LotV Zerg v Terran by Stephano (featuring Vipers and Hydras)

This morning, I tuned into Stephano streaming Legacy of the Void. Simply, I was blown away. I have watched various streamers over the past 2 weeks, and most of them are still working out through new units and strategies. Even if he hasn’t solidified his builds, Stephano played with the decisiveness in engagements and ease of micro that made him an instant success in Wings of Liberty, and it was a tremendous pleasure to watch. I watched him play 3 ZvT and 1 ZvZ games, so let’s dive into some analysis about what he did.

Stephano (Hydra/Viper) v. Semper (Mech with Banshees) – Link

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Apollo shows us HotS builds in LotV (and how to adjust build order timings)

Most streamers are trying new, fancy things in LotV. Openings are adapting for the economy changes. New units are everywhere. Not Apollo. Apollo knows HotS builds, and he’s using HotS strategies. And they seem to work, more or less. It might not be the most innovative StarCraft play, but this is really helpful for us because it helps us compare timings from old HotS builds versus LotV builds.

We have some writeups from his past tutorials, though the most useful one is probably his Terran in HotS. Here’s an example build he used in TvT. It is a very standard Reaper Expand into Starport

Apollo’s HotS TvT

  • 1:00 10 Supply Depot
  • 1:37 12 Barracks (at ramp)
  • 1:50 12 Refinery (delay next SCV slightly)
  • 2:45 15 Orbital Command, Supply Depot (at ramp), Reaper (scout)
  • 3:40 18 Reactor (Marine x2 when ready)
  • 4:00 19 Command Center (in-base)
  • 4:12 20 Factory
  • 4:36 21 Marine x2
  • 24 Marine x2
  • 5:15 27 Starport, Hellion x2, Swap, Orbital Command


Compare this to a build he just used on stream against ForGG.

Apollo’s LotV TvT

  • 14 0:20 Supply Depot
  • 16 0:42 Barracks
  • 16 0:52 Refinery
  • 19 Reaper, Orbital Command (continuous Marines afterwards)
  • 20 Command Center (at natural)
  • 21 Supply Depot
  • 23 2:10 Factory
  • 23 Refinery
  • 30 2:56 Starport (delayed because of pathing, Medivac when it’s done), Tech Lab on Factory
  • 35 3:00 Bunker
  • 35 Cyclone (Tank next)
  • 4:26 Command Center, Barracks x2
  • 4:45 Tank drop starts
  • 5:30 Barracks x3

There are a few differences we have to account for between HotS and LotV builds:

1. Supply counts are about +4 from before. This begins with the Supply Depot going down at 14 instead of 10 and continues forward. This, of course, affects the minerals available, but most builds are timed out based on the tech tree, not minerals, so it works out

2. Times start about 40 seconds earlier. Because of the increase from 6 to 12 starting workers, builds start earlier. Use this as a delta on your builds.

3. The game clock is faster by a factor of ~1.4. Legacy of the Void has blessed us with a game clock that is the same as real-time, so your 15 minute game actually takes 15 minutes, not 11 minutes.

These changes lead to the build adjustment formula for HotS Terran builds to LotV Protoss builds, which I will coin as “Apollo’s First Law of Void”

LotV = (HotS – 40) / 1.4

By the way, Apollo crushed ForGG in that game. My rough analysis is that Cyclones are good in small numbers, but they aren’t a backbone to a Mech army, because mass Marines work pretty well.

Tune into Apollo’s stream if you get a chance. He’s a great player to learn from.

See Legacy of the Void build orders from replays

Legacy of the Void (LotV) replays can now be parsed and viewed at http://lotv.spawningtool.com/! Big thanks are in order to Blizzard and Graylin for getting this issued so quickly. Just like LotV itself, the build is unstable and requires a lot of testing, but in principle, we can see what’s going on in the game.

In terms of our knowledge of the game, the biggest obstacle at the moment is that we actually haven’t really converged on any terminology or builds, so it’s a little tricky to know how to label the replays properly. That, however, is part of the excitement of the beta, and I’m looking forward to refining our taxonomy over time.

The biggest obstacle, however, is just sample size! If you have any LotV replays at all, please upload them or email them to us at spawningtool@gmail.com. We want to get as much into the system as possible. So far, the biggest dump just came out of the Lycan LotV Beta Tournament held earlier today. Big props to them for organizing something out of the gate and showing how exciting the game can be.

