Tag Archives: Starcraft 2

A True Rebirth for Starcraft 2

I am excited. I’m pretty sure the paltry writing skills I have in no way attempted to foster can express how excited I am for the 2013 year of Starcraft 2 pro-gaming. When in doubt, go Caps Lock.

I AM SO FUCKING EXCITED.

With the launch of Heart of the Swarm, Starcraft 2 has been truly reborn (not unlike a certain character in the campaign). Between IEM Cologne, MLG Dallas, and GSL I am convinced that we are headed for our most entertaining and fulfilling year of professional SC2 competition yet. The skill ceiling is higher, and I don’t think that phrase really does it justice. The skill ceiling was just raised in such a way that some people got dropped into the basement.

This match, played at MLG Dallas between Innovation and Flash is the best game of Starcraft 2 I’ve ever watched. It’s a best of 5, and I was captivated by every game. Keep in mind that the actions executed by these two could be done by less than a handful of pro gamers right now.

I also want to talk about Blizzard’s announcement of this years World Championship Series (WCS). This is huge news, and I think it was handled really well by Blizzard. There is already some complaining that NASL (North American Star League) and Dreamhack were left out of the rotation, but there is only so much you can do at once, we’ve gotten word that Blizzard and Dreamhack have something in the works together. But I’m not going to get into that here.

This is a major step forward for Starcraft 2 in the eSports scene, because we finally have a storyline to follow throughout the year. Players will compete all season long in an attempt to accumulate points that will determine who gets an invite to the Global Finals at the end of the year, to be played at Blizzcon 2013. There is going to be some incredible tension at the Season 3 regional championships and finals when there are only a few spots left up for grabs. There should be no shortage of compelling storylines to follow this year, and WCS Korea has already started.

WCS Korea

While we don’t have information regarding how the points distribution will go, RorO (Zerg) got off to a strong start winning Group A with a 2-0 record, and an impressive 4-1 map count, dropping one map to Bomber (Terran), the other player to advance. Complain about balance if you will (and people are – big time), but there are excellent Korean Zergs who are still winning games, so let’s cool it on the IMBA bitching until we have more evidence. Anyway, I have more thoughts on balance I’ll share shortly. Bomber’s two victories both came against Creator (Protoss), who complained about IMBA before gg’ing out – and if I’m not mistaken did so at MLG Dallas too. Season 2/WCS Korea continues next week on Tuesday April 9th at 5:10 am EST.

The group I’m really looking forward to is Group F with INnoVation, HyuN, and Rain. I can’t wait to see more of Rain in HotS, I think that he could be even better than in Wings of Liberty when he was regarded as one of the top Protoss in the world, and INnoVation just came off from an excellent showing at MLG Dallas with a third place finish.

A word on balance. I really don’t think we have enough evidence or time to determine where there are problems with balance. In my short experience watching pro SC2, most pro players can be broken into two groups – the researchers and the surgeons. The biggest reason some pros are having trouble with HotS is that they continue to use the thinking from WoL to defend and attack, when a different thought process is required. “I can’t deal with proxy Reaper” is probably more accurately “I don’t know how to punish/defend proxy Reapers.” And we probably won’t have those answers until an innovator comes along and sees the game in a different way than other players. The surgeons are the ones who takes the researchers discovery, and uses it to create build orders that can crush their opponents. Right now, we just don’t have the necessary research to draw good, solid conclusions yet. But we will.

Gaming Roundup

I’ve intended to write a blog post every week for almost 2 months, but I always end up doing something else. No more I say, time to write again. Of course, then there was the issue of what to write about, as I have been barely playing World of Warcraft lately. I’m not sure what has been keeping me away, but I just haven’t felt the pull of WoW outweigh Starcraft 2, League of Legends, or XCOM lately. So I settled on just changing my focus to gaming in general, and write about what I’ve been up to.

