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Midday: How to intelligently improve your StarCraft skills

Post written by Samuel “Midday” He of compLexity Gaming.

Whether you’re completely new to Starcraft, or a seasoned veteran, improvement is something that any active player should consistently be striving for. However, improvement in Starcraft does not come as easily as in some other games. In Mario Kart for example, you learn organically, meaning that every game teaches you something new. Just by playing, you will begin to learn the shortcuts, get better at drifting, and get a better feel for the controls. Starcraft however, as an RTS, requires a different approach to improvement – and a focus on strategy. There is more theoretical knowledge outside of the game that has to be applied through mechanical execution. With that in mind, a big part of Starcraft is strategy. Within this blog, you’ll see how to approach the game, how to keep practicing, and how to ensure that you learn every time you play.

Don’t just play the game, learn the game. Very few people can simply just constantly play the game and maintain a steady rate of improvement, and none can improve while playing mindlessly. That being said, there are productive, efficient ways of improving, asides from just playing, such as studying builds.

A build is a definition that explains the order of operations executed in a particular game. In Chess, a build is the first set of mapped twenty or so moves. In Starcraft, a build is your basic skeleton of buildings, expansions, and army compositions. How are your builds? Do you have a solid build in each match-up? Can you name a pro-gamer that also uses the same builds you’re thinking of? Strong builds are an extremely important foundation to learning. Learning and being able to execute them cleanly gives you an extremely strong foundation and also gives you confidence in your play.

If you don’t have strong builds, look to the heroes of Starcraft. If you’re a Terran, look for inspiration from players like Polt, Maru, and Taeja. Look up their vods (video on demand) or replays, see how they play and what build they’re using, and pick out something that you like about their play. Maru’s relentless aggression. Polt’s immaculate control. Taeja’s unyielding macro. Watch a variety of games, so that the sample is not disturbed by variant play (some builds are executed poorly, and some are reactionary to other the other player). These builds are often very flexible, and allow you to throw in your own flare, creativity, and personality – in other words, builds should feel elegant and efficient.

Another important aspect of improving is understanding theorycrafting: the exploration of the fine strategic aspects of Starcraft. Because Starcraft is a very dense and complex game, many professional players spend quite a bit of time mapping out ‘perfect’ builds, situations, and engagements. Steal their work! Again, like in Chess, the fine differences between a Sicilian and a Dutch Defence might be lost or confusing to lower-level player, but Grandmasters spend years discussing their intricacies.

Well thought out builds and timings are difficult to come up with, and require an extremely high level of skill to even attempt, along with alternate perspectives. Theorycrafting often slows down the improvement of low level players, as they often get the wrong ideas because their experiences are inaccurate due to their practical and mechanical inefficiencies.

Now imagine little Jimmy Rustles walks into a school of music, and claims that he’s going to be a professional pianist without ever having had an instructor. Nobody will believe him. He is missing vast amounts of expertise, guidance and probably has method errors from being entirely self-taught. The same can be said for Starcraft. Getting a teacher/coach is an excellent way to accelerate improvement, and learn things right. There are always people open to teach, although high quality lessons can sometimes be expensive. Being your own teacher is very difficult, because it is often hard to spot your own mistakes and deviations in a build order. Don’t undervalue the worth of taking consistent lessons from not only a competent player, but a competent teacher.

Ladder Anxiety is a phrase that defines people’s negative feelings in relation to climbing the ranking ladder in Starcraft. Losing ranks, points, or positions can be stressful and it causes many people to turn away from competitive play. It probably stems from your own feelings of self-esteem, or what others might think of you should your rank lower. Whatever your issue is, if you want to improve at Starcraft, know that losing is the greatest way to learn. The most important thing regarding anxiety is to ensure that out of all people, you don’t disappoint yourself, and by allowing your feelings to control your commitment to a game you love, you’re disappointing yourself.

Learning how to lose is something that Starcraft teaches everyone who plays it, and everyone has their own version of it, but it’s what we do with our losses that are most important. Many people blame their losses on things that distract them from what’s really important – the precise reason why they lost, and what they can do to to prevent that mistake from happening next time. Mistakes, habits and errors aren’t fixed overnight. It’s the process of constantly learning, and relearning that allows us to become more resilient. Here’s where blaming our losses on things that we may deem insignificant becomes dangerous: should one lose to a Dark Templar rush, one may say: “Well, I didn’t scout! That’s my problem. That’s why I lost.” That’s not enough. This is a dangerous attitude to have, and can seriously inhibit your ability to improve because of how much you’re generalizing. Be specific! Ask yourself questions like “How do I scout for this next time, and what’s a good time to do it? Do I need to pre-emptively position an Overlord in order to scout this on time?”

This goes for mechanical issues as well. If you die to an all-in because you got supply blocked, or because you put down a Baneling’s Nest too late, never simply dismiss the loss as “Well, I just messed up my build.” While yes, you did that, and yes, the mistake is going to happen again sometime in the future because we’re all human, you can still minimize the errors through being mindful, and specific, in relation to your mistakes.

That being said, regardless of your mindset and how you approach the game, it is absolutely essential that you not only recognize at least one reason why you lost, but also a way of fixing that mistake, issue, or bad habit. By doing this, you will learn every time you lose. Now that’s not to say that there’s no opportunity to learn through winning, but every loss has a very visceral and objective reason why the game turned out the way they did. Celebrate your losses, study from your defeats.

Setting goals for yourself are a great way to keep track of not only progress, but motivating yourself and perhaps even the others around you. Race your friend to Diamond league. Play five, ten, twenty games a day- consistently. Make sure that your goals motivate you. Stick to the habit. Your daily schedule may be busy, but if there’s one thing I remember from an amazing conductor I met at a band camp, it’s that when a person really REALLY truly wants something – they find a way.

All in all, always avoid mindless practice. Ensure that it is consistent, especially if you find yourself the kind of person that, if you stay absent from the game for a period of time, not only your skill but also your confidence degrades. A lack of confidence is often what stops people who took breaks from getting back into the game, or even picking up the game. Just remember that the last person you want to disappoint is yourself.

I’m Samuel “Midday” He, a Zerg player proudly playing for compLexity Gaming. Thanks to our sponsors Sound Blaster, CyberpowerPC,, Creative, Twitch, L337 Motherboards, DXracer, Scufgaming, and Pwnitwear.

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  1. Pingback: A Discussion of Practice | CYBERPOWERPC

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