In the upcoming chapters we’re going to have a closer look on micromanagement and scouting. Both are pivotal to the game and are things you can learn rather easily. However, as for all things go, a good player will constantly work on these fundamental techniques his entire career. Consequently, do not worry if you’re still having problems in reality – you’ll improve with every game, bit by bit. Since this is only about the very basics, the chapter is valuable information for the lower ranks – D or D-. Ranks above usually know the details already.
- Does and Dont’s
- Melee vs. Range vs. Spell Casters
- Splash Damage
- High Ground and Positions
- First Rules: Pre-Fight Position
- Pre-Fight: Commands
- In-Fight: Value of Units, Focus Fire, Retreat
- Hit and Run
If you skipped the previous chapter, here’s the definition again: Micromanagement refers to army movements as a whole – that’s it basically. However, reality isn’t as trivial as the definition. The goal of micromanagement (to micro, micro for short) is to maximize the own army’s attack, while minimizing damage taken. Micro can begin long before a fight happens, hence the anticipation and the choice of the battle field matters. The actual micro during a fight is important as well, but on beginner levels, it usually isn’t the reason why games are lost.
Does and Don’ts
First off, many people coming from games such as WarCraft III or other related titles have problems to start off correctly. There are tons of potential errors in what you can do, long before you even start up Brood War.
One of the biggest problems I encountered while trying to help out beginners is their deep rooted belief that statistical data might help them to identify the most powerful unit combinations for a fight. If you look at Blizzard’s data, and that provided by map makers, you’ll find some odd stuff. For instance, one of the most powerful counters to Mutalisks are Ghosts. They deal a ton of damage, can snipe them in no time and will probably defeat the flying threat without lots of „micro“ needed. However, nobody makes use of Ghosts in early stages of the game – that’s when the Mutalisks come in – primarily because you will never have enough ghosts in time. Consequently, do not try to figure out fancy stuff via statistics. Theory on paper and the reality usually differ a lot.
The other problem, mainly found in sub populations coming from „round based“ games, such as Chess or maybe risk, is that they tend to watch fights, rather than control them. Obviously, if you have the superior army, you will win by watching. If the armies are somewhat equal, you will lose, if your opponent micros and you don’t. Micro allows you to win with an inferior group of units. Keep that in mind!
However, the opposite can be quite problematic as well. Some people, mostly those coming from the WarCraft universe (including MOBAs), usually micro too much. Obviously WarCraft III was designed to have more battles than Brood War. In Brood War you want to control your armies, beginners, more specificly, want to avoid heavy losses, rather than be perfect in fights. It’s a lot easier to train re-inforcements and power over an opponent, instead of winning each tiny fight. You might suffer few losses in battle 1, but that doesn’t help if battle 2 is just around the corner and your resources are piled up. Hence: Try to focus on the fights, but never forget to refresh your troops!
Melee vs. Range vs. Spell Casters
If you have no idea yet where and what units to micro, you might just watch some replays, VODs or streams. The basic principles are obvious, you’ll see what units appear when, and how they are moved rather easily. You’ll realize that the Ghost example isn’t viable, and see that the alternative, Marines and Medics, work good in most cases. However, good micro requires training. A lot of it. Units in replays move differently from what you will be capable of, simply because you need to learn how to utilize them first. Dragoons for instance get stuck in the most stupid ways, while Marines rarely bug out. Brood War’s pathing can be a bitch.
Before we drift off, let’s look at some general rules and gather some interesting information. There are three important „groups“ of units: Melee (ground attack only), range units (usually ground and air attack) and spell casters (no attack, but spells), plus an additional feature: Splash. Splash damage is a type of attack that hits more than one unit – for example a Lurker’s shot, or a Tank volley. Don’t bother too much about that for a while, we’ll have a chapter for that later on.
The stage of the game does matter for your army. Usually, you start out with mostly melee units (except Terran), get some ranged units later on and in the later stages have support of spell casters. Hence, your army composition will change over time, and with that the value and role of each unit as well. At first, melee units, even the fragile ones, do matter a lot – later they will most likely turn into meat shields, shielding your army from damage. Range units deal damage at first, afterwards might be turned into some protector against airborne attacks. Spell casters are either supporting via heavy damage output (Psi Storm) or as defending units (Dark Swarm). What you can extrapolate thus far is: Always try to figure out what role a unit has in the stage of the game you’re at. Following up: With the game progressing, you’ll handle tons of units. In the early game you might want to „move“ Zealots one by one against other Zealots. In the late stages, you instead try to keep your High Templars and Dragoons alive, while the Zealots can do whatever, as long as they don’t fall down in large numbers. Consequently, now you try to control High Templars one by one, the Zealots in larger numbers!