I purchased XCOM on Steam a few weeks ago and was addicted almost immediately. I’ve always been a sucker for turn-based strategy with games like HOMM and Lords of the Realm (I still play Heroes of Might & Magic 3, and found a way to play online with my brother as well), and XCOM is a twist on that with turn-based combat and soldier movement. The story is good enough that it doesn’t detract from the value of the game, and I found the user experience to be pretty enjoyable. I defeated the game on Normal without much fuss, and decided to try my hand at Ironman Classic difficulty. It’s exceptionally difficult, and I have a feeling that its going to keep me coming back.

One of the reasons I needed to purchase a new computer was that Diablo 3 and upcoming Blizzard games were no longer going to support the video card in my iMac. I love my new computer, but I admit to being a little disappointed in Diablo 3. I recently found the time to complete my first play-through on Normal with my Monk, and enjoyed it quite a lot. The disappointment surfaces after that. I’m really supposed to play the entire game again, only harder? I really don’t think I get it, but I’ve created a few new characters of different classes, figuring it would be fun to play them through. So far though, this hasn’t drawn me in at all, and I don’t get the attraction of repeating the game with a more powerful version of my original character.

League of Legends has been an absolute blast to play, and I can feel myself getting better, which is cool. The problem is that there is still not a clear role that I excel at or enjoy, but Attack Damage Carry (ADC) I’ve ruled out – I just don’t enjoy it. I have, however, had excellent runs as a single lane bruiser, jungler, mid-lane Ability Power Carry, and Support. Unfortunately  I’m almost exclusively stuck playing support in most PvP games, as most other players prefer the glory of a high kill count. And I swear, after the Sejuani rework I’m going to work her top lane, jungle, AND support. You’ll see.

I’ve also had a lot of fun watching the NA and EU LCS. This competitive series is so well run, and while I dislike the observer UI for LoL, I’ve learned a lot and had a good time watching the powerhouse teams rock games without losing a single turret, while occasionally the weaker teams come up with a monster performance and knock off a heavy favorite. Riot has a winning formula in their hands and I think they know it. Now if only the observer screen wasn’t so awful.

Starcraft 2 launched its expansion Heart of the Swarm and I urge all of you who love gaming to pick this up, even if its only for the campaign. This is the most fun I’ve had playing a video game since I got Mario Brothers 2 brand new back in the day and stayed up all hours of the night trying to beat it. The teaching missions and the story were excellent, and the game is much more user friendly than its predecessor Wings of Liberty, especially to new players. I won’t get into SC2:HotS too much here, as I have another post dedicated to it coming up.

Warcraft has waned on me, probably because I have lost my passion for raiding and now feel that I need to re-invent myself in game before deciding to re-enter the fray. It doesn’t help that most of our members are on mountain and pacific time now and we’ve had to move our start time back to 10 pm eastern. I mean, damn, I’m 32 years old with two kids – there’s a good chance I’m unconscious by that time. I’m going to focus on playing my alts, and slowly working on my Leodar’s rep (not even revered with Golden Lotus – don’t ask), because I still love the game, and I think Mists of Pandaria really is an exceptional expansion – I just need to find my place in it right now.

Happy gaming and happy hunting to you.

Finding the Time

World of Warcraft is an old game. This is not meant as an insult as much as it is meant to state a fact. WoW was released in November of 2004. At the end of this month the game we love will be 8 years old, and its success and longevity is the envy of many game development companies.

Something else has aged during that time. WoW’s players. A person who started playing at launch as a college freshman of 18 years would be 26 now, with new responsibilities and different life circumstances than we started with. That college freshmen is either in graduate or post-graduate studies, or perhaps has a full time job. Maybe they have a spouse and a family. One thing is almost certain: free time is hard to find.

The flashpoint for this post is the convergence of exceptional game titles by Blizzard. It is likely that by the summer of 2013 they will have released an expansion (Mists of Pandaria for WoW, and Heart of the Swarm for Starcraft 2) or sequel (Diablo 3) to some of the most successful titles in the gaming industry in the span on a single year. I find my ability to keep up is lacking.

I started playing World of Warcraft in 2007, not long after the release of The Burning Crusade. At the time I was married for 3 years, and my wife had just finished medical school. I was leaving a full time teaching job because of the move required by my wife’s new position as a medical resident, and was going to be a substitute teacher. I was also a women’s basketball assistant coach at a local community college. Things were really uncomplicated. When I wasn’t teaching (which was frequent) or performing my assistant coaching duties (which were really only heaviest from October through March) I could do what I pleased. I read tons of books, exercised all the time, and played WoW as much as I wanted. One week I was able to put in about 40 hours, and didn’t even blink at the number.

