Nearly 20 years ago, I became an addict of sorts. The hunger and thirst for more continued to grow, ultimately peaking 4 to 5 years after having my first taste. Despite a slight initial decline, I continued to indulge obtrusively while, ironically, sitting alone in the my room, basement, or study in my parents’ house. Although I certainly had great friends and a very social, active life growing up, I had another side. Friends and family clearly knew of my addiction, as they awed at my ability to own others who dared to challenge me (despite that I often lost and got shamed by those even more addicted than me).
In a way, the addiction also took dedication if I wanted to get better. It took practice and learning – a behavior I wanted to emulate in other areas of my life. Without my addiction, there would be less dedication; without dedication, I couldn’t get better. Searching for ways to find balance between appeasing my addiction and improving myself, I found it while in university – nearly 9 years after my first consumption. The epiphany came late one night after a frustrating search to find opportunity with other local addicts; I ventured to a place where I had not been before: a StarCraft Broodwar server not based in the US.
For those of you unfamiliar with StarCraft, it is an award-winning computer game released in 1998. Broodwar is the expansion pack to the original game, which brought additional units, maps, and missions into the game. StarCraft Broodwar (or SC for the rest of this post) is not only my favorite game of all time, but now one of my go-to ways to relax and release stress (Mrs. BD and I call it “being a dork”). But it wasn’t always this way.
Here are 9 things that SC taught me about life in almost 20 years since I bought my first copy of the game.
1. Understand the odds and combinations – but don’t get sucked in
There are three distinct and unique races in SC:
- The Terrans (or T)
- The Protoss (or P)
- The Zerg (or Z)
Each race has different strengths and weaknesses, and each race has a particular set of units that can be employed to counter the strengths of the other race or to exploit the weaknesses in the same manner. With three races, there are six unique combinations of match-ups:
- T vs T
- T vs P
- T vs Z
- P vs P
- P vs Z
- Z vs Z
And this is just for 1 vs 1 matches. The game can support up to 8 players in a single game (not counting up to four observers or spectators as of 2017). A number of game formats are available, but perhaps the most popular are some combination of the following:
- 1 vs 1
- 2 vs 2
- 3 vs 3
- 4 vs 4
- 2 vs 2 vs 2
- 2 vs 2 vs 2 vs 2
Excluding the 2 vs 2 vs 2 and the 2 vs 2 vs 2 vs 2 match set-ups, the 4 primary match-up types and 3 races yield literally hundreds and hundreds of game combinations (the larger the number of players, the great the number of combinations). Throw in the various mixes of units, timing strategies, and other elements (map attributes, player starting locations, etc.) and you get thousands and thousands of scenarios and game combinations. This is one thing that has kept SC alive and popular for almost 20 years.
Overall, it would take a countless amount time and effort to master every scenario imaginable. It’s nearly impossible. But focus on key themes and elements, and you can cover +90% of the game while ignoring the other 10% that would take years of full-time effort to master (if ever).
2. Risks can reap wins; risks can also reap losses
A common strategy in SC is known as rushing. Players at times sacrifice their economies early in the game to produce a certain number of a single type of unit with the aim to rush their opponent’s base early in the game for a quick win. Catching a player by surprise or rushing a player who is not prepared for an early attack can secure a win. It can also secure a quick defeat if the attack fails or fails but also doesn’t do enough damage to the opponent.
An opposite strategy to an early attack or rush is known as “teching” – a player skimps or completely skips on building units or defenses early on in order to quickly reach advanced units that typically take longer to make. While certain advanced unit builds relying on technology upgrades can technically (no pun intended) be considered a form of rushing, I’ve seen countless games where a player wanders into a defenseless opponent’s base and crushes them as they have no units or defenses. In other games, I’ve seen and personally experienced the embarrassment of letting my guard down and losing to a player who sneaks into my based with a unit I’m unable to stop.
If you’ve failed to prepare, you’ve likely prepared to fail. I’ve found a balanced approach yields the best results, but there is a time for a rush if the conditions feel right. But remember – it’s still a risk.
3. Always keep a steady hand on the pulse of your personal economy
A basic rule of thumb in SC is to continuously produce workers (SCVs for T, Probes for P, or Drones for Z) to keep mining minerals (or $$) and gas (another form of $$) in order to keep your economy growing. More minerals and gas enables more and/or better units; more and/or better units enables you to eventually win the game. Depending on the strategy employed, there are times when a player might need to slow down one area of their economy to focus on another area or gain.
