Like a Mexican
in southern Cali
spicy, rich, and
you got curves
the right places
I wanna cover
in hot sauce
go to town
Like a Mexican
in southern Cali
spicy, rich, and
you got curves
the right places
I wanna cover
in hot sauce
go to town
soft, silent, your brushstrokes into shapes
knew it was you)you taught me to
love, to dream
(and i loved you)
Your shadows, soft and simple slip into
and let the sky fade as we shift
and if i were willing, you’d paint
a picture of me,
lavishing it with shades(and
more shapes and hues
which I could never show
and so it goes that you are
(soft, secret whispers and sighs)
that take lift on midnight
and swing off the balcony into
ships hail from a harbor
not far(and i see
the sapphire in your eyes)
with glinted tints
and samples of sundry hues
and everything is you, and your hands
like open flowers
as i sense your eyes shift and
before sudden stillness sets
(and even as you speak)
sitting on the stoop as sun
sank to trees
(even then, i knew it was you)you
flew, your brushstrokes
down my cheek
This week has been absolutely filled with exciting games and fresh upsets between some of the mid tier teams. If you haven’t been keeping up with the competition, I highly recommend going back and watching the second round of #BattleForLA on Wednesday and the Philadelphia games against Seoul and New York.
The biggest trend we’re seeing in Stage 2 has definitely been Tracer playing a central role in team strategies. Teams with good Tracer players are starting to pull far ahead of the rest of the pack while teams with mediocre Tracers are slowly falling behind. For instance, The Los Angeles Valiant absolutely dominated Houston on Thursday with Soon’s pristine Tracer play, and Philadelphia’s Carpe went blow for blow with Seoul’s Munchkin and New York’s Saebyeolbe. San Francisco’s Danteh also played an insane Tracer against Dallas, scoring an insane 27 kill streak and 50% of all the Shock’s final blows. Even Florida, with the plethora of problems they have with their supports, had a really good set against Houston due to the prowess of Logix.
It’s becoming clear that every team needs a top quality Tracer player. Every kill matters more without the Mercy resurrects coming through, and no one picks off heroes better than Tracer. Houston and Dallas in particular have been struggling. They’ve tried sticking to their guns (pun intended) and continuing to run deathball-style compositions to make up for their struggling Tracer players, but it’s just not working. We’ll have to see how the rest of the stage pans out, but for now, you can bet that whichever team has the better Tracer wins.
The series today are:
The Gladiators have been a fairly strong if not consistent team in the Overwatch League, but they’ve never really had the breakout success of Philadelphia, Houston, or even Boston, which makes it quite difficult to pin them down. Lifetime, they have a record of 1-11 against Korean teams, and they’ve yet to face off against London, which is arguably the strongest one. When you take into account their mixed success against even the non-Korean teams, it’s almost impossible to figure out if they’re “good” based on numbers alone.
Earlier this week, I wrote that the Gladiators managed to find some success of the back of their secret weapon, Fissure. During the rise of Fissure, it seems Hydration, Asher, and Bischu have also stepped up their game within the last week, and that may be the tipping point for them. But is Asher good enough to take on Birdring and Profit? I’m not so sure. As much as I would like to cheer on the Gladiators (#SHIELDSUP), it’d be foolish to bet against London at this point in time: 4-0 London.
San Francisco is another team that’s difficult to rate. On good days, the DPS duo of Danteh and Babybay can look indomitable. On others…not so much. The Shock have an insanely wide hero pool and tons of compositional flexibility, but in their case, it might be more important to dig deep than wide. The results are stacked against them. Along with Florida and Dallas (and Shanghai, of course), San Francisco has one of the worst records in the league, and even though they’ve shown small glimmers of talent, it hasn’t turned to gold.
Interestingly enough, San Francisco has only played against one Korean team (twice) due to the format of the league, and since the Koreans are basically the overlords of Overwatch, the Shock has been largely untested. Both their series against Seoul were fairly one-sided but with a few outstanding rounds. London and New York are different beasts. New York has proven time and time again that they are the most flexible team in the league. It’s almost as if they’re always two steps ahead of their opponents in the game of compositional chess and strategic thinking. If San Francisco has scored a few upsets in the past due to some clever hero swaps and brilliant tactical play, they’re in for a surprise against New York. As well as New York has been playing, it would be insane to expect anything less than a 4-0 from them.
Oh god, where to begin with this matchup? Florida and Dallas are both the biggest trainwrecks of the league (except of course, as always, the Shanghai Dragons), so this matchup is essentially the junction of two massive disappointments…? It feels wrong to speak so badly of both teams, but there’s no doubt that they haven’t lived up to expectations.
Dallas is formerly the single most successful foreign Overwatch team prior to the Overwatch League. Team EnVyUs dominated the west for close to a year then went to Korea, competed in APEX, and brought half the league to its knees. It was impossible to topple Lunatic-Hai (now Seoul Dynasty) from their perch, but they gave everyone else a good run for their money. So it’s no wonder that all eyes were on Dallas in the Overwatch League, and I think that many people were expecting far different results from the fan-favorite team. However, from the very beginning, they have been failed to live up to the hype surrounding them. Their play has been inconsistent at best, and their roster has experienced multiple penalties for poor behavior. xQc alone has spent more than half of the Inaugural Season on the bench due to disciplinary actions of the league and Dallas.
Florida, on the other hand, is the remnant of Misfits. They don’t necessarily have the same legacy as EnVy or Rogue, but they were still very much contenders for second best non-Korean team before the Overwatch League began. Logix and TviQ were legendary in their time, but as assassins on the Mayhem, they have failed to match up with the insane level of DPS play in the rest of the league. Florida also has severe issues with their tank/support coordination which prevent them from capitalizing on even the best plays from their DPS duo. All in all, they have a ton of potential, but their performance in the Overwatch League has been nothing greater than underwhelming.