Let’s skip the middle and fast forward. Today I have two daughters, aged 4 and 2. My wife is an attending hospitalist who works fewer evenings than before and is not a gamer. I’ve added Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3 to games I enjoy playing. I am also the raid leader of my guild, and the main tank, so my out-of-game work has increased. I can play WoW about 4-10 hours a week at most, usually during nap times so as not to miss out on opportunities to spend time with my wife in the evenings. I’m happy, but its a far cry from the days of my youth when I thought I was busy.

I wonder about other World of Warcraft players experiences. How has your game time evolved? I find this evolution really interested, and would love to hear about it.

How are you at Finding the Time?

eSports: An exercise in immaturity

There has been a lot of news recently in the eSports community and most of it has been pretty negative. First there was the repercussions following MLG Summer Championships between League of Legends teams Curse and Dignitas, then recently there was news out of Evil Geniuses, an eSports franchise which had to suspend a member of its Starcraft 2 team for a wildly inappropriate comment made to another player while that player was streaming, which was followed by news that a very popular and respected team SlayerS was disbanding, and finally a generally ridiculous post by a sometimes respected member of the SC2 community that stated that SC2 will be dead unless Blizzard does some thing about it.

World of Warcraft players should be chuckling at this last one.

In a soundbite, tl-dr got it right. eSports need to grow the hell up.

We could draw parallels to the sports universe (like the Gameronomist did over at tl-dr), but I think we can illustrate a problem with eSports by looking at them without the comparisons. For example our newest GSL champion (the most prestigious tournament) is 15 years old. As someone with a M.S.Ed. in secondary education I feel completely qualified to comment on the average person aged 13-18. Narcissistic and inconsistent would be the 2 words that fit the best. And juvenile of course. And the eSports scene depends heavily on the ‘male 16-24’ age demographic, a group known and celebrated for its maturity and dedication to reason and rational thought.

Uh-oh.

What is confusing to me is that this is not a new problem. When young men and women are put in the spotlight, bad things can happen. We’ve seen it over and over again, whether in sports or entertainment or politics. Publicity can be very difficult to handle, and I would venture an opinion that younger people have a more difficult time coping with the increased pressure of that spotlight.

The difference between a 16 year old tennis player participating in the U.S. Open and a 15 year old participating in the Starcraft 2 GSL is that eSports ONLY has the internet to promote and show its product. I’m willing to bet that if you wanted to find disparaging remarks and inappropriate comments regarding the tennis player you could, but you would have to go searching for them. For competitive eSports you must watch live streams, which automatically exposes you to the horrors of anonymous internet chat. While streaming technology does a great job of bringing these games to the viewers, sites that offer streaming need to think seriously about insulating these same viewers from all the trolls and the bullshit wagon they are constantly pulling.

It continues to boggle my mind that someone can complain about how eSports isn’t growing, and at the same time make the place in which it will grow best a toxic environment.

I will also echo what you will find at tl-dr (which in fact we discussed together on twitter) that the teams involved in the eSports scene need to do a better job providing guidance and mentoring to these young professionals, helping them to handle the media spotlight, the pressure of winning and success, and how to handle themselves online to prevent them from making the same mistakes we see get repeated time and again.

It’s impossible to grow your sport through advertising and sponsorships when the community and the professionals when these kinds of behaviors are not only tolerated but in some cases defended. Even in established professional circles sponsors will pull their backing in a heartbeat if they think it will damage their brand. If we want eSports to grow, then the community needs to as well.

Shadowmourne, Spectating, and the E-Sports Plunge

This week was a very interesting one, and it made me feel compelled to write about it. I’m eagerly anticipating both the expansion and scenario accompanying it. I’ve been a Jaina fan since Warcraft 3, and I am planning on buying the book as soon as possible as well. Pandaria is, well, amazing. I played on the beta for a few months, and stopped at level 87. I didn’t want to see the rest, and I was a terrible game tester, so it was a good time to stop. But the continent of Pandaria and the Wandering Isle are breath-taking, and I’m extremely exciting to get started.

