First Steps: Handling the Game

In the „First Step“ Chapters you’ll read some very basic stuff – mostly how to handle the game. If you are already experienced, you might at least skip the Definitions part and move on to the rest. Skim over it and decide if it’s helpful for you. If it’s not, move on to other parts of the page. However, you might miss out on some small details. As a rule of thumb, I’d recommend the next parts for people still stuck in the D-/D range of ICCup.

  1. Definitions
  2. The Golden Rule
  3. The Golden Rule
  4. Shortcuts
  5. Hotkeys
  6. Waypoints and Rallypoints
  7. Minimap
  8. The Value of the Keyboard – an Example
  9. Creating a System
  10. Tipps and Tricks: Hotkey Systems
  11. Hidden Tricks
  12. Copy Hotkey Set Ups? What do Professionals use?
  13. Training: The best approaches


Before you can dive into Brood War, we should clear a few things. Sooner or later you will find some phrases or words you simply have to understand.

Macromanagement (to macro) usually means that you spend resources or perform actions to get more resources. Any kind of base control – raising buildings, training units, researching technology – does count, as well as sending workers to mine minerals and gas. However, there’s a little more: e.g. setting up rally points for your buildings.

Micromanagement (to micro) refers to army movement and attacks in the more popular sense. This also includes positioning your army before a battle, as map features are a lot more important in Brood War than in most other strategy games (e.g. high ground advantages).

Multitasking is some kind of blurry word many veterans love to use. It describes any action you do, which is not related to either macro or micro. Personally, I don’t like it, as all actions could and can be classified by either „micro“ or „macro“. The only exception might be the so-called scouting – moving single units around the map to gather information about your opponent.

Closely related to micro, macro and multitasking is „APM“. APM stands for Actions Per Minute and is some measurement fans invented. There are several ways to calculate the APM. The most popular approach is to sum up all actions (literally all) in the game and divide it by real time. As result, you get a number e.g. „180“ – so you’d do three actions per minute in average.

APM Warning: This chapter describes how you can control the game, it’s not about strategy. Many people tend to believe a high APM score would mean you could control the game well. More think that „eAPM“ – APM without „useless actions“ – would be a better indicator. Both are just indicators, but in the end more than APM matters. If you learn what’s coming up next, you’ll also automatically score higher APM values along the way – so concentrate on your control, not on a number, you want to artificially raise. Also, don’t worry, there were plenty of high class players with a seemingly low APM. APM is not everything!

Mechanics: Improving the Macromanagement

You will usually hear that Brood War takes ages to learn, especially since its interface is so outdated. You can only control 12 units at a time, you have to click each building one by one, and so on and so forth goes the rambling. Do not fall for that myth. It will take you about thirty of forty games to get used to the exotic things, but you will learn fast, if you follow the upcoming tipps closely. It’s really not that hard and actually fun to pull of hard moves. It makes you appreciate the game more over time, I promise.

The Golden Rule

There’s one rule you have to follow: Do use your entire keyboard, and not just few of its keys. If you only use your mouse, you are bound to fail. You’ll learn that pretty fast. Hence, one hand on the keyboard, one on the mouse. The keyboard is your assistant, and you shall make use of it.


First off, any command you can perform can be done by using „Short Cuts“. E.g. instead of moving your mouse to the „attack“ symbol and then clicking on the map, you can press „a“ and click. That’s a lot faster.

Anything else, literally anything, works the same way: patrol, move, stop. Same goes for training units, instead of clicking on a Warpgate and then on the Zealot symbol, you might as well click the Gatway and press „Z“.

A full list of all Shortcuts can be found on the Liquipedia Portal. If you use a foreign (non-English) keyboard set up, you can hover your mouse over the icons, until the Shortcut lights up.


Hotkeys are the keys 1 to 0 and the keys F2, F3 and F4.

