Sound Structure – Intriguing Designs That Hit The Mark

A week ago I wrote an article discussing the most stressful units in StarCraft II. Here’s the followup to that piece, a discussion of some of the most interesting designs StarCraft has given us. Here are units that prove that it is possible to create gameplay that is satisfying for the player without causing your opponent’s blood pressure to spike.

 

Stalker

Perhaps a trigger warning is necessary here for victims of the Blink-Stalker era. Either way, I do maintain my point from last week. Aesthetically speaking, my honest opinion is that Stalker is the Little Nicky of StarCraft designs. The Stalker’s gameplay, however, is another story, and in a way, distinct.

Among all core units in the game, the Stalker is by far the weakest in terms of raw dps. For its lacking offensive ability, the Stalker boasts superior mobility. Once its ability Blink is unlocked, the Stalker becomes unrivaled in its ability to pick-off priority targets.

Stalkers can’t survive prolonged engagements without the support of units higher up in the Protoss tech tree. Instead, as its name implies, the Stalker functions as a sniper unit for both cutting off units attempting to retreat, and giving the Protoss the ability to dictate the terms of engagement. The latter is usually achieved by using blink to hard engage a dangerous target before it can react, or up to higher ground to secure a tactical advantage.

Like most standard Gateway units, the Stalker functions as reinforcements in long engagements; they will eventually fall-off without actual heavy firepower at the rear, so focus fire is imperative.

The idea of taking a mobile low damage unit and making it a race’s core is a tough sell but the Stalker carved its own niche with its distinct and satisfying play-style. Now if only it didn’t look like a concept reject for Genesect.

 

Ghost

Conceptually, the Ghost seems like what you would get if you told a 10 year old boy to make a StarCraft unit. To start, it’s a spellcaster built to counter other spell casters. It can stealth and has massive burst that can shred even the tankiest units; if need be, it can call in a Nuclear strike, which, appropriately enough, is nowhere near as broken as it sounds.

That’s pretty much the theme of the Ghost. It’s a unit that, on paper, sounds like it should be all kinds of busted, but isn’t. The fact that it’s on one of the furthest ends of the Terran tech tree has a lot to do with this. Furthermore, its more outlandish abilities either require additional research or further investments to prepare.

Design

The Tactical Nuke is worth particular note for being the first supply pit in StarCraft. Ironically,  it is the best example of a supply pit done right. In both StarCraft and StarCraft II, each Tactical Nuke requires further investment to build. Usually only one could be prepared at a time. Although in StarCraft II, both the direct and opportunity cost is significantly lower than its predecessor.

The significant investment that goes into preparing even a single Nuke makes it a rare sight. But it’s still an exceptionally powerful tool that can be devastating in the right situations regardless. The rarity of the event just makes it that much more of a spectacle for both players when it actually does happen.

 

Arbiter

My personal favourite unit from StarCraft I, and possibly just StarCraft in general. The Arbiter is the unit at the furthest end of the Protoss tech tree in Brood War. Furthermore, even despite its heavy cost and even heavier build time (longest in the game, yes even longer than the Carrier), it has three further upgrades to research that collectively take close to 4.5 minutes, and 450 minerals/450 gas to complete.

In that way, it’s very unique. Most notably, for a unit at the furthest end of the tech tree, its direct offensive ability is almost non-existent. It has an attack, but it’s mostly negligible. Rather, the value of the Arbiter comes entirely from its spells and abilities. Of its three abilities/spells, the Arbiter starts with one, its Cloaking Field. Cloaking Field, as you can guess, cloaks (grants stealth) to every unit in an area beneath it.

Design

Its only two spells, both of which need to be researched, are Recall and Stasis Field. They both feature their own respective strategies for which they act as the focal points. Stasis Field freezes any unit caught within the spell’s area of effect. Under stasis, units are completely immobile and cannot be attacked for its duration. It’s a particularly powerful tool against Terran and Protoss for shutting down Siege Tanks and Reavers, respectively.

Recall is a global spell that teleports all units under a 5×5 spell area directly to the Arbiter. The Mass Recall strategy centered on this ability usually involves flying an Arbiter directly into an enemy base and using recall to teleport an army onto the enemy’s production facilities.

The Arbiter is unique as the only final tier support unit gated behind massive investments and research upgrades like none other, but somehow ends up being undeniably worth it.

Side Note: You’ve probably noticed from the Ghost to the Arbiter that there’s a reoccurring design principle here that StarCraft II ignored. That principle being – if you’re going to give a unit some seriously busted-ass spells, stick it at the furthest end of the tech tree and lock its potential behind a million upgrades.

 

Viper

I didn’t mean to order this list but it happened anyway, I guess this would be the number one spot. As much as I love the Arbiter, the Viper just wins on so many levels.

I’ll start with Parasitic Bomb, which proves it’s possible to create a spell for punishing mass-air deathballs without being a spell that instagibs mass-air deathballs. Furthermore, while Parasitic Bomb will significantly slow, if not stop, the advancement of a mass-air army, its effect can be significantly mitigated with practiced micro control that feels very satisfying to outplay.

This is a very rare mechanic in StarCraft where a punishing spell can actually feel somewhat rewarding on the receiving end for having successfully mitigated the full effect.

But by far, Viper’s most intriguing ability is Consume. It’s an ability that uniquely allows the Viper to replenish energy by sucking the life from (damaging) your own Structures. Not only is the spell absolutely ominous to watch, particularly when watching a swarm of Vipers kill their own Hatchery, but it adds a distinct depth to the Viper. After exhausting its energy, Vipers can be pulled from the front-line back to the Zerg’s base to replenish their energy at the cost of damage to their own structures, after which it can return to the field.

The Viper has its own synergy between its abilities, spells, and the battlefield itself. An intriguing novelty unlike anything else in StarCraft that I can only describe as an absolutely beautiful model of sound game design.

Design

 

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Toxic Design

Stress Spikes – The most questionable designs in StarCraft II

Balance revisions are once again in season in the StarCraft world. And while these changes are far from insignificant, it will be a while before the next major overhaul. As such, I thought I would get an early start on the list of units that should be considered for the next renovation.

The units in this discussion aren’t on here because of poor balance, and to be clear, this isn’t a balance discussion. Rather, today I want to look at units infamous for their toxic design.

Most of the units here serve important roles in their race’s design. But in some cases, those roles could stand to see some revisions, into forms that accomplish similar goals but in a way that doesn’t inspire players to put their fist through their monitors.

 

Oracle Fly-by

There are many units in StarCraft that can cripple you if you’re not prepared for them. The Oracle, however, is a special case.

If your anti-air is mispositioned, an early Oracle can end the game. There’s an indescribable feeling you get seeing an Oracle fly-by and realizing your grave has already been dug. Some would suggest you could say the same thing about detection and stealth units. The thing is, workers can run from a Dark Templar or Banshee. Try as you may, there’s no running from an Oracle. It raises the question as to why Pulsar Beam is necessary in its current form, especially with Stasis Ward becoming more common as a means of harassment.

 

The mine that got away

It’s not exactly surprising to say the Widow Mine is a unit that inspires a special kind of loathing. But I’ve always been of the firm belief that it’s not the Widow Mine’s damage that makes it a toxic unit. Rather, the most toxic thing about the Widow Mine is watching it get away – watching a mine being dropped into your mineral line and then just barely failing to kill it before it borrows is an exasperating feeling that’s made worse knowing you need to evacuate your mineral line immediately and deal with finishing it off before you can get back to work.

Nerfs to the Widow Mine were a huge talking point earlier this year but it seems surprising that the Mine’s 90 HP never came into question. For reference, the Widow Mine’s predecessor from Brood War, the Spider Mine, only had 20HP. For that 20HP, the Spider Mine could only hit ground units, could not be moved once set, were only good for one-shot and yet were still widely used.

