Common Problems: Aggression in the Early Game

One of the most frustrating experiences for beginners is a losing over and over again against anonymous human opponents on a ladder. If you read the previous chapter and followed the advice, you probably picked one or two „standard“ Build Orders for your training. The goal of these type of Build Orders is to gain small advantages, until you eventually reach the end game. However, it’s a tough road, as there will be games in which you lost in the first ten minutes. Some of these losses you simply have to endure; some of them you can prevent rather easily. The following chapter is for those who a) picked one macro-oriented build, and b) played more than fifty games trying to follow the build.

  1. Mindset
  2. Early Game and Macro Builds
    1. The Trivial Scenario: Mechanics and Stress
  3. Prevention
    1. Do not lose your first scout
    2. Tells of Aggression
  4. Reactions
    1. Sim City: Melee
    2. Sim City: Ranged Attacks
    3. Small Tricks
  5. The Danger: Counter Attacks

Mindset

Before we get to analysis, tipps and tricks, we should first speak a few words about motivation. A lost game is always an opportunity, not something you should lose our head over. Even the Korean professionals lose in their training games against the most wonky shit, or have to go through a ton of idiots trying to snipe them with very aggressive things. Each single game provides you with information you desperately need to improve. It’s easier to realize a mistake in a lost game, as there will be consequences visible, than to realize you played badly since always, but still won. Don’t see your opponent as bully, view him as computer – you don’t need to be friends with him, you need him to play.

Early Game and Macro Builds

The early game in „standard“ Build Orders will always, for all races, look similar. All have a pattern in common:

  1. Train workers
  2. Expand
  3. Add production structures and unlock futher technology
  4. prepare a mid game army
  5. (attack)

The first point – training workers – is trivial. You will always constantly train SCVs as Terran, drone up as Zerg or buy Probes as Protoss. This is done regardless of how exactly the timing of your Build Order is. It doesn’t matter if you build a 12 Hatch or a 11 Pool, it doesn’t matter if you go Forge-Nexus-Cannons, or Cannons-Nexus-Gate. And so on and so forth. Remember that. More importantly to understand why you might lose early on is to realize that you can always add a little variation to your timings.

We also already learned in the previous chapter, that each of the instruction points of the Builds have a deeper purpose. For instance, if you build a Pool earlier as Zerg, you do so because of one or two reasons. Reason one being, that you scouted something aggressive, which you want to be prepared against; Reason two being, that you want to be a little bit more aggressive and shut down the opponent’s scout – or that it is required, because you play on a small map with small walking distances.

Be that as it may, usually no beginner loses with a standard Build in the first ten minutes, because he went for the wrong opening sequence. Usually, you lose because somewhere at point 3 something went wrong. You tried to follow the build, for instance wanted to add Gateways after a Forge Expansion – when suddenly 12 Hydralisks busted you Natural. Or Terran tried to add more factories and suddenly saw a Dark Templar drop killing his main base. How do you prevent that?

The Trivial Scenario: Mechanics and Stress

The trivial scenario is that you lost because of mechanics and stress. I said that it’s not that common that beginners lose, because they were outplayed – well only partially true. After a ladder reset a higher ranked player might destroy you with a few units, simply because your micro isn’t that great. However, you will realize that on your own.

More crucial is the stress you will be under. You do know that the first minutes are important. For instance, if a Protoss sees Tanks in front of his Fast Expansion, he will panic. He might do the right decisions, but will lose overall. You microed well, but it’s too much for you to add Gateways – or in other words – what was expected of you in step 3. It’s hard, you’re under constant fire, your opponent has to do fewer commands, and you have to macro at the same time. Hence, you might lose.

Aside from all you have done wrong before this even happened – being pushed against the wall, that is – let’s spend a few thoughts on how you should react. First off, any opponent playing very aggressively in the first minutes does know that his attack has to deal a lot of damage. If he can attack you, he will also have sacrificed economical potential. Instead of building workers (which you did), he build units. These units will soon be fragile and inferior to what you can offer. He has to exploit his timing window very well, or he will be in a disadvantage. Do not underestimate the pressure he’s under, it’s not less than what you experience at the same moment. Realize that every minute he stagnates is a minute YOU won.

Hence, your priority as defender is to stall him. You do not neccessarily have to push him back, as time works against your opponent. If you realize that he doesn’t move on the next twenty seconds, spend the next twenty seconds with that:

  1. if you can hold his attack / stall it: add more Pylons / Depots / Overlords and/or unlock better technology and/or add more production structures (Gates, Factories, Barracks, Hatcheries)
  2. if you can not hold his next wave, re-inforce your static defenses, then spend the rest on the first point

Also, do never, ever, give up, until you realize, that there’s no chance in hell you can come back. A lot of low level players (this goes up for B- by the way), do tend to throw the game. If your opponent feels like he could destroy you and gets impatient, chances are good he sacrifices just this little bit too much to offer you a come back. If you lost our natural – so be it. Go on with your plan, but don’t just get out. Only once he moved up your ramp, you are down to 5 workers, you might leave.