One more thing: if you see any interesting builds or strategies that you want us to do a writeup of, please let us know where you saw it, or better yet, send us a replay! We are looking to do some analyses of build orders and to really dig into this game.

Keep watching!

The First Night of LotV Beta

Like many of you, I was anxiously watching Twitter all day to see when the Legacy of the Void (LotV) closed beta would start. Thankfully, I am on the west coast, so it did start at a reasonable time for me, and I dove into watching streams.

Just watching, I haven’t yet developed a great sense of the game, but frankly, that’s really exciting: I admit that I lost interest in Heart of the Swarm as the game settled into a relatively stable metagame. I know I’m diminishing a lot of the refine that happened over time, but I could come back months later and still feel like I knew what the builds and timings would be. LotV is totally new, and that’s really refreshing to learn and see new things.

I watched Pseudorandom, a masters level Zerg player. He played the LotV fan alpha mod, so he has a decent sense of the interactions and timings coming in, and it showed as he played quite a few ZvZs. Many players are trying out early Ravager pressure, and his response to that is to go Mutas: the timing seems tight, but the Corrosive Bile can be dodged, and none of those units can shoot up. I recommend you watch his stream to see how he plays it out.

Hopefully, http://lotv.spawningtool.com will be operational soon so that we can actually see some builds soon. Unfortunately, Blizzard has changed the replay format and haven’t yet released any details on what the changes are so that we can properly parse it. Even so, please upload your replays or let us know if any streamers are releasing replays so we can get them into the system. Once the parser is working, we can go back to analyze those replays, and I hope we get a good set in there when that’s ready.

Enjoy the game, and let me know if there are any particular games you would like a more in-depth analysis of!

lotv.spawningtool.com launched

Quick note here: in anticipation for the Legacy of the Void (LotV) closed beta, we have spun up http://lotv.spawningtool.com. Particularly because of the economy changes, it didn’t make much sense to combine the LotV data with the Heart of the Swarm (HotS) data, so it is split away into a separate database. Because I’m lazy, this means that you will need to make new user accounts: hopefully that doesn’t bother you too much.

So if you happen to get into the LotV beta or otherwise get access to replays, please upload them! Note that early on, there are definitely going to be bugs in parsing the replays, but we will do our best to rectify those as quickly as possible. Even so, the only way that we will be able to figure those out is with lots of example replays to work with. And we can always re-parse the replays to get corrected data.

I hope you enjoy the launch of the beta!

Spawning Tool supports the LotV Custom unofficial fan alpha mod

Quick note here on the blog that Spawning Tool now supports the LotV Custom unofficial fan alpha mod. Their team has put together a lot of work to faithfully recreate the LotV previewed at BlizzCon, and it’s definitely gotten a lot of excitement about how StarCraft will change with Legacy of the Void (LotV).

To support that, Spawning Tool has added support to parse the new units and abilities to show build orders including Ravagers, Disruptors, Lurkers, and everything else new. You can see some of those here, and you’re welcome to upload your own. This is the wild west as we try to figure out new builds that account for both new worker/economy timings as well as the new units.

In other news, Spawning Tool also has all of the replays from WCS season 3, BlizzCon, and IEM San Jose. Check those out as well.

There are a few other changes in the works for Spawning Tool, so keep your eyes peeled!

Legacy of the Void: Stay positive!

(This is the 6th and final part in a series on the multiplayer changes announced for Legacy of the Void at BlizzCon)

Over the last 5 posts, I have covered a lot of topics around Legacy of the Void (LotV), and they ranged from excited to skeptical and analytical to fanboy-ish. What I want to end on, however, is just a simple point: let’s stay supportive and positive.

There was a lot of excitement right around the announcement, and we need to keep that energy going as much as we can through release. As we get more details about the game, we are going to digger deeper into the changes, and any change will have both pros and cons. Given how experimental things are at this point, however, I don’t want us to get overwhelmingly focused on the negative.

As Blizzard changes things, not everything will work, but it’s important that they have the mandate from the community to try things. We do joke about things like “Daed Gaem” and complain about balance, but there is some underlying feeling that things can improve, and LotV is Blizzard’s chance to fix that. If we back away when we get more details about how much damage a certain unit does or how weak a certain race looks, then the natural reaction is to drift back to the norm, which is the game that we currently have.