The Widow Mine is not going to get its health cut anytime soon. That would be a balance call rather than a design call. But the next time issues with the Widow Mine come up, rather than just cutting its damage again, maybe think about adjusting its durability instead. Personally, I would even be in favor of the Mine getting a damage buff if it meant a durability trade off.

 

Throwing Shade

I’ve gone through a lot of this already so I’ll be sparing on the details here. Psionic Transfer was an interesting experiment but the results are back and they don’t look good.Toxic Design I almost feel it’s a cop-out to include this because of how vocal the community has been about this ability. But still, the balance team hasn’t really done anything about it so maybe it’s not as obvious as I thought. Sure they cut the shade vision, but all that did was make the shading process into guesswork.

This arguably made the Adept even more toxic to play against. At least when the Adepts had vision you could reasonably predict when the Protoss would commit or not. Now that the shades are blind, you really never know when the Protoss is going to go full yolo. This new layer of unpredictability means that the act of activating Psionic Transfer alone is enough to keep an opponent on the defensive.

The community has been vocal enough about this that the fact that Psionic Transfer still exists in its current form can only be described as stubbornness on the balance team’s part. Yes, we Protoss players have had our laughs with this one but the joke is getting old. The ability to cancel shades needs to go.

 

Supply Pits

Let’s talk about offense vs defense in esports. As a rule of thumb, you generally want defending to be somewhat more skillful than executing an attack. This is done to encourage aggressive tactics and discourage passive playstyles that risk creating boring or monotonous shows for audiences. Supply Pits are units that take this concept to the absolute extreme. These are units like the Disruptor and Seeker Missiles that are exponentially harder to defend against than they are to use. And failing to defend against them can at times have game-ending results.

Spending 10 minutes building up an army only to lose it all in a second is a unique experience, and one not often seen in the RTS genre. Being on the receiving end of a Supply Pit is easily the most toxic experience in StarCraft II and one of the most toxic experiences in any esport.

With this in mind, the damage fade of splash and AoE damage is worth reviewing at least once. We can call it a social experiment. And if there is any aspect of StarCraft II that’s worth experimenting on, this is it.

 

Why does my Core Unit look like ass?

Toxic Design

It shoots lasers from its eyes. You know, just in case the design wasn’t dumb enough as is.

While we are on the topic of bad design, let’s talk about the Stalker. Granted, the Stalker is badly designed in a different way but it still makes me want to break my screen so here we are. Every race has one or two core units. These are units that are generally useful at all points in the game which are capable of fun micro-mechanics. Terran has Marine-Marauders, for Zerg: Hydralisks and Ravagers. If you only started playing StarCraft some time in the last few months, it’s easy to think that our Core unit is the Adept.

To a certain extent, the Adept has become a core unit despite scaling poorly into the late game. But Protoss has had another core unit for years prior to Legacy of the Void and that is the Stalker.

Toxic Design

It’s a Winter’s Veil Miracle

If I had to describe the Stalker, I would say it looks like the result of an underachieving demon possessing a mashed-on beetle. I wish I could say that was an exaggeration, that really just is what the Stalker looks like. Just like it isn’t an exaggeration to say the Stalker is possibly the single ugliest unit ever designed in the history of the RTS genre.

How or why the Stalker’s current design came into existence is a mystery. My theory is that some famous Protoss player slept with Dustin Browder’s wife and this was his revenge. Whatever the case, I think we’ve been punished long enough. Zerg has their sleek Hydras, Terrans have their badass Marines but somehow Protoss got stuck with Little Nicky.

WarChests are coming later this year, all I ask is that we get a skin that makes the Stalker not look like ass.


 

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Adept

Unit in Review: The Adept

Lynching the entire Protoss player base has been the hot topic of discussion in the StarCraft II community recently, as is the norm following any major Protoss win. That said, it seems wrong to waste the opportunity to talk about one of the most controversial units in the game while everyone is yelling about it. Of course, I’m referring to the Adept.

Even amongst the unfiltered hatred there are very valid criticisms about the Adept, let’s not be mistaken. It’s a unit without a clear method of counter-play which is never healthy design. To Blizzard’s credit, they have tried interesting, but ultimately unsuccessful, ways of providing workarounds. It’s a delicate subject because there’s really no statistical evidence to show the Adept is imbalanced. However, it is undeniably a frustrating unit to play against which has always been the core issue.

What makes the Adept so frustrating, why have previous design changes failed and what can and should be done? These are the topics of today’s discussion. So let’s get into it.

 

Psionic Transfer

For the unfamiliar, Psionic Transfer is the Adept’s ability to project un-targetable shades of itself. After 7 seconds, the Adept teleports directly to the location of its shades. Now, what makes the Adept frustrating isn’t its ability to teleport. Rather, it’s the Adept’s ability to cancel it.

If it were not possible to cancel Psionic Transfer, the solution becomes obvious: just follow the shades. Instead what we have is a mind game, for which there is no clear solution. Attempting to follow the shades will only result in the Protoss canceling them. If you stick with the main body, then the shade goes through. Attempting to split your army creates the worst possible scenario where the Protoss can potentially prey on the divided force whether they decide to commit to the shades or not.

Adept

Now this commitment went badly for Stats but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The solution becomes obvious then, why not just take away the ability to cancel the shades?

Indeed, this is hardly a unique idea. In fact, it’s been brought up for as long as the Adept was available for testing in the Legacy of the Void beta. And since then, the balance team’s stance on the matter has been to avoid creating overlap with the Stalker. Now, this is a frustrating response for many reasons, which I’ll get into in the next section. And given that Blizzard has gone to great lengths to dance around this idea despite how often it comes up, it indicates their stance on this hasn’t changed.

Blizzard’s solution for shades was admittedly clever. They cut the vision of the shades, effectively making them blind, making it much riskier for Protoss to commit to shades, and giving opposing players the ability to counterplay by dodging the shades. This worked in the short-term, but eventually players learned to gauge the amount of resistance they should expect at certain timings. Giving rise to the YOLO strategy. Accepting that you don’t 100% know whether it’s safe to teleport in, but you have the statistics on your side, so YOLO.

 

Stalker-Adept Overlap – The Design Dilemma

To start, the Adept and Stalker are functionally different in too many ways. The Stalker with its ability Blink, which allows the Stalker to immediately teleport a short distance, functions as an assassination unit. Blink allows the Stalker to pick off priority targets before they’re able to respond. Alternatively, it’s a precise tool for picking off an enemy unit, particularly transport units, attempting to retreat.

Adept

The 3 tank, Liberator timing. The Liberator sieges from the sky while the Tanks zone out from the ground.

Unlike the Stalker, which can attack both ground and aerial units, the Adept can only attack units on the ground. Furthermore, the timed delay on the transfer limits the Adept’s ability to make decisive assassinations, even more-so when you consider shades are restricted by terrain.

The design overlap explanations become even shakier when you consider Liberators and Siege Tanks. The Liberator is another unit that was added to StarCraft II with Legacy of the Void. And much like the Adept, the Liberator has been cause for more much frustration. Particularly, the Siege Tank and Liberators both fulfill very similar roles. They are both stationary units that excel at zoning control. This overlap between Liberators and Siege Tanks has been cause for some of the most oppressive strategies over the last season, most notably, the 3 Tank-Liberator timing which has been largely responsible for the Phoenix-Adept meta of PvT.

This sends a very confusing message that design overlap is fine when it comes to creating oppressive gameplay but when it comes to solving oppressive interactions, then it becomes an issue.