Prevention

Let’s discuss how it could have come to a point, at where you were with your back against the wall. Any standard Build can take a lot of aggression, before it goes down. As we saw, each of them has room enough to adapt to the most powerful Rush options your opponent has. Only very thought through design Builds might „hard counter“ you.

Here’s where the scouting part comes in again. We already learned some facts of how you should scout – starting with the worker number seven in total (eigth worker is being trained) / the worker at 8/9 supply leaving your base. This one is crucial.

Do not lose your first scout

Gathering information about your opponent’s opening is pivotal. If you play blindly, you will fall. Most beginners lose because of this fact and I do get why. I often played internal games with clan mates, and I did develope a feeling what to anticipate very soon – for instance, one of my training partners would always go for a slow Macro opening off 3 Bases as Zerg. As consequence, I didn’t mind all too much, if my first Probe was kicked by a Zergling after seeing where his third base was at. I knew I had another four minutes of peace, before he would unleash his macro. Now, every now and ten he would go for an aggressive variation of his build and crush me. That happened once in ten games – or in other words, one in ten games, which I could have won, if I would not have been lazy. Only because you meet a lot of standard players, you do not know for a certainty all of them will leave you alone long enough.

Hence, if your first worker dies, send out a second one immediately. Make this your top priority. Even if that worker has to take a detour, to dodge whatever killed the first one, do it. Even if it can’t enter the opponent’s base, let it stand in vision of the entrance. Censored information is still better than no information at all.

Tells of Aggression

Let’s assume you follow the advice, there’s still the small problem to know what to look out for. Since this chapter only refers to the early game, we can safely say that you will see very aggressive openings. In other words, there are a few thick signs you can hardly miss, especially since low ranked opponents have a hard time to disguise their intention from a somewhat well performed scout – or don’t even care to put on a mask.

We already learned that a player who attacks early on can only do so, because he doesn’t care a lot for his workers. In modern Brood War any one base Build Order in non-mirror matches is a strong hint something is up. Even a very passive Fast Expansion Build, such as a Siege Expansion, or a Two Gate Obs can be scouted long enough to see what’s coming.

A Terran or Protoss who stays on one base against Zerg, or a Zerg who stays long on one base is a guaranteed rusher, or prepares another kind of wonky attack. The bigger problems occur in TvP and PvZs from the Terran’s and Protoss’ respective point of view. Yet, there are still signs what to look out for. The best and cleanest way to quickly know what to look out for is the number of units being build.

A Protoss who has more than five Dragoons before his Probe goes to the Natural will most likely try to bust. If he doesn’t, he is so bad that he will fall to your macro either way, so a little safety won’t kill you. A Zerg who doesn’t build Drones in two of his three bases will have something else in mind. That’s all there is to it on low ranks. Mind you, speaking of D- to mid D+.

Another indicator is the Gas. Compare when your opponent first started to mine gas, when he temporarily stopped, and when he mined again in ordinary, standard games. If your opponent mines before, or doesn’t stop at all, something is off. Anticipate the worst. If he does so, because he has no clue what he does, your standard build will crush him in the long run. So don’t worry about being over protective.

Reactions

It should go without saying: If you scout something aggressive and you already made the first steps to start a standard (expansion) build, you have to react. There is literally no way to hard counter his opening at all – you have no units to do so. Any kind of attempt to pull of something fancy will most definitely be your end. There are some slight exceptions where you can at least re-direct a small amount of pressure and delay his attack for a few minutes at best; but you shouldn’t try that.

From your gathered scouting information, you should be able to deduce what will hit you. There are only two possibilites: A heavy attack with melee units, or a heavy attack with ranged units. The reaction to both is basically the same, but a few tricks here and there can increase the chances of you coming out on top.

First off, regardless of what he throws at you, he will need space to launch the attack. If he wants to tear down your Natural, he needs the entire front – the more units of his can attack, the better for him. If he wants to run into your main base, he needs a gap in your Natural he can run his units through.

Sim City: Melee

Sim City is a technique you should do regardless of what your opponent picks. Sim City refers to a set up of buildings in your Natural expansion. There are „two ways“ to smartly use that, the first one we discuss now.

It’s obvious that melee units can only attack when standing next to a building. Hence, if Zerglings want to attack, they need to reach your Photon Cannon, Bunker (Marines) or Sunken Colonies first. If they can’t, they can’t attack. Also, if some Zealot wants to run into your main base, he has to get there first. He can’t if something is in the way.

Sim City in Action: Protoss Forge Fast Expansion Set Up on Fighting Spirit

More Examples can be found on Liquipedia (search for the map name!)

Consequently, if your defending structures and ranged units are hiding out behind unrelated Buildings, such as a Supply Depot, a Forge or whatever else, they are „safe“ for the moment. The melee units have to kill them fast. If units attempting to run by have to cross a maze first, they will die in the process.