That’s what makes this match interesting though. So many things can go wrong. The result of random tilting, poor decision making, or mechanical errors could change the course of a game drastically at every turn. It’s completely unpredictable. For that reason, I’m not even going to try and predict what will happen…I’m just going to sit back and enjoy watching this beautiful mess.
I missed yesterday due to IRL stuff, but at least I got to watch a great series between Philadelphia and Seoul in the VoDs. Anyhow, today’s storylines are a bit drab. No one really has anything to lose or gain with these series, but as with everything in the Overwatch League, every map matters. It’s a chance for all of the teams struggled below the playoffs line to pick up a few maps and increase their odds of making it to the Grand Finals.
If it’s any consolation, at least there’s no Shanghai games today.
The series today are:
Boston started Stage 2 in a straight up freefall with 12 consecutive map losses, a shocking result after the impressive play they showed at the end of Stage 1. Nonetheless, as they’ve adjusted to the new metagame, it’s been less of a struggle. They recovered fairly well with two 4-0s against Florida and Shanghai, and they’re back in the standings with an overall positive map score.
Nonetheless, this is a difficult match for them. London won the Stage 1 playoffs and carried that momentum into Stage 2 with a big win over New York and absolute domination over Philly; simply put, they are the team to beat in this league. It’s unlikely that Boston will take the series, but Striker’s Tracer might be enough to disable London’s front line long enough for the Uprising to take a map…but we’re talking about the royal navy against some rebels here. 4-0 London.
This will probably be the highlight match of the evening. Philadelphia has been slowly but surely improving, and other than their humiliating loss to London last week, they’re putting up a real fight to break into the top 5. Their victory over the Outlaws in Week 2 established them as the best non-Korean team, and their series against Seoul was nothing short of breathtaking (though it ended in defeat). They’ve taken on two of the Korean final bosses, now it’s time for the third.
But New York is an immovable object. Sporting the three best Overwatch players in their respective roles—Saebyeolbe, Pine, and JJoNak—New York has a triple DPS threat that is terrifyingly difficult to deal with. With so much pressure being put on Pine by opposing teams these days, Saebyeolbe has stepped up to the plate with his Tracer play and knocked it out of the park. Even if you try to dive the supports, you still have to avoid getting booted in the face by JJoNak’s Zenyatta. It’s such a strong lineup, but New York has one fatal flaw: their aggression sometimes puts them way out of position. The team has actually stated in an interview that they let Pine play as aggressively as he wants and just try to back him up—the casual definition of a house of cards. If Pine falls, New York’s coordination can fall apart very quickly, and that’s something that Philadelphia can capitalize on.
Philadelphia still holds the record for being the only non-Korean team to take a series off New York, so it’s not out of the question that we could see another victory here. However, considering how badly Philly got booped by London, I find it difficult to expect a miracle series against New York again. New York should win this decisively, but I expect the Fusion to give them some trouble. 3-2 in favor of New York.
Remember when Houston was far and away the most consistent non-Korean team? Well, I’m not certain that’s true anymore. They started off Stage 2 very comfortably with a revenge victory against London and a subsequent 4-0 against Boston, but things just haven’t quite lined up since. They fell to Philadelphia next (though, to be fair, it was a great series), and from there, everything just unraveled. New York boinked them almost as hard as London beat up Philadelphia, and then the Valiant swept up with a decisive 4-0.
It appears that their deathball style of playing has finally caught up to them. Agile assassins like Tracer and Genji can easily break up the deathball without the bandaid double Mercy ressurect. Jake’s Junkrat is a crutch, and without it, the Outlaws have had to pivot to more mobile hitscan heroes that they’re not as well-practiced on. Let’s face it, Houston doesn’t have a Tracer player on the same level as Carpe, Soon, or Danteh, and it’s that lack of a strong Tracer player that’s been hurting them. Although Clockwork (Houston’s fallback Tracer player) made a brief appearance in the match against the Valiant, the series continually had them going back to their old comfort picks of Junkrat, McCree, and Widow and using wonky triple tank compositions, all of which were not working. Simply put, Houston has hit a wall here. Their old strats are impotent, and they don’t have the flexibility to succeed in the new metagame.
Florida, on the other hand, has had some ups and downs throughout the league, but they’ve arguably had more ups than downs recently. They have a tremendously terrible record in Phase 2, but it’s partially because they were thrown to the lions in Weeks 1 and 2. However, for a team that is struggling, Florida did have a few good moments against New York and London which suggest that they may actually have what it takes to rise to a greater level. But they’ve got to get there first, and a lot of that starts with just improving their basic mechanics and shotcalling. I hate to say it, but even in such a battered and beaten state, I still think Houston will take the win 4-0.
Today’s matches are far less important story-wise compared to last week’s post on Thursday, but by and large, it’s still an important week in terms of points. The best teams in the league have a series of matchups this week against far weaker opponents which should give them a chance to further extend their lead. Meanwhile, the underdogs falling below the midpoint in standings, need to pull off some kind of miracle to start getting their score off the ground.
The biggest event for today by far is #BattleForLA. Grab your shields, put on your war paint, and head down to the Blizzard Arena…it’s time for round 2.
The series today are:
Let’s face it, Seoul doesn’t need this match. This is just free points for Seoul, a team that’s already 13-0-3 in Stage 2 and second in overall standings. The former Lunatic-Hai squad started off Stage 2 looking much stronger than they did at the end of Stage 1, in part because of the meta shift away from Mercy, and they’ve been wrecking teams left and right since then. It’s unfathomable that Shanghai poses any threat at all to Seoul. 4-0 for Seoul, no problem.
