Let me preface all of this by saying that i don't necessarily think that the game is imbalanced right now. That could very well be true, but i'm more worried about how both match ups play out in the current state of the game.
One of the main points that i want to make is that what makes a Match Up interesting to watch and play is constant interaction between both players. Starcraft shines when the players require skill, multitask and strategy to control their armies, and draw the most out of them throughout the game. While you could say that those attributes are present in the current ZvT/P , the fact that most of the games only have that interaction in really specific moments detracts from the excitement of the match up.
To try to prove my point, i'll take a look and give an analysis in a fan favorite game that happened in this tournament, Showtime vs Heromarine G3 on Triton.
TvP: Is this the ideal StarCraft?
TvP caught my attention in the last IEM Katowice. Most TvPs that went to a macro game on even footing were pretty amazing, and Showtime vs Heromarine had it all.
Ok, ok, i know what you're thinking: "But what about all the 3 base all ins from protoss with gateway units, or the 2 base marine tank pushes from terran? Or one warp prism just getting into the main and terran dying?". I personally believe that those issues in general can be resolved solely with map changes. Rush distances, tank spots, openess of the third / natural, dead spaces around the map, all of that can be changed depending on what is strong or not relating to aggressive builds, so unless something is actually unstopable, it can probably be resolved by changing or using different maps.
Another common talking point about TvP right now are the disruptors, and how, because of them, if terran doesn't play perfectly he just dies. Disruptors are pretty strong, and probably could receive a small nerf. Just to say some options, reducing the radius of the disruptor ball a little bit, making so you can't click with it to follow units, or just making so the units on the outskirts of the ball receive less damage would all be interesting, but i feel like completely removing it from the match up would be a mistake, and it all comes back to the value that it has to make interaction be important in the MU.
So, let's just go and take a look at the game.
The game starts with a small skirmish on the middle of the map between the reaper and the adept. Heromarine ends up letting the adept on his main, and while dealing with it loses the reaper without scouting. Showtime opened with a stargate, and he decides to do an attack with double adept oracle.
The objective is to kill the marines with the oracle adept, and try to kill as many SCVs as possible, but for some reason Showtime ends up not attacking with the oracle, losing his opportunity when the viking and cyclone come out. The early game already had a lot of interaction and micro from both sides, that could impact a lot how the rest of the game plays out. Both take their third, and the game procedes to the midgame.
Heromarine gets his third and does a push that hits right before Charge is done, with hopes of killing a few units and maybe a Colossus, while trying to open some space for a drop to get into the main base.
His drop gets caught, and his push doesn't do that much damage, but Heromarine in Heromarine style is already getting a fourth, while trying to keep the protoss pinned back with the threat of a counter attack. Since Showtime would have to move quite far to try to kill Heromarine's army, he can keep applying pressure without actually attacking. (Keep this part in mind, it's important for the ZvP/T discussion).
The terran gets some probes with some marines and a viking, and Showtime eventually starts adding blinkstalkers and disruptors into his army.
Heromarine sucessfully keeps doing more damage, with map control he keeps moving around with his army, killing observers, and trying to find openings against the protoss.
Showtime takes some damage, but is able to estabilish a fourth base, finish blink and push the Terran's army back. Since he was able to get quite a few disruptors out, he was able to regain map control and was able to start pushing on the other side of the map.
Now it's his time to control the game. The idea is to keep the terran army back, while moving around, sniping liberators and dealing as much damage as possible with disruptors.
The terran's objective is to try and push the protoss army back with harass and drops, while defending with liberators. If he is able to make Showtime go back, and pin his army down, he has the advantage. Meanwhile, Showtime has to keep being aggressive and trading, while defending the harassment and the drops the best way he can.
The game ends up going into a basetrade, and a disastrous disruptor shot kills a huge part of Heromarine's army, which results in his defeat.
Interaction, interaction and interaction… with maybe a little bit of interaction on top
Specific balance discussions aside (which were adressed at the start), the game was intense, fun, nailbiting and action packed. Both players were fighting for map control all the time, since it would give them the advantage, and were abusing their power spikes to get that map control and put pressure on the opponent. A big fight didn't happen, both were searching for openings and a way to deal damage to the oponent (though showtime didn't use a warp prism to put pressure later in the game). You could see the skill of both players showing throughout the match, and it made for an amazing game.