Furthermore, it is natural that the changes will drift towards being less radical over time. Blizzard believes strongly in slow, progressive changes towards a stable game, and the game is only get to get more “normal” over time. Ideas rarely get crazier than initial creation and brainstorming, and I would be surprised for something really big to happen now that Blizzard has already announced a feature set.

Given this natural progression, I think we should be pushing to keep changes to see how they evolve and not allow ourselves to revert back to old thinking, whether that’s HotS or Brood War. If we think this game needs a shake-up, we should be behind everything Blizzard does, and hopefully they will hit on the right things. Stay excited. Big things are ahead.

Legacy of the Void: starting fresh with team games

(This is part 5 in a series on the multiplayer changes announced for Legacy of the Void at BlizzCon)

These days, I play more team games than 1v1. Since my friends and I have gotten weekly StarCraft going, it has been my most reliable way of staying in the game. We mostly play 3v3s and 4v4s, and after over a year of it, I have to admit: it isn’t great. There are a few problems and why Legacy of the Void (LotV) isn’t helping.

Current problems with team games

First, the skill gap is rough. Although the total hours of StarCraft played over the past 1 1/2 years is very close across all of the players, the skill gap hasn’t narrowed much. Unfortunately, StarCraft does require deliberate practice and learning, and for most people, it isn’t worth it. As much as we try to make it friendly, it’s tough for the less talented players to stick through it.

Second, harassment and prepared cheese can destroy less talented players. We have seen a lot of strange builds, but the unfortunate part is that they still work. Mass Reapers are devastating because even if 2 of the 4 people on the team can prepare for it, there’s someone who is vulnerable, and while we’re trying to protect them to make sure that they can play a full game and not instantly lose all of their workers, our opponents can macro up to crush us in the mid-game. Banshees, Oracles, and any other harassment is just as bad. Unfortunately LotV makes all of this worse as Blizzard is deliberately strengthening harassment and aggression, which barely gives us an opportunity to develop.

Third, big maps rarely have enough bases. It’s lucky to find a map that gives everyone a chance to get up to 3 bases, which can be critical because a lot of games end up with critical players mining out. This is unfortunate because more talented players tend to need to carry the team, and short of asking for donations (which is an attempt to balance, but can be crippling for less experienced players), it is rough to sustain a long, interesting game. Again, LotV makes this even worse by decreasing the resources at each base. Given the apparent limitations on the size of the map, it means that big games just can’t go that long.

Fourth, I’m not sure how Blizzard has and tries to balance for big team games. This is not to say that I think the game is unbalanced, but the permutations of strategies means that there’s more to prepare for, and again, it’s hard to make less talented players learn the hard way, which still hasn’t worked (for us) in over a year of playing.

The path forward

And despite all of that, I think StarCraft is a fabulous game, and we still have managed to sustain our group for this long. Although Blizzard hasn’t explicitly thrown team games under the bus, I think they have decided to de-prioritize it. The issue is that StarCraft doesn’t naturally extend to more than 2 players. Although the gameplay affords it and the technology exists, it isn’t necessarily desirable and suffers when the game is designed for 1v1.

So instead of trying to fix it, they’re introducing new modes for bigger games, and I’m very excited for them because they really address the needs of casual players.

Archon Mode

Archon mode allows 2 players to play as 1 by controlling shared units. Although I never made the connection, this is what I have wanted in StarCraft 2 for a very long time: team melee.

Team melee was a mode back in Brood War that allowed several players to control the same units. It was a blast, and one of the greatest games of StarCraft I played have every played was a 2v2v1 team melee game. There are a few reasons why I think it works better than team games.

First, it’s balanced and allows us to use  units and play like Blizzard intended. They design and balance for 1v1, and if we can get back to that point with multiple players, it will work.

Second, it’s a great way to teach and carry less talented players. StarCraft is an overwhelming game, and typical mistakes for less talented players is not reacting fast enough or knowing what the response is. Archon mode allows a more talented player to drive when things get dicey, and they can maintain other tasks (e.g. macro) so that the less talented player can improve.

Third, it encourages communication. One of the best parts of team games is talking to friends, but unfortunately, the discussion tends to be more talented players yelling at less talented players to do things and complain about them not doing something. That should be out of the door as archon mode is naturally more cooperative. They can strategize together without being mired by mechanical issues.

I hope Blizzard allows for asymmetric teams (e.g. 2v1) and archon mode FFA (e.g. 2v2v2). That flexibility may seem small, but it’s a huge help.