In the meantime, we’re still waiting on Shanghai’s Korean players to get here so they can become a more competitive team. In addition to roster changes, the Shanghai have also attempted to reshuffle their coaching lineup. Over the weekend, Head Coach Chen Congshan “U4” stepped down. While there are rumors that the Shanghai players were being mistreated by the head coach, none of those rumors have been fully substantiated. For now, it’s at least safe to assume that Shanghai needed a coach that could bring out the better parts of their players. Current assistant coach Sun Jun Young “Kong” will be standing in as head coach during this transitional period.
Dallas was perhaps the most disappointing team in the league during Stage 1. Their legacy as the former EnVyUs squad raised a lot of expectations for them, but they were unable to live up to those standards. Stage 2 has been an entirely different story. The addition of aKm and Rascal as well as the return of xQc from the bench has reinvigorated the squad, and they’re playing arguably better than ever.
Earlier this week, a breaking story about Taimou’s use of language on stream back in January threw Dallas once again for a loop. While this has been a controversial story, the bottom line is that Dallas has a lineup of loose cannons who need to be more cognizant of their language. It’s unlikely that Taimou will receive any public punishment, but the drama has undoubtedly—at least momentarily—broken the team’s focus for the upcoming week.
Despite a hard loss to the Valiant last week, Dallas is more than capable of taking down the Shock. However, San Francisco has a history of giving even the best teams a tough time for no apparent reason at all. The Shock experienced a 0-3 loss to Dallas in Stage 1 (while xQc was benched), but they’ve steadily been getting more and more consistent. Dallas still doesn’t have that consistency, though, and that’s the “X” factor here. It could go either way, but I’m betting on Dallas 3-1. It really depends on whether Dallas shows up today.
There was honestly no more exciting match during Stage 1 than “The Battle for LA”. Not only do we have two rival teams fighting over the right to represent LA as king, but they’re also very evenly matched. Twitter blew up with #BattleForLA tweets as local LA fans showed up to the Blizzard Arena to cheer on their favorite LA team. In addition, the match came down to the absolute wire by some of the closest margins we’ve seen in Overwatch League yet, with Valiant barely edging out the victory in a breathtaking round on Lijiang Tower.
The Valiant have been a consistently great team carried by the DPS duo of SoOn and Agilities, and with Verbo back to his comfort pick on Lucio, they’re in a decent spot to do well in Stage 2. With victories over San Francisco and Dallas already, they’re looking primed to wreck some nerds. On the other hand, the Gladiators have unleashed their secret weapon: Fissure. This guy is an absolute monster on the tank role, and his Winston is statistically the strongest in the league right now. The Gladiators struggled against Dallas and Seoul but still managed to look beautiful while doing it. The end result is that both LA teams are neck in neck in the standings—this could go either way. No predictions here, just hype.
As part of a new series, I’ll be writing about some of the biggest storylines in OWL. In today’s review, we look at three very important matches that represent a big turning point for every single team involved. The series today are:
Philadelphia has been largely ignored throughout OWL so far despite their immense victory over New York in Stage 1—New York’s only series loss in the league so far, by the way. Their relatively unimpressive play and less prestigious past compared to Seoul or Dallas made it easy to overlook them, and with a mediocre map score at the end of Stage 1, they weren’t on anyone’s radar. It wasn’t until the first week of Stage 2 that the Fusion started to pop off. The insane flexibility of their roster has allowed them to adapt to a more fluid metagame, and their play is looking far more decisive now. Earlier this week on Thursday, they took down Houston (again) in an extraordinarily close 3-2 series and secured their place as one of the top non-Korean teams.
However, their biggest test is right around the corner today. They go up against the Stage 1 champions London Spitfire in what will either be a spectacularly close and intense series or a tragic blowout. Either Philly rises to the occasion and plays to the level they’ve established for themselves or they wither beneath the pressure the Korean team will put on them. If it’s not a quick 4-0 for London, it’s anyone’s game.
It’s been a crazy ride for Houston. They’re most certainly the most consistent non-Korean team in the league, and their victories over London in both stages have been hard fought and epic in scale. However, living at the top means constant fear of losing your spot. After Philly’s upset on Thursday, Houston is looking vulnerable again. It’s hard to believe that a single loss makes such a difference, but when you’re playing with the best, a single misstep is all it takes to drop out of the top three and into mediocrity.
That’s why this series against the Excelsior is so important. A good series against New York could cement their position at the top of the standings, especially since they’ve already defeated the other final boss, London. Unlike London, New York has proven to be an impregnable wall of resistance. Clean assassin play from Pine, Saebyeolbe, and Libero overpowered Houston’s supports in Stage 1 during the Mercy meta, but we’re in a new meta now, and that could make all the difference for the Outlaws. A victory for New York is still expected, but perhaps it’ll be a closer 3-2 this time around.
Everyone loves the Dragons. It doesn’t matter what happens when they play, it’s so easy to feel sorry for them and cheer them on anyway. Shanghai has gone a humiliating 0-13 in the league so far despite their best efforts to shuffle the roster and change up their tactics. At the beginning of Stage 2, they signed Geguri, Sky, Fearless, and Ado, but they have yet to bring the players into action due to travel constraints.
While it’s unlikely we’ll see the Koreans in play this week, at least Shanghai has an easier match. Despite a better record than Florida, San Francisco’s gameplay looks subjectively worse and they seem to have far less impact than the other non-Korean teams in the league. If Shanghai is going to finally snag a victory, it’ll be against the Shock. The two haven’t played against each other since the first week of Stage 1, but it’ll be interesting to see how Shanghai’s rearrangement will fare. San Francisco still has the edge in bets, but I’ll take the risky prediction here: 3-1 Shanghai Dragons. (Roshan…if you’re going to let me down, let me down gently).