It’s just not a valid concern. Even if there was an overlap, which there isn’t, there is no argument to be made between whether toxic design should be upheld to avoid creating redundant design.

 

The trade-off

As I mentioned before, the balance of the Adept really isn’t in question, only the design is. So removing the Adept’s ability to cancel shades will have to be compensated somehow.

Damage Point

One of the more elegant possibilities is reducing the Adept’s damage point in exchange for the shade nerf. Damage point is the initial delay period between an attack command and the attack execution. This does not directly affect a units damage per second but has a large effect on a unit’s micro control. Units with a lower damage point are able to stutter step with better efficiency. This means, for the nerf the Adept could be given better potential for micro control.

Smoother Power Curve

Another possible solution is creating a small percentage splash damage buff as a tier upgrade above the Adept’s research upgrade, Resonating Glaives. The net result of this will be a direct nerf to the Adept’s early game survive-ability but creates more utility for the Adept in the late game. The Adept, traditionally a unit that becomes useless in the late end of the game. This change would effectively soften the Adept’s power curve, trading out its early game dominance for longevity.


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Proxima Station

Protoss Insight: Stats’ Three-Act Performance

While reception towards the generally one-sided GSL Finals between Kim “Stats” Dae Yeob and Eo “soO” Yoon Su was less than warm, undeniably Game 2 on Proxima Station was a showstopper. The mind games played by Stats embodied everything that makes us love strategy games. This grand performance from the best Protoss in the world gave us a lot to learn from. Let’s take a closer look at Stats’ strategy on Proxima Station.

 

The Premise

Before we get into the strategy, we should first talk a bit about the setting. In the late game of Zerg vs Protoss, Protoss is generally favored. Particularly, late game Carrier builds. Proxima Station itself is a very defensive map. It has a safe pocket expansion for its natural, and while the third is a bit more exposed than the main and natural, it’s still a highly defensible location.

For this reason, Carrier builds are very common for Protoss players on this map, where Protoss can safely wall off and greedily rush to their expensive late game build.

 

The Show

With this in mind, Stats set his bait. He opened his game by expanding directly into his third. This let Stats feign the premise that he went for a very greedy three expansion opening. Stats played out this act even further by walling off with a StarGate at his third. Knowing Protoss’ preference to play turtle strategies on Proxima, soO’s scouting information showed all the signs of Skytoss preparations. By the time the first Void got out, soO was already sold on the premise and started preparations to punish a greedy Carrier rush.

Proxima Station

The Twist

With the bait taken, Stats started preparations to put his real plan into effect. Instead of committing to air tech, Stats invested into a mass of Warp Gates. At this point, soO was in the middle of preparing a Hydralisk timing attack to punish what he thought was Stats’ Carrier rush. If Stats was really going for a greedy triple expansion into Carriers, he would have been vulnerable for a short window. A massive Hydralisk push would’ve been able to break Stats’ defense and end the game before he got to a critical mass of Carriers. Instead, soO was hit with waves of Adepts, the hard counter to his Hydras.

Proxima Station

The Finale

Stats’ plan didn’t end with the counter, however. After warping in a mass of Sentries into his main army, Stats began his final attack by making a huge warp-in of Adepts into soO’s main, baiting the Zerg back. As soO was dealing with the diversion, Stats made his real attack on soO’s third. As soO attempted to respond, the Protoss blocked off the ramp to the main with Forcefields.

With a small mass of Sentries available, Stats could have kept soO locked into his own base for as long as he needed. Shut out of his third, soO could only watch as Stats crippled his economy and was forced to tap out, bringing the show to its close.

Proxima Station

 

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SSL

StarCraft Weekly Recall

Welcome to my seventh ever Weekly Recall, a recap of the major events in the StarCraft Week.

 

StarCraft II Starleague (SSL) – Premier

 

Players

Joo “Zest” Sung Wook, Han “ByuL” Ji Won, Cho “Maru” Seong Ju, Kim “Stats” Dae Yeob, Lee “INnoVation” Shin Hyung, Park “Dark” Ryung Woo, Kang “Solar” Min Soo, Kim “sOs” Yoo Jin

 

Highlight Match

sOs vs Solar

 

Zest vs ByuL

 

Often it seems Zest’s biggest issue is his self-confidence. It seems ironic to say that about Zest. Someone who looks like they would be voted most likely to date a Victoria’s Secret model.

But lately Zest just seems completely unwilling to play into the late-game. Instead, he prefers to close early through timing attacks. In Game 1 on Overgrowth, Zest attempted an Adept all-in, from which the game was decided once ByuL held.

Again in Whirlwind he over-extended an attack that he could have used to set himself up for a healthy mid game. Instead it seemed like he wanted to close the game through Archon harassment. Zest over-extended his harassment, rather than teching up while he had map control. After losing all four Archons, the game was pretty much over.

SSL

The irony of Zest’s situation becomes all the more apparent when you consider Game 2 on Daybreak. The only game that went relatively late was the only game that Zest won. Deciding the game from a fight at disadvantageous positioning with superior crisis management. Using his available PsiStorms perfectly to deflect a baneling flank.

In the end, ByuL’s defensive ability to hold Zest’s early aggression in Games 1 and 3 saw him through to a 2-1 victory.

 

Maru vs Stats

Stats’ form at the moment is the stuff of a legend, considering this series was played the day after the most important Protoss vs Zerg of Stats’ life. This was against Maru too, one of four Terran horsemen. Stats didn’t break a sweat here. Game 1 on Daybreak was heavily in Stats’ favor from the first engagement.

After dismantling Maru’s MMM attack, Stats expanded into four bases while transitioning out of Phoenix-Adept into Thermal Lance Colossi.

Near the end, Maru attempted a retaliatory attack onto Stats’ 4th with perfect timing just before Stats finished production of his first Colossi wave. The Protoss lead was already too massive at this point. Properly understanding the situation, Stats abandoned the 4th to buy time to get out his Colossi, which shut down Maru’s attack, ending the game shortly after.SSL

Newkirk was another stomp, but largely a build order win. Both players went for proxy air tech openings, but Stats was able to scout out Maru’s StarPort and dealt with the worker before it could complete construction. The Oracle out of Stats’ proxy StarGate secured massive value, decimating Maru’s mineral line on his natural and the handful of marines protecting it. The game was a landslide in Stats’ favor from this point, and he easily closed out the series 2-0.

 

Innovation vs Dark

 

Dark took control of Game 1 on Newkirk early with repeated zergling harassment. By the mid-game, Dark had such a commanding economic lead, it would have been easy to say the game was his.

The decisive moment of the game, however, came when Innovation made a doom drop into Stats’ main at the perfect time as Dark made a push with his slow Ultralisk-based army across the map. The damage was catastrophic, and on the retreat Dark’s army was eventually pulled apart and dismantled from all sides.

For a Dark fan this would have been a hard game to watch. Even Dark seemed almost unable to process the sudden flip in advantage, trying to fight on from an impossible situation to the bitter end.

SSL

Game 2 on Overgrowth was completely in Innovation’s control from the get-go, however. Innovation, unwilling to give Dark breathing room, hammered Dark again and again with harassment while he macroed up a death-ball behind it. By the time the final engagement came, the game was long over.

 

sOs vs Solar

 

sOs kept pressure on Solar throughout the early stages of Game 1 on Whirlwind. The critical moment came at the eventual head-on engagement where Solar crushed sOs’ main force with his superior positioning. Solar took the advantage here to keep sOs in check with a Roach drop.

Then, in a move you would expect from sOs himself, Solar set a baneling trap, coupled with surprise transition into Swarm Hosts. Caught off-guard in the worst way, sOs tapped out within seconds.

