well known methods. Starcraft 2 has a form of this in the achievement system, but the reward isn't directly tied to improvement, which is what I want to do. I began looking for a better understanding of human motivation and found this talk by Dan Pink particularly interesting.
I would definitely describe playing Starcraft as requiring more than "rudimentary cognitive skill" and therefore the motivators of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose, apply here. Mastery is clearly a motivator for playing Starcraft. Purpose is somewhat distorted as the mainstream opinion of video games as a whole has been that they are a waste of time, that is changing slowly, but Starcraft has, i think, a particular role to play in this problem. It is an incredibly beneficial exercise and challenge. More and more studies are coming out about the benefits of playing Starcraft both mentally and physically. In the future I will be doing more research on this and collecting all of these things in one form or another, but until then there's one more motivator to address: Autonomy.
Now, if you've heard about this method before, you may be saying to yourself, "Limiting which units you can make does not promote Autonomy!" That is correct in a way, but let's look at the picture as a whole. Given complete Autonomy, every player would have to learn for him or herself all of the basic and unchanging things about Starcraft that we already know. On the other hand, removing all autonomy and saying that there is one and only one thing you must to do learn this game is very de-motivational. The goal of this system is to give enough guidance so that the player has a purpose and direction, but not so much so that the player isn't being encouraged to exercise their creativity or to have fun through experimentation.
There is one more parallel I want to draw between Dan Pink's talk on motivation, and Starcraft 2. He talks about how money is a motivator in jobs, but that the best way to use money as a motivator is to take it off the table so that the employee doesn't have to worry about money, and can put all of their focus on the task at hand. This, to me, is like winning and losing in Starcraft. If we can take the anxiety of winning and losing out of the equation, the player can better focus on the task at hand, improvement.
The Myth of the Bronze Player
Its been more than a year now that I've focused on trying to understand "The Bronze Player" and why he/she has such a hard time moving up in the ranks. From my experience, most higher level players respond to this question by saying things like, "They don't care", "They don't want it bad enough", "They're just having fun" and "They don't want to improve". Before launching TheJaKaTaK on May 1st, 2012, I spend around 6 months in the bronze league, meeting bronze players, talking with them after matches, asking them if they're frustrated, and what their plan is for improvement. Some said things like, "Whatever, I don't care, I'm just having fun, it's just a game, etc." but when I talked to them long enough, and they had enough time to cool down about their loss to a worker rush or an unexpected attack, they often took it all back, admitted they were frustrated and asked for help. This did not happen once, but many times over. I think it makes perfect sense that the biggest thing keeping bronze players from promotion is not that they don't care, or aren't trying, but that they are frustrated and lost. Many of them were trying build orders and strategies, but couldn't find the motivation to stick with them because it felt boring to them.
It is important to note that Starcraft, like any other skill, requires time, focus, and consistency to improve. There were some bronze players I spoke with that simply weren't playing enough to get promoted. This is another thing that higher level players often times note, sometimes in the abrasive and unhelpful, "Just play more games" style. Right now, you only need a couple months where you are averaging 1-2 focused games a day to get yourself into the silver league. But as you climb higher, you will need to put in more time, fortunately, as you get higher in the leagues, the play becomes more challenging and fun (IMO) so putting in more time will likely be a scheduling problem and not a motivational problem. When setting your league goal, make sure it is in line with the time you have to play.
1. What about upgrades? Which ones can I get?
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Any of them! On Step 0 and 1 you will not have gas for upgrades, so you won’t be able to get them, but that isn’t because they are a constriction, it is because you don’t have gas.
2. Is it okay to just do 1 or 2 steps and then go on to “normal” play?
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Of course it is! TheStaircase is a tool to build your foundation, it’s great for returning players to get their mechanics back in shape quickly, or to fill in the gaps of macro and micro you’ve been missing. Each person should use their own judgement as to how TheStaircase can best help them to improve.
3. Do I have to win to pass?
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Absolutely not. Part of what TheStaircase trains is the disconnection from the need to win. Winning is a poor benchmark for progress, many times players improve more after a loss than a win, so why judge our progress by something like winning?
4. Can I rush or cheese?
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Absolutely! You have the freedom to choose any strat and the benchmarks will still work! Get creative, try things that sound fun to you. That is the most important part.
5. Can I play vs the AI?
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You must play melee Sc2. This is the only restriction. (game type shows up in the lobby). Play 4v4s, play 2v2s, vs friends, on the ladder, vs AI, whatever you think is most fun!
Have a question? Ask it in the thread and, if its asked often, we’ll add it to the FAQ :D
Projects I'm Involved in:
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