The Overwatch League launched in early January, and it hasn’t taken long for every team in the league to designate a dedicated Tracer player. Aside from the brief intermission of the Widow/Junkrat metagame at the end of Stage 2, Tracer has been ubiquitous in almost every game and has slowly evolved from the back line assassin she used to be to a consistent damage dealer in a dive-heavy meta.
According to Winston’s Lab, Tracer snags an impressive 25% of all team kills and has some of the best combined KDAs in the entire league. On winning teams, Tracer players can score 8.0 KDAs or higher like complete monsters, all while casually styling on their opponents and dropping BM sprays.
It’s no secret that Tracer’s a strong hero, but what’s impressive has been her resiliency. Despite a handful of “counters” like Winston and McCree, she’s thrived through multiple metas and even become a trademark for the league itself. Whether it’s a rather tank heavy meta, a dive meta, or some sort of poke meta, Tracer has the chops to get behind enemy lines and wreak havoc.
Tracer’s uncanny ability to sidestep the meta is exemplified in the use of Pulse of Bomb. During Stage 1 when Mercy was the go-to support, it was especially important to eliminate the Mercy before or during a big fight so that she couldn’t get the double resurrect off with Valkyrie. Unsurprisingly, Tracer was the perfect hero for the job. How many times was Mercy eliminated by Tracer bombs in Stage 1? Too many to count.
And yet, even with the Mercy nerfs in patch 19.3 and a new era of tank-heavy compositions, Tracer is standing tall in Stage 2. With beefier compositions and the prevalence of Winston and Zarya, it looked like Tracer might have trouble busting tankier comps, but instead she’s become more relevant than ever. Now that Resurrect isn’t as powerful (and Mercy has been generally replaced by Lucio), single target eliminations mean much more, especially on tanks. It’s easy for Tracer to deal a bit of damage to one of the diving tanks like Winston or DVa and quickly finish them off with a Pulse Bomb.
In the recent match between Seoul and Dallas in Week 2, Munchkin repeatedly stuck xQc’s Winston and effectively shut down the Fuel’s aggressive tank line to expose the weaker DPS players in the back line. It’s also become common practice to de-mech DVa at every opportunity, and Tracer players are perfectly willing to use a Pulse Bomb to do that knowing that DVa is effectively dead after losing her MEKA suit. You can worry about the back line when there’s no front line left.
Will Tracer survive into the next metagame? All signs point to “yes”, but with the upcoming buffs to Sombra, it looks like she might be getting replaced…at least for now.
When I was young, I used to watch the football games with my dad every Sunday night. I didn’t know what was going on, but I had nothing better to do and it was a good chance to spend some time with the people I found interesting at the time. I even played some baseball and soccer in rec leagues until I was about 13. But as I grew older and drifted away from my parents, I also drifted away from sports; I just didn’t derive any particular enjoyment from watching a guy throw a ball to another guy, and I didn’t get the frenetic energy sports fan got when “their” team won. I just preferred to play games and study music.
So you imagine my surprise when I suddenly realized, sitting alone watching the finals of the Mid-Season Brawl on mute using library wifi, that I had become a sports fan…just not the type I had always imagined in my head.
Everyone knows that guy who insists on going to a bar for lunch so he can “watch the game” or that person who plans out epic Superbowl parties or the person who listens to the ball game on the radio during their commute back home at night. We all know those people who thrive on competition and bracketeering and meticulously tracking stats and arguing with co-workers over who the greatest quarterback of all time is. I never saw myself as one of those people and I never understood their obsessive need to be involved with the sport constantly (especially if they didn’t play it themselves), but in the arena of esports, I’m beginning to realize I’m exactly like those people. I am those people.
During the Mid-Season Brawl, I technically had no work to do outside of keeping up with the LiquidHeroes bingo and tweeting out any boxes we had checked off. I had no obligation to watch all the games, but I did anyway. I followed the games religiously, kept notes wherever possible, and paid attention to the drafts of each team and how the metagame was evolving. Unfortunately, I had to miss at least two full days driving my mother back and forth between the house she’s fixing up and home (a two hour round trip, and up to five or six hours in between transit), but it didn’t stop me from trying to get all the information I could.
I checked Twitter and Discord constantly for hints about what was going on. I didn’t have the data (or battery power) to stream everything from my phone, so I had to rely on wifi wherever I could get it, so I drove to libraries, coffee shops, Waffle Houses, etc. And for the first time, I noticed that I was moving outside the realm of pure analysis and self-improvement to actual fandom; I suddenly understood all of those crazy emotions people went through watching a football or soccer game.
Esports is all about the competition and the storylines. It’s about the underdog slaying the giant. It’s about meaningless but thoroughly entertaining games. And it’s about building a community of people that will stick together because of this one random thing they all have in common.
This wasn’t the first time this has happened. I remember watching LoL Worlds in the university library while studying journalism last year. I remember staying up ultra late just to watch Korean SC2 players play the most epic GSL finals of all time. I’ve experienced it all, even in games I didn’t play. But that moment watching the Mid-Season Brawl was a wake-up call. It turns out I have a lot more in common with sports fans than I thought.