What made it possible is that the way that the units work in TvP give space for you to have interactions at all times in the game. When you move out you have to try to outposition your opponent and control your army well to start dealing damage. Having to fight for map control, and having armies that have cool interactions, that don't end in a single, big and fast engagement, is exciting. You could argue about the difficulty of both sides, and maybe that's true, but i believe that if that really is true, with a few small nerfs you would be able to force the protoss army to be more diverse, and add difficulty that way.
The thing is, macro TvP troughout the entire tournament was really cool to watch, and i could only dream that Zerg could have match ups like that.
I could only dream…
Where is my Zerg fun?
So… what's the problem with Zerg match ups? Why don't they have the same excitement as other match ups most of the time?
Well… answering that is not easy. It's not like Zerg has no good games in ZvP/T, it has some good games. And at least ZvT has a precedent of being an amazing match up, maybe the best there was in all of SC2, in biomine vs Ling bane muta, so what went wrong?
Let's start by analysing what made MMMM vs LBM so fun. Considering that i said that it was going to be a pretty big point in this post, you can probably already guess what it's going to be: I N T E R A C T I O N. Both players were fighting all the time, Terran trying to push the zerg back with a constant stream of units, while zerg was trying to buy time with counter attacks and get favorable engagements with ling bane muta, until the point where he stabilizes and pushes the terran back. The game is action packed and you can see the skill of both players while they try to outplay the other.
But LOTV is a different game. One of the problems that people could have with HOTS is the lack of variety TvZ had. It was always the same thing, every single time. Legacy introduced more variety in the match up, with Hydras and Lurkers, but it never felt like the match up was able to reach the same heights as it did in the previous expansion.
ZvP on the other hand was always a messy match up, and personally i was never able to find a meta that was actually really enjoyable. It always felt like something was missing.
So… why are the Zerg match ups in this strange position?
The melee unit problem
Well, melee units in general don't have a lot of interaction in the fights. Unless they have skills, when you fight you fight, and when you retreat you retreat. You can have some unit on unit interaction, with micro to surround / splits against splash in general, but later in the game it's probably not going to be that common. So unless you have non-stop fights, which was the case with MMMM, you're probably not going to see many interesting things happening on the side of the zerg when the focus is on zerglings or banelings.
The vision problem
Zerg units are fast, really fast. Lings and banelings can react easily to most attacks, and coupled with the fact that they are relatively (and emphasis on the relatively) easy to control, it means that it's going to be hard to be out of position. This is exacerbated by the fact that Zerg has creep, which gives a lot of vision all over the map. This means that zerg doesn't really need to fight for map control. He doesn't need to interact directly with the opponent's army.
In ZvT, if the terran is pushing and you already have creep, you just delay him while counter-attacking. So this means that to push out and put pressure on the Zerg, the Terran player needs to control the creep early. If he's not able to, he has to play slower, focusing on timing pushes or just giving up on the mid game and focusing all of his attention on the late game. If he does that, since most zerg units are melee, there's simply no interaction happening. If the Zerg actually wants to fight, he has to go all out. And it's not exactly easy to go all out against a Terran player that's keen on playing defensively.
In ZvP, the problem is even bigger. Coupled with the fact that Protoss is really dependent on Immos and Archons, while gateway units, in general, kind of suck, the game ends up with only all out fights. Most of those come when the protoss player decides to do a big pressure on 3 bases, or when he tries to get a fourth, and the Zerg player just does a huge Ravager Bane attack to trade / deny it. While the protoss will just try to get the biggest baddest army that he can get, push out, and win the game. There's no fight for map control, there's not cool micro on both sides , you basically just go.
The roach problem
Recently ZvP has been on my mind a lot. And if Zerg had a unit that was interesting, microable, and had cool (you guessed it) interactions with the Protoss units, maybe early and mid game would feel different. The thing is, all the time that i think about Roaches, the first thing that pops into my mind is boring. It's a sturdy, low range unit. That's it. There's really nothing you can do with it bar bait some forcefields. It really doesn't have anything at all. It's the most bland type of ranged unit possible. And since it's a core unit in ZvP in the current meta, it makes all the possible interactions in the early and mid game really bland too.
Zerg the easy race?
All those points make for an argument that's really common, especially among this sub. That zerg is too "easy" in macro games since it doesn't have to be that aggressive / do the micro that other races have to do. And well, that is right… but not exactly.