You can either bind up to 12 units on one number Hotkey (1 to 0), or one building by pressing CTRL+X (X being the number). If you, for example, bound one Probe to Key 1 and press 1 once, the Probe will be selected. If you press 1 twice, the screen will jump on top of the Probe. In the later game this might cause problems: For example if you have bound 12 units to one key, but all units are scattered among the map / or move with different speed around. Hence, you might have to adjust your screen by scrolling a little. As a consequence, if you manage your army via hotkeys, try to bind the same kind of units under the same hotkey – e.g. 1 for Dragoons, 2 for Zealots, 3 for High Templar.

Futhermore, some units do not have some features or lose them – a Lurker can not „hold position“. However, if he’s in the same group with an Overlord (for example), he very well can out of a sudden. It’s similar for spell casters, their abilities might not be casted, if selected with different units – the button disappears and can not be selected via Hotkey if non-spell casters of a different kind are in the same group.

The F-Keys on the other hand bind screen locations, but neither units, nor buildings. This means that if you press Shift-F2 while viewing the middle of the map this particular screen will be saved. If you scroll away and hit F2 again, you will immediately jump to the middle of the map.

Waypoints and Rallypoints

Rallypoints are available for any building that can train units – a Hatchery for example. If you select that Hatchery and right click on any point, any newly trained unit will move there. However, it really only moves, it does not gather minerals, and it will ignore attacks. So use with care.

Up to ten Waypoints can be given to any unit. If you hold Shift and right click on point A (hold Shift) and right click on Point B, the unit will move from A to B. With this trick you can pile different kind of commands, such as „Build Building here, afterwards move back to mine minerals“, or „Patrol between Points A (start point), Point B and Point C“.


Lastly, the minimap is your friend. If you perform a command there (a-click on a spot), it will be performed in real game, without you having to scroll to the target area first. Imagine you want to move four hotkeys (1-4) filled with 12 units each across the map with the attack command. If you do not use the minimap, you have to scroll from one end to the other, before you can put down where they should move. With hotkeys you can press A click on the minimap and then everything moves – that’s time saved. However, before going into battle, you might want to stop the units. It’s a good trick to bypass some time, but for actions requiring more detailed control, it’s not the way to go (see Micromanagement / or raising a Building).

The Value of the Keyboard

So far it sounds a little strange – why would you need to know about all these features? The answer is: IF you combine them and perform well, you will gain the upper hand. In the low levels most players lose mainly due to bad mechanical performance, rather than due to strategical disadvantages.

To underline the idea, we’re going to compare a fictional Protoss vs. Terran game, you being the Protoss. One time with a hotkey system and one time without. You have two groups of dragoons grouped on two different hotkeys. They’re standing outside the Terrans base, ready to fight back any attack. You have your main base and your natural (the expansion that is next to your main). You want to train more units and you want to expand one more time.

Without hotkeysystem

0:00 You’re looking at the choke of the Terrans base. Your army is there, the Terran is not moving.
0:05 You scrolled back to your main nexus and built a probe with mouse only.
0:09 You scrolled to your natural nexus and bilt a probe with mouse only.
0:25 You scrolled to your gates and built 4 dragoons in your four gateways. Mouse only.
0:26 You selected a lone probe
0:40 You scrolled to an expansion spot
1:01 You built a nexus there with mouse only.
1:10 You scroll back to the Terrans choke. You see: nothing but blue soup.

What has happened? In Second 35 the Terran decided to push 20 meters in your direction and finished all of your dragoons. Too bad. You reacted too slow, and now you pretty much lost the game.

With hotkeysystem

0:00 you switch trough our two dragoon groups by pressing their hotkeys twice. No movement. Good.
0:01 you press your hotkey for the main nexus one time and train a probe with a shortcut. Note: you’re not jumping to it, since we only press the hotkey one time.
0:03 same with the nexus at the natural
0:04 you’re jumping with a F-Hotkey to our gateways, select them with the mouse one by one, and train dragoons with shortcuts
0:10 you select a lone Probe
0:11 you gave the probe order to move to the expansion spot (via minimap!)
0:14 you left-clicked on the minimap, and you now see the expansion spot
0:18 you placed down the nexus with shortcuts
0:22 you switch back to our dragoons via pressing their hotkeys two times. You’re seeing the Terrans Tanks unsieging. Time to attack or should you retreat?