Decided to do a bit of a short article about my thoughts on StarCraft 2…and then it grew into this thing. I want to be very clear that StarCraft is quite honestly one of the best things that has ever happened to me; it completely changed my view of the world, and I’ve never been the same since I first discovered it. Nonetheless, I think it failed to live up to its potential, and it’s important to look back on the history of the game, how it evolved, how it came to be, and really think critically about how it was handled. It’s important to do this sort of analysis, not just because I just want to disagree with David Kim, but because I truly believe the developers didn’t think through their design decisions properly, and thus the finished product was botched beyond belief.
I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs with StarCraft 2, and since I’ve taken the long way around to playing Brood War, I feel I’m qualified to explain the design failures of StarCraft 2 accurately with a sober and impartial approach free from “arguments of nostalgia”. StarCraft has been a huge part of my life, and I feel it’s necessary to put down on paper all of the things that have been bothering me about its design and development from day one—and hopefully in the process, I can explain why some of these things came to be in the first place.
Note: I have not played Legacy of the Void since the first few weeks of release. I know a lot of people believe that the final expansion has made a lot of progress and created a much better game, but through my own observations, watching tournaments, and seeing others play, there are still plenty of core issues that still persist and taint the potential of this beautiful game. I want to avoid making too many Brood War vs StarCraft 2 arguments, but I think it would be willfully ignorant to gloss over the things that BW did correctly just to avoid a comparison argument.
If you play Brood War for only a moment, you will immediately notice the insane power of defender’s advantage. With the right units, you can hold a base forever against your opponent. For instance, literally no number of marine/medic will ever break three lurkers on top of a ramp, and Protoss can camp out on one base with Templar, Dark Archons, and Arbiters safely for pretty much eternity.
This sort of defense doesn’t exist in StarCraft 2. It’s not necessarily bad that the sequel got rid of high ground advantages that relied on RNG, but the effects on the gameplay were numerous and adverse.
Perhaps the largest difference is the emergence of the “deathball syndrome”. I don’t necessarily mean the emergence of large armies, but rather the phenomenon where players will always expand outward from their main while using a rather mobile army bouncing between bases to defend. From this issue arises a whole slew of other problems, from hard counters to uninteresting economic models to unit design issues.
Here’s an example: in Brood War, one of the key concepts, particularly for Zerg and Protoss players, is to expand to other corners of the map and create two “main bases” to work outwards from. This means that you can defend one base from your opponent’s attacks while slowly building up a force at the other base. When the big doom push comes knocking at your natural expansion, you can stall out with defilers or templar while continuing to amass forces at the other corner of the map.
If you attempt this sort of strategy in StarCraft 2, one or both of your bases will likely be overrun very quickly unless your opponent doesn’t scout it. This was attempted many times in the game’s infancy, and there’s a reason why the tactic quickly died out.
Think abstractly for a moment. Two kings are at war with one another. King Raynor has only one castle, but King Artanis has two castles placed a reasonable distance apart. If Raynor wants to take over Artanis’s empire, he will want to invade both castles. He can either split his forces and risk being unable to break either or he can overrun them one at a time; naturally, Raynor will decide to dedicate all of his forces toward one target to avoid splitting his damage too much.
Assuming unlimited resources, the king with two castles will always win. Artanis can stall out Raynor’s siege for a very long time while gathering his forces at his other castle, eventually gathering a critical mass that will allow him surround and crush the invasion or attack Raynor’s base directly; Raynor will have to either sacrifice his castle (which he can’t) or retreat with his forces intact. Either way, Artanis with his two castles comes out ahead in the war.
If you remove the defender’s advantage—say, the two kings own camps on large fields—there are few incentives to creating large camps far away from each other (though you do have the perk of being able to relocate easily). Instead, the kings will tend to clump up their resources and rely more on mobile troops who can switch very quickly between attack and defense to guard their land. History will show that this is often the case in less advanced regions, with examples such as the Huns during Atila’s reign or the Iroquois Indians in the plains region of North America; the group that was proficient on horseback and owned many horses was always on the winning side.
The second example is much closer to the accidental design of StarCraft 2. It’s not necessarily bad, but it does create a situation where bases must be tightly clustered and multi-purposed units with a lot of mobility reign supreme. If you need a more concrete example, look at the one exception in Brood War: ZvZ. In that matchup, Sunken and Spore Colonies simply don’t attack quickly enough to deal with swarms of mutalisks or zerglings, therefore negating a lot of the defender’s advantage. As such, players constantly had to match their opponent’s army in order to defend against potentially fatal attacks.
You could argue that ZvZ was borderline chaos. StarCraft 2 took this a step further into to the extreme when things like instant reinforcement (Protoss Warp-ins, speedlings on creep) and hyper utility units (like the Queen or the Mothership Core) were added to the game and even further weakened the defender’s advantage. The road since then has never yielded us a comfortable design that felt manageable. Without the proper checks and a stable set of rules, this sort of mobile warfare devolves from a brilliant allocation of troops similar to Risk into absolute chaos.
The thought experiment above is actually great for understanding different systems of warfare and even understanding some of the asymmetric balance that occurs between the races in StarCraft, but as you can see, it comes with some serious considerations. If bases aren’t spread out, what’s the point of spreading your army out?
Deathballs were something that emerged almost immediately in Starcraft 2‘s storied past, beginning with the horrific 1 food roach swarms during the beta. Many reasons were stated in the past as to why this particular phenomenon seemed to crop up: it was the fault of “unlimited” unit selection, damage density, hyper-mobile units, weak AoE, boring unit design, economic mining behavior, etc. There’s no doubt that these things may have exacerbated the problem, but at its core, it all began with a lack of defender’s advantage.
If you have a weak defender’s advantage and have to rely primarily on numbers, then positioning becomes much more important. In the late game, a large army can only be defended by an equally large army. It’s difficult to spare even a single unit to defend outlying bases, much less split your army in two. Thus, it makes more sense to move your army in a large ball between bases, using small groups and vision to deter possible counterattacks.