So far the Death Knight class is kicking serious ass in the new patch, and dropping 42k DPS in my Blood spec on Ultraxion while forgetting to put on my special Ultraxion gear set was the first indication that it was time to make my paladin Holy/Ret in Mists. The second was how much fun I wasn’t having working on my action bars and selecting talents as Protection. When it comes to WoW, if it isn’t fun, I’m not going to bother.

Which brings me to my next thought. Shadowmourne. I love this weapon. I love the story, and once upon a Wrath when I had some free time on my hands I participated in some GDKP runs in ICC (which is a good way to really appreciate the people I was raiding with, rather than the players from a well-known guild whose vent chat was horrific. It was like stepping into an internet meme. I had to shower afterwards). Through these runs I managed to complete the Shadowmourne questline up to the infusions. Three weeks ago I completed the infusion quests (before the ICC bugs) with my guild during a run to get another member his achievement drake. Now I have 49 more shards to go, and I can’t decide whether I’m annoyed. On one hand, outdated content is easy, and on the other hand ICC is in no way soloable. Basically with the horrific drop rate, the requirement for a 25 man raid, and the lack of bosses you can solo, if you want Shadowmourne, you are stuck dragging 10-12 more people with you. This kinda sucks. I anticipate that Blizzard will someday lift the restriction on legendary transmogrification, and when they do I want to have axe filled with the souls of the vanquished, I just don’t want to subject my friends to the same grind.

/Yoda voice

/s Torn am I, conflicted, yes.

I made the plunge into the E-Sports scene last evening, although as a beginner I made the smallest splash imaginable. Playhem is a website that hosts daily Starcraft 2 tournaments with cash prizes. The Bronze and Silver Tournament has a measly $6 pot ($3 for first, $2 for second, $1 for third), but the open bracket is $75 on the weekdays and $100 on the weekends, meaning the first place winner gets enough to take their boyfriend, girlfriend, or cat out to dinner. That last one was a joke, but what is it with cats on the internet? Dogs are so much better. I digress.

I can’t tell you how exciting it was to login and find my first opponent. I play the Terran race (Leodar#370 for anyone interested in practice/fun matches), and my first opponent was a well mannered (yeah, it matters in Starcraft 2 as well) Zerg named Rezknello. I was sweating profusely (which admittedly is not difficult for me) and nervous as hell, but I was also thrilled that I remembered my practice sessions and was able to execute my opening and transition into a successful 10 min push. I won the first army encounter, macroed behind it, and scouted his third expansion. After taking down the expansion, I rallyed with another set of units produced from my main base and moved up to his natural expansion, engaging his army and crushing it a second and final time. Two minutes later my opponent surrendered with a ‘GG’ and I took what felt like my first breath in 12 minutes. It was an incredible rush and an awesome feeling to win my first ever competitive match.

The next match was against a Protoss named Plasma who was a league above me in the ladder system. I had been working on creating my own build versus Protoss and executed it. Unfortunately I lost both games to lose the match 2-0. I was still pretty thrilled with my play because both times I out-macroed my opponent, had the superior army supply, and the stronger economy. Plasma had to use some deception to succeed which can be successful at the lower levels (with players like me ) because less experienced players have trouble dividing their attention to multiple places. He may have won, but my fundamentals were much better, and I executed my plan pretty well, almost winning the second game in spite of the opponent’s misdirection.

