(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 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.
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!