The Horrible, Horrible School of Starcraft II

There is a Chinese proverb that when roughly translated, goes along the lines of “bitter medicine is good for curing disease, and harsh criticism is good for mending behaviour.” So as some of you might have already guessed, Starcraft II is to me, a bitter medicine like no other.When I first got my hands on the game a couple of years ago, I was a newbie in every definition of the word. I’ve never played Broodwars before (one of the first Starcraft games), and I don’t play much multiplayer RTS either. Needless to say, I was pretty scared to foray into the field of multiplayer RTS gaming. Starting the game up for the first time, I had a blast playing through the single player campaign and trashing the AI in some of the easier settings on skirmish mode. Problem was, after awhile, the gameplay either became too hard, or too easy. It was clear that if I was going to enjoy the game any further, I had to improve my skills. Of course, I consulted the all-wise Google on how to improve my Starcraft skills, and the answer was found in the plethora of guides found online. That was when terms like Macro and Micro, APM, Hotkeys, and Build Orders were first introduced to me.

It was completely foreign to play with the keyboard. I only used them to create control groups for my armies; so for instance I would hotkey my ground troops to number 1, and my air force to number 2. I could easily switch between them just by pressing those two numbers on my keyboard, making virtual warfare much easier. So with my trusty mouse and my mediocre hotkey usage, I was able to get through most of the campaign, and even defeat the ‘hard’ AI in a skirmish battle. The ‘very hard’ AI, however, was far out of my reach. I dare not even venture to multiplayer mode, as I knew I would get trashed completely. After consulting some guides, I realized that the first thing I had to learn was the basics: how to play the game on the keyboard. Once you can issue commands using both the keyboard and the mouse, you’re basically on the way to mastery. With the keyboard, you can command your army like a boss, issuing multiple commands at once, and possibly be at many places on the battlefield while building your own base up at the same time.

The initial experience was pretty scary, but then it got fun. I had to memorize simple stuff like “‘b’ brings up the build menu, then ‘s’ builds a supply depot”, or “pressing ‘a’ after selecting your barracks would train marines”. But once I had the basic idea up and running, it was a joyride. I was suddenly able to build so many stuff at once, and my army size literally doubled within the same amount of game time. I was able to trash the ‘hard’ AI far more easily, and could even hold off some of the ‘very hard’ AI’s advance. But then, there was still so much to learn. I had to start memorizing build orders, which required the nifty balancing of build timings and attack timings. Furthermore, I needed to learn more hotkeys. I decided to stick to a very simple build where I simply trained Marines, Marauders, and Medivacs, and with my mediocre skills, I managed to get my first victory in a multiplayer match! That was when the excitement truly began. But the more I played, the more I realized that the victories I attained were few and far between. I needed far more practice, and it got boring very quickly.

That was when I gave up on Starcraft II. Shockers. The problem was that my exams were coming up quickly, and I could no longer sustain the practice periods. It was draining to cope with a Starcraft training program, as well as the workload from real life. I had to give up Starcraft for awhile, and because it ended on a bad note, I didn’t pick it up even after my exams were over. When I thought of Starcraft, I basically thought of hours after hours of hard work, and very slow progress. Of course, that was before I discovered the world of shoutcasting, streaming, and Day [9].

Starcraft was essentially a major game in the realm of e-sports. It meant that like regular sports, there were people doing commentary while games were going on. These people were called shoutcasters, and they helped to make the game more understandable to the rest of us. Clearly, they had to have knowledge and skill in the game as well in order to do a good shoutcast; some shoutcasters would even help you improve your gameplay. They definitely added a lot of excitement to the game of Starcraft II. But to really improve your game, you would need to watch videos of people who were doing analysis of games. They may or may not analyze in real time, but since their focus was more of the educational value, you tend to learn a lot. They would break down build orders, analyze why certain army compositions work and some don’t, and even drop nuggets of vital information, such as “cloaked Banshees usually hit at 7.30 minutes” or “Vikings are the hard counter to the Colossus”. Other videos even help you to train various skills like constant production of worker units while keeping to a specified build order.

But my conception of Starcraft changed completely when I found Day [9]. Essentially, he is an extremely big name in the Starcraft II community (no idea why I didn’t hear of him earlier), and his videos are always loved because of one reason. He’s just so damn funny, and positive. Seriously. Even if you don’t know a thing about Starcraft, his videos give you so much emotional value that you would consider watching a couple more. And as a Starcraft player, I can say that his videos go beyond the energizing aspect as they can really impact your gameplay. By watching Day [9] analyze various games, I was able to understand the thought process behind many high level players, and incorporate some of their techniques into my play. Going back to my Starcraft hiatus, I was actually inspired to go get the expansion (Heart of the Swarm) and begin my Starcraft journey again, right after watching a bunch of Day [9] videos. That was when I started playing seriously, and dared to finally confront the ladder.

In Part 2 of this post, I will share the Frustration/Learning cycle, where I banged my head against the wall far too often (although you don’t have to!), and finally learned how to adapt to the pattern.

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