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.

3 thoughts on “Legacy of the Void: Does the community really want more aggression?

  1. As an addendum, there is a really great discussion on reddit about this post, so I highly recommend you look through that thread as well http://www.reddit.com/r/starcraft/comments/2mcsbm/lotv_does_the_community_really_want_more/

    To respond to a few, I would like to make a few points. First, I think that perhaps the better question would have been, “Does the community want to play against more aggression?” Of course we always like more options for ourselves and the opportunities are balanced. However, players are less often disappointed when they’re aggression fails: they’re disappointed when they’re attacked.

    XenoX101 made a really good point and clarified my thinking in that I think the issue is a mindset problem: in watching games, we appreciate micro over macro. In playing games, however, we still hold macro on a pedestal, and my concern is that we aren’t ready to play up micro, hence the title question.

    I guess as a final point, I realize I might not be in agreement about Blizzard wanting to “Differentiate player skill better.” That may entail newer players facing quickly how “bad” they are as they face more strategies that don’t allow them to develop or don’t make them want to play more. When we as a community already feel like our community is being eroded by other games, perhaps accessibility should be a greater goal. These goals are necessarily in opposition, but I would be curious to know how Blizzard intends to align these goals.

  2. The dilemma of increasing the skill ceiling is one of the most challenging goals in designing an esports worthy game. If there is not enough depth to differentiate the skill level of the players, it is not exactly a worthy competitive game. However, when the ceiling is extremely high, it is very discouraging for players to continue playing. It goes back to the belief in meritocracy in a society. People often report that they do not believe there is a true meritocracy. This is because most people do not “win”, as there often are fewer winners than losers in whatever context in general. Thus, it’s more psychologically comforting to think that there are other reasons than their own merits are affecting the results. This is not wrong, but most of the time there is a bias which heighten the perceived influence of external factors. When a player loses, one wants to minimise the effects of the factors under his or her control, and maximises the effects of the factors not under his or her control, because this softens the realisation that the oneself is bad. Starcraft in many ways is a game which has no external factors (let’s not talk about internet issue etc.), and it is safe to conclude that the winner of a game is the better player in that game. Period. No argument. This is based on the fundamental notion that there are no external factors that are not within the control of the players. Therefore, Starcraft is not an attractive game to most people, and it has a niche crowd.

    However, with that being said, it is a good idea to lower the lower boundary and raise the upper boundary of skill. A good example is the relative ease to macro in SC2 than SC:BW, as this allows players to enter into the game. It is the same as any other sports. Say, basketball is only playable if you can run 100m in 10sec, then no one plays it.

    In many ways, Starcraft is extremely frustrating and rewarding at the same time. When you win, you know you deserve all the credits. But psychology studies (prospect theory) will tell you that people value losses more than gains. This makes Starcraft not as attractive as other main stream esports game.

    In conclusion, I think what Blizzard is doing is increasing the upper boundary which is important for competitors to differentiate themselves.The changes do not exactly make it more difficult for beginners in my opinion.

    • Great explanation for why StarCraft can be so intimidating. I don’t have much to add as far as explanation, but I will point out that I personally also find 2v2 immensely less stressful than 1v1. Despite the fact that I have to play just as hard and that I know that I am very much responsible for what goes right or wrong, it is subconsciously easy to “blame” my teammate if things go sour.

      I disagree that the changes don’t affect the difficulty of 1v1 laddering for beginners: with more micro, I just kind of think we will see more cheese (e.g. Banshees are better), which is frustrating for players just getting into the game. Regardless, I think that Blizzard is perhaps moving away from that, anyways. With the proposals about archon mode and co-op, I think they’re trying to make the game more broadly appealing by providing different modes for other players, without compromising balance (as games bigger than 1v1 would require). I have another post about > 2 player games coming up to address that as well

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