Splash damage, as we learned, always hits an area. Sometimes you can select the area it hits – e.g. with a Psi Storm, but most times the Splash will hit automatically, as it’s the case for a Lurker Shot. Again, don’t worry too much about statistics, you will get a feeling as to how much the Splash will do; you don’t need to know how much the splash in- or decreases for every pixel on the screen.
Splash attack works best against clumps of units, for instance five tanks firing on a ramp, which four Dragoons try to pass. This is a very important realization: Splash damage can be maximized easily, if targeting a clump of unit. Vice versa: the damage input can be minimized if you spread your units. Obviously, this works best if only few units with splash damage are there; with more units dealing splash damage the input can not really be minimized anymore – just think about 12 Lurkers against 200 Zerglings – the Zerglings never stand a chance.
High Ground and Positions
We already realize that positioning of units matter. If you have splash units, you want to defend in narrow spots on the maps – such as small bridges, gaps in cliffs or ramps. If you attack these spots, you want to have the splash hitting single units instead. This is also why Protoss or Zerg rarely try to crack open a standing Terran army, if they can just wait it out. It’s never a good idea to just run into a bunch of splash dealing units like that.
However, there are other important map features you have to know – the biggest advantage is holding the high ground. High Ground, such as being on top of a ramp, gives the defender a bonus. There’s a miss chance of about 33% for the attacker. This means, very vaguely, that instead of fighting three Zealots blocking a ramp, you fight about four in reality, due to the miss chance. It doesn’t matter if you have vision of the Zealots or not, unlike in StarCraft II. The miss chance always is in place. The same is true if a Zealot, for example, hides under a tree (however less important in most games).
Taken in combination, we see that holding a ramp is the best bonus you can have. However, sometimes it’s not possible for you to defend in special battle fields, such as bridges, small entrances or ramps (by the way, these are all called „choke points“). Imagine you have 12 Dragoons having to fight 12 Dragoons in an open field. Even without controlling the units in the actual fight you can do a lot already: setting up the Dragoons in a concave form (or a line rectangular to incoming forces) will immediately force the incoming opposing Dragoons to face a larger surface. That means that your own Dragoons will all be able to shoot, while the incoming forces might block each other for a moment. The result: The defending troops will get a few extra shots, that will turn the tide!
First Rules: Pre-Fight Position
To summarize what we learned so far:
- You should always make use of map features, especially chocke points and high ground when defending. When attacking, try to lure defenders out of these spots.
- It’s pivotal that you try to set up your units in a way, that every single unit is available to shoot. This can be done by creating concave formations.
- Against splash dealing units, try to attack with spread out units
- With splash dealing units, try to attack or create clumps of the opposing units, because you want to utilize the „area of attack“ to its fullest extend
A step back though – let’s look at the commands again. We already learned something about commands and short cuts in the previous chapter about macromanagement. There are different types of commands we want to analyse: Move, Attack, Hold Position, Stop and Patrol.
The „Move“ Command is the easiest one – if a selected unit is commanded to move (right click) it will just move. That means it will ignore attacks and just move. This can be bad and good – keep this in mind, it will be important later on!
The „Attack“ command is also a very basic command. If any unit is ordered to attack, it will automatically attack once an opposing unit comes into vision, regardless of what unit.
The „Patrol“ command is a mix between move and attack. A unit send to patrol between two or more spots (see SHIFT-Queueing patrol commands) will move constantly between spots, until commanded otherwise. If it meets an enemy building or unit, it will automatically attack. If it is fired upon by a target it can not attack (Zealot vs. Mutalisk), it will stop to patrol and run around aimlessly in worst case scenarios.
The „Hold Position“ command makes a unit stop and stand around. It will attack incoming units automatically, but it won’t chase them if they run away.
The „Stop“ command is a vanilla hold position version. A unit told to stop will stop and stand still. However, if fired upon it will run away if it can’t attack (Zealot vs. Mutalisk again), or chase the unit that comes into vision for better or worse. Only if a second stop command is issued, the unit will stop again.
