Sunday, October 31, 2010

How To: Four Steps to Diamond

Here's an excellent guide on SC2 fundamentals by Orb. Check it out below:


A side Note: My league is not representative of my skill level. I haven't had time to play a league game in two weeks and I am far above a gold level of skill. The information below is solid and I'm sure many diamond leaguers will concur.

Step 1: The Foundation (Unit Control and Base Management)

Starcraft 2 is a strategy game with three very distinct races each varying in their buildings and unit abilities. While each race has comparable units (at least statistically) with the other two races, the units are also diverse enough in application that they make each of the three races very distinct in how they play and feel. Such diversity has lead to an almost overwhelming discussion on the internet of strategies and tactics as the pieces of this three way real time speed chess game are much more adaptable than the pieces in chess.

Many people enjoy the chess like strategy involved in the game. However, the speed and precision necessary tend to make the game more akin to an extended and more complex speed chess game than a normal game of strategy chess where players can take their time to think about moves. The game is much more than who can outwit their opponent with a better strategy and adds the element of who can control their units better into the mix. In a game of chess the ability to physically move your pieces around the board matters little, however, in Starcraft 2 it is painfully critical necessity and takes practice to do well. In order to use their strategies effectively players must not only have a solid understanding of the basic strategies involved including unit strengths, weaknesses, build orders and proper placement, but they must also be able to control their units effectively, precisely and quickly. Having a great strategy will get you no where if it takes you far too long to execute that strategy and you spend the majority of your thought process on what keys to hit and what units to build. Think of playing a timed game of chess using only your mouth to move the pieces, your going to have a hard time even though you may have a perfect strategy. It's time to start using your hands!

Taking the above analogies and insight into consideration it is my opinion that the best place for a new player to start learning is how to properly control their units and base quickly, efficiently and with as little thought process as necessary. This control of units and base is a large part of what many players refer to as macro (short for macromanagement).

So how do I become better at controlling my units and my base you may be asking? Well the best way is to become familiar and comfortable with the game. The more you play the more the controls will feel natural to you and the easier the management of your base and units will be. But it is important to develop some good habits from the get go that will not only improve the outcome but the speed at which you learn these skills.

Every unit, action and building in the game has an associated keyboard shortcut (also called a hotkey) which if used properly will be far more efficient and faster than using your mouse to click the control box. If you hover your mouse over the lower right control box where (if for instance you have a barracks selected it will show you the units you can build) units and building are highlighter you will notice the hotkey for that unit will be displayed. There are also many webpages with the hotkeys displayed in a neat little list (use google). Hitting that hotkey on your keyboard will allow the unit to be constructed and when building large amounts of units will be much more efficient than your mouse. In order to get better at this you will have to force yourself to do it when you first start practicing. Force yourself to use hot keys for every game you play, do not use the mouse to build anything! Don't be discouraged if at first your speed seems to slow down and you feel that your doing worse. As you get more comfortable your speed will increase and will soon quickly surpass the speed you had when you were clicking everything.

The second step is to memorize what these hotkeys are and try to play games without even looking at the lower right box. Try and recall from memory what keys you have to press to build a factory or star port. One way that will make memorizing the hotkeys much easier is to switch your control profile over to GRID. You can go into the game option under keybindings and switch to the GRID system which will move all your hotkeys to the upper left part of your keyboard and they will be rather familiar even while switching between the various races.

If you have never used hotkeys before I highly recommend that you start with GRID and never look back. If however you are already used to standard then I would still highly recommend switching over to GRID anyways and just getting used to the new layout as I feel that it is far more efficient than the standard layout. However, keyboard layout is very much a personal choice and if you are pulling 200 APM (Actions per minute) with standard layout then why switch? (Because once mastered you may be able to start pulling 300 APM :)

The key to mastering hotkeys is to focus on only Hotkeys right now. Don't worry about build orders, strategies, control groups or anything else at all. Who cares if you get owned while you work on hotkeys! If you try and learn multiple things at once you will learn all of them slower overall and it will make learning them all the more challenging and things will seem overwhelming leading to frustration which is one of the hugest barriers to learning. You will know you have mastered hotkeys when you can build any building, unit or upgrade in the game as instantly as you can think the name of what you want to build. You should be able to think barracks and immediately have a green silhouetted barracks hovering underneath your mouse ready for placement.

After you have mastered hotkeys you will want to move on to control groups as they go hand in hand with one another. So what are control groups? Control groups are simply the numbers 1-10 on the keyboard. You can assign any building and any unit or group of units to control groups. To assign something to a control group you simply select the unit(s) and then hold the control key on your keyboard and then hit a number to assign it to that control group. It will then display on your screen on the horizontal bar in the center.

How you assign you control groups is also a high personal choice and there really is no WRONG way to do it. But what is not a personal choice is WHAT you assign to your major control groups. Most players will agree that you will always want to have your army on a control group and others prefer to put special units such as medivacs and other flying units in a separate control group and casters such as high templars or ghosts in another. A full army may have the entire army on control group 1, the medivacs on control group 2 and the ghosts on control group 3. When you have differant units with differant castable abilities assigned to the same control group you can use TAB to cycle through sub units (Example: Marines and Ghosts in control Group 1 you can use stim pack hit tab and then use snipe). However most players find this method to be less effective than assigning casters to a separate control group. Whatever you decide make sure you pick what you want tweek it and then continue to always assign your control groups in the same manner so you get a standard that your used to quickly.

