Sunday, August 28, 2011

Back in plat

Don't know if it's laziness, or lack of practice, or if the leagues get better as players get better, but I got demoted. I find it hard to accept that I'm actively getting worse. So that's quite discouraging. Platinum is always the same. I win every game except for cheese, which is like half the games. I can't hold cheese yet to save my life. Any well coordinated early attack, really. I lack the control to get my units perfectly positioned...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Holding the 4gate

Been in the middle of a move so I've been exhausted and haven't played much, which has really hurt my game. Played a little after I got settled and lost a lot. It's ok tho. I feel like I'm learning from my losses. I wish I'd get more PvP though, because I really want to work on the 3gate defense. I found that I had to really rethink my defense since a well-executed 4gate was still giving me a lot of trouble. The 3gate defense is so finicky that there's little room for error. One missed pylon or one late warp-in and you fall irrecoverably behind, which means gg about 15 seconds later.

One thing I've seen is building a zerg-style wall-in to make it really hard for attacking 4gate to get a good zealot surround and increasing the effectiveness of a stalker-heavy defense. Then if it's a full on 4gate, you can even just complete the wall-in with a 4th gate that you may or may not cancel. If your building placement is good, the attacking player should never be able to get enough vision to snipe buildings without you sniping his vision. You want to block the ramp itself but leave the edges open for your stalkers to get a good surround on the bottom of the ramp. If he does want to warp zealots on the high ground, you can just back off and let his stalkers beat on buildings while you dispatch with them. Best wall-in uses 2 gateways with the core protected back at base. It's something I want to try incorporating into my 3gate build.

Terran, I've just started playing on a 1gate FE which seems quite decent. You can squeeze out 3 stalkers with a very fast nexus before a normal 3 warpgate timing. So I'm essentially trading one zealot, 2 stalkers and a few probes for an expansion. I'm afraid it's weak vs a very quick 2gate push so I'll need to practice that.

Another big thing I want to work on having watched other streams is relying less on unit hotkeys. Until I'm actually pushing with my units, hotkeys are basically unnecessary. I have a bad habit of never selecting units by hand, like if they aren't hotkeyed they don't exist. That's partly why my multitasking and spreading are so bad. I just need to not hotkey so much and break that habit.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Frustration with army splitting

A long and frustrating night on the ladder. Looks like I went 5-16! I lost to all varieties of cheese: zealot rush, ling rush, cannon rush. Twice I played the same guy twice in a row. Once was a 4-gating protoss who I lost the first to due to a bad supply block but beat handily the next game with 3-gate into blink. The other time was a drop-happy terran. I beat him the first game with good map awareness to shut down his drops but then lost the second even though he did the exact same thing and I was ready for it, shutting down his first few drops and getting a big supply lead. Eventually he just wore away at me with endless dropping and forced me into bad confrontations.

The most memorable loss was a PvZ though. I started my 3gate but scouted an early 10-pool and stayed defensive. It was a big roach/ling rush at about the 5min mark. I held it off and expanded, trying hard to set up walls connecting my expansion. My scouting revealed a huge pack of speedlings roaming around so I stayed tight to my base. The game turned into collosi vs burrowed infestors, followed by brood lords on 4 and 5 bases each. He wore me away with better eco. But afterwards he messaged me and informed me that I had the game earlier if I just attacked. Watching the reply I held an enormous worker lead after the roach push: 32 to 14! But the speedlings kept me locked in my base and I never felt safe to move out, just letting him drone hard to catch up. I should have put down a cannon or two and left a few zealots guard and kept pushing.

I was raging a little bit by the end, having stayed up later than I should have and getting tired. I don't feel like I learned much. I just ran up against my diamond-level demons, losing to the things I know I lose to: cheese, multi-pronged attacks or threats of multi-pronged attacks (i.e. speedlings). Some of the games I lost to mistakes that I shouldn't be making. Those games I get much less frustrated with actually because I know what to improve and know that I can. The ones that frustrate me I feel like I have no idea what I can do to improve. Because I come out of them needing to do the same things I've been needing to do since day 1 and just can't seem to: split up my army and micro.

I felt terrible when I logged off but the now the next day, I'm not as hard on myself. I only barely failed to hold some of the cheese attacks and knew what to do but just executed a little late or sloppily. I can fix that. Some games I lost to build orders that I just have no answer for right now (one-base collosi all-in and one-base polt all-in) and I think I need to expect that in some cases till I refine my own builds.

So I'm left with the army-splitting problem primarily. How do I train myself to do that?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Learning Starcraft II

I haven't been much of a blogger. But I do like recording and analyzing my thoughts on gaming. But instead of just using Google docs, I thought I'd resurrect the blog a bit to try and train myself to have regular periods of contemplation where I can record my progress and look back on what I've learned. So I'm going to start a diary of my Starcraft II play. My goal is to regularly write down my thoughts on the last few games. I want to capture at each post:

- What I've been trying
- What I've learned
- What I want to improve

I'm surprised there aren't more blogs like that actually. I'd love to see other players go through this exercise and maybe I just haven't been able to find them. There's lots of streams and replay packs sure, but SC2 is such a thinking game and it takes so many games to really learn or analyze a new strategy that I'd rather read the player's own post-game self-analysis than watch their 20 games.