Every of the commands has it’s very specific use and some extras to it. For instance, some range units, such as Vultures, will attack better when the patrol command is used. We’ll learn soon, that a Vulture might want to shoot at a target once, then move away, then shoot again. This works best if the commands are performed with: patrol (attack), move, patrol (attack), move, […], until the target is shot dead. The other option to attack-command, move, […] works not as good, as the Vulture will slow down. The Hold Position command works good for similar manuvers, such as Mutalisks shooting and retreating – in some cases: Move in Range, hit Hold Position, Move out of range, Move back in range, Hold Position and so on and so forth.
To determine what kind of command you use to „micro“ your units is up to you. You have to figure that out. However, one last important hint: Brood War’s interface will often fuck up if you add too much commands in a short time frame. Dragoons performing the above mentioned Hit & Run might suddenly stand around and do nothing. In cases like that order them to „Stop“ 3-4 times, and the bug will go away!
In-Fight: Value of Units, Focus Fire, Retreat
Now for the real „micro“. In fights you want to maximize the own damage output, while minimizing the damage taken. That’s rather easy on paper, however performing that in reality is a little harder.
We already learned that you have to know what kind of unit is valuable to you and which kind of unit is valuable to your opponent. Obviously, an Defiler is more important to you, than a stray Zergling – regardless of which side your on! If you attack, you want to kill the Defiler first, if it hasn’t casted anything yet. If you defend, you want to use your Defiler first, because it might turn the tide. Hence taking out or defending the most important units is key. You should always pay attention to these units, the rest comes later. You mustn’t think, but act. Hence, try to know beforehand what’s coming up – if you have to think which key to hit, you’ll miss a few important seconds.
Relating to that, we’ll learn a first technique: Focus Fire. Focussing your attack on one single unit or special targets is crucial. If you see incoming attacks, you want to take out the biggest damage dealers right away, and clean up the rest once the threat is gone. Vice versa, you want to move out of the fight, if your important units are taking too much damage too soon.
However – and this is important – again try to understand the role of a unit. For instance, Ultralisks are most times not the big damage dealers, but Zerglings are. I saw a ton of Protoss who frequently unleash Psi Storms on Ultralisks and then stand in awe when their own army got killed. So: instead of taking out the seemingly important Ultralisk in this fight, it’d be better to kill the incoming Zerglings – the units who deal the damage, rather than the meat shield.
Also, do not overcommit – there are pre-fight manuvers, such as trying to kill some High Templars with some Hydralisks. You might lose up to six Hydralisks if they take out two or more High Templars – these can’t cast Psi Storm anymore. However, there’s a pay off, if you sacrifice too many Hydras, it doesn’t matter for Protoss anymore, if he has lost two or three Storms – the damage was dealt already.
Hit and Run
For any non-spell casters go: they can perform hit and run. We already saw that Vultures might kill a Zealot without taking any damage, simply by shooting at them, then running away to a safe distance, then shooting again. This manuver can be done by any range unit. It doesn’t matter if the melee (or ranged) unit attacking the „hit and run“ unit will eventually reach it; e.g. if the Zealot will be able to eventually deal one or two hits. It can lead to a huge advantage: the few extra shots you get out are free shots. Hence, this technique is important for all stages of the game, but even more so in the earliest stages. Examples can be found in nearly any Match Up.
However, melee units can hit and run as well. For instance, two Zealots fighting each other with attack only is a coin flip – one side might win, the other not. Usually the defender comes out on top, as he will throw the first punch. If one side microes and the other doesn’t, this rule doesn’t hold true anymore. For one, you can target fire, thus taking out a unit sooner. You can also (or additionally) remove one unit temporarily from the fight and send it back in again a moment later: By doing so, the remaining units have to change their focus and attack a healthier target. Or in other words, it prolongs the life span of your units significantly.
Training micro, in most cases, is best done against human opponents in real games. Most micro maps lack the „reality“ – there’s less stress and some combinations are so ridiculously unrelated to what you’ll face in a game, that they won’t help too much.
However, unlike for macro, micro can really be trained against the CPU, at least the very basics. Special scenarios, like Mutalisk Micro against Scourge, can be simulated very well. There are dozens of maps out there, which you might load up.