The other things that players always place in control groups are their production, military and upgrade buildings. Place your main base (nexus, command center, hatcheries) all in one control group. Doing so allows you to use your special abilities (Protoss: CB, Terran: Mules, SS) quickly and allows zerg to select the larva from all of their hatcheries at the same time (Some high level zerg players place hatcheries on different control groups, but for new players stray way from this until you reach higher levels of play).Next place all your military buildings (barracks, gateways, factories, starports) in another and then all of your upgrade buildings on another. I use 4 for my nexuses, command centers and hatcheries and I use 5 for military buildings and 6 for upgrade buildings.

The cool thing about placing different units and or building in the same control group is the ability to use subgroup commands. For instance if you have a barracks, a factory and a starport all on the same control group you can hit the control group number and it will bring up your barracks production. You can then hit tab and it will switch to your factory and hit tab again and it will switch to your star port. Using control groups in this way combined with your mastery or hotkeys will allow you to build any military unit you want quickly and without having to go back to your base to do anything. This also has the added benefit of allowing you to set a rally point for all your military units anywhere on the map very quickly. You can also tab through your upgrades buildings and quickly find whatever upgrade you want to research all without having to go back to your base and find the right building.

You can also add units or building to your control groups by appending them with shift. What this means is that say you have 10 marines in control group 1 and you build 5 more marines and you also want them in control group 1. Well all you have to do is highlight those 5 new marines and hold shift and hit 1 and they will be added instantly to control group 1. This also works for buildings if for instance you build a new barracks you can highlight it hold shift and then hit 5 (or whatever number you use for military buildings) and it will add it to the control group. You should get in the habit of automatically adding buildings to the proper control groups as soon as they start building (before they finish).

If you double click a control group (ie hit the number twice rapidly) it will center your screen on that control group. This can often be a much quicker way of getting around the map. If you have your command center on 4 and your army on 1 you can be attacking your oppents base halfway across the map with your army and then quickly hit 4 twice to go back to your base to build something and then quickly hit 1 twice to go right back to your army all in a matter of seconds. This is also something that your going to have to force yourself to do. Rather than using the mouse to move around or clicking on the mini map just force yourself to assign buildings and units to control groups and then double click your control groups to navigate the map. Backspace can also be used to cycle you through your bases quickly and spacebar will take you the location of the latest action (scv built, army under attack, marine built, ect).

You have mastered control groups when you can effortlessly navigate the map using control group short cuts and can build units effortlessly with out much more thought than 5 marines, 2 tanks and 3 banshees, letting your hands automatically do the correct actions. You also want to automatically set things in their proper groups right when they start building and add your new military units to the correct control group.

This ladies and gentlemen is going to be the foundation of your starcraft 2 house, the place upon which the rest of your starcraft 2 skills will grow into a little house then eventually a mansion. Once you have become a master of hotkeys and control groups you will be able to instantly build any building or unit in the game at will and without much thought, you be able to fly around the map and have your screen centered exactly where you want it. You will be able to build units at anytime without having to go back to your base and your APM will increase. With these skills as your foundation you can now start throwing the walls of your house up and those walls are constructed of build orders and strategies of how to counter and react to this and that. And don't forget your windows (scouting). I wish you the best of luck in the long but rewarding road of building your starcraft 2 mansion.

Check out my youtube channel for videos on allot of what I talked about here:

Step 2: The Walls (Strategy, Build Orders, Scouting)

Before you really start focusing on the ins and outs of strategies and build orders I feel that it is very important to first have a solid understanding of and the ability to control your units and buildings otherwise known as macromanagement (or Macro for short). Strategies and build orders will do nothing for you if it takes you too long to implement them and react to your opponents strategies, it's like knowing what you want to do but being unable to do it. Work on your control groups and hotkeys and become a certified expert in building any unit or building at will without much more thought than the name of the unit you want to build. For example if you want to build a starport you should simply be able to think the word starport and your hands will automatically hit the correct keys to have a silhouetted green star port hovering under your mouse. This is called muscle memory and is a reflexive action that you automatically do in reaction to stimulus. When you can do this instantly with every unit and building in the game for every race you are then ready to move onto build orders and strategies.

So what is a build order? Well first off a build order is not a strategy, it is the result and product of a strategy. A build order is, as it's name suggests, simply a specific sequence in which you construct buildings and units to achieve a specific goal. Depending on what you want to do and what your opponent is doing will dictate what build order to use. Therefore, a solid player will have many varied build orders that he has committed to memory to deal with a host of specific situations. In general a build order really only applies to the beginning of a game because by the time you get to the mid or end game things are changing on such a dramatic scale that it's impossible to predict exactly how your opponent will respond. Many times you may find yourself starting with one build order only to scout your opponent and determine that your build order is not going to be effective and you must hastily switch to a different build order.

