Over the next few days we will be offering StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm multiplayer tips. Today, we offer basic skills needed to be able to compete in multiplayer. In case you missed them, be sure to check out our single-player and multiplayer reviews for the game.
For the purposes of this tutorial article we'll assume you're at least familiar with the basics of a real-time strategy game. Fifteen years into the series' lifespan there isn't much to be gained from recounting the basic resources-->buildings-->army format that most gamers are familiar with at this point. Instead, we'll focus on bringing you up to speed on the current state of the way StarCraft 2 is played (both for beginners, and slightly more advanced levels) as well as what to expect when you start climbing your way up the competitive ladder system.
StarCraft 2 Skills to Learn
Learn the hotkeys: You won't be able to compete in SC2 if you don't know at least the core hotkeys. Thankfully, they're not hard to learn. Just do yourself a favor, and never use the mouse to build units or buildings. Take the extra second to look at the icon, and see what the hotkey is, then press it. You'll have to go through a few games where you'll be slower, but that was going to happen anyway, so just bite the bullet and learn them. It's not too tough to remember that "Z" is for "Zealot." It will only take an hour or so, and it'll pay off in spades later.
ABC--Always be constructing: It might seem counter-intuitive if you're new to the game, but the goal of SC2 multiplayer is to keep your minerals low. If you have a big stockpile of minerals/gas then that means you've missed a chance to build more units, production facilities, or upgrades.
Upgrade Your Units: Don't underestimate how crucial upgrades can be. In addition to armor/weapon upgrades, most units have an additional ability that makes them multiple times more effective. Marines need Stimpacks, Zealots need Charge, and Zerglings need Metabolic Boost etc.
Worker production should be constant: As Terran or Protoss you should constantly be making workers from your command center to increase your resource collection rate. Each mineral patch and gas geyser can have three workers extracting from it before it is considered "saturated." If you can master the ability to continuously produce workers then you'll have gained a large advantage over most beginning players, and your economy will be phenomenal. For Zerg players it's a bit more complex. You need to scout your opponent, and build drones only when you think you're safe from an attack.
Have a plan for taking your second and third bases: One of the most crucial skills you'll need to learn is how to take new bases. It can be daunting, and the number one reason why new players lose games is because they were afraid to extend themselves out to a new location. You can't let that fear hold you back. If the enemy comes and kills your expansion, bully for them. You might lose because of that. But you'll definitely lose if you don't expand. So there's not much choice.
One option is to set up lots of defensive units like the Zerg's Spine Crawlers or placing Terran Siege Tanks on the high ground to keep yourself safe. Another popular technique is to attack while you're setting up your next base. If you put pressure on your opponent they'll be entirely focused on surviving the battle, not on killing your base. Just don't lose your army. You're not trying to kill them. You're just scaring the opponent into a defensive posture. A good rule of thumb is to remember to expand about every 6-7 minutes (by the accelerated in-game clock) until you reach your 4th base.
Always be building more units and structures
If you're ahead, get further ahead: The classic rookie mistake in SC2 is to win a small battle, then immediately go for the throat and try to win the whole game. Sometimes this works, but just as often you'll over-commit to an attack, and try to force your way into the opponent's fortified positions. Remember that if you lose your army, you've lost whatever advantage you just won after that battle. The better strategy is to retreat after doing some damage. Keep your units alive, and go back home to focus on exploiting your hard-won advantage: expand to a new resource location, pump money into upgrades, build more production facilities etc. When you've dealt damage to your opponent they're going to be in a defensive state of mind. They're not likely to be thinking about coming to kill you. They're going to be trying to re-establish their economy or re-build their army. Exploit this advantage by leveraging an economic, upgrade, or production advantage.
Learn some build orders: Ideally you should have a pre-set plan for what the first 7+ minutes of the game will look like. Don't get stuck on those ideas though. If you're going for a harassment build, and you notice the opponent only has one base (likely indicating a big early attack) then you need to abandon those plans and build some defense. On the other hand, if your opponent just lets you build whatever you want without touching you, then you you should have a well-developed plan that goes off without a hitch.
Get in their face: The worst thing that can happen to you in a game is to become afraid of your opponent. You'll get sheepish, afraid to move your army, afraid to expand, afraid to attack etc. Beginners tend to forget that if the opponent has a much bigger army than you then the game is probably already over anyway. And besides, if they do have the better army, then the only way you're going to get back into the game is by either weakening them, or putting them on the defensive so you can expand more. Generally, attacking is just a really good idea. Players on the defensive are playing on your terms, you're throwing them off their strategy, and they're going to make mistakes as they panic. Worst thing that could happen is you lose your attacking forces. This could be so bad that you lose the game, but who cares? At least you tried something, and that's way better than sitting in your base, terrified and losing slowly in a game of attrition that takes 30 minutes of your precious gaming time.
After a small victory, fall back, regroup and attack again
Continue building while you attack: Another thing you'll need to master is the art of continuing to build units and production facilities while you're on the offensive. It does you no good to damage your opponent if your attack diverts your attention and causes your production to slip. That's as bad as getting units killed.
Don't Get Supply Blocked: You must continuously build supply depots/pylons/overlords or else you won't be able to continue making units. Making a mistake like this seems like an innocent enough error. However, since this is a game about building an army efficiently, getting supply blocked is pretty much the worst thing you can do to yourself.
Concave beats convex every time: When your armies clash, your units will fan out on both sides as units from the back try to get in on the fight. The optimal shape for your ranged army is a concave that wraps around the enemy like a half circle. This forces them into a convex formation which means fewer enemies will be able to fire on you. You can try to ensure you'll have the best formation by pre-splitting your army into two groups and attacking from two angles simultaneously. The goal is to have as many of your units dealing damage as possible, while minimizing the opponent's damage. This can also be accomplished by fighting while the enemy army is in a choke point like your front ramp.
Don't let an offensive keep you from building
Check back tomorrow for tips on playing the Zerg.