I am by no means an excellent StarCraft II player, but I have managed to work my way up from Copper (when I first started playing the beta, there was a level below Bronze) to mid-level Platinum. I came into StarCraft II with little-to-no RTS experience, and zero multiplayer experience. Everything I knew, I had learned from watching StarCraft II games that had been posted on YouTube.
Once I started playing, the most helpful advice I got came from this Day daily: Back to Basics: The Mental Checklist. You should watch the entire video, but the overview is this: make workers, make supply, make units, keep your money (minerals, gas) low. I also recommend his Plugging Leaks in Silver League Play daily. Day broadcasts analysis of high-level play five days a week, and these tend to have good strategy analysis—an excellent resource for better players.
The truth is, though, that average players aren’t good enough to do what the pro players do. We don’t react fast enough, don’t know all the strategies, and aren’t able to macro (make units) and micro (control individual units) at the same time. Fortunately, you don’t actually need to be able to do that to climb out of the lower leagues. You will be able to win most of your games simply by having more units than the other player. The tips/hot keys/shortcuts I have accumulated help to accomplish this task.
First and foremost: learn to use the hotkeys. You should not be using your mouse to build units or cast spells from units. I personally prefer to use the grid layout, but you should pick a layout and stick with it. The best way to learn to use the hotkeys is to force yourself never to use the mouse to click the buttons. If you are unsure of a hotkey, hover over the desired button, and the tip will show you what hotkey to use. Press the key on the keyboard, do not use the mouse to click it. Eventually you will memorize the keys that build different units.
There are also predefined hot keys that some people are unaware of: F1 will select an idle worker, CTRL+F1 selects all idle workers, and W selects all warpgates (Protoss only). You should also be mapping all your unit-producing structures to some of the number shortcuts (CTRL + # to create a group, SHIFT + # to add to a group). This will allow you to create new units without having to look at the structure—simply press the number key you’ve assigned to the building, then use the hot keys that you’ve learned for unit creation. Bind your army to numbers as well, allowing you to immediately select all the units that you wish to attack.
One common bad habit is to queue a bunch of units up to be produced. Suppose that you have one barracks built, and you want to build five marines. You click “build marine” five times, and proceed to wait 100 seconds for all five to build. You’ve also tied up 250 minerals immediately. The better strategy is to build one marine, and start building another barracks. You continue to make sure you’ve only ever queued up one marine, and 60 seconds later, you have three marines built and two barracks. You can then build one marine at each barracks—finishing your five marines in only 80 seconds—and you’ve doubled your production capacity. If you ever find that you have the money to be able to queue units, you should build another production facility.
A few more quick pointers:
- Rally your nexus/command center/hatchery to the minerals by right clicking on a mineral patch
- You should have three workers on each mineral patch and each geyser
- Focus only on building enough units (macro) until you are comfortable doing it all the time; then you can try to control individual units on their own
- Rally your unit-producing structures to an appropriate location
- Keep your race-specific special ability energy low (Queen, Nexus, Command Center)
- If you’re Zerg, spread your creep using overlords and creep tumors. It’s like a maphack and a speed hack all in one
- Take the Xel’Naga watch towers—this will give you advanced warning of an imminent attack
- Don’t forget upgrades. If you find yourself with extra money, you should spend it to upgrade weapons and armor
- Keep tabs on your opponent—scout them with overlords/overseers/scans, or even just an air unit that you can fly over their base
This is obviously a lot to remember, and brings me to the final point: After you finish a game, watch the replay. You’ll immediately be able to see how many workers you made, if you ended up accumulating too much money, and other things you could have improved. If you lost the game, you might notice that your opponent snuck an expansion somewhere, or hid technology. This will give you places to scout in future games. If you won the game, great! You’ll probably notice areas that need improvement as well.
The beauty of a game like StarCraft II is that no one strategy is perfect. Hopefully you’ll be able to use this information to develop your own winning strategy.
Buy Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty at Amazon.