For every modern map – the ones you will play on the most – such set ups for each race have been figured out. Actually, it’s a kind of science you will learn automatically. Remember, defenders against Melee attacks should always seek cover, not be in front!

There’s a chance you don’t get the Sim City (alias Wall-in in this case) right from the start. Or because you play on maps you never seen before. In this case, take a worker (any) and try to move beyond your wall-in. If it goes through, use it as block. It doesn’t matter if it stays idle, the extra block can save lives.

If the choke is too big to close it with a wall-in, put three workers on your ramp to avoid seeing a run by getting through. Again, not bad if the workers are idle, it’s always better to be safe than sorry in this case.

Sim City: Ranged Attacks

The same logic can be applied in a fight against ranged units – if you placed down your buildings smartly, there’s a lot in for you. Now for the difference: ranged units can shoot over blocks, they do not have to kill the blocking buildings first. Yet, in most cases, the attacking ranged units will need an update to increase their range so much, that they can safely target down your defending structures. Take for instance Dragoons – they can’t attack a bunker before their upgrade was done.

However, attacks with range units work differently. They usually come in a little later than melee attacks, and will start to „contain“ you – keep you in your base, to shut down scouting and any kind of soft aggression you might want to try. Use that time to match the number attackers with static defense buildings.

Against ordinary range units, such as Marines or Hydras, build them in a line, so they can all attack at once. Also, try to build them as far away from your natural as possible, without being in range of your opponent.

Next, if you deal with splash units, such as Lurkers or Siege Tanks, it might be a good idea to leave small gaps between buildings. Especially Zerg can delay a succesful Siege Tank Push for a good while if his Sunkens are slightly spread out. This buys an extra 50 HP in average (number made up, but it’s a lot) for longetivity.

Last but not least: Range units might close in sooner or later. If you see a group of Hydralisks being commanded to move (or Dragoons against Terran) – try to block their movement with melee units, and if need be, with workers. You do not want more attackers to get in range of your defense. In a perfect world, they’d come in one by one. Move back your melee defenders, if the attacker retreats and tries to snipe the defenders. This can go back and forth, but, if done correctly, plays in your hands, not his.

Small Tricks

Now for the part that is purely optional on your side – if you can’t manage it right away, don’t try to force anything. You have tons of little tricks to increase the power of your defense by pulling off some stunts.

In some builds you will realize that your initial units are utterly useless. In the scenario of a Protoss with a Forge Fast Expand being attacked by Hydralisks, the first Zealots can’t do a thing. If they attack, they won’t deal damage. However, if sent out in the middle of the map before the first contain starts, they can either try to attack re-inforcements, or better, go after the Drones of the unprotected base. Consequently Zerg has to temporarily delay his important attack.

There are plenty of examples where your first units can be used in such a way. At home, they’re of no use, and it will take a few minutes before they will play a role again; if you have one or two cheap units less, it won’t matter. Now it’s important for you to decide what to do with these units. If they can annoy, they should do so. If not, it’s still better to leave them at home – even if they only deal one or two blows, there’s one or two free blows for you.

Against ranged unit attacks, it can be of help to soak up damage with aforementioned useless units. For instance, if Zerg is under siege by a Siege Tank, he can sacrifice one or two Zerglings to free up Sunken Colonies. The principle is simple, but very hard to pull off. If Terran just has his Siege Tanks idle, they will only attack the Sunkens if no other target is in range. Now, if you send out the Zergling in between the shots, the next volley will kick the Zergling, not the Sunken. One volley of time bought. Might be helpful in cases.

The example can be transferred onto other situations. For instance, a Terran with six Marines might attack a Dragoon wave, since only one bunker and four Marines are needed. Or a Protoss can go back and forth to lure Hydralisks away or into Cannons. It doesn’t need to die, but it might be annoying to deal with for Zerg.

The Danger: Counter Attacks

The by far biggest danger of aggression is to underestimate the brute force they are. When I was still struggling to rank up, I often lost even after defending the attack. This is very easy to achieve, and more frustrating than you can possibly imagine.

To elaborate, if a melee attack comes in and dies in front of your base, you might be fooled into believing that was all there was. At this point the attacker is so commited to his opening, that he has barely any choice, but to try it again. He will have exactly the economy he needs to replace his losses in a few minute and might even be able to double the number. At this point, if you rally your few troops and go out, you will be first killed in the middle of the map, and a few seconds later, in your Natural as well. All you can do at this point is to fold, as the third wave of replacements will come in.

What you should do instead is to follow your game plan (Build Order) to the very last word. If it tells you to build up an attack, build up the attack, but keep up your guard. This one attack with superior units in a larger number will be enough to steam roll your opponent, regardless of what he does. If he manages to hang on, you can still safely expand and expand again, while he has to come up with some magic. His back will be against he wall for at least the next ten minutes. Play it cool, play it safe.

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