Game 2 on Overgrowth was much more of what you would expect from sOs. Opening with a proxy Gateway Adept all-in, then a Dark Templar follow-up, both of which Solar held comfortably. Solar was well ahead early in the game and prepared for everything except sOs sneaking an expansion into a Gold base. After putting on a spectacular defense, Solar was forced to tap out after realizing the massive economic gap.

This took us to Abyssal Reef. Meeting every expectation, it was the best in show for the night. sOs almost had Solar’s back against the wall early on after a massive Adept warp-in following a WarpGate explosion. Solar, however, quickly leveled the game with a baneling run into sOs’ army. From here, Solar took control, shutting down base after base with Swarm Host guerrilla tactics.

In the end, Solar took the fight right to sOs after securing a massive lead at a critical time. He hit sOs just before he could finish PsiStorm research to close the game, ending the best series of the night, 2-1.

SSL

 

 

Brood War v1.18

 

StarCraft and StarCraft: Brood War, Patch 1.18 has been delayed at least a week. Pushed back from its originally planned release from March 30th.

 

For specific information, see Blizzard’s official thread.

 

 

 

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StarCraft Remastered

StarCraft Weekly Recall

Welcome to my 6th ever Weekly Recall. A recap of the major events in the StarCraft Week. And this has been as an exciting week as we can expect in StarCraft featuring not just the GSL Finals but the 2017 premiere of SSL. All leading up to the much hyped, long speculated announcement of StarCraft Remastered.

StarCraft Remastered

This announcement was accompanied by the (arguably even more impactful) revelation that the original StarCraft Anthology will also be patched for the first time in over 8 years. On the 30th of March StarCraft will be upgraded to Patch v1.18a.

 

StarCraft Patch v1.18 Highlights

StarCraft and StarCraft: Brood War will both be completely free to play

Custom Keybindings

Native Fish Support

Observer Mode

 

StarCraft Remastered is coming in Summer as a purchaseable upgrade to StarCraft and StarCraft: Brood War

Players of both the original StarCraft Anthology and StarCraft: Remastered will be able to play together, seamlessly.

 

Global StarCraft League – Grand Finals

Highlight Games

Kim “Stats” Dae Yeob vs Eo “soO” Yoon Su (Proxima Station)

In case anyone had forgotten Stat’s airtight defensive play from Katowice, Game 1 on Whirlwind was the refresher course. soO opened with a hyper aggressive zergling rush. Stats wasn’t phased, shutting it down and making it look easy. For those following this season of GSL from the early rounds, this game would be reminiscent of Stats’ early defensive play against ByuL’s zergling aggression.

The Long Con

StarCraft Remastered

Stats: Knock, Knock soO: Who’s there? Stats: Not Carriers soO: Fuuuuuuuuuuuu

Game 2 on Proxima Station couldn’t be more different however. Stats took the full initiative and controlled the pace of the game from his first expansion to the last drop. Proxima Station is a highly defensive map with a pocket expansion. Especially in Protoss vs Zerg, it’s a very popular map for Skytoss turtles. Stats went for an early expand into his third, ignoring his safe pocket expansion. Doing this, he feigned taking three early bases. Baiting soO into thinking he was playing a hyper defensive game, likely going for a mass Carrier push.

Stats committed to selling this act even further by rushing out a pair of Void Rays. Satisfied with his ruse and that the bait was taken, Stats followed up with a massive Warp Gate explosion. At this point soO was in the middle of preparing an anti-air Hydralisk army to hit the defensive Protoss with a timing-attack before he could reach critical mass. Instead he was having his door kicked in by massive ground army built to hard counter Hydras.

Having taken a massive advantage in the initial attack, Stats didn’t let up on the mind games. He opened his final attack with a warp into soO’s main. Having lured soO’s army back to his main to defend, Stats pushed into soO’s 3rd with the bulk of his Adept, Sentry army. The Grand Finale to Stats’ master plan was to lock soO into his own base with Forcefields on his ramp leaving soO completely unable to respond, ending the game.

 

The Stasis Saga

As tends to happen on Abyssal Reef, things got weird, in a good way. soO initiated first with a Zergling drop into Stats’ main. Stats would reciprocate by repeatedly placing Stasis Wards into soO’s mineral lines to slow down his mining. Both players traded harassment before the final engagement.

StarCraft Remastered

soO would eventually land a solid baneling drop into Stats’ third but at that point it was already too late. Stats was already in the process of ending the game. His economy was already slowed down too much by stasis and Stats struck with perfect timing. Hitting soO with waves of Adepts while soO was stuck on Hydras in an attempt to deter the Protoss’ Void Ray and Oracle harassment. Just as before on Proxima, Stats’ dictated the pace of the game and struck with intention.

Stats would take this Oracle Strategy into Echo again. soO intially held Stats’ 4 Oracle Rush beautifully. But Stats would follow up by getting huge Stasis hits into each of soO’s mining bases.

This time however, Stats’ would be the one too late on the return. Capitalizing on Stats’ heavy Vespene investment, soO struck decisively. Just as previously Stats’ was able to counter soO’s Hydralisks with Adepts, soO’s Hydras this time would secure the advantage over Stats’ Void Ray, Zealot army to end the game.

 

Daybreak

Stats: Fuuuuuuuu

After dealing absolutely massive economic damage in the early game through repeated Adept harassment, Cactus Valley seemed to be all but won for Stats. Stats attempted to close the game with an Adept, Immortal push into soO’s base. The fight traded evenly for a while but the critical moment came when soO sniped Stats’ Warp Prism, completely shutting down Stats’ ability to continue aggression. Unable to provide further reinforcements, Stats’ Immortals were forfeit, and with them his game.

This took us to Game 6 on Daybreak. For the most part, this was a series defined by mind games and pinpoint timing attacks. But it was a good change of pace to see the Daybreak go the distance. Daybreak, brought everything you could expect. Aggression on both sides, back and forth, territory wars.

And in the end, the series was brought full circle.

Where we started with Stats’ unrivaled defense, this game would be decided by it. Near the end of the game, soO seemed to have caught Stats completely out of position. Stats responded by recalling, exactly the number of units he needed to clear the attack out of his main while cutting off the rest to defend his other mining bases. A multi-pronged attack that would have been a crippling disaster for any other Protoss, Stats’ handled with calm, clear decision making to retain his advantage in the game and eventually closing out in the followup attack.

Stats ended the series 4-2 and the player, long considered the best Protoss in the world, was finally able to claim his first premiere tournament title.

 

StarCraft StarLeague (SSL)

After strong indications of the league being dropped, the SSL has finally made its surprising return in 2017 with a new sponsor in Jin Air Greewings. And a refreshing new format to show for it. Finally stepping out of the shadows as GSL’s adopted sibling, to become a distinct event in its own right.

SSL differentiates itself from GSL by being played in a Round Robin format with the top four players advancing to the post-season knockout round. A welcome change as the round robins from the early portions of the previous league were typically the most distinct rounds of the event.

Highlight Games

Kim “sOs” Yoo Jin vs Cho “Maru” Seong Ju (SSL Premiere)

TY vs Classic (SSL Challenge)

 

Map Pool Update

Updated Map List

Ascension to Aiur
Sequencer
Blood Boil
Defender’s Landing
Odyssey (previously known as Windwaker) replaces Paladino Terminal
Abyssal Reef
Proxima Station

 

Featured images courtesy SpoTVAfreecaTV and Blizzard Entertainment.

Follow me on Twitter: @Stefan_SC2

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Stefan!

Diva Cup

Diva Cup Insight With Allaryce

 

Just over two weeks ago, AfreecaTV, organizers of StarCraft II’s flagship event, GSL (Global StarCraft II League), announced their first ever female tournament, the Diva Cup.