After this experience I started to think a lot of spectating in competitive gaming. Podcasts I’ve recently listened to have lamented the lack of an ‘observer’ feature in Warcraft that made it very difficult and ultimately unsatisfying to watch professional arenas. I agree with that sentiment completely, but I’m not sure that its enough. Arenas have no flow, and the abilities strike so quickly that casting the game must be a nightmare. If Warcraft PvP has any chance to compete (or even co-exist) with Starcraft 2, League of Legends, and DoTA 2, it needs to be in battlegrounds with an observer camera and tools to make casting easier. It’s not impossible, but it is a big challenge. I still think it would be worth Blizzard’s time to make PvP more spectator friendly. I would absolutely watch professional World of Warcraft players in an Alterac Valley game (although not for 3 days like some of the vanilla crazies lament missing), and it would help random battlegrounds because it would develop metagame strategies that could be shared with the community at large. We have excellent PvP websites and bloggers that handle this (Cynwise, Olivia Grace at WoW Insider, etc.), but I have a feeling they are underused. Enhancing the visibility of battlegrounds would make people more interested in learning how to play them properly.

Let me paint a picture of how this could look using aspects from LoL and SC2.

Team [Random Web Sponsor] vs. Team [Random Telcom Sponsor], Best of 5

Battleground Pool: Arathi Basin , Twin Peaks, Battle for Gilneas, Eye of the Storm, Alterac Valley (15 player version)

First Battleground: Arathi Basin

Loser selects next battleground until one team wins 3 battlegrounds.

A mix of 10 and 15 player battlegrounds would give each team strategic decisions to make based on how many players they can bring, which map is being used, and who their opponent is. Awesome , no? The only problem is that it would create some serious problems deciding what to watch every night.

New (to me) podcasts that I am thoroughly enjoying: “Starcast: The Starcraft Podcast” and “This Week in Blizz” are done by the same two guys and they do a terrific job. They are sponsored by a company who is absolutely getting my business as soon I have enough money for my next computer, Doghouse Systems.

Good Luck, Have Fun, and let’s go pwn some Horde on Tuesday.

Foundations of Success

As people reading my blog or following my Twitter feed probably noticed I have gotten hooked on Starcraft 2 competitive gaming. An explanation is critical here, and I will try to be brief.

At its core, multiplayer Starcraft 2 is an economy based game. You can go to websites like Team Liquid and find build orders, unit counters, explanations of micro (small army movements that can increase unit efficiency), and other information. For a beginner, none of it matters. When you watch professionals, it can lead you to the misconception that these things are critical to success, because it often separates the winner and loser in these professional matches. What many people fail to notice is that these games come down to micro-management because those players have exceptional fundamentals. Without fundamentals, those players wouldn’t be competing professionally. Macro is the key to becoming an exceptional SC2 player. It is the foundation the rest of your game is built on, and without it you will limit your own potential. I’ve embedded a game showcasing exceptional fundamentals (also shamelessly showing my favorite player currently,  TaeJa). You’ll notice that professional players have very little minerals and gas (top right corner), because they are constantly creating units and productions buildings.

When I learned this I was totally blown away. Not because it was some new truth I had never heard, but because it was consistent with all of my other life experiences, and made absolute sense. I’ve spent 12 years coaching basketball, and one thing has been true ever since I started to seriously look at the game and learn how to teach it. That the fundamentals were absolutely critical. Critical to the point that you should avoid teaching any advanced concepts (including running a set offense) before those fundamentals are mastered. Who cares how crisp and perfect your cuts are if the person with the ball is busying staring at it while they dribble. There must be a strong foundation to be able to achieve your maximum potential. Obviously, this isn’t a basketball blog, so I’m not going to go into the detail of how to teach athletes how to play while ensuring their fundamentals don’t slip, but it can (and needs) to be done.

So how do you start to be successful ? You start by identifying the foundation of your endeavor, and you make sure that you develop the fundamentals necessary to have a strong foundation.

Discovering another example of this consistent theme got me thinking about World of Warcraft, and it made me realize that for all of my success in the game, and  all of my accomplishments, I hadn’t really identified what the foundation of a good Warcraft player was. New players are bombarded with information, and god forbid they try to find useful information online. Sure, there are reputable locations of knowledge, but how long does it take for the new player to find? BiS lists, optimal professions and enchants, detailed accounts of which abilities to use in certain circumstances are worthless to the new player. This information is great if you have a foundation in gameplay, but if you are still learning its information overload. A moderately new website called Noxxic is doing a good job of presenting easily digestible information and deserves a mention here. Below is my first attempt at identifying the foundation of good Warcraft play.