Legacy of the Void has attempted to artificially solve this problem by starving players out (“expand or die”) and forcing them to take blind chances with their positioning; they must split up their army and do harassment on several different fronts to protect their own economy while slowing down their opponent’s. You will always lose something, so it becomes a battle to see who can lose less—it’s skillful, but not necessarily fulfilling. For multiple reasons, I don’t believe this is fun (though I know others believe differently). More objectively, however, it creates a world in which a “perfect game” is impossible, a sentiment that many Korean players and coaches have shared with David Kim and the design team over and over—it’s not just very hard to play well, it’s literally impossible.
One of the beauties of Brood War is that it can actually nearly be mastered. Basic macro and positioning is difficult to do, but very much achievable with many intermediate steps along the way. Most of the difficulty is in the PvE aspect, so you feel great if you played a game with high APM, great macro, and a well-executed strategy. From there, it’s a battle with your opponent to see who can out-multitask the other. That’s where the endless challenge of Brood War lies, and it’s an endless pursuit as long as players play the game competitively.
On the other hand, Legacy of the Void has an extremely low barrier of entry but forces you to make blind decisions regarding your tech, scouting, and army positioning. While this can be entertaining from a spectator’s perspective (for those “big moments”), it’s nigh impossible to practice properly because of the game’s ever-changing nature depending on the opponent, their build, and their playstyle; you cannot become proficient without either having innate godlike twitch mechanics or an uncanny ability to read your opponent and guess their next move.
To reiterate, this is a band-aid fix for a problem that runs much deeper than the surface. It’s not necessarily accurate to give the game an inherent property that actually means something, but for a game that is based on economics, Starcraft 2 fails on the premise of making economics meaningful. Unit interaction and throwing a wrench in your opponent’s plans take up a far more meaningful role than building bases and managing resources.
There are some potential fixes that could have helped to fix deathballs (such as better defender’s advantage, stronger space control, or some sort of innate base defense that can defend against small numbers of units), but a starvation economy and an increased focus on harassment has done nothing but destabilize the game.
One of the key features of StarCraft 2 has always been its quick pace and smooth graphics. Compared to Brood War (or really any other RTS that came out around the same time), it runs on a beautiful, efficient engine. Everyone who’s seen a dragoon take 20 minutes to find the entrance to a ramp knows exactly the frustration that older generation RTS’s posed in terms of unit movement and animation. StarCraft 2, on the other hand, was revolutionary.
For the first time, units would glide over the terrain with precision and accuracy. Micro tricks like marine splitting, blink stalker micro, and ling/baneling wars were the apex of the game’s achievements; nothing in the world takes your breath away like watching a pro player split marines like a god. Anyone who argues for the wonky glitches and awkward unit interaction from older generation RTS’s is living in a fantasy world. Either way, we still have to face the fact that the smoothness of the engine did cause some unintentional problems.
The first inherent problem is the tendency for units to clump up. If you select a large group of units and click at a designated location, the engine will give each and every unit a command to walk to that exact spot on the map, hindered only by unit collision. Not a big deal, but it does create some issues in that groups will always travel in clusters. Add in “unlimited” unit selection, and you’ve got yourself a good old-fashioned “deathball”. One of the beauties of older generation games was that units moved in waves or small, kind of square-like groups that was messy and required micro management to keep it in line.
A ball, however, is the perfect shape for damage. With ranged units, it applies equal DPS on all sides and naturally protects itself from surrounds by eliminating the gaps in between ranks and reducing surface area. Most importantly, it greatly increases the damage density.
Damage density is the damage per second per square inch (or foot or meter or what have you). In other words, clumped up units do more damage per second.
So what makes this different from any other game? Critical mass. If you continue adding to the ball, eventually you reach a point where the diameter of the ball exceeds the range of the unit. When all of the units cannot fire at once, the ball has reached critical mass and cannot generate a higher DPS except through a concave. What happens when you can select up to 100 units at a time in StarCraft 2‘s ultra smooth engine? The critical mass almost ceases to exist in a realistic game.
Some have speculated that increasing unit collision size or refining some of the movement behavior through unintuitive engine rules might fix this problem, but it’s unlikely that these changes would ever create a more stable or glossier interface that we have currently; we do not want to go back to a clunkier system.
Assuming that the engine mechanics are here to stay, we can only influence the behavior of deathballs (which is difficult for reasons stated above) or find a way to prevent the critical mass from sublimating everything in their path.
The second major problem arising from StarCraft 2‘s engine is the ease of utility and the smoothness of the way the units move and behave. Again, these are great improvements in quality, but they can cause some serious issues if left unchecked.
Things like smart targeting, lack of overkill, and smart casting all play a part in making the user’s experience easy and consistent. In addition, the animations in the game are clean and functional without creating visual clutter. It’s honestly a marvel in game development how few bugs and glitches StarCraft 2 has. However, these quality of life improvements also make it really easy to focus damage and gun things down very efficiently.
Smooth unit movement also makes it incredibly easy to close distances with melee units or move armies up and down ramps like a flowing river. It makes everything more mobile, more slippery, and above all, more dangerous. Added to the quick speed of the game, there’s hardly time to react to unit movements and you will almost inevitably take some damage if you’re not paying close attention. It’s not uncommon to look away at your base and look back to find your army melting to colossi beams and Psionic Storms.
To put it simply: the fluid unit movement and attack animations in StarCraft 2 are simply too good for the current damage numbers. Damage numbers have grown out of control. Again, we definitely don’t want to relive the past, but we must adapt to the new technology better than we have so far.
