BlizzCon 2010: Starcraft 2: Secrets of the Masters panel

Yesterday afternoon at BlizzCon, Blizzard's own Starcraft 2 masters Dustin Browder, Greg Canessa, David Kim and Matt Cooper gathered to host the Secrets of the Masters panel. Seasoned Starcraft veterans won't glean much from the information they had to offer, but that's okay -- Dustin Browder himself made it clear that this panel was just for the noobs.

That being said, the panel kicked off with Greg Canessa explaining how the Battle.net leagues and ladders system really worked behind the scenes, which is information even veterans wanted laid out nice and clear. He also went on to explain a few new features coming to Battle.net aimed specifically at the most hardcore of the hardcore Starcraft 2 players.

Ladders and Leagues

The ladder system and your placement in it is not static. The better you play, the harder your match-ups will be. It tracks your wins and losses to create a hidden skill rating (though it can't track how you've won, just if you've won.) The more you play, the more data you give the system to work with the better the system will know you. The skill rating is not broken up per race (Terran, Zerg or Protoss) but it is broken up per bracket -- your 1v1 rating won't be the same as your 3v3 rating, but your 1v1 rating may influence the placement matches you face when starting a new team in a new bracket.

The five leagues (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond) split the player base evenly: 20% in each league. Your league placement is not based on your win/loss record, but rather your player rating in that bracket, which is determined by the points gained and lost through your wins and losses. More difficult match-ups will, in theory, give you a higher point gain on a win than a very easy match-up would. Your win/loss record is a fun stat, but it doesn't really determine how well you're doing.

Much like the game itself, the leagues and ladders systems are constantly evolving -- little tweaks and changes are happening all of the time to try and ensure the best game experience. Greg Canessa announced the addition of the Master and Grandmaster Leagues. The Master League will include the top 5% of Diamond players and set them in their own league. The Grandmaster League will include only the top 200 players worldwide, and the members of that league will be visible to all players. These changes, along with a ladder reset for season 2, are expected to land late December/early January.

That information was not the meat of the show, however. The panel is Secrets of the Masters, not Secrets of Battle.net. While Greg Canessa (shamefully) admitted he was only in the Gold League, Matt Cooper and David Kim are two of the best players in the world outside of the progamers themselves and Dustin Browder is the man behind it all.

General Advice
  • Practice makes perfect. You're not going to be an amazing Starcraft 2 player right off the bat. Professionals play 12+ hours of Starcraft 2 per day. The average person can't do that (but the average person isn't trying to make a living off of it either). You still need to practice, practice, practice.
  • Don't just play ladder games. Play custom games. Most pro gamers have friends they can coordinate sparring matches with. If there's a specific unit composition that's giving you trouble, practice against your friends! Ask them to execute that strategy, and try to practice counter-strategies.
  • Focus on one race. If you play Random and have your playtime split across three races, it's going to take you three times as long to master the game.
  • Don't just play. Watch! Starcraft 2 has a robust replay system, and sometimes it's better to take a step back and watch your replays than to keep banging your head against the ladder. Watch what you did wrong, watch what your opponent did and figure out what you can do better.
Blizzard Entertainment also reached out to some of the top players in the world to ask them if they had any advice to offer.
  • "Don't stress over losses. Use them to learn your faults. No pain no gain." - SeleCT
  • "First of all, be a fan of the game and enjoy it, then make sure to be 100% committed or you will fail. And last, watch Day9!" - HuK
  • "If you're not attacking you're probably losing." - qxc
  • "Practice a hell of a lot, watch replays of the top players and check out their strategies, and in most cases copy them :). After that, refining your play mainly consists of watching your own games -- and ironing out the faults." - demuslim
After that, the panelists moved on to specifics.
  • The economy is the backbone of your game. If you don't have minerals and vespene gas coming in, you aren't going anywhere.
  • Constantly build worker units. Don't stop at 15-30, just keep producing them. If you end up with 60+ workers and they're all being useful, that's great.
  • Scale up your operation. If you are building units out of 4-5 Warp Gates when you only have one base, then scale it up to 8-10 when you have a second base running. With three, use 12-15 Warp Gates. If you can't produce enough units to keep up with your income, that income is essentially wasted.
  • Spend your resources! Don't leave thousands upon thousands of resources in the bank. If you're not using your resources, they're no good to you. It isn't like real life where you can use that money another day. When that games ends, everything you had in the bank is gone. If you lost, spending those resources on units may have earned you a win.
  • When it comes to vespene gas, you should have some idea of what strategy you're going to use when deciding to gather it. Some strategies require very little gas. Some strategies require a lot of it. You shouldn't fly by the seat of your pants here. Know how much you'll need, know whether you need to use both geysers at the beginning of a match or just one of them.
  • Know when and where to expand -- that is, build up secondary or tertiary bases. All maps are different, so learning the sweet spots on each map is an important part of this. Should you expand very early or wait a few more minutes? If you play Zerg, you should plan for very fast, very early expansions.
  • Know the ground unit rush distance, air unit rush distance and choke points on each map.
  • Don't forget to use the terrain! Chokes, walls, and high ground all play an important role in combat. Good unit placement can completely change the outcome of a battle.
  • Practice intelligent flanking. Like using the terrain, attacking from multiple directions can alter the course of a battle dramatically.
  • Micromanage key abilities like Stalker Blinks when you can, but don't tunnel vision. If you focus too much on managing individual units, you'll forget to build new ones and find yourself in a bad place.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.