With the Diva Cup just days away, I got a chance to talk to the event organizer, Allaryce, for some insight into the tournament and the female StarCraft scene.

Note: This interview has been edited and revised for clarity.

 

The Diva Cup

 

The Game Haus: How did you first become attached to this project?

Allaryce: “Someone from Afreeca Global reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in running a female only tournament, so of course, I said yes! I started participating in tournaments only 3 weeks after I first started playing so running a tournament is something I’ve always wanted to try.”

 

To your knowledge, how long has the Diva Cup been in planning?

About a month

 

What can you tell us about the behind the scenes planning involved in this project?

“When it comes to running a tournament, it’s pretty simple. You figure out the format (this one is double elimination), the players, and the prize pool. Since Afreeca was providing the prize pool and I got other additional sponsors, the rest was easy!

The only tricky part of the planning comes from finding a time and date that works for all the players considering they’re all in different time zones. It’s all about staying on top of communication between everyone, even while I was away for IEM Katowice in Poland. With my work schedule and other obligations I have, it’s also great to have the team at Afreeca work on the promo/PR stuff for the tournament.”

 

At risk of asking the obvious, is there a story behind the name “Diva Cup” or is it just because of the Overwatch character?

“Yes, it’s inspired by the Overwatch character. D.VA‘s lore, for anyone who doesn’t know, is that she’s a pro StarCraft II player who became the GSL Code S champion at 16 and went undefeated for 3 years. I would love to see that story step out of fiction and into reality. Someday, I hope we can see a female lift up that trophy in a moment of glory on the big stage!

Many people seem to think that I, as a female, have ignorantly chosen this name for my tournament. To me, that’s very laughable. It’s meant to be a double entendre. It’s meant to be a provocative and funny play on words. I hope that people can appreciate my sense of humor and laugh with me! Even if they can’t, I would encourage them to look past the name and focus on the players instead!”

 

 

“I’ve asked many of my guy friends how many girls they think play Starcraft II and many of them estimate around five and are surprised to learn there’s about 20+ that I know of. It’s not sexism… It’s just unawareness.”

 

TGH: One of the key criticisms that has been brought up regarding female-only tournaments has been: why is there a need for a male/female division? How would you respond to this question?

 

Allaryce: “There’s no defined male division, it’s just that they’re more likely to sign up more often for online and offline cups. Girls are more than welcome to join and there’s nothing stopping them but themselves. I can only speculate that a few of them don’t feel like their skill levels are up to par and therefore don’t enter. I refuse to speak for the other girls and make assumptions about this matter since it’s not a question I’ve asked them about. Everyone has their own individual feelings about it and deserves their own voices.

For me, the Diva Cup is a way to highlight the many female players in the scene that people may not know about. It’s not meant to be a gender divided issue.  Many of these girls don’t promote their social media as much or may stream every once in a while. Others participate in the FSL (Female StarCraft League) or they just play on their own. This is a way to bring awareness to them as players and promote their play.

I’ve asked many of my guy friends how many girls they think play StarCraft II and many of them estimate around five and are surprised to learn there’s about 20+ that I know of. It’s not sexism… It’s just unawareness.

There was a really great article published by Polygon that explains the need for female tournaments and uses Chess as an example. In summary, the female demographic is under represented and it’s a good way to foster growth in the community and encourage other girls to try the game and compete!

I also hope that these girls will join more online and offline tournaments, regardless of results. There are many that cater to all skill levels no matter the player. Regardless of the reason why girls play in female tournaments or gender neutral tournaments, what’s important is that they’re putting themselves out there to compete and enjoy the game we all love to watch: StarCraft II!”

 

 

“I, personally, don’t think it’s demoralizing to see SCII being a male dominated scene. Anyone who plays StarCraft II enjoys the competitiveness to a certain degree.”

TGH: I’d imagine it’s also potentially demoralizing on many levels to see a competitive scene so male dominated. There’s a psychological aspect there that isn’t often explored.

I’ll use a contrasting example, if my first competitive experience were to be against 100 women, I think it would make an already intimidating situation exponentially more so. And if I were to get crushed, it would psychologically reinforce the idea that I didn’t belong there.

Regardless of the reason, I think it’s important to have events like these to let the female StarCraft world know there are competitive outlets available for them.

 

Allaryce: “I, personally, don’t know anyone who’s cocky enough to enter a tournament and expect to win. I’ve spoken to a few of my friends who are pro gamers and almost all of them are very humble about their skills. They mostly just want to perform well enough to their own standards. When it comes to competition, failure is inevitable but it’s how we cope with our losses and come out stronger that matters. It’s a character building tool, if anything, which is why I think tournaments are important. This is one of the reasons I enter tournaments no matter what skill level I’m at.

This is why it’s called ‘tournament experience.’ You’re forced to face your opponents head on, in real life, in defeat or victory. How you choose to handle your sportsmanship says a lot about yourself.

Again, I cannot speak for the other girls, nor would I want to generalize their experiences. I, personally, don’t think it’s demoralizing to see StarCraft II being a male dominated scene. Anyone who plays StarCraft II enjoys the competitiveness to a certain degree. Many people have different reasons that drive them to play the game. That being said, seeing it be male dominated encourages players like me to do better and raise myself up. I can still find role models in the men because I see them for the player they are and not their gender.

Speaking from a personal perspective, I have never once felt like I didn’t belong in the scene. Quite the opposite, in fact. People have been nothing less than generous with their time when it comes to teaching me how to play and my understanding of the game. They encourage and inspire me to improve every day. Some even go as far as to ask me ‘so… when are you getting GM?’ I love the Starcraft II community!”

 

Follow up question; do you think growth of the female StarCraft scene is possible and what do you think is necessary to foster further growth?

“Yes I think it’s just about having a community they can be a part of. This game can be quite intimidating to get into, regardless of the gender, so having friends to talk to is important!”

 

Players

 

TGH: So now let’s move on to the participants. Who would you say are the players to look out for?

Allaryce: “Based on her track record, I think Koshkii has a really good shot. Miyako also seems to be a favorite among some of the girls so I’m looking forward to casting their games! We also have a few newcomers that I haven’t seen play before so I think it’s still anyone’s game.”

 

Any personal predictions?

None

 

Fair enough, any players you would like to see participating in (potential) future Diva Cups?

“Most of the girls, on average, are diamond and above so I encourage any of the other girls to get to diamond and come to compete!”

 

If you were competing yourself, where would you rank yourself among the competition?

“I’m a bit out of practice because of my work and travel so I don’t think I’d make it past the second bracket. I only get maybe two to three hours of practice these days. Some of the girls are better practiced and have a better shot!”

 

Allaryce

 

TGH: Finally, let’s talk about StarCraft a bit. What are your thoughts on the current state of the game?

Allaryce: “I think we’ve seen some of the most exciting gameplay lately in premier tournaments and even online ones. I’m excited for the new changes to Zerg (which is what I main) and to see how that translates amongst the top players. I’m also excited to play on a new map pool! Who isn’t hyped for that?”

 

It really has been a great year of StarCraft gameplay so far. IEM produced so many amazing games and the GSL Quarters was just one mic drop moment after the next. It helps as well that we have a really exciting map pool at the moment. I would be surprised if there’s ever been a map that has delivered as many amazing games as Abyssal Reef has in the short time its been live.

 

If there is one change you can make to StarCraft what would it be?

“I think if they made it free to play, it would be really great for people who are hesitant to pick up the game. We’ve seen that kind of success with LoL and DOTA so I think Starcraft II could benefit from it as well. They’re starting to finally move towards DLC, which I think is a good direction but there needs to be a good balance for people who can’t afford some of it.