The most elegant solution is a damage nerf across the board. Oracles should not be able to clear an unattended entire mineral line in seconds. A group of marine/marauder/medivac shouldn’t be able to level a base in the blink of an eye. A group of 12+ roaches shouldn’t be able to one-shot basically any unit in the game.
The game of StarCraft 2 is actually played a notch faster than originally intended, but as the standard game speed increased, the damage numbers stayed the same. As a result, the hectic race of trying to drop in two places while maneuvering your army in an intelligent way on top of macroing perfectly has always been a delicate balance. Many games have been won and lost by a single mistake, a single moment of inattention, and it’s largely because things just die too fast. For the most part, we got used to it, but the insane pace set by Legacy of the Void sped up the game even more and created a frantic atmosphere of drops, small skirmishes, non-committal expansions, and crazy strategies. It’s become a game of making less mistakes than your opponent rather than executing thoughtful strategies perfectly.
If you ask me, the base attack of most units in the game could be toned down by 20-50%. It would feel weird at first, but giving players more time to react, micro, and play around attacks might create an illusion that the game is not so chaotic as it seems sometimes. Large spell threats like Psionic Storm, Ravager bombs, or Widow Mines could remain the same to retain those big moments where attention is absolutely necessary, but preventing critical masses from mowing down everything in sight instantly could create much more interesting game dynamics than we see currently.
I don’t think there should be any argument here, to be honest. Macro mechanics were designed as a way to keep players doing things and paying attention to their bases, a problem the developers appropriately identified when they simplified/smoothed out a lot of the UI. Increasing the ease of play by allowing workers to be rallied automatically, shift-clicking buildings, and increased maximum unit selection were all good things (it would be ignorant to say otherwise), but they had one major drawback: they made the game a little too easy to play. Working with the smaller maps and confined spaces to build at the time, the developers calculated that something needed to be worked out so that players had to look at their bases occasionally. The result was macro mechanics.
At the outset, it didn’t seem as if they posed any large overarching problems. Hilariously small maps like Steppes of War and Slag Pits were dominated by proxy cheeses which Terran and Protoss benefited from most, but macro mechanics allowed non-stop action during these elongated one base vs one base fights. On large maps, there seemed to be no adverse side effects other than 4-gate rushes and speedling openings. It was apparent that one-base tech was coming out a little too quickly, but that could always be solved with research time adjustments (like the ones for the bunker, warp gate timing twice, banshees, reapers, etc.); large scale macro games, however, showed no real signs that the macro mechanics caused issues. It was difficult at this time for the creators to actually gauge whether macro mechanics or some of the more common things like unit design, timing, and maps were the issues with imbalance.
In hindsight, it’s strange that they overlooked a core aspect of the game for more variable objects. While numbers or functionality of a unit can be changed to affect one circumstance, macro mechanics affected all parts of play in every circumstance. If something so core to the game isn’t accurately vetted and tested, there’s no telling what the long-term effects of it will be, and in this case, all it did was artificially speed up the game.
When we finally reached open mapmaking that gave fair opportunity to all races and Zerg could freely take third bases, Inject Larva started an arms race. This is when we began to truly see the “three base cap” and big deathballs emerge, and it was all because Zerg could instantly remax their army off of four injected hatcheries. I personally believe the first time that macro mechanics became truly problematic was Stephano’s roach max build. This wasn’t some chimerical idea that had never been thought of before, but it did change the way that many players looked at production and defense. After that, Terran players began to build extra CCs earlier, Protoss players began taking bases earlier, Zergs got even more aggressive with their expansions—the greed got out of control because whatever drawbacks the player took from expanding early were more than made up for within a minute or two due to the macro mechanics. The economic boost gained through Chronoboost, MULEs, and Inject Larva sped up the early/mid game to an alarming speed and ushered in an artificial late game with monstrous armies.
Within a few months, the game had evolved from a mosh pit of one and two base aggressive plays and awkward macro play to a calculated game of risk that balanced greed and safety on a knife’s edge while abusing macro mechanics. Pretty soon, everyone was able to get to three bases rapidly without any danger, and we began an era of 2-base all-in or max. A few odd turtle strategies like mech or swarm host play emerged, but generally the game revolved around one thing: getting a third base and maxing out.
These problems persisted late into the second expansion and into Legacy of the Void. As the game grew into larger maps and freer bases, the developers began to realize they had made a huge error. The attempt was made to artificially slow down the rate of expansion and maxing out with their economic changes as well as the introduction of several more units who could break fortifications or harass mineral lines with ease. Following an outcry that the game was too difficult, the developers decided now was a good time to address macro mechanics and maybe even remove them altogether.
Removing MULEs, Chronoboost, and Inject Larva was probably the best thing they could have done with the game, but a surprising amount of backlash from the community pressured developers into bringing them back. Faux arguments that macro mechanics showed skill, allowed more choices, or were an integral part of StarCraft 2 were all fallacies backed by nostalgia; all of them failed to recognize that the insane arms race generated by macro mechanics are the reason why the game needed an economic adjustment to begin with. Removing them provides far more meaningful decisions in regards to your army positioning, how you harass, and your opening build.
Think for a moment of an early game where variations of 4-gate timings aren’t two minutes apart. Think about how much more predictable that particular pressure will be. All builds would take a little longer to get off the ground, harass units like oracles or cyclones would come out later (and at a much more reliable time), and scouting in the early game would actually be somewhat difficult. Mind games and proper control become paramount, but no longer does each player need to take risks to account for an impossibly early rush that might kill them instantly. Bases are taken somewhat more organically as players take a bit longer to mine out. There’s more early game interaction between units and less positional guesswork involved.
That’s the sort of StarCraft that feels strategic.