So here's my first entry:

First of all, I regained my diamond status last night. Really not sure why I got placed Platinum to start the season, but it was an easy climb back into diamond. PvP is going well. I've been doing better getting a good read on when to one-base all-in, when to hold off a gateway push, when to robo, when to expand. Previously I was kicking myself for expanding too often when my opponent was one-basing. One game I scouted a heavy early zealot force and correctly anticipated a zealot-archon one-base play, which has been quite popular lately. I decided to try a one-base collosi-zealot defense and won. It seems counter-intuitive but my thinking was that even though archons counter zealot, collosi counters zealot harder, as long as I can get up at least 2 collosi. Thermal lance isn't as important so I skipped it for the initial battle in favor of a few more stalkers for dps. As I hoped, my zealots just lasted longer than his and I collapsed his meatshield. Not sure if I got lucky on that but I'll continue trying that defense.

Another thing I've been doing consistently well is holding off 2gate cheese. My first gateway always produces zealot-stalker-stalker and with chronos on this gateway, this appears to hold off a zealot rush. The initial zealot dies but the 2nd stalker creates a tough situation for zealots because I can split up the stalkers and make it very painful for the zealots to try chasing them down. Splitting up the stalkers is key.

One thing I think I need to keep working on is better 4gate defense. I'm still confident that I can hold off a 4gate with a 3gate but I recently lost a game where I tried and the problem is micro. I think you can almost ignore everything in this fight except for one thing: how many hits does each players' zealots get on the opponent's stalker. Every Z-on-S hit that you can land on your side or prevent on their side counts huge and I need to micro with this one goal in mind.

PvZ is up and down a lot depending on my opponent's skill level. My opener is always 3-gate pressure where I run down 2 stalkers as I warp in 3 zealots for a total of 4 zealots, 4 stalkers with another warpin of whatever I want close behind. My problem is that if this does well, it usually wins straight up. But good players hold it easily with a combination of lings, spines and queens. Fine, it's not an all-in and I macro up and am consistently in a better eco position after the push fails. But what happens then is I can't maintain pressure because of ling runbys so his macro goes through the roof and he passes me. Once infestors are on the field, I'm done. I have no idea what to do. Collosi, blink stalkers, templars, I've tried everything. Something I've seen in another stream that I want to really work on doing is catching the zerg army out of position. I need to be a lot more aware of how I can manipulate and anticipate his movement by pressuring the 3rd for example. If I can catch his army en route from behind the infestors can be cleaned up in no time. I just need to have much, much better army positional control.

PvT is doing well. I was really surprised to find that the 3gate stalker build above that I developed for PvZ works really well in PvT. Stalker-heavy builds seem counter-intuitive vT but early stalker pressure is really strong versus marines or FE bunker defenses and can straight up beat almost any terran tech cheese (rush to banshee, raven, or mech). Of course my expectation is usually a 2 or 3 rax defense to hold the ramp and then I expand and contain for a few minutes until drops become a threat. I usually think the 9 or 10 minute mark is when I need to pull back but I want to refine that based on the unit mix I see at the front (more marauders must mean later drops). Another variation on this build I'd love to have the guts to try is one-gate expand into 3 gate. I've seen it used in a lot of pro play and lost to the terran equivalent enough to know how strong this can be.

My problem is that mid-game I lose to 2 things: ghosts and drops. I need to be way more conscious of my map control, map awareness and drop prevention. Stimmed marauder drops, i.e. nexus snipes, just frustrate the hell out of me. Incidentally I lost a PvZ game last nite to heavy baneling drops on my probe lines and it's the same story... I don't know how to deal with a dropping player.

When ghosts are out I cannot, for the life of me, keep my army spread out to prevent EMP. I need to never ever forget the EMP threat and micro way better. Something I need to do better is pre-fight scouting, where you're set up for a big fight and you quickly scout your opponent's position and composition. Of course for terrans this comes as second nature with the pre-fight scans, but Protoss has to suicide a zealot or probe to accomplish the same. Poking with HT to try and feedback ghosts seems like a necessity but it just seems ridiculously difficult.

All in all, better scouting and better positioning are what I'm trying to improve. My mantra has been "Shape the defense" meaning I need to pick the correct shape of my unit formation depending on my opponent's composition. Ghosts require spreading. Drops require splitting. Infestors require flanking. Runbys require gap-control. I have a terribly ingrained habit of just one-grouping my whole army into a clump at my weakest point. If I could just break that habit I'd be way ahead but I quickly start slipping mid-game once my mind gets distracted with tech choices and macroing.