I think for everyone who’s purchased the game up until now, they can release some kind of exclusive skins or content to ease the transition. I’m no expert about what this would mean for Blizzard internally, so I’m not sure how feasible the strategy is.”

 

I share this sentiment. Though I think it’s still a bit early to go free to play, currently. Of course I’m no expert on this either but I think there needs to be more micro-transactions available than what we currently have to make it a feasible model. I expect there will be a huge spike in traffic and interest if StarCraft II does go free to play, the game should be well stocked with cosmetic options to capitalize on that. Blizzard is on a good track at the moment.

 

 

TGH: Finally, any last words to close?

 

Allaryce: “Regardless of viewership, I’m really happy to be working on this tournament with Afreeca and give these players a platform and a little extra cash! I’m also excited to cast with my friend Temp0 since we see each other at events often but have never done a cast together before.”

 

 

Tune into the Diva Cup on Saturday March 18th at 12PM PST on Afreeca.tv/Allaryce

 

For more from Allaryce follow her on Twitter, AfreecaTV Global and Twitch.

Follow me on Twitter: @Stefan_SC2

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Stefan!

Skytoss vs Zerg - Leviathan

Unit in Review: Zerg vs Skytoss

To start with the obvious, late game Skytoss vs Zerg has been a community concern for a while now. The balance team has been attempting to address this, but a large part of the community has felt they’ve been consistently missing the mark up to this point. As of the latest fix, Terran has now officially been dragged into a Protoss/Zerg feud.

As such, I think it is a good time to look at the road up to this point so we can try to figure out where we have to go from here.

 

The Carrier-Corruptor Conundrum

 

Naturally, we need to to first talk about Corruptors. The current answer to the Carrier problem. At first, the balance team focused on nerfing the cost of Interceptors before it became clear it did nothing to solve the core issue. Now, Corruptors have always been a hard-counter to Carriers. The latest update which buffed their ability to hunt, just makes them more efficient at doing so.

Corruptors still get zoned out by Archons and PsiStorm though. Attempting to chase Carriers with Corruptors behind an Archon frontline is effectively suicide. This has always been the core problem, and this update does very little to change this.

Interestingly, while this update was meant to help ZvP, it actually has a much more profound impact on ZvT. Corruptors were already very effective against many Mech-Terran and Starport unit compositions. Even before the buff. As it is now, Corruptors can out-micro or out-damage every Terran air unit, making them the undisputed kings of the sky in ZvT.

So it raises the question, if buffing Corruptors isn’t the answer to Carriers, then what is? Well, I think a good starting point is looking at units that aren’t already great at doing their jobs. Rather than ones that already are.

 

Swarm Hosts

 

Now, understandably, when you think of a unit for countering Skytoss, the Swarm Host usually doesn’t come to mind. For starters, it doesn’t even attack air. But when you consider the defensive nature of Carrier strategies, the value of Swarm Hosts become more apparent. Teching into Carriers is a massive investment for Protoss which provides a window for Zerg to attack. The problem is currently, Zerg still struggles to break a Protoss turtle, even during this window of “vulnerability.”

Skytoss

We’ll call it “Mutate Electromagnetic Disruption… Wings?” Yeah I have nothing.

If Zerg is unable to break Protoss’ defense, then the obvious answer is buffing the Zerg unit designed around breaking fortified positions. A shield damage upgrade seems the safest option as it entirely avoids interfering with ZvT and ZvZ. Naturally a concern would be Swarm Hosts becoming too oppressive against Protoss in the mid-game. For this reason, gating this buff behind an expensive upgrade with a short research time seems apt. An expensive investment makes the upgrade an actual decision rather than a go-to; but a short research time ensures that it can still be used as an immediate response to scouting a Carrier turtle.

The investment behind Carrier strategies means Protoss is supposed to be vulnerable during their production. If Zerg scouts a Protoss walled in and vulnerable for an extended period, then logically the Swarm Host should be able to break Protoss during that time.

Ultralisks

Patch 3.8 rebalanced the armor of the Ultralisk, resulting in a net of -1 after Chitinous Plating. But as of how the meta has played out since then, perhaps that nerf is no longer necessary. The obvious effect this would have is Ultralisks can more easily drive back Archons. Since Ultralisks have never batted an eye in the direction of a PsiStorm, the only real issue would be Void Rays. But Zerg does have other means of dispersing Void Rays, as is, namely Parasitic Bomb.

Admittedly, this is the one I was hesitant about. Since I’m not entirely sure what the impact on ZvT would be like as a result. But given Terran’s main counter to Ultralisks are Ghost’s “Steady Targeting” which ignores armor anyway, I’m inclined to believe the impact will still be less than what Corruptors are currently doing.

 

Vipers

Naturally, I had to save my favorite for last. Even as a Protoss player, Vipers are among my favorite units in the game. When it comes to picking off units, Vipers are the best in class. That’s really what the problem has always been here. Corruptors can kill Carriers. They’ve always been able to. But they need to actually get to them which is where Vipers have always excelled. The problem is, to get within range to “Abduct” a Carrier, the Viper has to risk entering the range of the Protoss’ High Templars, consequently getting Feedbacked to death.

It’s a bit of a tricky situation. Because Abduct and Feedback have the same range, you can’t buff the range of one, without becoming a hard-counter to the other.

One possibility is to temporarily increase the range of Abduct by increasing synergy between the Viper’s spells and abilities. I’m of course referring to “Consume.” Consume has always been intriguing, but for an ability with the occasional side-effect of killing your own structures, sometimes you could get a bit more value out of it.

Giving Vipers a temporary buff after using consume is one way to do that. A temporary range buff on Abduct would allow Vipers a home-field advantage against Carriers and High Templars. Most importantly, it makes engaging Zerg’s base with Skytoss a much less straightforward affair.

Skytoss

Let’s be honest, “Consume” is easily the most ominous animation in the game. And any excuse to see more of this can only be a good thing.

 

 

 

Featured images courtesy AfreecaTV and Blizzard Entertainment.

Follow me on Twitter: @Stefan_SC2

You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Stefan!

IEM XI

StarCraft Weekly Recall – IEM Katowice Special

Welcome to my fourth Weekly Recall, a recap of all the major events in StarCraft over the past week. What better way to celebrate one month than with an Intel Extreme Masters World Championship special recap.

 

Intel Extreme Masters XI – World Championship

 

Because there’s so much to cover, we’re going to be changing up the format a bit this week. The priority here is getting you to the good stuff.

 

Group Stage Highlight

Zest vs Nerchio: Newkirk Precinct

 

Quarterfinals

 

Players

Han “aLive” Lee Seok, Lee “INnoVation” Shin Hyung, Koh “GuMiho” Byung Jae, Jun “TY” Tae Yang, Joona “Serral” Sotala, Park “Dark” Ryung Woo, “ByuN” Hyun Woo, Kim “Stats” Dae Yeob

 

Highlight Games

aLive vs Innovation: Newkirk Precinct

aLive vs Innovation: Abyssal Reef

Byun vs Stats: Newkirk Precinct

Byun vs Stats: Cactus Valley

 

With the exception of Dark vs Serral, the IEM Quarters was a street fight for a sport in the next round.

To comment on Dark vs Serral, Dark at the moment seems to be near unbeatable in ZvZ. He delivered Kang “Solar” Min Soo a 3-0 defeat one round earlier. Solar, notably defeated Dark 4-3 in the finals of the last SSL. It seems since then, Dark has focused on refining his ZvZ to the frightening point he is now at.

