October 20th, 2020 - Why you should aim to do everything badly in SC2
One of the most common statements given to new players from experienced ones is to “focus on macro” and for good reason. It shows new players that you do not need to do everything perfectly in this very complicated game. Following the mantra “focus on macro” shows new players that it is okay for them to neglect what at first appears to be a very important task ‘microing your units’ and instead focus on macro tasks that result in greater performance: building probes, spending your money, not getting supply blocked etc… What I want to talk about today is an expansion of “focus on macro”, for players who seem to have outgrown this beginner friendly advice. Even very strong players can continue to benefit from the core principle behind the advice “focus on macro” which is: prioritize tasks which have a greater impact on the game than lesser ones. In fact, I believe that some of the strongest Starcraft players of all time were masters of this idea. When you think about both Flash and Serral, they are not necessarily good at any one thing, they just seem to do everything right all the time. They are strong at prioritizing the tasks that are important for winning. That is what I want to talk about today. How you can accomplish more by doing everything badly, as opposed to doing one thing very well; how you can achieve greater overall results in your Starcraft games by neglecting perfection in details of the game that are insignificant. Not necessarily to do everything badly forever, but that doing everything badly should be prioritized before trying to do any one aspect well.
Your time is very limited
What everyone realizes right away when they first start playing Starcraft is that there is a lot of stuff to do. There is a lot of stuff to do, and not a lot of time to do it. Early on in learning the game the easiest way to get more of this stuff done is to increase the speed at which you can accomplish tasks. The faster you can do the tasks, the more tasks you can complete. Eventually though, getting faster takes more effort and it takes longer to achieve significant gains in speed. There are also just too many tasks to do even for progamer’s who devote thousands of hours to perfecting their play. Therefore, eventually we need to go beyond the speed at which we complete tasks and focus on how we prioritize the many tasks to be done in the game. What I have told a lot of my students throughout the years is that playing slowly is playing quickly. I suppose I sound like Doc Hudson in the kid’s movie Cars “turn left to go right”. But playing slowly really is very effective at increasing your performance if you use it correctly. Let me give you an example. Let us say you have 9 seconds to accomplish some tasks. In these 9 seconds you have two choices (for simplicity). You are trying to get the most value for your actions as possible within the 9 seconds.
– 3 tasks that take 3 seconds each
– total screen changes = 9
– total value of your actions = 30
– 1 task that takes 9 seconds
– total screen changes = 3
– total value of your actions = 50
Which one of these choices would result in more value? Which choice would look like more was accomplished?
Because choice 1 results in more screen changes, it looks like more is getting done. However, because choice 2 results in greater value after the 9 seconds, you are accomplishing more while looking like you accomplished less. Even more harmful, and very common is when a player does task 1 with 27 screen changes and it takes them 12 seconds when it should have only taken 9 screen changes and 9 seconds. This makes it look like you are doing even more than the players who chose choice 1 & choice 2 while accomplishing significantly less than either. Thus, by playing quickly but inefficiently you are playing slowly and by playing slowly but deliberately being very efficient you are playing quickly.
To give a more real-world example, one very common task I see being done inefficiently are warp ins by protoss players. One could accomplish a full warp in cycle once every half minute but often protoss players are doing half of their warp ins every 15 seconds which results in doing the same amount of work with twice as much effort. Not exactly an efficient use of one’s time. This extra time could be used for something meaningful instead which would result in greater overall value.
Getting the most value possible for your time
Knowing that we have very limited time and knowing that doing everything perfectly is impossible, we should try and figure out what tasks are most important for us to accomplish. As was evident from the statement “focus on macro”, we should prioritize this over micro. But what about scouting? Where does this fit into the equation. How much scouting should you be doing as a new player, an intermediate player, an advanced player? Where do you see diminishing returns for your time investment in scouting? And what about dealing with multiple attacks and main engagements. Surely defending your main base from a massive doom drop or microing the main battle that could decide the game takes precedent over macroing at that exact time. It is not an easy question, and as I suggested before this is something that even the strongest players continue to work on and reflect upon. A post GSL level replay analysis might have the player questioning whether focusing on task A was more important than focusing on task B rather than necessarily something they did wrong. Both task A and task B might have been correct, but which was more correct for that moment in time? This can get very complicated as you improve at the game because the game state is constantly changing and what might have been a top priority a second ago is now a third or fourth level priority. You need to constantly adjust your priorities depending on the situation. However, there are some constants and questions you can ask yourself while analyzing your own games:
1) Was I able to get more value doing this task than another task?