If you do find yourself diverting from your personal economy, just be prepared when a potential storm is coming your way.
4. Strike a balance between your “micro” and your “macro” play
Players refer to their micro play as controlling individual units, giving commands, or the finer, almost granular details of their gameplay. Macro typically references a player’s overall skill and awareness at a higher level: their ability to manage the overall economy and pace of the game (i.e., seek expansions in a timely manner, manage unit upgrades and production, etc.). It’s important to find a balance and adjust the two as needed. You might have the finest execution skills in the world and can dance a Zerg Zergling around a Protoss Zealot like it’s the nutcracker ballet (micro skill), but if the rest of your base is neglected, you’ll still find yourself losing (macro). Likewise, if you can orchestrate the finest building placements and arrange the most organized base, it won’t matter if you walk your units blindly into a line of Terran Seige Tanks and can’t get them to retreat in time.
You need to be aware of and manage the big picture while still being agile and nimble in the details.
5.Utilize diversity and seek variety to complement strengths
The units across the 3 races in SC are quite diverse, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The combinations of units and potential pairings or larger groups also increases based on the type of game (2 vs 2 or 3 vs 3, etc.). Seek to complement your own units (or those of an ally with different strengths). A few basic, classic SC examples:
- Zerg – zergling / mutalisk
- Terran – marine / medic
- Protoss – dark Templar / Corsair
Other examples if you have an ally (assuming a 2 vs 2 game):
- Terran / Protoss = marine / zealot
- Zerg / Protoss = zergling / dragoon
As an example, melee units pair well with ranged units. While this is certainly not unique to SC, the numbers of strategies and opportunities can be very unique. You need to seek diversity to benefit from various strengths.
6. The fog of war is both your ally and your opponent
A number of games besides SC also have a concept known as the fog of war: the lack of vision or sight to areas of the map where you don’t have units or buildings. For example, if you scout your opponent’s base with a unit, you’ll see what your opponent is doing or building. If your unit gets destroyed or leaves the area, you’ll no longer see what your opponent is doing. The ability to see your opponent’s movements and activity is key. Likewise, the ability to deny your opponent visibility or access to your own base or a piece of map real estate will prevent your opponent from knowing what to expect.
Try to have visibility to what’s going on around you without tipping your own hand.
7. Play by the rules
While I’ve never cheated in SC, I have definitely been accused – usually by sore losers. And I also lose plenty, but usually by people who are just better than me. Sometimes it’s pure skill (i.e., players with a far greater actions per minute (APM) than me). Other times it’s luck and timing due to the randomness of the game (see item #1). When I do win, it feels good. But don’t cheat to win. Not only does it ruin the game for all players, it also damages the integrity of the game itself.
Don’t hack. Don’t cheat. And don’t exploit the game or the community.
8. Play the game with integrity and respect
Admittedly, I’ve called other players n00b before and have been called a n00b myself far more times by others. But I’ve been called far worse before and have seen people get harassed by other players. From my personal experience in the game, it doesn’t happen too often but when it does, it’s completely unnecessary. First of all, it’s a game people. Secondly, how would you feel if someone better than you in a different game or some area of life where you’re not as good did that to you? Some might not care, but I would.
When you’re good and win, do it with respect.
9. Have a GG, enjoy the ride, and learn
GG = good game. While typing these letters toward the end of the game typically signifies defeat and capitulation, it is also sometimes used at the beginning of the game. If you don’t have fun while losing or winning, why play the game in the first place? Enjoy the ride and have fun. Also take the opportunity to learn – what can I do better next time? What ideas or strategies did I not consider yet?
I do find that I learn from when I win, but I certainly learn a hell of a lot more from when I lose.
Looking Back and – More Importantly – Ahead
After learning how to balance my time and almost end my consumption, Blizzard released StarCraft Remastered in August 2017…it’s going to be another 20 years of good gaming – and learning. SC is certainty not life (for me at least), but I’ve learned a lot about myself and life from SC. It’s about finding the right balance – and it’s never-ending.
Readers, are you able to draw any parallels or lessons learned from any of your hobbies to personal finance? How do you spend your spare time besides working toward financial independence? Does anyone have a similar passion or hobby that you leverage in other areas of your life or goals?