How to play Starcraft II like a pro

BlizzCon 2010: Sci-fi RTS game director Dustin Browder joined by game balance designers David Kim and Matt Cooper to talk strategy.


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Who was there: Starcraft II game director Dustin Browder was joined by project director Greg Canessa and associate game balance designers David Kim and Matt Cooper.

Tychus isn't really the
Tychus isn't really the "gg" type.

What they talked about: Few games are as synonymous with competitive gaming as Blizzard Entertainment's Starcraft franchise. And while most of the planet isn't likely to be able to go toe-to-toe with the wunderkinds of South Korea, where Starcraft tournaments are a national pastime, a handful of Blizzard designers were on hand to give a few pro tips to the workaday multiplayer gamer in a BlizzCon 2010 panel titled "Starcraft II: Secrets of the Masters."

Canessa kicked off the panel by first explaining a bit about how's matchmaking and ladder system for Starcraft II works. First, he noted that the matchmaking system is an adaptive, learning one, where the more matches a player undertakes, the more accurate the matchmaking system becomes. He also noted that a player's win-loss ratio isn't particularly important; instead, a player's skill versus the opponent's skill is what matters.

Blizzard's chief also noted that skill tracking is per match type, so a one-vs.-one match operates separately from a two-vs.-two game. That way, he said, players of a high skill rank shouldn't be deterred from playing with their less-skilled friends, as it won't impact their individual rank.

Canessa also made a couple of announcements, saying that Starcraft II would soon feature a master league, which would be a level above the current top-tier, diamond. The top 1-2 percent of players in any given region will be invited to this league. A second new tier, the grandmaster league, will also be introduced, where only the top 200 players in a region will be invited to compete.

The discussion then turned to just how the top-tier players became as good at Starcraft II as they are. The Blizzard team noted that these players all compete in ladder play like everyone else, but they also spar with one another in custom games. Practice makes perfect, and the team noted that the pro players often spend more than 12 hours a day honing their skills, trying new strategies, and watching film.

The team also noted that psychology is a major element of top-tier play, and they offered a few words from the best Starcraft II competitors. "Don't stress over losses. Use them to learn your faults. No pain, no gain," commented Select, with QXC adding, "If you're not attacking you're probably losing."

Watching top players compete is also an excellent way to learn, but the team noted that their strategies are not the be-all and end-all. After all, the average gamer isn't a pro, and the people they're competing against aren't top players either. Therefore, it's a good idea to gain inspiration from the pros and then adapt the strategies for their level.

As for the nitty-gritty basics of improving, the team noted that it's important to build lots of workers to grow a substantial economy of resources. With 80 workers, for example, a gamer's army can be that much bigger, thanks to all of the resources those units are bringing in. Adding to that, poverty is a good thing in Starcraft II, and players shouldn't horde their resources.

More advanced economy strategy involves figuring out in advance a strategy for attack and then determining how integral vespene gas is to that equation. Expansion is also important. If the strategy involves lots of fast units, spreading out is a good idea. However, if a player builds a slow-moving army, it may be best to keep expansion close to the home base.

Shifting to combat, the team emphasized the importance of terrain. Choke points, walls, and high ground are all integral to success, as they can help a smaller army route a much larger army. Flanking the enemy, whereby a group of units are attacked from multiple sides, can help win a battle.

The team also cautioned against directly controlling units during a battle. If it's an important battle, the team highly advocated it, noting that it can make all the difference in winning that individual encounter. However, participating in that battle instead of just letting units attack can greatly impact a player's ability to continue growing their army and producing new units, which can ultimately lose them the war.

Quote: "Poverty is a good thing in Starcraft II."--David Kim, on resource management.

Takeaway: Not to state the obvious, but Starcraft II strategy runs deep. The easiest way to gain a step on the competition seems to be to pump out resource-gathering units, as well as make sure that battles are undertaken with choke points and other terrain in mind. As for the rest, it's best to just go online and watch what the pros are doing.

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Avatar image for Fancelot

@LiLxkRaZi If you think warcraft 3 and company of heroes were released in the 1990s... then wow... you definitely dont know your RTS games

Avatar image for LiLxkRaZi

@Fancelot. If you think starcraft 2 plays like Wc3, or company of heroes, or Age of Empires.. then wow.. you definately dont know your RTS games.

Avatar image for Sorkvir

Cheats=Pro Cheats=Blizzard Cheats=Lowlife

Avatar image for dangamit

I have a life ?

Avatar image for valengar

Those crazy Koreans. That being said, I disagree with a lot of the previous posts about SC2. It is a much faster paced RTS than many in the genre. It is like a first person shooter as far as that goes, pop your head out too far and you will lose the match. Tactics are wildly important, as far as unit combination and economy management. But simple mistakes will make you lose fast. Just because tactical movements lie in the short term doesn't mean it is less tactical. It may be easier to become competitive in SC2 but there is a definitive skill gap between top players and guys like me who just kind of dabble.