Allied Commander

The details here are sketchy, but it sounds good to me. Allied commander sounds like Halo’s firefight, or Left 2 Die, where players can play cooperatively against some objective. I think the interest in a co-op campaign (google for it) indicates how much people want this. Although not all of my friends have gotten into multiplayer, everyone seems to enjoy the campaign, and being able to share that experience sounds really nice.

Again, it depends on the details, but I’m glad to see Blizzard trying this out and putting it as a major mode. Even if they don’t get it right the first time, it’s a big opportunity for development in the future.


Laddering 1v1 is really scary. Even laddering 2v2 is scary. StarCraft is just a really hard game, and so far, StarCraft hasn’t been well-designed for bigger games that build a social and more casual experience for engaging the larger community. Rather than trying to fix the existing modes, I think Blizzard is making a great move by developing new modes for this purpose. I hope it works to keep people in the game!

Legacy of the Void: Micro makes comebacks possible

(This is part 4 in a series on the multiplayer changes announced for Legacy of the Void at BlizzCon)

Last time, I wrote about some concerns that I have about how the community might react to the shift towards micro and aggression. Overall, the piece came off quite cynical, but I think that there’s a separate and less polemic discussion to be had about how increased micro could impact the frequency of comebacks.

Roughly, micro makes comebacks possible. In StarCraft, we typically compare how players are doing by macro metrics: number of mining bases, current supply counts, banked resources, army composition, and so forth. We will fuzz our measurements by map control and information, but macro determines who has the advantage. Were one to simply throw armies against each other, the player with better macro wins.

However, StarCraft is much more dynamic than just economy, and micro can overcome a disadvantage by making certain units worth more than their face value with good control. Good micro can overcome being strictly outnumbered or outgunned. As a consequence, if micro is more important, this enables more comebacks as micro can make up for a lack of macro.

Dota 2 recently went through a big discussion after their last major patch changed the “comeback mechanic” that increased a team’s reward for getting kills while behind. With just some tweaking of some multipliers, the game (according to the community) quickly became a total crapshoot as getting ahead didn’t matter because the trailing team could always come back.

Of course, micro in StarCraft isn’t a comeback mechanic because it doesn’t strictly give an advantage to the losing player. Micro is, however, an aspect that adds variance to the game and adds a factor closer to 50-50 to a game than straight-up macro allows for.

It’s a strict tradeoff: how important/likely are comebacks compared to snowballing? In other words, as you get more ahead, how likely should you be to win? Presumably, this value should always be somewhere between 50% (being “ahead” doesn’t matter because it doesn’t affect your chance of winning) and 100% (being aheads guarantees a wing) depending on how far “ahead” (by some arbitrary metric) you are. To emphasize this point, I’m going to pull a graph out of my archives:

Win Rates by Supply Difference

What we see here is that being ahead by 15 supply corresponds to roughly a 75% – 80% win rate in all matchups. Of course, there tends to be a positive relationship between supply advantage and win rate. The snowball versus comeback debate roughly comes down to how quickly that line should go from 50% to 100%. If the graph is relatively shallow, comebacks are more likely. If the graph is very steep, the player at an advantage tends to snowball?

So do you think that StarCraft currently has the right balance of snowballing and comebacks? It really is a matter of preference that has no right or wrong. Snowballing is comforting, but can be boring and lead to GGs. Comebacks can be exciting, but also chaotic and make a lot of the game meaningless. “All things in moderation,” of course, but there’s so much variety between those extremes that we can consider. It’s just a matter of what makes for a fun experience for you to play and watch.

In my opinion, I think the game could use a bit more variety and more frequent comebacks, but it’s pretty close right now. I do like the stability of the game in knowing what to do to improve, but it can also be frustrating to know that, because you lost an expansion early, the game is over, and it’s just a slow death at this point. Given that, I think that commentators tend to overstate the certainty of outcomes based on early events, and I do think the game is more dynamic than we think. And of course, comebacks are only one part of the dynamic that does or doesn’t make the game fun. It just so happens that that it’s the one we perhaps remember the best.

Where do you think StarCraft currently is on the snowball/comeback scale?

  • StarCraft is currently well-balanced between snowballing and comebacks (52%, 11 Votes)
  • StarCraft is somewhat predictable and could use a few more comebacks (33%, 7 Votes)
  • StarCraft is so predictable and needs more comebacks (14%, 3 Votes)
  • StarCraft is somewhat chaotic and could use a little more snowballing (0%, 0 Votes)
  • StarCraft is so chaotic and needs a lot more snowballing (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 21

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Legacy of the Void: Does the community really want more aggression?