2) Am I being inefficient in doing this task? (Can I get the same value in less time)
3) Is there a way I can do this task less perfectly, but more efficiently which will allow me to gain more value overall? (more value by allowing you to do task B which was not possible when you were trying to do task a perfectly)
Task A done perfectly > Task A done imperfectly but…
(Task A done imperfectly + B) > Task A done perfectly
June 18th, 2020 - Best Approach to Learning Starcraft 2 as a Beginner
There are a lot of strong opinions about what are the most important things for a beginner to focus on when they begin playing. Many believe macro is the only way to learn properly and early aggression should be excluded at all cost. Today I will be talking about what I think is the best approach to learning as a beginner. This will be based on my experience over the last eight years teaching Starcraft 2 and some fundamental knowledge of how our brains learn and compartmentalize information.
Bottom-Up Approach to Learning
A bottom up approach to learning involves exposing the learner to fundamental concepts of a subject matter in isolation. After exposure, we then slowly build upon these components to increase our understanding of the whole subject. You can think of this approach as setting up a foundation to build upon later. In Starcraft this would involve creating an opening, learning basic mechanics, learning only about the units you need early on and gaining a strong understanding of these components before moving on to master the next phase of the game.
Top-Down Approach to Learning
A top down approach to learning is the exact contrast. In this learning format a wider perspective of the material is prioritized to give the player a more birds eye view. This helps the learner gain a greater understanding of material they will need to synthesize over the course of their progression and mastery. In Starcraft this would involve learning about compositions, end-game interactions, as well as the functions of all the units in the game including your units and your opponent’s units.
What do players need to learn?
Before I explain what I think is the best approach, we need to figure out what exactly new players need to learn and how to teach them that effectively. The common sentiment in the Starcraft community is that macro is the ultimate priority for new players. I do not necessarily disagree with this statement… but there is a very large discrepancy between what a high-level player will think a new player should learn to macro effectively and what a new player actually needs to learn to macro effectively. I believe this discrepancy comes from the efficiency to which our brain stores information. At some point in your development you do not need to think anymore about which key on the keyboard to press to make a unit, or which control group you assigned your mutalisk too. This is because your brain has compartmentalized this task into simply “making a marine” or “selecting the mutalisk”, and so it appears as if the task is much simpler than it is. For a new player, this task will require them to remember which key their mutalisk is on, find the number on their keyboard and then press it to select the mutalisk. This may seem similar, but the magnitude of difference is 3x. There are more complex tasks where this magnitude is even larger.
**Written out to show difference**
Experienced player (1x task complexity)
- Select Mutalisk (without thinking about which key they pressed)
Novice player (3x task complexity)
- Remember the control group they saved the mutalisk to
- Find the corresponding # key (might require looking)
- Press the corresponding # key
Like the task of selecting mutalisk, experienced players greatly underestimate the things with which a new player is tasked with learning. Experienced players might have the perception that a new player should begin with the following:
- Spending their money
- Scouting and reacting properly
- Getting map vision
All of which are great areas to focus somewhat early on, but they are not the absolute first things that a player needs to learn. There are a ton of things new players need to work on before they can even think of the suggestions above. Things which might be totally glossed over by an experienced player who does not even need to think of the basics.
What new players need to learn
- Making workers constantly
- What the units and buildings do
- The hotkeys for the units and the buildings
- How to make control groups
- How to attack move (this is less intuitive than you might think)
- The macro cycle
Also, some habits
- Shifting workers back to mineral lines (if you play terran or protoss)
- Consistently control grouping units & buildings
- Not looking at the keyboard too much when using hotkeys
These habits and techniques are much easier to learn in a simple environment without too many extraneous variables to account for. If the learning environment becomes too complex than not only is it going to be frustrating for the beginner, it is also going to lead to a poor learning outcome. The optimal learning environment is challenging, but not too challenging. Basic tasks on one base is plenty difficult enough for most new players. Search ‘flow’ for more information on the optimal state of mind for learning.
So based on what players are actually learning when they start playing the game and believing strongly that maintaining an environment that is not too complex is vital for enjoyment and the acquisition of knowledge I think it’s a much stronger approach to begin with Bottom-Up learning. This will have strong benefits like making the experience less frustrating for the beginner, leading to enjoyable outcomes, resulting in visible improvement, and very clear goals and achievement. There is a place for top-down learning in a player’s development, but I believe bottom-up learning is considerably more conducive to learning at the beginning and top-down only has a place once the fundamentals have been acquired.
So, a best approach might look something like this
Bottom-Up Learning -> Bottom-Up Learning #2 -> Top-Down Learning
Four Gate (low complexity) -> Two base charge-lot archon (medium complexity) -> End Game Discussion (begin building larger area of understanding)
By beginning with a four gate (could be another simple build), the learner has a chance to learn some of the tasks that an experienced player does not need to consider such as learning how to hotkey their production, training themselves to build workers constantly, practicing a simplified macro cycle & receiving more instantaneous feedback of their progress in the form of a win or a loss.