The final score of the TvT’s speaks for themselves. Both Gumiho vs TY and aLive vs INnoVation went the distance. Of the two, however, aLive vs Inno was the show to see. Whereas Gumiho vs TY played out as a cerebral game of chess. There was a very savage form of strategy being played between aLive and Inno. To the very end, neither player would budge. This was a pattern defined from the very first game, as INnoVation brought the game to an almost deadlock for several minutes after having his economy entirely wiped out.

IEM XI

Command Centers are overrated anyway.

 

ByuN vs Stats

Despite the final scoreline, ByuN vs Stats was arguably the best match of the day. Despite ending 3-1 for Stats, in a round with two full best of 5’s, at no point in this series was any player in clear control. Most of the games were won through almost unthinkable comebacks. Game 2 in particular featured both players trading commanding leads before the end.

Even aside from the incomparable ferocity of their competition, there is a fierce rivalry story building between both players. ByuN, the current World Champion, was the one to eliminate Stats in the Semifinals of the WCS Global Finals in November. They faced again in the Round of 32 at GSL 2017, Season 1, where Stats defeated ByuN 2-1 in the Group G Winner’s Match. Every time these two face is always a spectacle, and the ferocity of competition in their games continues to escalate.

 

Semifinals

 

Highlight Games

aLive vs TY: Abyssal Reef

Dark vs Stats: Proxima Station

Dark vs Stats: Newkirk Precinct

 

aLive vs TY

 

Act I

A back and forth series if there ever was one. aLive and TY spent the first few games swapping roles of aggressor and defender. The first game on Newkirk had TY taking complete control of the game from the get-go through repeated harassment. One game later on Proxima, aLive dismantled TY in the same way, pinning TY into his base, unable to respond in any meaningful way.

 

Act II

Cactus Valley was the first game that showed a clear battle for control. aLive opened with Cyclone harassment, TY returning in kind with his Helions. By midgame TY had taken map control. After taking a favorable engagement on the open map, he sieged the base of aLive, forcing evacuation of his third and pinning him to his natural. Establishing a clear economic advantage, TY had Cactus Valley won. However, an eager attempt to end the game early resulted in a massive mis-positioning that left his third completely exposed. This allowed aLive to counterattack, forcing TY out of the game in one swift, decisive strike.

With his back against the wall, TY came into Honor Grounds determined to make a case. Similar to Game 1, TY pinned aLive down with harassment. While never establishing control, aLive did manage a valiant fight, finding retaliatory damage where others would have folded. Ultimately, he had no economy, and was eventually overwhelmed in one crushing engagement.

 

Finale

This brought us to Game 5 on Abyssal Reef. For such a scrappy series, this match could not have ended in a better way. This was a non-stop skirmish, start to finish, with both players clawing at the others base in a constant struggle to return economic damage. aLive started the game with an early push into TY’s third, forcing him to evacuate the Command Center back to his main. TY responded with a drop into aLive’s natural, while sieging a pair of tanks across the gap, completely decimating aLive’s worker count. He would then double around to aLive’s third, forcing lift-off and taking a massive economic lead.

IEM XI

Tally-ho

Not even a minute later, aLive would make a retaliatory attack with Ravens into TY’s natural and landing Vikings into his main, managing to pick off at least 20 workers in the attack, leveling the game from a harsh disadvantage. Unfortunately, perhaps the most critical moment of this game happened off-screen around this time. As aLive made his retaliation attack, TY managed a drop into aLive’s base to finish off the third Orbital Command he bruised minutes prior. aLive continued to siege at TY’s base for several minutes, leveling himself economically and taking an upgrade advantage. When TY eventually did stabilize his base, the fact that he still had an Orbital Command to move to his third put him at an economic advantage from that point forward.

An advantage TY would further secure with a drop into aLive’s base, denying aLive the breathing room to rebuild a third. Unable to keep up with TY economically, aLive would eventually have his army wiped out in a retaliation attempt shortly after, ending the game and advancing to the Finals 3-2.

 

 

Dark vs Stats

 

Proxima Station
IEM XI

Come to daddy

Games 1 and 2 of Dark vs Stats were among the best of IEM. Proxima Station is a map with a secure pocket expansion and a tight choke point on its third. This makes it ideal for defensive strategies. With Zerg currently struggling against late-game Skytoss, Carriers are a natural choice on Proxima. While Stats dictated the pace of the game through constant harassment, Dark’s vigilant creep spread. It let him slowly march a blockade of Spore Crawlers deep into Stats’ territory and allowing Dark to push the burden of engagement onto Stats.

The need to stop Dark’s creep spread forced Stats’ eventual misstep, which Dark capitalized on without hesitation, Abducting Stats’ Carriers with his Vipers and running through the ground army with Ultralisks.

 

The Marathon Event

The second game on Newkirk may have been one of the scrappiest PvZs in StarCraft history. A marathon game with almost non-stop aggression on both sides. Multiple times, Dark looked just on the edge of breaking Stats, only to be pushed back. At one point, he even leveled Stats’ main base and all the air tech, only for Stats to survive by buying time through counter-aggression.

Stats’ resilient defense put Dark into a situation where he was forced to move into Stats’ side of the map.IEM XI Having nearly completely mined out his side of field, Dark invaded to steal one of Stats’ last remaining bases. Stats responded by decimating Dark’s side of the map and boxing Dark into one expansion. Eventually taking the fight right to Dark, even after blanketing his army with repeated PsiStorms, the final engagement ended up being too close to call. Not until the final units were left standing did it become clear that Stats had just won the game.

Dark’s position on the map ended up being the pivotal factor. After trading out his army, Stats was able to Warp-In a reinforcement of Stalkers at the nearby WarpGates right outside of Dark’s base.

From this point forward, Dark seemed completely unwilling to play a late game, opting for early all-ins and timing attacks. Stats’ resilient defense would prove too much for Dark, however, allowing Stats to close the series, advancing to the finals 3-1.

 

Grand Final

 

Highlight Games

Abyssal Reef

Honor Grounds

 

Without question one of the closest finales in the history of StarCraft 2. This match could have been a best of 11 and I would put the odds on the series going to the final map.

 

Newkirk Precinct

If you ever wanted a guidebook on defensive PvT, this game is it. Stats took control of Newkirk from the get-go just through his airtight defensive play. TY played an aggressive game, attempting to find economic damage. His attempts at harassment were consistently deflected on multiple fronts though. From here, Stats just played the game by the book. Returning harassment damage but never compromising his defensive positioning as he teched up into splash damage.

After crippling another aggressive push by TY with a single Purification Nova, Stats would safely push out after playing a highly cost efficient game, eventually overwhelming TY with relative ease.

 

Proxima Station

Proxima, on the other hand, could not have gone more differently. TY opened the game with a widow mine proxy can, getting in massive economic damage in the early game as Stats failed to accomplish much with his own Oracle. TY’s harassment game was much more on point in Game 2 compared to Newkirk.

This economic lead TY took in the early game would pay dividends in the late game, allowing him to hit a window of vulnerability for Stats as he attempted to tech into High Templars. TY hard engaged into Stats just before PsiStorm could complete, ending Game 2 in dominant fashion.

 

Abyssal Reef

This took us to Abyssal Reef. If you’ve been following, you already know this is going to be amazing. This one, beautiful map put out one amazing game after the next for all of IEM; and this may have been the best in show. TY took early control of this game, dealing near crippling damage, taking out Stats’ third. Within minutes, Stats would retaliate with an Adept drop, closing the economic gap. Able to stabilize just a bit, Stats teched into a Templar Archives almost immediately, clearly not wanting a repeat of Proxima.

This would end up paying off, as Psionic Storm would complete as TY attempted an engagement. Several PsiStorms would cripple TY’s army, letting Stats take the fight and forcing a retreat, putting himself in a favorable position.