Avatar image for danielkennedy91

i rather play Supreme Commander: forged alliance

Avatar image for Fancelot

I agree SC2 is healthy in keeping the RTS community alive and is important. However it is NOT innovative in any sense of the word and not the end all be all. I actually see SC2 in the same light as Farmville, SC2 is pretty much the "casual" RTS. Nothing wrong with that, its just too overrated and does not deserve a 9.5 rating JUST because its popular.

Avatar image for christ4ever9889

@Fancelot However, even though Starcraft 2 may be easy and not as tactical (I haven't played it yet but I've played the original) it is more inviting a game to new players, I'm not very good at RTS's (I would like to get better however) and thinking about everything that I have to worry about in Company of Heroes turns me away because it's so complicated. So it may not be amazing, I agree, however it still plays a vital role in the RTS community (You may think the same, but I just thought I'd point it out.)

Avatar image for Fancelot

@ben_ster I've played (starcraft 1 and 2), (warcraft 1,2,3), C&C(red alert 1 and 2, tib sun, 1,3, generals), Total war (shogun, rome, medieval 1 and 2, empire), Age of Empires (1,2,3), rise of nations, KKND, dark reign, dune( 1 and 2000), company of heroes, DoW(1 and 2), RUSE and a few other RTS's Based off my experience in one of my favorite Genres, I will RESTATE... Starcraft 2 plays like any other RTS made in 1990s with very few improvements.

Avatar image for ben_ster

@Fancelot All I got for you is LOL. AND, for others... the reason why sc pros play 12 hours a day is because it's in actuality a career. it's a full time job, they have sponsors, and got to keep them happy if they want the $$$ to keep coming. On a seperate note, scII is not like the first one, and if you were ever a dedicated starcraft player you would know that, so stop spreading your nonsense, it turns people away from one of the greatest games of the decade.

Avatar image for Fancelot

Starcraft 2 is horrible... it's actually a step back for the industry, I mean it plays like any other RTS made in the 1990s. Right now I play mostly Company of Heroes since it's not just blob and spam 1 or 2 types of units. Also requires alot of tactical thinking with innovations such as suppression, cover, destructible enviroments, etc. The learning curve for company heroes is HUGE, much more than starcraft, it took me a lot longer to become proficient in CoH than SC ever did, SC requires faster reflexes while CoH requires deeper tactical thinking. Anyways SC2 = overrated

Avatar image for benbonney

being the same as the first one is what makes it good

Avatar image for Jawehawk-DK

@seriousplayer_d Yes, I have played the game. I'm not saying it's terrible, just that it is extremely overrated. It's basically the exact same game as the first one.

Avatar image for Noclippin

Reading 1 page on GameSpot will not make you a better sc2 player.

Avatar image for Crush_Project

The rest of the world almost kept around their pro's or sponsorships (there are a few pro tourney players left tho i think), but especially here in the US most video gamers are too lazy to be bothered to learn how to play or wish to actually challenge themselves. We as a people seem to favor hacking, overpowered units, and exploits over real gameplay so those profession didnt last. We americans especially also get rid of games after just a few hours of gameplay while these old multiplayer games kept people coming back to the same titles for years and years and hundreds if not thousands of hours of gameplay. Thats bad for business. You can make more money on the noob train of disposable games that any idiot can pickup and learn and win or the mmo market. Both tho dont have high end strategy for a reason. but you kiddies dont understand what i mean to begin with, have most likely not seen what real quality is, and i think its past your bed time anyways. Ill be here reminiscing about the glory days of truly genius gameplay that we've lost in favor of gaming idiocracy.

Avatar image for Crush_Project

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Avatar image for Memoryitis

Well some Pro Korean players get paid like 6 figures to play starcraft so spending 12 hours a day practicing isnt that bad.

Avatar image for valengar

That toss really bad... giving us a bronze league match or something?

Avatar image for ExplosiveChorro


Avatar image for athenian29

I still haven't played my copy of SC2 Collector's Edition. It's installed, but sitting idle on my computer...

Avatar image for piyush18

I am still confused wether to buy this game or not.....

Avatar image for ZoeyClarke

that toss player in the video sucks lol.

Avatar image for dmblum1799

I live in South Korea. There's a cable channel that shows (mainly) Starcraft matches 24 hours a day. However, they still are playing Starcraft, not Starcraft 2. It will be a gradual shift over to Starcraft 2.

Avatar image for Jawbone

This is why I'm more of a fan of "playing for fun." In playing to win, you need to spend an ungodly amount of time on the game, and little else. Even then, you aren't assured victory.

Avatar image for Creigz

I am slowly learning the game, and what I'm doing as Protoss right now seems to be working okay for me with approximately a 50/50 win/loss unless my internet connection craps out on me, which has been strangely common as of late.