Creating a System

Only by using the features explained above, you’re on a good way and you will improve a lot. However, if you do not have a system to back it up, you will still improve slower than you could – just using all hotkeys and short cuts randomly is too chaotic and often times overwhelming. Try to memorize some routine, you constantly cycle through over and over again. If you follow that scheme, you will automatically know what to do next and train what people call „muscle memory“. This prevents you from thinking / trying to figure out what buttons to press next; your goal is to go in a robot mode when it comes to control.

This is what you should do regularly:

Step 1: select your army. Is it in danger? Is it going to be attacked?
Step 1.1: If it is in danger: attack if you can win Step
1.2: If it is in danger: retreat if you can’t win
Step 2: Take a look at your supply limit
Step 2.1: Enough supply for units? Yes -> move on to step 3
Step 2.2: If no (that kicks in if you’re close „0<x Repeat Step 1-5 Step
5.1: It rises although you trained units. Expand if you’re in advantage or if the game is about to be a draw
Step 5.2: If you’re not in an advantage, or if your opponent could prevent you from expanding: build more production facilities / build tech buildings
Step 6: repeat Step 1 – Step 6

Tipps and Tricks: Hotkey systems

You will soon learn that you run out of hotkeys once the game goes into the late stages. That’s really bad. In the example we had our Main Buildings (Nexus, Hatches, Command Centers) on Hotkeys – in reality, you bind them to hotkeys, but not during the entire game. There are hundreds of small tricks you can learn. A good player never stops to evaluate his own hotkey system and his routine.

First off, try to construct similar buildings on the same spot. If you plan to warp in five Warpgates, they should be close to each other. This way, you only have to bind one Gate on one key, the rest can be selected by mouse. To elaborate, if the center Gate is on a Hotkey, you press that twice – and see the rest of the buildings.

Following up, use the rally points right away. Rally all your buildings soon to your choke point. If that point is bound with an F-Key for instance, you can add units to your existing hotkeys easily (Press Hotkey X, Hold Shift and select the new units, CTRL+X again).

Also, try to figure out how to use waypoints. Just a random example: There are Terran „timings“ (which we will discuss later), in which he has to „cut“ Gas gathering. This means he will pull two SCVs out of his refinery, once his first Barracks is completed. He then builds a Factory and a Depot at the same time, before sending two SCVs back to mine. A lot to remember. However, you can Select one Gas-SCV and waypoint-construct the Factory, then waypoint-move it back to Gas. Same for the Supply Depot. Thus, two SCVs automatically perform the correct actions in the right time frame, and you do not have to remember when to send which worker where.

This, by the way, goes for the F-Keys as well: Iloveoov was known to use them to set up rally points. He’d put his Factorys on F2 and his choke on F3. Then he pressed F2, selected a Factory, pressed F3 and right clicked – rinse repeat for all.

Lastly, many players will struggle to control a massive army in the late stages of the game. It’s not possible to bind all units to keys, which is especially true for Zerg and Terran. Zerg will control too many Zerglings, Terran will need some spare keys for ComSat usage. So what to do?

One helpful thought is to only bind the most important units – the one that deal the most damage, or are otherwise important to the army. The rest can be controlled mouse only, they die either way and that’s most likely their purose: Forming a meat shield. Selecting them mouse-only isn’t so bad in this case, as long as you keep them close to the units you have on hotkeys.

The other helpful thought is that the F-keys will entirely replace your production hotkeys – no more Main Buildings or stuff on those. Instead of clicking twice on one hotkey to jump on top of eight Warp Gates, you will use one of the F-Keys. These can’t be used for units anyway.