Unable to take Stats in a head-on engage, TY split his forces up, resorting to multi-prong harassment. Several defensive PsiStorms would prevent TY from getting any real economic damage, but kept Stats at bay. Unable to mount a full on attack into TY’s base without leaving himself exposed to harassment, Stats attempted to transition once again into Thermal Lance Colossi and Tempests.

With Colossi on the field, Stats made another attempt at sieging TY’s base. Expertly taking advantage of the general low mobility of Stats’ comp, TY outmaneuvered him, making a beeline to his base. This baited Stats into splitting his army in an unfavorable position, allowing TY to get a surround. With Stats’ army split up and superior positioning that prevented him from even retreating, TY easily took the engagement, ending the game.

IEM XI

What’s wrong with this picture? That’s right, 720p

 

Paladino Terminal and Bel’shir Vestige

What followed from here were two quick harassment focused games, back to back. On Paladino, Stats quickly overwhelmed TY with a Phoenix, Double Oracle push, ending the game and tying the series once again. On Bel’shir, TY decimated Stats’ economy with Helion harassment, coupled with a Widow Mine drop. TY then quickly followed up, showing us for the first time his Liberator, three Siege Tank push. With his economy in shambles, Stats was unable to mount a defense.

Honor Grounds

TY returned again with his Helion, Widow Mine harassment. Stats however was much more prepared, deflecting the Helion attack with seemingly little effort and intercepting the Widow Mine drop with a few defensively positioned Stalkers.

From here TY followed up again with his three Tank push, though instead of having his Liberator cover his Siege Tanks, this time he sent his Liberator to harass the mineral line of Stats’ natural. This time, in a much more stable position and without the Liberator complicating matters, Stats easily took the engagement.

With his push stopped, TY returned to drop attempts. At this point however, Stats’ defense was as airtight as in Game 1.

The game entered a deadlock at this point, with both Stats and TY trading failed attempts at economic harassment. TY would eventually find his opening. Again, taking advantage of the low mobility of Stats’ army, TY would make a doom drop into Stats’ base. Stats would lose both forges in this attack and TY would further secure his upgrade advantage.

TY pressed his advantage further by sieging a mass of Liberators over Stats’ fifth base, forcing every probe in the area to evacuate. At this point TY seemed to have a near unbreakable hold. Stats in turn would exploit the lack of mobility of TY’s Liberators to maneuver out of their attack range. Stats would lose all of his Colossi in the attack, but would succeed in wiping out the bulk of TY’s Liberators.

After a short period of trading bases, Stats would eventually corner the rest of TY’s army to end the game and bring the series to Game 7.

 

Cactus Valley

This was a short and one-sided game sadly. It was an unfortunate end to one of the closest, most intense finals in StarCraft history. TY again returned with his three Tank, Liberator push, and Stats fumbled the engagement hard. He left only one Stalker to deal with the Liberator, and initially forgot to focus fire his other two Stalkers. By the time Stats attempted to correct this oversight, both TY’s Liberator and Siege Tank had gotten in several seconds of near uncontested damage, nearly wiping out Stats’ ground army by the time the Liberator went down.

TY closed the series 4-3, becoming the IEM Katowice Champion.

 

Featured images courtesy ESL.

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3.11

Community Concerns – Patch 3.11

Micro-transactions. Often described as the plague of modern gaming. But for much of esports, they’re the very foundation that keeps them from collapsing under its own weight.

Very few know this better than the StarCraft community does. The ability to support the scene through micro-transactions has been one of the most requested features by players for years. These requests were finally answered in Patch 3.7. The introduction of the Collection Tab brought with it unit skins and new in-game advisers or Announcers. Since then, Blizzard has continued to support the Collection tab with a steady supply of new Announcers. Alongside a healthy rate of Co-Op Commanders releases, players have had many opportunities recently to keep the scene funded.

However, one area that has been notably lacking are unit skins. The launch of the Collection tab brought three new skins for purchase in StarCraft II. A month later at Blizzcon, The War Chest, StarCraft’s answer to DotA’s Compendium, was announced. Promising unit variations were among the list of rewards. Since then, information has been scarce.

Now Patch 3.11 brings bundle packages for unit skins as well as other purchases. This is, of course, a good thing. But the fact is, it’s been over four months since 3.7, yet those three skins have been the only releases. And now rather than releasing a new line, Blizzard is bundle packaging the only three skins that are available.

While not bad, it’s very easy to see why more than a few red flags have been raised.

 

The War Chest

 

 Before we can discuss what we want to know, we should first establish what (little) we actually do know. And that is The War Chest.

As said before, The War Chest is StarCraft’s answer to DotA’s compendium. They’re a single purchase, seasonal item that unlocks rewards over the course of a season just through playing the game. Most notably, faction specific skin lines. Like the compendium, a percentage of the proceeds from The War Chest will go towards the World Championship total prize pool. The latest update on this upcoming feature came in late January. On Janurary 25th, it was announced that the current ETA on the first War Chest is Q3 of this year.

Now just to be clear, this isn’t a bad thing. Of course, it isn’t a good thing either, it’s just a thing. New features take time to develop. This is just to be expected. As a general rule of thumb, the more you attempt to rush out a product, the probability of that product releasing as a busted piece of crap rises exponentially. That’s just science.

There’s no reason to rush development on this. Contrary to what many seem to believe, Blizzard isn’t out to spite StarCraft. They’ve done a damn lot to support StarCraft in recent years. This is a project that’s potentially profitable for them. It will release when it’s ready. So all there is to say with regards to War Chests is patience is a virtue.

So what else is there? Well, nothing. That’s literally all we know at the moment. This is actually where the concern starts.Patch 3.11

 

Everyone’s Got a Theory

 

From the initial announcement, it sounded as if themed skin lines would be specific to War Chests. Or, at the very least, faction themed lines. But there has been absolutely no information about non-War Chest affiliated skins. This has naturally raised speculation as to whether there just aren’t any plans to release any. A few of those themed skins were previewed at the announcement, and the initial line does look somewhat uninspired in comparison (in my opinion of course). So I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a bad thing. But the lack of transparency is odd, to say the least.

Naturally, in the wake of information, speculation has risen to fill the gap.

Perhaps the most thought-out rationale was raised by TheSkunk_2 who speculated the original engine limitations may still be a mitigating factor. While unit skins have been a heavily requested feature for years, Blizzard’s stance on the matter for a long time was that they were unable to without raising the system requirements. It’s speculated that while a handful of cosmetics have surfaced now, the engine still needs work before they can start featuring unit skins en masse.

Many others proposed the initial line just didn’t sell enough to warrant a revisit, while some suggested the art team is just occupied with other projects.

Whichever you fancy, they all rose from the same source. A lack of information to work with.

 

Required Reading

 

All we really know on the matter is that there is a lot we don’t know. What’s more concerning is that we don’t know, why we don’t know, what we don’t know. And that’s never a fun place to be in.

A good starting point is actually being transparent about why there is no real conversation taking place. Then perhaps taking a few of the questions that there’s been absolutely no information about. An example being Structure skins, which has not been discussed in any way, despite being a long requested feature. While we do know there are certainly beautiful structure variations within the game, we have no idea if there’s any intention to bring them into multiplayer.

StarCraft has actually come a long way in terms of community engagement. The balance team actively tries to keep the community in the loop regarding what changes they’re considering and why they’re considering it.

But in other aspects of the game, we’re still very much kept in the dark. And it is reason for concern because at the end of the day, when it comes to cosmetics and micro-transactions, we’re the ones that are going to be buying these things. So we should have at least some input into what’s on the menu.

Patch 3.11

 

 

Featured images courtesy Blizzard Entertainment and Gamespot.

Follow me on Twitter: @Stefan_SC2

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