Avatar image for JohnisGodd

I'd like to be good at the game sure.... But I don't have 12 hours a day to spend. Sorry Korea. I can't be like you.

Avatar image for maverick_76

12 hours a day, man those people are dedicated. Kinda ridiculous if you ask me.

Avatar image for SoNin360

@Madrak_Arakeen Didn't know they actually got paid :shock: Okay fair enough, if they are getting paid, then it's not really a waste of time :P Thanks for telling me that.

Avatar image for Madrak_Arakeen

@SoNin360 Keep in mind some do this for a living in S. Korea. They get paid to play for those 12 hours and get bad-ass. Gotta keep those sponsors happy, just like the pro sports players here in the States.

Avatar image for coaltango

the gameplay clip is below mediocre

Avatar image for SoNin360

"Practice makes perfect, and the team noted that the pro players often spend more than 12 hours a day honing their skills, trying new strategies, and watching film." Isn't that a little too much...? To each their own I guess.

Avatar image for CyberAltair5

@Carlos_Kain, A thing is as real as you want it to be. A man who spends 12 hours playing a game because that's what he wants is no less of a man as someone who spends 12 hours working.

Avatar image for Carlos_Kain

<< LINK REMOVED >> I never said he/she was less of a man/woman as anybody else.... actually what I said was that I was pretty impressed to hold that long.... but a man/woman who spends 12 hours a day on a video game will have a lot of time of his/her life dedicated to it and not a lot of other things life has to offer... but well... I guess everyone lives their lifes the way they want to... and its respectable...

PSD: And by productive things I didn't ment only "work".... there're a lot of productive things out there besides that... :P

Avatar image for Deadman_est1982

Why would I want to be a "pro" at a video game?

Avatar image for PseudoElite

@geist9049 First of all this article is "how to be a pro" in Starcraft 2 not "how good the game is", if you want that check the game's review; your comment is completely out of place. Second of all, if all you your criteria of whether or not you're going to buy a game is based on comments from random internet people in "Gamespot" topics, then just lol.

Avatar image for pesh_fury

omg 12 hours... you are wasting your life i mean this is just a game after 10 years you'll be sorry people i'm tellin' ya someday you'll see

Avatar image for ANTHONYMVP2U

thanks for the help...

Avatar image for delvedeep

To geist9049: If you skip buying Starcraft II for your son you will... I don't even want to say it. Worse than you can imagine. That's all I'll say on the matter. I hope you learned a lesson here.

Avatar image for XboximusPrime


Avatar image for abroche

True Pro Player Learn From him self copy another strategy just me make you a mere copycat

Avatar image for RippySLO

There are a few things you need to consider before you say ("omg 12h a day..."). This article is talking about pro gamers with sponsors who pay then because they are good and they want to stay at that they work on it just like any other job. An intelligent player can spend less then 1h a day playing and be really really good (top diamond) does not mean you can compete with the top tier pro gamers but your level of skill is not that far. APM is another factor that people think it is the most important thing in this game but its not nearly as important as your understanding of the game. You only need about 50-80 to have a very solid game. As a more macro oriented player I have no problems going toe to toe with constant 200APM spammers with my pathetic 60-70 average (but I do peak at a much higher number when needed). What I am trying to say is that you don't need to be an maniac to be really good and you don't need to be really good to enjoy the ladders.

Avatar image for MW2GhoST

I don't go to college in Korea so I am naturally going to blow at SC2... and yes they teach you how to play Starcraft in some Korean colleges. Great game all the same though!

Avatar image for BLaZe462

sup with the racism, a little moderation goes a long way Gamespot

Avatar image for geist9049

so instead of discussing whether or not starcraft 2 is a good game. you all are more interested in discussing an entire cultures gaming habits and worse you insult them while doing so. if thats the sort of community that this game revolves around im going to skip buying it for my son for xmas.

Avatar image for JohnF111

I completely blow at this game, pro's deserve their place in the top tier... Iwatched some videos of these guys and i gotta hand it to them they really do some psychology straining strategies from hit and runs at your base to make you check your base, then when your out of view they build up an army near your army, then when you go back you are surrounded....

Avatar image for seriousplayer_d

@ SPrunk G What the h**** do you mean... can 't follow

Avatar image for seriousplayer_d

@ jacyp have you played it??? Because many negative reactions I've read so far are from people who haven't played it.

Avatar image for jacyp

"How to play Starcraft II like a pro" I love when they try to add deph to the impressive "make tons of units as fast as you can and send them to your enemy's base before he can defend himself". How "modern". What a failure of a game.

Avatar image for Sprunk_G

I wonder if there is a link between Koreans having the smallest average penis size across the world and that they dedicate 12 hours a day on starcraft...

Avatar image for Ghost_702

Not everyone can be in the pro korean leagues where it's practically a professional "sport" such as baseball.

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