After the basics of Micromanagement, we’ll come to something losely realted to the topic: Scouting. Scouting is the constant gathering of information in-game. You want to have as much information on the opponent as possible, as you can learn a lot of things that way: Where his army is, what his army looks like, what units will come into play, where expands and so on and so forth. Let’s analyze scouting bit by bit.
Early Game Scouting
In the early game – the first minutes of the game – you want to learn a few key facts.
- Where your opponent spawned
- What opening he choses
- What to expect soon-ish
To gather this information, you’ll send out one of your workers, and additionally, if you’re Zerg, your first Overlord. Usually, the nineth worker is sent out and will „scout“ the map counter clockwise. Once he saw the base, he will move around to see what buildings were raised and in which time. Try to keep this worker alive. Zerg might cancel the scout earlier on, as his Overlords will arrive soon.
It’s important to keep the worker alive as long as possible, as you will see any incoming attack very soon, as well as the new tech switches. If push comes to shove and you lose your worker, send out antoher one. Better to sacrifice one worker – playing blindly is always bad. Very bad.
Mid Game Scouting
There’s a variety of things you want to check in the mid game – usually the stages beginners have to biggest problems with. Key facts you want to know are:
- Army composition and movements of the opponent
- Tech Tree
- Number, timings and defense of Expansions
- Amount of structures such as Warpgates, Hatcheries or Factories/Barracks
The first point in our check list can usually be reached the easiest way: Put up one cheap unit – worker, Overlord or weak fighting unit – in front of the opponent’s base exit. If he moves out, he will automatically attack that unit, thus triggering an alarm. If you can, move your unit away just slightly. If he fully commits, you will see – if he just fakes an attack, you will see also. From time to time, send in a very cheap unit (worker, Zergling), to check potential upgrades.
As for the number two and four goes (tech tree and structures), you will have to make use of flying units and ComSat Sweeps. Protoss has Observers and Corsairs, Zerg has Overlords and Mutalisks, Terran the Sweeps. Scout the important base points frequently, so you see changes fast enough to react and buy time.
Expansions can be checked easily as well. Have units sitting on the most important expansions spots of your opponent – these he can reach the fastest. That’s where he most likely expand. If you have a fighting unit there, you also have the bonus that the fighting unit will attack incoming workers, thus stalling an expansion. If an expansion is up, use cheap units to check if it’s defended from time to time.
Warning: Especially on low ranks players tend to „hidden expand“ – meaning to expand in strange places you wouldn’t expect. Thus, try to get vision of all remote expansion spots frequently – every two minutes or so. A lot of games have been lost because of such stuff, although it’s easy to prevent hidden expos from going up entirely.
Late Game Scouting
The longer the game progresses, the more information you have to process and to obtain. However, at some point in the game it’s not so important anymore to know what tech tree the opponent has – he’s most likely maxed out. Instead these facts are important:
- Where are his production facilities?
- Where is he still mining? Which expansions are mined out?
- Where is his army?
- Does he have weak spots?
The first point doesn’t have to be observed too much – once the buildings are there, they will remain there. However, sometimes it indeed is very important to know where re-inforcements will come from – e.g. from newly raised bases.
Related to that the second point matters. You will have to decide where to attack. If you have to sacrifice a large part of your army, you will want to know if the target is worth it. Attacking a nearly mined out base is not worth it, while a freshly raised expansion might be a good target. At the same time, it doesn’t hurt to kill a nearly mined out base, if you don’t have to expect heavy losses, even if it only distracts and unnerves your opponent a little.
The most important part for beginners though is to see where the opponents army is. Try to constantly have vision of the biggest parts of the map. If he starts to move, so will you. If he doesn’t you can pay attention elsewhere.
Preview: Scouting for Advanced Players
We just touched the topic of scouting. There’s a lot more to it, and we haven’t even discussed why scouting is important. We’ll learn that in the upcoming chapters. It should be obvious to you, that you have to gather info – the more you know, the better. It will speed up your learning process, as you can deeply analyze what you missed easily afterwards if you lost – or why you won, because you had some information. Without knowing anything about strategy yet, you will get a better feeling if scouting all the time. If you don’t scout, you throw a dice. And that’s not what you want to do.
Advanced beginners can utilize the scouting information for plenty of strategical thoughts: Such as creating fake threats, fooling the opponent, preventing or hard countering movements. You can add a lot to your strategic portfolio by running around armies, flanking and so on and so forth. Even without knowing how to really interprete the data, scouting might help – just go with it for the moment.