Tag Archives: Real-time strategy

Playing to Win: A Journey

When you play a game, you might be looking for an escape. Or perhaps a suitable challenge. Or maybe, Gods forbid, a good story. Something that is fun for you. But when I and many others sit down to play, we play to win.

Almost exclusively I play multiplayer games, and I tend to play to win. Human opponents are the greatest foe, and using everything available in order to defeat them brings a certain delight. In the past I played competitive Left 4 Dead with an outstanding team, and devoted a good portion of my life to achieving in this field. That time passed, but I am interested again by the notion of playing to win, and I want to see how far it can be taken. But first, there needs to be a game.

A fighting game? No, that requires special equipment and lots of new knowledge.

A MOBA, such as League of Legends? No. Despite my reasonable knowledge and skill, there is too much reliance on team mates.

What about an FPS? Too easy, and too much need for heightened reflexes, which may have passed me by already at my age.

That essentially leaves one genre: RTS. And within that, one game.

Starcraft 2.

I have played Starcraft 2 before, when it was released. I never achieved much; in fact I never got out of Bronze League. But two years since release and the competitive scene is still massive, the knowledge base deep, and its relevance does not seem to be waning. I enjoyed it immensely when I played. The learning of new build orders, the elation of a narrow victory, the observable progress. This is the perfect platform from which to explore Playing to Win.

This is not a whimsical fancy. I have just finished reading a book entitled Playing to Win: Becoming the Champion. It covers all areas for those who want to become the very best. It applies to videogames just as much as it applies to tennis and chess. There’s a solid amount of strategy within it, and clear steps outlined. Using this text and other resources, I will attempt to become a champion Starcraft 2 player. Or at least really, really good at it.

So, we have the game, but what next? Well, I have the environment: keyboard, mouse, internet and of course the actual game files on my hard drive. I also have basic proficiency at the game. I know what my chosen race does (Protoss, if you’re interested), and I know the basic meta decisions of the game. What I need to do next is practise these basics until they become second nature. And for that I need a mentor.

And so let’s introduce Sean Plott, better know as Day[9]. His series of Day[9] Dailies will prove absolutely essential to learning how to be a better gamer, and a better winner. I used to watch his Dailies back in 2010 when I was playing regularly, and I know he has a lot to teach. He may not be the best player out there, but his knowledge is vast, and his teaching style engaging. I started with the following video:

A lot of what was mentioned can also be found in Playing to Win. These tips included play a game if you enjoy said game, keep things simple at first, watch experts play, and get involved in the social side. Day[9] has a few extra points to be made, namely remove your ego and only be hard on yourself, create regular goals for yourself, and most importantly, celebrate when you win. For new Starcraft 2 players he gives a very simple way to get started, one that I plan to stick to. Play five games a week, and focus on five aspects: mimicry, refinement, experimentation, benchmarking, and fun. The first relates to copying a build by a top player. The second is refining a basic build order. The third is about playing with possible builds. The fourth is about reaching your goal/s. And the last is perhaps most important: be goofy and have some fun. Sounds good to me.

My own customised plan revolves around climbing the ladder. I have already played five placement matches, straight up with no practice. It was a weird feeling, but muscle memory kicked in and I actually found myself instinctively following builds I hadn’t used in over a year. From this I have already learned a few things. One, I need to scout. Two, I need to push. And three, pylons and probes. Always pylons and probes. From these games I landed in Bronze League, Rank 35—that’s not very good to let you know. But it’s a start. I plan to play eight games a week using four of the focuses Day[9] gives. I will follow this up with a two hour benchmarking session, whereby I use everything I have learned in order to jump up the ladder. My first goal: reach Silver League in three weeks.

It is time to play to win.

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