The thing about the Zerg race, and the way that it works, is that it's difficulty is directly related to the skill of the opponent. The worse the opponent, the easier it is to play Zerg macro, since you can normally hit all of your injects, you can do your builds with no pressure, and just spread creep to your hearts content. At the same time, if you play against a really good player, who really pushes you all the time, multitasks, and forces you to make mistakes, the race gets exponentially more difficult (which makes all the more impressive how good Serral is playing Zerg). Is it fair to say it's the same difficulty as the other races though? I'm not sure.
Is there no salvation then?
Well… let's not be so fast. Even Zerg match ups have interesting parts of the game. If the Protoss stabilishes a fourth in ZvP, and the Zerg decides to keep playing with Ravager Ling Bane, and outmultitask your opponent, it's actually still really fun to watch and play (albeit probably not that fair), even if the only protoss option is getting a huge army and moving out.
The same way, when the terran plays with widow mines, we still have cool fast paced games. Hell, even cyclone hellion mech has a lot of interaction (though normally it's not a good type of interaction) in the match up, and can make for good games. Good games, but rarely great. So… how do we solve those problems?
I'm here, and over there, and there, and there too.
There's a way that you can make melee units interesting. If the game is not as focused on the main fights, but on harassment and multitasking, suddenly the game takes a whole different shape. Lings and banelings have to be careful of chokes, you have to start splitting your army while counter-attacking and putting pressure on the opponent. So making harassment against zerg stronger in the case of ZvT would be a great option.
Remember when i said that you should remember about Heromarine leaving his army to threaten the Protoss third? Well, that is what could be changed in the case of ZvP. Make protoss be able to split his army and put pressure on different parts of the map. Make it so zerg is feeling the pressure of the protoss at all times, and is forced to outmultitask or get good trades against his opponent with micro, baiting storms and forcefields on multiple fronts and splitting.
And how the hell do we do that?
Well, that's the most important question, isn't it? I though about these questions a lot, and unfortunately i wasn't able to solve those problems with small changes. Hell, one of the solutions would be getting rid of creep vision and reworking Zerg units around that, but i feel like it would be a change so huge that it's completely unrealistic.
So, let's keep in mind that the changes that i say here are focused on making more interactions viable, while at the same time making harassment and multitasking more effective against Zerg. The changes are big, but like i said, i wasn't able to think of smaller ones.
1) Put the mine upgrade on the Armory, and not on the tech lab.
Making the transition to mines easier would be a great change for TvZ, since you wouldn't need to get double fac every time that you want to play with biomine, and they make for great games, as we've already seen in HotS.
I'm aware that it could influence negatively the state of TvP, but i'm not convinced that it would be big enough to change the current dinamics of the match up.
2) Put the roaches in lair tech, while changing the unit, and move hydras down to hatch tech.
It feels like roaches are the main problem in ZvP right now. They're just not a cool unit to have as a core in the match up. A weaker hydra in hatch tech would probably do wonders for the match up, since it's a unit that's a lot more microable, and is not something that you can just a-move and leave them there against most protoss compositions.
At the same time, why not rework the roach? Use it as a harass unit, increasing the range, damage and cost, decreasing the life and making it come with tunneling claws. Change the ravager to be a true siege breaker, or a support unit for your main army used to zone out the oponent, with longer cooldowns on the biles but more range.
3) Change the mutas. Make it a unit that's really effective in small numbers, while falling off fast in higher numbers.
One of the things that is really cool from the mutas is the amount of interactions that you're able to get with the unit. I already gave this suggestion in another post that i made, but i really feel like a unit that is really good the better you micro it is something that's missing from zerg, and the muta has the potential to be that unit.
Reduce the speed of the muta, take away the health regen, and in compensation give it more damage, and one more range. Maybe even make the spire tech more acessible. It would already make the interactions that the Zerg has a lot more meaningful and intense, in harassment and with pokes on the main army, while not making it strong in bigger numbers.
Wuff, that was a long post. I'm not exactly sure that these changes will necessarily make the game better, but i think that Blizzard should really be trying to make the Zerg match ups more interactive, since that's what peak StarCraft feels like. I already had another post commeting on air units / spellcasters in SC2, especially in late game, so i didn't feel the need to put that here.
So… what do you think?
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