How to Improve
This article is a compilation of sources on how to become a better StarCraft player. It tries to aggregate these sources into a shorter and more comprehensive article on how to improve your game-play. For this we divide game-play into three parts:
- Mechanics - How well you control your game, move and attack with units (micro), and manage your build (macro) are examples of mechanics.
- Knowledge - Understanding of the game is vitally important in learning how to play. The basics of the game are simple, but it will take a long time to master.
- Information - Even with great mechanics and a profound knowledge of the game, you cannot become really good without learning how to obtain and interpret information in real-time.
These three factors are limited by each other. Knowledge will have no meaning if you do not know how to put it into practice mechanically. Mechanics are pointless if your information on the situation is incomplete and you do not know what to do or what to expect. Information only helps if you have experience in what it means and how to obtain it.
In addition, some players get very anxious when playing StarCraft II. This in itself is not a part of SC2 per se, so it's not included in this article, but as it is a notable obstacle for those who do get anxious, there's a separate article for dealing with anxiety.
"The first step to improving is committing yourself to improving"; without the decision to work toward the goal of becoming better, your progress will be sporadic (at best). The second step to improving is knowing what you have to improve. Then you can start working on your weak sides so that they will not cripple your stronger sides. You can use the parts mentioned above to analyse your play.
- Focus on improving one or a few things at a time; don't think you can improve every aspect of your game all at once.
- If you get frustrated playing, try to focus on something else for about 10 minutes and then try to analyze replays/continue playing. This will help clear your head and you might easier see mistakes in your play and/or play better the next game.
|Be careful of what sources you use; if possible, use only first-hand sources.|
Mechanics are the basic skills of Starcraft. This includes using your mouse and keyboard accurately and efficiently, spending your resources and using hotkeys instead of clicking. Mechanics should be improved first and foremost, as these skills stay the same, no matter how the 'Knowledge' (build orders and trends of play) shifts.
Macro is the most important part of game-play and the first part you should focus on. With practice, Macro should become an almost subconscious action. The way to this is repetition.
- Keep your resources low - Unspent resources are useless; spend them! Time spent harvesting resources that aren't used is lost time.
- Check your supply - Make sure you can always produce more units.
- Constantly build workers - This is particularly important in the early- to mid-game. You need to keep expanding your economy. There are exceptions to this rule, but usually they're only relevant for very high level players.
- Constantly build units - Make sure you have as low downtime on your production buildings as possible.
The things in this list may seem simple, but it is easy to forget them when you are controlling several groups of units in different places as well as thinking about several other things. These four things should be second nature to you, so that you should not have to think about doing them. The way to do this effectively is to learn how to use hotkeys (especially for production buildings), and to learn the shortcuts for units and upgrades.
This is a really easy way to improve your macro. This works in way of association, WHEN x THEN y. A simple example of this is:
- When you build a unit: Check your supply.
Then you will see if you have enough supply for the next round of units or need to build more supply.
Controlling Units (Micro)
Having good micro can be the difference between winning and losing a battle. Apart from having accurate, quick and precise mouse movement there are some techniques that set better players apart.
Here are some basic techniques for good micro control:
- Attack-Move - (pressing and then clicking on the ground) will make the units attack any enemy units or building in that path. In most situations, this is preferred to just moving your units ( + click or on the ground), since they won't fight back while on their way to your selected destination.
- Multiple Unit Groups - allows for better army control. To have all units in one group is called "One-Control-Group-Syndrome".
- Wire-Frame Selection -
clicking units in the wire-frame will remove those units from the selection. Making it possible to split up your group more accurately than boxing.
- Example: Give a command to a group of 6 units.
- Shift-click 3 units in the wire-frame, and send the remaining 3 units at another target.
- Queuing Commands - using will queue commands for a unit. For example you can tell a probe/SCV to construct a building and shift click a mineral: this will issue the command to move to the mineral line after the building has been constructed/started warping. You can also use shift command to focus fire enemies in a certain order, i.e. commanding Vikings to shift click the colossi one by one will cause them to ignore all the phoenixes and focus fire the colossi down.