Continuing my trend of sitting down and writing daily (I did write some between blog posts, they’ve just been scattered around or remain unpublished for the moment), I wanted to talk today about poor practice habits and what I see as the “problem with NA”.
Consistency and quality are the building blocks of greatness; you can’t have only one and still become the best of the best. In everything that I do, from writing articles to blog posts to making videos, etc, I try to make sure I’m following that mantra: consistency and quality above all else. Sometimes this makes work tedious and pedantic, but I know the end result will be something good.
The same goes for competition. The best competitors are ones who practice not only improving the quality of their play but also their consistency. You can be the most talented, most skilled player in the world, but if you can’t play your best game every game, then you will never be a great player. That’s the cold, hard truth, and it’s one that I don’t think many progamers in North America have quite taken to heart. In fact, I think the region is so steeped in bad practice habits that the idea of systematically building quality and consistency has been completely lost in the fray of constantly grinding. It’s common for competitors (or artists or really anyone) to get caught up in mindlessly grinding and failing to improve, but it is especially prevalent in the NA scene, and it’s evident if you look at the results for most esports competitions.
It’s important to note that I’m not making a blanket statement about ALL players. In my opinion, there are quite a few standout players in the Heroes scene like Glaurung, Fury, and Fan who are relentlessly critical of themselves and constantly in search of areas to improve. If you watched the recent scrims with Team 8 and Dyrus, you’re probably aware of how insanely positive Glaurung is for his teammates and how much he takes the blame on himself. Not only is this admirable in the sense of putting the team before himself, but it shows that he is never happy with his play just being “good enough”. The goal of performance should be perfection, even if you never achieve it.
Still, the few standout players can’t redeem the region as a whole. I’ve talked with quite a few people about what the “problem” is, and far too often we come to the conclusion that it’s some sort of cultural problem. Maybe the US (and/or Canada) is far too forgiving of mistakes, maybe we’re not taught to pursue perfection the same way as other countries, maybe we’re just not dedicated to practice, etc. I can’t speak for what the exact reason is, but one thing I know for sure is that players and teams often have very bad practice habits which prevent them from improving at the same rate as other regions.
Last year, I sat in on a scrim session with Astral Authority (the Gust or Bust team, not the Murloc Geniuses team) and realized that they were getting almost nothing out of it. For almost six hours, one player experimented with drafts while the rest of the team just played through the game. There was little talk about why strategies or drafts worked or didn’t work, and for the most part, they seemed completely unconcerned with the outcome of their scrims (final result was 1-5, I believe).
In the final game, they drafted a complete troll comp and just played around and fed. I was trying out for coach, so I asked them a bit about their practice regiment and whether they were concerned about the results, and they told me that “other people don’t get their practice habits” and that they didn’t want to take scrims too seriously and get burnt out.
This is purely anecdotal evidence of one scrim for one team, but I get the creeping suspicion that the lassaiz-faire attitude is common among a lot of the teams in North America. To be clear, I’m not advocating that practice should be super serious at all times; in fact, it’s really important to make games out of all practice of any kind to keep yourself engaged. However, goal-setting has to underline all practice habits or else you are learning nothing and stagnating.
Consistency is a big problem in North America too. During this season of HGC, only Tempo Storm has fared well in terms of consistency, and even then, they did have a few days where their drafting and in-game performance wasn’t quite on par with their usual.
Everyone else was a trainwreck. Team 8 was very consistent for the first half of the season, but once April rolled around, their play fell apart and they suffered three crushing defeats in a row against teams that they should have been able to beat (some of this has been blamed on scheduling and scrim time, but I don’t believe those factors alone contributed to the overall drop in play). Naventic and No Tomorrow got dumpstered on all season, but on good days, they were able to beat or go even with some of the teams in the region. And don’t even get me started on GFE….
Compare that to Europe. Fnatic and Dignitas were absolutely solid throughout the entire season, and although Liquid had a bit of an issue in the second half, they were very consistent overall. Team expert, Playing Ducks, and Tricked had widely varying levels of play, but for the most part they beat the teams they were supposed to beat (Synergy/beGenius). There are no examples of the last place team beating the first place team (Gale Force eSports vs No Tomorrow).
Again, the lack of consistency comes with bad practice habits, in my opinion. A strict practice schedule and clearly defined goals eliminate the possibility of “being out of practice” or unclipping your mind and muscles from the actions they’re supposed to do automatically. Quality of play will always vary, especially in a team environment, but the standard deviation should be minimal. You cannot become the best team in the world or even the region without a high level of consistency.
Mary Oliver, a famous poet, once wrote that in order to find inspiration, you had to cultivate it with daily practice; in other words, sitting down and thinking seriously about your work every day. Even if the result doesn’t feel inspired, you will eventually train yourself to call on that inspiration at will.
What I DON’T think the problem is is ego. No one goes 0-3 and thinks “I’m still the best player in the world, no one can touch me”, at least no sane person. North American players are well known to make excuses and play the blame game, and I honestly don’t believe that’s a product of arrogance as much as it’s not being able to locate problems in their practice habits. The game is incredibly complex, and there are a lot of reasons why people win or lose. If you don’t have a habit of being relentlessly critical of yourself, it’s very easy to overlook your own play and blame another player or team. Sometimes the reasons are even murkier, and a frustrated player will lash out to the nearest reason like a bad draft or a bad bracket.
It’s hard to pinpoint mistakes…that’s honestly a skill all its own, but it’s one that separates decent players from great players, and it’s built through having lots of targeted practice. Think about a choral master who, after years of practice finding his own voice and listening to others, can find a single wrong note in a chorus of 100 people. That’s the level to aim for.