The Art of Strategy

* An old article a wrote a year back after I hit high masters in sc2 – repost ftw!*

You may have heard of Sun Tzu and his book “The Art of War”, or at least Napoleon, the famed military leader. These might be the first thoughts a non-gamer jumps to if they hear about the concept of strategy. Or perhaps they will think of successful businessmen and the contemporary battlefield that is the corporate world. Maybe they will think about Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov and other great chess players. The type of “in-game” strategy they are famous for is not the type of strategy I want to discuss, instead I want to focus on “out-of-game” strategy and how we can use it to better ourselves.

As a concept, you can apply strategy to everything you do, it is fundamentally about getting the job done in the best way; “a plan, method of series of manoeuvres of stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result”. It is unfortunate then, unlike other intrinsic skills such as language, that it is something that is not taught in schools, maybe for fear that this would make school too interesting.

Strategy is unforgiving, difficult and at times abstract. However, like all skills it is something that you can get much better at applying the more practice you get. In any skills, you are given a set of tools and are told to apply those tools within the rule set of the discipline to achieve an outcome. So then, in StarCraft 2 (the rule-set) you are given an interface that allows you to use your units and buildings (the tools) to eliminate your opponent (the goal). Strategy is about the management of your tools to find the most optimal route to the goal.

Do you want to get fit? Do you want to learn an instrument? Do you want to feel less tired? Do you want a better job? Do you want better social skills? Do you want to jump really high? Clearly the answer is that you want to be better at StarCraft 2, right? Ok good, we’re on the same page then. Something here to note is that my previous background is in FPS and I’m essentially new to playing RTS with SC2. But I’ve found great success when applying a learning strategy to improving in SC2 and Quake. This entire concept of strategy isn’t as easily applicable to FPS games however, so this is probably a new thing for you if you are from that background.

Now with regards to SC2 we have 2 fundamental considerations, and based on those considerations we can formulate our strategy for improving.

#1 Understanding the discipline (SC2) – This concerns your analytical abilities, which are required to identify and understand everything that is going on inside the game.

#2 The Strategy of Learning – This concerns your approach to improving and learning as a whole.

Both of these areas are extremely synergistic and you can’t improve at the game significantly without addressing this duality. You can be analytically sound, able to identify all of your weaknesses, correctly choose the best BO’s and adjustments for all situations, but it counts for nothing if you haven’t invested the time to train your mechanics. Equally, you can be really great at having a strict practice regime that has you training 8 hours a day religiously, but if you don’t have the analytical abilities or the focus to train specifically, your time is spent inefficiently and you will only enforce bad habits and hurt your potential.

You need to build your understanding of the game (#1) to understand what your biggest problem areas are, which you can then use your learning strategy (#2) to be able to deal with them appropriately.

If I open up the can of worms that is specifics then this blog would quickly turn into a lengthy article, but I will offer a hypothetical example to show how these two concepts compliment each other and how you can use them in your improvement strategy to become a top player.

#1 Understanding SC2 – Building your knowledge and analytical ability

– Watch streams (preferably players who play in Korea eg. SaSe, YuGioH etc) and GSL (the premier SC2 league) – note the current builds/meta game in the match ups and how these players handle macro/mechanics.

– Build your understanding of macro in general and within the scope of your builds (production/managing your economy) so that you can understand where you are getting behind or ahead.

– Build your understanding of mechanics so that you can understand where they are limiting you (eg. scouting, macro, micro, multi-tasking etc). One of the best ways to improve your mechanics is definitely to play a lot, but remember that a good system of habits and efficient hotkeying is important too.

#2 The Strategy of Learning – The approach

– 2-4 hour ladder sessions where you take small breaks every 30-45minutes (save replays!)

– Based on #1 arrange opponents to help you work on X matchup/situation – situational practice can be very useful if you know which situations to practice.

– Practice macroing builds and their transitions repeatedly vs the very easy ai – helps to learn macro and timings

– Healthy life-style – good sleep, eating and exercise is always beneficial to productivity 🙂

– Consistent practice environment – comfort is important!

– Use knowledge gained from #1 to learn more from your own replays – eg. doing x build pro player y had z supply at 10:00. Using this opening do I hit this supply? if I don’t then how can I reach that supply?

As an ending note, I’d like to say that StarCraft 2 like all games should be about fun. Whilst what I’ve described may not sound like fun, if you are a masochist like myself and can’t stand losing or not being good at something, then it’s not so bad and it may well help you move up that much more quickly.

That’s all from me for now, glhf!

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