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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2 thoughts on “Legacy of the Void: Micro makes comebacks possible

  1. I think Blizzard is addressing this issue in another way. As they always say, they don’t want the game to be decided in one big battle. Comeback mechanics do not really suit RTS in general. However, it is important to delay the “ok, I’ve lost” point during the time frame when one player is on the losing side. One good way to allow comeback is to have units that have “high possibility”, for example, Widow Mine, High Templar, Fungal Growth etc. It gives you hope to make a come back. Other suitable mechanics will be high risk high profit factors, for example, gold bases. The key is that the same thing must be available to the leading player too. It breaks the game if one player has a lower mining efficiency once his or her supply lead exceeds a certain number.

    • Definitely. I think we’re on the same page here. The issue with 1 big battle is that the player who has an advantage coming out of it is ahead, and without sufficient opportunity for comebacks, it’s hard to change the outcome.

      The “high possibility” you mention, I think, is the variance that micro introduces. It’s a factor with a distribution centered around 50% win rate because StarCraft is balanced between the winning and losing play (i.e. no true comeback mechanic). As such, it effectively shifts the likelihood back towards even. The higher the possibility with units to micro, the larger of a factor it becomes and the more probability mass shifts.

      On a separate note, that’s really interesting that you mention the lower mining efficiency at high supplies. I’m guessing you’re referring to the WarCraft 3 mechanic, which I know of but not well since I never played it (other than the campaign and custom games, of course). How would you feel about that being in StarCraft?

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