Hidden Tricks

There are hundred of small tricks hidden in the game, especially when it comes to moving your army or specific units in the correct way. Following up, just a short list of examples, which might be of use:

Any flying unit without air attack has a hidden „Patrol“ command feature. For example, a drop ship ordered to patrol into the opponent’s base will immediately retreat if fired upon. This can come in handy for beginners still struggling with mechanics. However, in some scenarios you really want to not use it, as you might sacrifice the dropship (because it will still unload in the opponents base before it dies).

Defilers do cast „Dark Swarm“, a spell under which range attacks basically don’t work at all. However, Defilers are mostly used against Protoss or Terran with Zerlings and Ultralisks – both move faster than a Defiler. It’s really hard to cast the Spell correctly for beginners. An ally of mine once told me to simply „cast it on top of Ultralisks when they run towards the opponent“ and the spell would always hit the right spot. It’s strange, since the Ultralisks are always slightly ahead, it does so happen that the spell will indeed hit very often very well, even without you controlling for its success; to elaborate, the Ultralisks will only then be in range of the Defiler, when they reach the opposing forces – so the Swarm WILL target the correct area in many cases. Again, it’s not always the case, but good in very stressful situations.

Terrans in the past often struggled against Dark Templars – if they scouted the cloaked units too late, they had no way to stop them. However, in the early game they often „blocked“ their ramp by placing 2 or three SCVs on them. Above this blockade a Barracks was floated, so no manual attack on the SCVs was possible (because you couldn’t see them). Incoming Dark Templars (or any other melee unit for that matter) couldn’t attack the SCVs and close in on the base (as they, for some reason, tried to attack units hiding behind the SCVs). However, again the Patrol chaos starts – if Protoss uses the Patrol command correctly, it will bypass the general fuck up, and the SCVs will be attacked first, potential defenders will be ignored.

Lastly, the „gather minerals“ command is notable. Any worker can slide through units if it gathers minerals. Hence, if you see minerals and you send a worker to mine, it will slide through units blocking their path – another way to get rid of the aforementioned ramp block; in this case you would send two or more workers to mine, until they’re on the opponent’s ramp. Once they “cross” the block, they are told to stop. After being stopped, your workers and the blocking workers will fuck up and move around aimlessly, thus creating a path for your real army.

Copy Hotkey Set Ups? What do Professionals use?

My first basic advice is to not care too much about what other people use. Usually, tons of veterans will jump in and paste their set ups – most times not helpful at all. They will not tell you little tricks, just tell you what they have on which hotkeys. Nothing you can learn there. Same goes for pros – these have unique set ups, that work them and their style. Hence, keep your fingers off it. If you really insist, just for curiousity’s sake, to have a look, simply download some replays. Open these files with BWChart and check it – nothing easier in the world. It might help you, but really, whatever works best for you is the best solution to your problem. Again, you will constantly work on your hotkey system all the time, so don’t bother trying to copy just for the sake of copying.

Yet, observing First Person Streams of Professionals might help you a lot, if you closely watch. Examine when they do what, and when they scroll, use mouse selctions and so on – you might catch some tricks, as the aforementioned “Dark Swarm on Ultralisks” example. Try to extrapolate general patterns (see the routine described), less the exact keys. This is most times the healthier approach.

Training: The best approaches

In order to memorize Short Cuts and trying to figure out which unit moves in which way, a couple of games against the computer will help you. However, you will see that there’s a difference in between just memorizing Short Cuts and „training“ your mechanics. If you intend to train, do play humans. Stress is a large factor. You only overcome stress, if you face stress in this scenario.

There are some maps designed to put stress on you. Personally, I don’t think they’re „that“ helpful, but at least they’re better than stomping the Garm Brood in safe haven.

>> The Maps (“Hotkey Trainer”)

Also, you might think you don’t improve in your first games. Try this trick to motivate you: Save your very first games, and compare to what you just „lost“. See the difference. It’s going to be massive!


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