It’s not the game’s problem, it’s a player problem

Published on Saturday, November 27, 2010 By Brad Wardell In PC Gaming

I finally threw in the towel on Starcraft this week. As a single player game, it’s amazing. Game of the year as far as I’m concerned.  It’s multiplayer design is phenomenal as well. It’s the single best game purchase I made in 2010.

And yet, playing online, against humans, has demonstrated why I just cannot stand multiplayer games in general.  At various times during the beta I was ranked between "bronze” and “diamond” leagues.  In my experience, the difference between silver and gold is pretty small in terms of player quality.  Above that, you are starting to deal with a much higher quality of player.

The problem is, at silver and gold levels of Starcraft, the players you’re up against are overwhelmingly “all in” starting strategists. That is, they expect to win or lose the game in the first 5 minutes, which, to me, as a father of 3 nearing 40 years of age, is an anathema. I want to play the damn game.

The key to Starcraft is “scouting”. You scout to try to figure out what strategy they’re going to employ.  This works in theory  -- if you’re willing to devote inordinate amounts of time to the meta game that is Starcraft multiplayer. The meta game consists of scouting YouTube and various other sites to see what the latest fad opening cheese tactic is.

Playing against Zerg? Check to see if they’re doing a Baneling rush. Mutablob? Or are they going to do the extra roach cheese rush? Or something entirely different.

Playing against Protos? Photon canon rush? remote base? Probe hiding in your base?

Playing against Terran? Mass marine + peon rush? Mass Reapers? Rush for cloaked banshees? Or any of the myriad of other all-in strategies.

Scout. Scout. Scout.  That’s the alleged answer but it misses the point.  If you want to play the game, counter or no counter you still lose.  If you fail to counter, game is over in 5 minutes.  If you successfully counter, they quit and game is over in 5 minutes.

I don’t even know what Blizzard could do about this because we are playing two different games. I am playing a game of Starcraft, they are playing the Meta game of rankings. 

I get more pissed off when I counter all-in strategy than when I fail because I don’t even get the satisfaction of taking the fight back to them. They quit immediately when their all-in attempt has failed and move on to the next game.

But that frustration is rivaled by the feeling that if I don’t want to be victim to the latest all-in strategy I have to keep up with it.  The extra Roach trick, for instance, is really hard to spot from “scouting” and very hard to counter (and if you’re wrong about which strategy they’re going to employ – something the “scout” people ignore, you end up crippling yourself).

Probably the only realistic thing that Blizzard could do is have those at Bronze, Silver and Gold Leagues have a somewhat randomize set of start-up conditions so that players can’t literally play out a recipe strategy they read on the net.  But I don’t see that happening.

I love Starcraft. I love it so much that I get frustrated that I can’t just get to play the actual game. I’ll have to stick with LAN parties for now I guess.