I hear your palm hit the forehead and the sigh of frustration leave your mouth, but please, give this theorycrafter a shot!
1. The swings of relative strengths in different stages in the game in TvP is too large.
2. The burden of execution on Terran is both a blessing and a curse, and neither is good.
I would like to politely ask everybody to try to keep this discussion mature. TvP balance has been a very controversial topic in recent times and everybody seems to have their own opinion. I personally believe there are some issues in the match-up specifically, but those rest on both races. I will try to express my thoughts in a coherent fashion here. What does not help is the relentless "memeing" or trolling of fellow redditors, actively polarizing the discussion or just posting obviously low-quality statistics as if they provide any form of evidence. SC2 is an incredibly complicated game, none of us should pretend like we grasp the entire game and draw indisputable conclusions on the matter. That is why we need to stick our heads together and try to generate a productive climate for discussion.
With that being said, here I will attempt to explain two things what I personally see as the key issues in TvP.
The swings of relative strengths in different stages in the game in TvP is too large.
In Terran verse Protoss, there are very clear timings in which one race is stronger than the other and has the ability to take control of the game and the map. This swings a few times in the game and is largely based on specific forms of tech becoming available.
This is a generalized list of these technological breaking-points:
1. The game stats off fairly even, with both races having aggressive proxy strategies.
2. Reaper comes out; Terran has control.
3. Second Cybernetics Unit completes, Protoss has control.
4. Warpgate and Protoss Tech 1 complete, Protoss' control increases.
5. Stim and Medivacs come online, Terran control overtakes Protoss.
6. Terran's 5-rax production comes online, Terrans control very large.
7. Protoss' AOE tech of choice completes, control equalizes.
8. Protoss' AOE Tech 2 completes, Protoss in firm control in the matchups.
9. Terran completes Liberator Range and has completed the Ghost transition, control equalizes.
10. Tempest Tech completes, Protoss in control.
11. Supreme Lategame Tech (Starport/BC transition) completes, Terran in control.
I personally identify three situations in this list where the relative level of control/power for one race exceeds the other race by such a significant amount that it can be argued to be an issue. The reason these three situations are problematic is that all of them signify such a large shift in power that the opposing race really cannot compete militarily, which is a frustrating situation. These situations are the following:
Number 6 is where Terran gains extreme control of the map and Protoss cannot dare moving out lest they will get absolutely beaten. Protoss is forced to turtle on three bases and is very vulnerable to the highly mobile Terran army which will win most skirmishes.
Number 8, where Protoss has stabilized and has achieved the necessary components for the deathball. Now, we reach a situation where Protoss army is so much more powerful than Terran's that Terran stands little chance in head-on combat.
Number 11, where Terran has managed to survive the onslaught and establish Battlecruiser tech and switch largely into Sky Terran, which Protoss in the current state has no viable answer to. At this stage in lategame, Terran becomes incredibly hard to beat.
When carefully assessing these three 'breaking points', we also see that almost all strategies and innovations in the matchup are based around these three significant shifts in power. Especially the shift from 6 to 8 is very large and can happen rather quickly, making it the breaking point in most TvP games. Let me name a few examples!
– Protoss' low gas, high Gateway strategy (I think popularized by Zest) allowed Protoss to compete in army strength with Terrans 5-rax infrastructure.
– The Phoenix strategies aim to delay the same window from opening up, reducing the time Protoss is vulnerable.
– Terran's Raven openers on the other hand, extend this same window for the 5-rax power spike by effectively weakening (and thus delaying) Protoss' technological advantage from becoming effective.
– Terran's 2-base all-in or SCV pull strategies aim to exploit exactly this window of relative power.
I would argue the lategame might not be developed enough for us to draw proper conclusions on. The endgame dominance of the Terran army is balanced out by a long time of Protoss being stronger and having amply opportunity to push the issue, with the solution to Terran's endgame tech being "kill them before they get there". Furthermore, in broadcasted games only on few maps and situations is Terran allowed to turtle all the way there, more often, the game is determined in stages 6-9.
However, I think looking closely at whether the magnitude of power differential can be addressed to some degree is important. The 'asymmetrical' approach to balance only works well if relative strength shifts frequently and without huge disparities, because else those shifts wrap the meta of the matchup and both players are encouraged to maximally 'exploit' these windows. This leads to homogenizing gameplay and feeling like players are limited in their decisionmaking because they are always "on the clock".
The burden of execution on Terran is both a blessing and a curse, and neither is good.
I don't think I need to argue that Terran has a more nimble army composition that is more conducive to great positioning and micro. However, if this is a controversial claim, please let me know and I'll try to elaborate on it.
I firmly believe this situation where Terran's army has more variance in effectiveness reliant on the players' skill is unfair to both players.
– It makes Terran players feel like they need to work much harder than their Protoss counterpart, which is frustrating because it feels unfair. Terran's army is simply much weaker when "a-moved" with minimal control and therefor very small mistakes can also end the game on the spot.
– For the Protoss player, once a teamfight starts there are a few things you need to execute very rapidly, but then your micro-to-value tradeoff drastically changes. It can feel incredibly helpless to watch your army get absolutely demolished and having almost no answer to it. Your army is simply slower and explosive and relies on a few key units to bring the power. This severely limits the potential a player has to push the armies' effectiveness.
In other words, I would argue the Terran army has a higher skill floor, but also a much higher skill cap to aim for. This is the foundation of memes like "Just Play Like Maru", which definitely has a sense of truth to it.
The reason that this relationship is an issue, besides causing frustration to both players, is that it makes balancing very tough. It creates a situation in which the way a Terran player can utilize their army is much more important that the way the Protoss player controls theirs, which implies a situation where the influence on winning the game from the Terran player is larger. In other words, the Terran player has much more potential to push power out of their units, and therefor, when fighting, the skill level of the Terran player is simply more important to the outcome of the game that the Protoss player, whose army doesn't rely on player input as much.
Furthermore, it creates a rather binary situation in which some Terrans are "above the curve" and others are not. Currently, we see a large number of Protoss players match up favorably into Terran, but it cannot be debated that Maru is simply stronger than most of those Protoss players. Maru's control is good enough to give him the edge and actually make the race Terran race favored. The subsequent balance problem is that Blizzard needs to decide who to balance for. If 95% of pro Terrans struggle in TvP and 5% of pro Terrans are arguably favored in the matchup, where does one draw this line and how is it maintained. Furthermore, it limits how much room there is to balance the races, because the outcome between players starts to rely on the Terran's execution and this is not the correct way to roll in a competitive scene.
To alleviate this issue, something needs to be done that makes the Protoss army slightly weaker uncontrolled, but give Protoss more potential to influence engagements through superior control. One of my favorite suggestions is to remove Charge and increase Zealot speed to compensate, which subsequently forces Protoss to control Zealots more conciously, but also provides a reward for doing so correctly. I do want to note that this solution should not be found in adding more active abilities – Protoss already has a ton of actives to click at the start of a fight and it feels artificial and ineffective to resolve this specific issue.
As a minor sidenote, this phenomenon isn't necessarily as relevant to true balance concerns as it is to the perception of balance problems.
Thank you for reading my ramble. Please remember, the best way to get this discussion going is by being productive about it. Hyperbole does not help. Small sample statistics do not help. Whining does not help. Trying to explain your thoughts, frustrations and points of friction does help. We can work together to form a coherent understanding of the situations!
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