The build orders are the basic building block of Starcraft strategy. You can, of course, improvise, but unless you have practised a build beforehand, it won't be very fast or efficient. A build order is a way to start the game and transition into the mid-game. From that point on its generally hard to have a precise plan on when to build something, and a player must instead rely on a more general strategy when deciding what to do.
The goal of most build orders is to get an early lead, so you can play the rest of the game from an advantage. Some build orders are designed to win the game directly, but these are highly risky, because if you don't win outright, you are generally too far behind in Tech or Economy to recover.
It's vital to understand and practice a build order beforehand to smooth out any gaps in it.
- Study the build order to understand how it's meant to be used.
- Repeat the build order in single player (no AI) until you know it by heart.
- Learn to execute the build under pressure.
Increasing the speed of your game is not just a matter of spamming buttons fast. APM does not equal speed.
- Know the next thing you are going to do. You cannot play fast if you don't know your next action.
- Speed will come with repetition; practice a build or a match-up over and over.
- You have to push yourself to play fast until that becomes routine; then you can push yourself even more! 
Knowledge is another big part of gameplay. It is the strategic and tactical knowledge that wins or loses a game. The player with the most experience is always at an advantage. It's a lot harder having to react to something completely new or unexpected.
The basic knowledge and understanding of the units and abilities of each race is what most players learn first. Later comes the different strategies and tactics used by players. Start by learning some of the most common strategies in each match-up.
Timing windows (or timing attacks) are in a build when it is good to attack because you generally have an edge over the opponent. For example: right when Stimpack research finishes and you have a good amount of Marines and Marauders. Knowing your build gives you an indication on when to attack and when to be passive.
By studying some of your opponents builds you will learn about what times you should be prepared for certain attacks.
Analysing replays is different from just watching them. You have to determine if the actions you took were good or bad, and if there were alternatives that would have turned out better. At the least, you should watch replays of the matches you lose once. This is to determine the reasons you lost, and what to improve in the future. Possible reasons for a loss include:
- Mechanics - Did you execute the build incorrectly?
- Knowledge - Did you not know how to counter the build you faced?
- Information - Did you fail to scout that your opponent was making a particular unit (for example, Banshees)?
Another way to analyse a replay is to keep a running score, and award points after each encounter. For example, this might look something like the following:
- A successful Marine-Marauder drop while setting up an expansion ( +2p )
- A failed push without major losses while setting up an expansion ( +1p )
- Stopping an expansion but getting forced back ( Even )
- Losing the majority of an army trying to force a wall ( -1p )
Watching replays or VODs of professional players is a great way to learn about the game, and is vital to your improvement.
If possible, start by watching from the view of the player only. Make sure to pause at key moments in the game and consider what you would do in this situation. Then you can compare your decision to the pro's, and see which would have been more beneficial. Afterwards, you can watch the replay in full view, and learn if your actions were correct and why. This way you will train yourself to make the correct decisions based on limited information.
The fastest information is gained from an early worker scout, commonly sent to your opponent's base between 9 and 15 supply. For example:
- Scouting a Terran and seeing an early Refinery and Barracks with a Tech Lab, one can assume Reaper or Marauder is on the way.
- Not finding any Pylons in your Protoss opponent's base, you should start looking for a proxy Gateway or Forge.
- The lack of a Spawning Pool around 12-14 supply indicates a possible fast expand by the Zerg player.
With experience you will learn how to react to these situations to gain an advantage over your opponent.
The use of mind games is an advanced tactic, where you show a move or a piece of Tech to your opponent, while opting for something else. Hopefully, this will force your opponent to over-react or leave him with a unit composition which is not optimal for taking on your own.
For example, as protoss, showing a zerg player 4 warp gates and/or a stalker will force him to build units and, more significantly, cut drones. Cancelling a gateway and continuing with a 3 gate expand in this instance will leave zerg with a weaker economy than he will be used to enjoying in the mid-game, which will ultimately weaken his late game.
- Day Daily - high level analysis / commentary 5 days a week. Blip.tv Twitch TV.
- TeamLiquid.net - StarCraft 2 Stream list
- [G] How to Improve Efficiently at SC2 1v1 by CecilSunkure.