To begin learning build orders start with one race and learn a basic build order for that race. By basic I mean don't pick something risky like void ray rushes or proxy builds, but rather pick a build order that enables you to build up a solid economy and military that allows you to transition into the mid and late game with the versatility to adapt easily to what your opponent is doing. You should practice this one build order over and over until you can execute it flawlessly from memory without having to think too much about what you should build next. Once you have mastered one build order move on to another while focusing in what that build order is effective against, when to use it and what can defeat that build order.

You will have no clue which build order to use unless you consistently scout your opponent. How will you know which build order to use if you don't know what your opponent is doing/building? It's wise to remember that build orders are chosen not just for @@*!s and giggles but in RESPONSE to your your opponents actions, location, map and race. Having solid intel on your opponents actions at all times in combination with a large repertoire of build orders at your disposal will allow you to counter pretty much anything your opponent is doing.

There is a very good custom map out there on called YABOT which stands for Yet Another Build Order Tester. This map allows you to enter in custom build orders of your choosing and then lets you practice that build order over and over until you have mastered it.

As you learn more build orders you will begin to see what units and combination if units work best vs other units. You should really start focusing on the statistics of the individual units of every race and know what they are strong against (ie bonus damage) and what they are weak against. This will greatly assist you in picking the proper build order. It is a marvelous sight to behold when you have mastered your hotkeys and control groups and quickly execute the perfect build order in response to the intel your scouting gave you and you effortlessly topple your opponent.

There are many resources on the internet to obtain and study build orders. The forums over at, youtube (specifically ForceSC2Strategy), the bnet forums and google will all yield more than enough for you to handle for quite some time. Once you have mastered enough build orders to counter pretty much any situation that you can possibly think of your ready to move onto the next step.

Step 3: The Roof (Micromanagement)

So what is micro? Well micromanagement is the fine tuned control of battles. A general sitting on a hill overlooking the battlefield issuing orders to have his calvary flank around or his archers to fire or hold fire is an example of micromanagement. This can also be accomplished and very effective in starcraft 2. You should be able to macro your base effortlessly and have a solid understanding of basic strategies and unit abilities before you start focusing on micro. There is an obvious difference when a General tells his army to charge the opponent with no further commands vs a general that try to use strategies such as flanking, formations, focus fire, ambushes, and terrain to tip the battle in his favor.

While many top players will tell you that macro is far more important than micro, the best starcraft 2 players put equal emphasis on both. It is much more important to learn how to macro before you micro but you should eventually be equally skilled in both. Being able to produce a ton of units will do you hardly any good if you haphazardly send them into battle against an opponent who is controlling the battle and controlling the battle will not benefit you if your not able to replace losses or take too long to do so.

Micro isn't just fancy attack/stop dancing with the mouse or retreating/blinking units to the rear so they stop taking damage. Micro is also about unit position, taking advantage of terrain and other strategic factors such as line of sight and unit composition and positioning/formations. The use of choke points (natural or artificial) can make a huge army's numbers meaningless. The smart use of unit abilities can turn an un-winnable battle into a decisive victory. Using line of sight can have devastating results and small raid parties can really put an economic hurting on your opponent.

Micro is so important in not only starcraft but real life combat that they have entire war colleges such as West Point, Annapolis and the Citadel dedicated to the pure study of warfare and micro tactics. While it's true these schools are designed to study actual warfare the fundamentals and the strategy involved are applicable to RTS games.

Again don't start trying to throw this aspect into your gameplay until your a board certified expert in control groups, hotkeys and base macro with a large number of build orders under your belt and at your disposal. Trying to master all of this at once will slow down your overall learning speed and make it a much more frustrating experience. If you have mastered the other things you will have more mental capacity to focus on learning the task at hand.

The best place to learn macro is from the many high level replays and video floating around. By watching the way some professional gamers micro their armies you will begin to see some of the possibilities. There are also many well written guides, many even on this forum that also have more specific examples and ideas in them.

Step 4: The Shed (True Analysis and Building Build Orders)

By the time you get to step four you will more than likely find yourself in diamond league playing against very good opponents. You will have played many many games and you should have an almost second natured ability to understand each and every unit in the game. Now it's time to get into the true strategy this game offers, now is the time to start thinking many moves ahead of your opponent.

Beyond the build orders lies the true strategy of starcraft 2. The ability to build your own build orders (for better or worse) will only strengthen your strategic understanding of the game. You will have the knowledge and the skill at your disposal to not only decide what unit to go for but how to position those units. You may even find yourself developing build orders not just for general use but for specific maps and even opponent positions on the map. This final step is where the majority of professional level players. They do things to force their opponents into reacting the way they want them to so that they can abuse the situation they forced their opponent into.

Trick plays and adaptive build orders are going to be the bread and butter here. When you start building build orders with the anticipation of how your opponent will most likely react and then building various scenarios for each of the possible outcomes and further scenarios for the outcomes of the outcomes you will be leagues ahead of your friends.

I hope you all find this useful and I plan on doing a new video series with this information in it (though some is already on my YouTube page). Please let me know what you guys think and like the post if you like it!

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