1. Stay Alive: A well known joke that circulates the WoW community is that ‘dead hunters do zero DPS.’ I promise that’s my last shot at hunters in this post. The phrase simply means that dead players do not complete quests, kill monsters, or help their team win. If you have an ‘Oh s#$%!’ button, hit it. If you are a healer, use your healing spells. Watch your health bar and make sure you aren’t standing in fire. Sure, you’ll die with some regularity in WoW, but don’t die constantly and unnecessarily.

2. Hit your buttons: Your character has spells and abilities. They all do something, and even though some are more powerful than others it’s pretty important to get into the habit of always hitting a button when it becomes available. This isn’t optimal play (especially for healers), but it’s better to be able to spam damage/healing abilities when you need to than to learn slow, and then try to be faster. Last year there was a mage that asked me for some DPS help. While I’m not an expert on mages, I am the raid leader, so I’m here to help. I got on my mage, and the first thing we did was hit the target dummy. After the 4 min DPS burn we compared damage meters. I cast considerably more fireballs than she did, and really, what is there left to analyze at that point. Play with urgency – your speed matters when raiding and PvPing. Figure out which abilities you should be using, and use the hell out of them.

3. Spatial Awareness: Know your surroundings. This matters when questing, raiding, or pvping. Are you stacking up or spreading out? Are you alone at the farm while all of your teammates are racing for the blacksmith? Is there a patrol near that pack of monsters you need for a quest? Pay attention to your surroundings, know where to be and when to be there.

This is a short list, and maybe its accuracy is questionable, but the exercise is critical. Whenever we start something – a new job, a new hobby, a new relationship – our success will be determined on how strong our foundation is. The stronger our foundation, the more we can build on it.

Back from the Dead

I have been away from my blog and twitter for far too long, so I thought I would get going again with a simple update post. I spent most of this morning reading about changes to the Death Knight class, but instead of rewriting them all I am just going to direct you to a great DK blog which has an awesome summary of what has happened recently, all of which is excellent news.

In the last month I spent a weekend camping in the Adirondack mountains near Lake Placid and had an great time with my wife’s family while we were blessed with amazing weather. We had just purchased a very expensive tent as we had outgrown our old one, and a tent is not really a place to go cheap when you are camping. It was worth every penny. I love this tent, and can’t wait to go camping again. More recently I just returned home from another trip, this one to northern Ontario at French River. We had a good time, although the 8 hour drive was kind of painful with a 4 year old and a 2 year old. Thankfully Ontario’s incredible rest stops along the way made things a lot easier. ONroute, you are amazing.

Squeezed in between these vacations I spent 9 days between two different basketball camps. One of these was a team camp where my squad played in a weekend tournament of sorts, the other was a professional development camp and was one of the most profound professional experiences I have ever had with the game.

While those 4 weeks were wonderful, I was pretty worn out, and had a lot of trouble keeping up with my gaming habits. I just calculated that I spent 12 days at home in the last four weeks. Hopefully next summer I can spread things out a bit.

As far as gaming goes, we are 4 weeks away from getting a long time officer and personal friend his legendary rogue daggers, and while churning through Dragon Soul kinda sucks, we are all pretty excited for him. I have a lot of catching up to do, as I want to collect transmog gear for my Paladin before Mists of Pandaria is released.

In Starcraft 2 I have ascended to a rank of 9 in my bronze ladder. I was briefly ranked 8th, but pushed my luck in the next match. A simple matter of missing my Banshee timing by 30-60 seconds, and making a critical engagement error at my natural ramp during my opponents bio unit push. 13 minutes after reaching Top 8, I was back to #9. C’est la vie. The next season starts on September 1st, and I really would like to join the silver division after my placement matches, so I’ve got some practicing to do.

Other random musings: Liked the MoP trailer, enjoyed the Olympics (although I missed the gold medal men’s basketball game and the closing ceremonies), and my excitement is mounting in anticipation of leveling my monk and warlock. I even had the foresight to create a toon and save my Pandarens name: Nuhuo. I been watching and enjoying ‘Newsroom’, and this morning met the actor that played Roland Pryzbylewski in the ‘The Wire’ at church.