Current State of Balance – Looking at the Data

starcraft 4 - Current State of Balance - Looking at the Data

Balance has always been a hot topic for StarCraft 2 since it came out. While true balance in an asymmetric RTS is impossible to achieve, it is in everybody's best interest to come as close as possible. When a race is perceived as OP, every one loses. The winning player will get his achievement undermined by the perceived notion that his race and not his ability carried him to victory. The losing player will declare imbalance as the sole reason for his defeat, and he will not see the flaws in his play that contributed to his loss.

With such heated debate recently about balance and specifically the Protoss race, I wanted to examine some of the data we have. I've seen a lot of people making hasty conclusions based on data with very low sample sizes, which are statistically completely insignificant. For instance, looking at tournament winners only offers an extremely low sample size that doesn't remove statistical outliers. On the other hand, we can't have a huge sample size either because the further you get from the top of the competition, the less balance matters. To take a simple example, looking at data in bronze is irrelevant because nearly 100% of the outcome of games played at that level depends on the player's ability and not balance. This reason added to the fact that we have a pro-gaming scene in the game is why StarCraft 2 is balanced for the highest level.

Regarding the time frame of the data selected, it is admittedly an arbitrarily choice on my part, but my reasoning is the following: Blizzard now uses the end of the year to roll out their bigger design and balance changes, starting from January makes sense in that regard. We're now in June, past the halfway point regarding the 2019 WCS circuit, and I feel we have enough data now to draw some conclusions.

The second arbitrary decision I have made is that I will be looking at top 8 data only for two reasons: First, I feel top 8 is a good middle ground between decent sample size and highest ability possible of the players involved in the data set. Secondly, prize pool is arguably the most important factor for pro players, top 8 is the most significant cutoff for prize money, usually 50% or more of the total prize pool. WESG was a 200k USD tournament with only top 8 in the money. IEM Katowice was a 400k tournament, top 8 was 311k.

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Enough rambling, here's the data. According to Liquipedia, there have been 8 premier tournaments played so far in 2019 (GSL season 2 is still going on but we already know the top 8).

Premier tournaments – January 1st to June 15th

Event % of Terran in Ro8 % of Zerg in Ro8 % of Protoss in Ro8 Highest positive deviation from the mean (33%) Highest negative deviation from the mean (33%)
2019 WCS Winter Americas 25% 25% 50% Protoss +17% Terran and Zerg -8%
2019 WCS Winter Europe 12.5% 50% 37.5% Zerg +17% Terran -20.5%
2019 Global StarCraft II League Season 1: Code S 37.5% 25% 37.5% Terran and Protoss +4.5% Zerg -8%
IEM Season XIII – Katowice 0% 50% 50% Zerg and Protoss +17% Terran -33%
World Electronic Sports Games 2018 25% 50% 25% Zerg +17% Terran and Protoss -8%
2019 AfreecaTV GSL Super Tournament 1 12.5% 0% 87.5% Protoss +54.5% Zerg -33%
2019 Global StarCraft II League Season 2: Code S 12.5% 25% 62.5% Protoss +29.5% Terran -20.5%
2019 WCS Spring 25% 37.5% 37.5% Zerg and Protoss +4.5% Terran -8%
Total 18.7% 32.8% 48.4% Protoss +15.4% Terran -14.3%


Notable facts:

  • Protoss has been over-represented in the ro8 of premier tournaments 6 out of 8 times (75%).
  • Terran has been under-represented in the ro8 of premier tournaments 6 out of 8 times (75%).
  • Protoss has the highest over-representation in a single tournament with 7 out of 8 players (87.5%).
  • Terran and Zerg share the highest under-representation in a single tournament with a single 0 out of 8 players (0%) appearance each in the ro8.

In conclusion, when examining total results for each race, we can notice that:

  • Protoss has appeared in 48.4% of the ro8, an overall over-representation of +15.4%.
  • Terran has appeared in 18.7% of the ro8, an overall under-representation of -14.3%.
  • Zerg has appeared in 32.8% of the ro8, and therefore achieves almost perfect balance results, ideal result being 33.3%.

Now that we have examined tournament results for 2019, let's have a look at current data for GrandMaster league in the 4 main servers. GM is arguably the only league that matters regarding balance, where virtually 100% of pro-gamers play and where the skill is the highest.

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GrandMaster Race Distribution – June 15th

Server Number of Terran Number of Zerg Number of Protoss
Europe 61(31.44%) 57(29.38%) 73(37.63%)
America 62(31.16%) 72(36.18%) 60(30.15%)
Korea 55(30.90%) 50(28.09%) 73(41.01%)
China 47(23.74%) 64(32.32%) 86(43.43%)
World 225(29.26%) 243(31.60%) 292(37.97%)

Notable facts:

  • Protoss is over-represented on 3 of the 4 major regions.
  • Zerg is under-represented on 2 of the 4 major regions.
  • Protoss has the highest global representation of players in GM with 38%.
  • Terran has the lowest global representation of players in GM with 29%.

Looking at ladder data, the numbers paint a more nuanced pictures than tournament results. Nonetheless, the trends are the same across the board. Protoss is almost always vastly over-represented at the top of the ladder, and Terran is slightly under-represented. Zerg once again sits in the middle of the two other races with the closest percentage to balance.

Please let me know if I have made any mistake regarding my math or the data, I will edit the OP.

Let's hear your thoughts and let's try to have a civilized, constructive and data driven discussion!


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