This is the 2nd part of our General Starcraft Guide Series. If you have not read Part 1: Reach the Next Level of Starcraft please do so before reading this.
Learning a good, well-balanced & meta up-to-date set of build-orders
If you are a beginner, we would really encourage you too pick up a few different build-orders for your race(s) for different matchups and maps. You can easily learn them by head in an hour or two by playing custom games via the AI.
It is crucial that these build orders are up-to-date to the current meta and that you understand that they differ because of match-ups and different maps. Why? Because as you know Starcraft is a well-balanced strategic game, where every action has a counter action, but some actions are just more well fit into some situations. Some of the maps may be very small which makes it very dangerous (and exploitable) to run a greedy macro strategy while the same strategy might give you an edge on a larger map. Some units might also be stronger or weaker on a map with a lot of chokepoints etc.
There is a lot of information to take into factor when making these decisions but if you just watch the current meta for matchups on specific maps you don’t have to understand it all from the start. This will come with practice, more game time and most of all, by analysing your own replays.
Okay, so you know a good set of build orders perfectly by head and can execute them flawlessly. What is next?
The adaptive strategic gameplay
Starcraft II and its expansions are well-balanced strategic games. However, you’re playing against an opponent and the setting will change during a game. Even if you start out with a strategy in mind with the build-order you chose at the start of the game you will need to adapt the as the game goes by. This is dependent on information about what your opponent is doing. That means that you must scout your opponent as cost effectively as you can. The scouting part is always important, but in cases where your strategy is very vulnerable to a certain type of actions from your opponent it is even more important.
Give yourself time to react
By scouting early, you will give yourself time to react to your opponent course of action. Say you have gone for a high eco build order as Zerg and planned for a long, macro game, if you scout early and see your Protoss opponent seems to be on one base you should really consider building army. For if you hold his attack, without taking to much losses in forms of drones you should be in a good lead for the remaining part of the game. This is called a window of opportunity, simply a window where you should hold, or push depending on what side you are on. By scouting out this type of information early you have enough time to react and answer with the appropriate response.
This goes both ways. There are games where you will get harassed and have substantial losses. If you scouted previously (before these losses occurred) that you opponent is on three bases with saturated mineral lines you must realize that you are far behind in any kind of long game. Thanks to the information you acquired by your scouting you now know that you must either go for an all-in attack or focusing on recovering your own economy while simultaneously harass your opponent economy to get the game into a more even state.
There will also be times where you found out that your opponent has a substantially larger army, but you are ahead in the economic long game. The fact that you discovered this give you an opportunity to try to stop or delay the push from coming, either by harassing / threatening to harass his mineral line or by keeping a mobile army on the map, putting him in a uncomfortable position where he cant commit to the push or have to split up his army, making the push easier to handle.
Getting used to the meta, current technology tree and unit compositions
The different units in the Starcraft universe all have strengths and weaknesses. It is crucial that you master this knowledge and understand which units’ good counters to other units. Some units also work well together, the classic example would be stimpack Marines together with Medivacs. This information is best acquired by watching pro games. However, if you are playing in Silver League you must understand that some units or types of strategies will not be able to pull off with the same intentions / effectiveness as the pros in Grandmaster do. This is based on the huge gap in both game knowledge and micro capabilities.
Anyway, since you have adopted the adaptive strategic gameplay and learned to scout your opponent in regular intervals you can chose the right responses to try to gain an edge over you opponent. Remember that the different tech-choices you make cost money and most of the times it will be very cost-inefficient to jump to another different type of tech in early or mid-game. But remember that during long games unit compositions might change a lot and the tech trees of both players will widen, making more and more units cost effective counters to the opponent’s army.
Getting the most out of your units – Micromanaging
This is an area that a lot of beginner really put a lot their focus on. While it is very important to handle your units with care, getting the most out of them I personally think that it takes to much focus in the beginner games and even in the intermediate. But of course, there are exceptions, especially when your mineral line is being harassed by some nasty units. But when it comes to small groups of units, far out on the map it is not as important as the beginner might think.
My guess is that some of the beginners (even players who reached a good league / rank) learned a build-order with a couple of micro intensive units where they could win a lot of games in a current meta. This is all good if you want to climb in rank for the current patch. However, if you truly want to become a better Starcraft player, long term I think the focus on micro should come together with the development of your understanding for the game, as a strategic game.
With that said, when you get up to a higher level of gameplay, say diamond league, master and grand-master. Effective use of your units, aka Good micro is of course as crucial as the macro fundamentals and are a requirement.
Play, play and play some more
As you probably know, no one wakes up one day and realise that they are a master at something. Every skilled player has put thousands and thousands of hours into the game and you need to do the same. However, we think that if you follow our guide and especially embrace the advice about giving each game you played a minute or two of replay-time, analysing the good parts and the mistakes, you will learn faster than the players who just grind the ladder. The ladder is a great way to get into games versus opponents in the same skill bracket and you will evolve by putting time into this. But together with the analytical part will help you learning curve and develop your skills so much faster.
Learning your opponent’s game style
This is usually an area of expertise that comes into the learning curve very late. Almost only on a professional level where you face the same opponent regularly. But its worth to mention that just like the different units in Starcraft have their strengths and weaknesses, so do you and you opponent as a Starcraft player. It then becomes important to know what kind of units and strategies you opponent likes to play and likes to face. Because on maps where different choices are valid, it because more probably that they will go for the strategy and unit composition that they feel the most comfortable with.
This is something you will notice even as a beginner, if you play your friends, brother or other people regularly.