(This is part 3 in a series on the multiplayer changes announced for Legacy of the Void at BlizzCon)

(Disclaimer: this post is kind of a wet towel, and I swear I’m really excited about LotV and believe we should stay positive as a community to be supportive of Blizzard’s willingness to try things out)

StarCraft 2 has always had interesting tension between micro and macro*. On the one hand, everyone loves micro: most highlight videos and “aww snap” moments come from expert control of specific units. On the other hand, most players will tell you that the best way to get better is to improve your macro and focus on probes and pylons, probes and pylons, probes and pylons. Of course, both are necessary skills, but it is strange when the aspects of a game that attract players are different from the most important aspects of it.

StarCraft has always leaned towards macro: that’s one of the big ways that WarCraft distinguished itself from StarCraft on a gameplay level. Despite that, Blizzard has targeted a few ways to increase the importance of micro to make the game more dynamic in Legacy of the Void (LotV). Those goals are listed here, so I won’t repeat them verbatim. I do, however, have a big question: does the community really want more aggression and micro?

Conceptually, I think the changes are nice. I love mechanics that require both players to do something. To borrow from another game, one of my favorite Magic: the Gathering cards is Blackmail. It is, in fact, not particularly potent discard, but both sides have to think from the others’ perspective, and both have a choice, where most discard either allows only 1 of the 2 players to make the choice. It’s more interactive than just being subject to whatever is coming at you. Having counter-micro opportunities against Ravagers or Disruptors is cool.

And from an esports and professional level, I think it sounds good, too, but it may not really be desirable. Micro makes for good highlights. With Heart of the Swarm (HotS), we have seen some of the most egregiously drawn out games as players prove that they’re willing to wait it out if it means they can win. Micro can break some of the long stalemates that we hate watching because things get boring because no one is encouraged to be aggressive, but will players go for it?

For the larger player base that only plays casually, however, I think we have also seen a tendency towards wanting more stable games. We used to have maps like Tal’Darim Altar, which had big chokes that were hard to defend (specifically PvP), and players hated it. Very small maps also encourage early game aggression, and we moved towards bigger maps. Early ZvZ strategies were endless streams of Zerglings and Banelings running across the map, and that was always considered too much of a “coin-flip”.

The general issue with a bias towards aggression and splashy effects is that the results can be volatile, and although a Widow Mine shot killing 20 workers makes a great gif, but it probably caused a rage quit. Requiring defensive micro can be intimidating: players are already taxed on multitasking, and knowing they can constantly lose in an instant to a mismicro can make anyone paranoid.

One of their goals in the game is to “differentiate player skill better”, but I am concerned that this might not actually be attractive to most players. One cause of ladder anxiety is that rankings directly reflect a player’s ability, and it’s hard for a lot of players to want to “test” themselves while playing a game for fun. One of the hardest obstacles to overcome is dealing with Oracles killing minerals lines, 2 Reapers at the beginning of the game, or a Baneling landmine destroying an army. Once a player is frazzled, everything else falls apart. It feels awful, and we blame the other player for having no skill in using cheesy strategies.

When players win on micro and harassment, they feel smug. When players lose on micro, they feel cheated. But when players win and lose in big macro battles, it feels epic. And having played those long games, I have never been bored. Even when a game looks static, I’m still playing as fast as possible trying to keep production up and move my army around. I am very conscious of trying to add more micro to my game by mixing in more drops or keeping Zerglings on the map, but I don’t have space to micro.

To recap, I am concerned about Blizzard putting all of their marbles behind more action and micro. Although it may make for more exciting pro games, I wonder whether most players are truly capable of and willing to play in a more intensive game. But to qualify all of my skepticism above, I am extremely excited for the changes and look forward to Blizzard shaking things up. All of the thoughts above are all suppositions about a community, and I’m hopeful that LotV can keep the player base engaged!

Do you think that most players will enjoy having to micro more?

  • Yes (64%, 90 Votes)
  • No (36%, 50 Votes)

Total Voters: 140

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*Just to clarify for the possibly uninitiated, micro and macro refer to 2 types of actions that players make during a game. Macro refers to actions to build up economy or army, such as making workers, building units, and avoid supply blocks. Micro refers to control of specific units to do things, such as killing workers with Banshees, splitting Marines, or casting spells with High Templar.