Back on the SC2 grind again

I started playing StarCraft 2 again last week and got my ass handed to me on a silver platter. I obviously can’t compete against all those youngsters who have too much time and energy drinks on their hands. I need a plan.

This time I decided to learn just 3 good builds and learn to exploit them well. Before I just went on with the flow, which worked pretty well when everything was new and game wasn’t very balanced. That doesn’t work anymore. You actually have to concentrate even on the lower levels.

These are the builds I am using at the moment (I am playing Protoss, it seems to fit my mindset best) in a 1v1:

PvP: DT rush to Archon/Zealot

I hate mirror matches. Usually PvP is a race towards a 4 gate, but it gets very boring very fast. It is always the same, unless opponent try to cheese you with a proxy 2 gate or cannon rush. This build has stealth, aggression, touch of mind games and a pretty strong mid game transition.

Basically I try to get 2 Zealots and 1 Stalker as fast as possible and go poke the opponent with them. If they try to use some cookie cutter build, they usually have either 1 Zealot and 1 Stalker, or in some cases, same combination as me. Key point here is to mess with opponents mind so that they think me going to standard massive gateway army. Usually I get them by surprise and manage to do some damage with intense micro. I draw back so that I have some units to defend against 4 gate aggression (which is unavoidable). After retreating, I scout the base surroundings constantly to spot the proxy pylon, which is there 7 out of 10 times.

After the initial poke, I get two things: speed upgrade for Zealots and 2 Dark Templars. Also, warp tech with a proxy pylon when 2 Dark Templars are ready to roll. If the opponent isn’t on your doorstep (it depends if I found the proxy pylon), I warp Dark Templars near his base. If he doesn’t have any detection, it is GG after mineral line invasion. If he has, I draw Dark Templars back and start merging them to Archons.

If I was the first aggressor, opponent doesn’t usually attack straight away. They try to assemble huge death ball and come storming in after that. This is good, because it gives me plenty of time to make 4–5 Archons and sh*tloads of Zealots. After I have about 4–5 Archons, 12 Zealots and 2 Sentries, I go and rotflstomp his base, starting from the expansion. At this time, even though they would have 1 or even 2 Colossi, Archon/Zealot army rips them apart. Sentry forcefield is also useless, because Archons are massive units and they just stomp through forcefields.

Win rate against Protoss: 80 %.

PvT: 3 gate FE to High Templars

Terran always attack against Protoss in early game. Always. Its a natural law, like gravity and taxes. If they don’t, there is a Banshee rush or something non-standard incoming. They come either with Marines or Mariners/Marauders. In some cases, they make a Hellion rush, which is pretty bad, but 9 out of 10 times Terran relies on brute force, because it works.

This build relies on early gateway defense, with a fast expansion and +2 armor upgrade, Zealot speed upgrade and High Templars. I start by putting down 1 gateway, and based on a scouting I drop either 2 more gates and expand or expand just straight away. Only time I rely only on a one gateway before Nexus is when I see them taking an early expansion. Every other time I make 2 more gateways and start pumping out Zealots as fast as I can without chronoboosting. When they come, I usually can convince them to bugger off.

At this point, my second Nexus should be on its way. It is imperative to get the +1 armor upgrade and speed upgrade for Zealots as soon as possible. I use all my chronoboosts on those. Build some Sentries with the Zealots too and get the warpgate tech and don’t forget the +2 armor upgrade. Warp in 3 more gateways and start warping in Zealots, Sentries and some Stalkers, if you suspect a Medivac drop.

If they come at this point with just a 1 Medivac, your army should be able to stomp them easily. If they wall up and try to tech up to tanks/standard MMM ball, you should have plenty off time to get High Templars and psionic storm. In engagements, activate Sentry shields first, shoot 2 psionic storms next, attack with all ground units and start sniping the Medivacs with High Templars. You should kill them easily.

Sneakiest ones like to drop a small force on the main base mineral line shortly after the main force engagements. If you see this happening, just pull probes to a second base mineral line and warp some Zealots and Stalkers to deal with the drop. At this time, your main units should have killed most of the attacking main force. Drop 3rd Nexus immediately and go for their expansion. If they don’t seem to have any proper defense, just kill them. If they have, just finish of expansion and retreat and tech to Colossai. Take a map control and finish them off.

Winrate against Terran: 70–80 %.

PvZ: fast Immortal and Sentry

Zerg can be annoying. Like Terran, Zerg like to attack against Protoss early either with Zerglings or Roaches. This build is about getting Immortals out as soon as possible. It means taking an early expansion with a forge as a protection. So, build order is Forge + 2 cannons > Nexus > (Gateway + Cybernetic Core >) Robotics Bay > Immortals. You should get as many Zealots as possible without chronoboosting for early defense, before the Immortal is ready. I usually don’t get Sentry before Immortal, because the Immortal build is pretty gas heavy as it is and few cannons and Zealots is adequate defense.

Warning: if they don’t come to you with roaches (they should be knocking on your door at latest when your first Immortal is ready) or you don’t see any Roaches while scouting, you should be ready for Mutalisk harassment. Warp in craploads of Stalkers and drop 1 cannon on each mineral line. After Stalkers, continue with the Immortal production (add 1 Robotics Bay as soon as you can afford it) and make Sentries too. There will always be roaches.

When they come, use Sentries Shield and try to split the Roaches with forcefields. After a short and brutal fight, go for their expansions and nuke it. Go for the main base after that. Even if they are able to spawn more Zerglings and Roaches, you should be able to stomp them easily.

Winrate against the Zerg: 70 %.

I have had pretty good success with these builds. I am in a upper silver league now (not even close to my best rankings), and about to hit gold. Time will show, do I ever get back to diamond league.

7 CEO lessons that I learned from the World of Warcraft

This post is in memoriam for the Crimson Gauntlet, the best guild of Defias Brotherhood. Good times.

I have some fond memories of playing World of Warcraft. At first I played a rogue, class that’s primary purpose is to deal lots of damage to a single target. This made it a very fun class to play, especially in PvP environment. However, because it was so fun class to play, everyone played it. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, but the game is designed so that the best content of the game are on a higher levels. This content is mostly contained in instances, where only a certain number of players can be there at the same time. This means that every spot on a group matters. If the group consists of too many damage dealers, there would be not enough healers or tanks to complete the instances.

At that time, it was more likely for a nerd to get laid than to get in a Molten Core raid group without a guild as a rogue. And even with a friendly guild, chances were slim. When I hit the 60 level mark, I was one lonely rogue in Ironforge.

I had practicallly three choises. Either:

  1. stop playing,
  2. hang on and try to get some guild rogue spot, or
  3. re-roll an utility class character.

First two options weren’t that tempting. I liked the game way too much to quit, and option number 2 wasn’t fun either. There are only so much ass licking I am prepared to do in a virtual world. So, I decided to re-roll. Re-rolling means that a player starts a new character. It’s never easy, because you have to invest bucket loads of time for the development of the new character. And so that the matters would be even more worse, leveling a healing class at that time sucked so much balls that there aren’t actually any proper words to describe it. It wasn’t fun, but I had to do it.

So, I re-rolled a priest.

Priests were the most sought out class of the game. At that time, it was normal that priests were courted from the level 15 and up. I was even asked to join a UBRS raid at level 52 — which I did. I had friends, loot and so much raids that I couldn’t count. Life was good.

Now, I don’t play WoW anymore. I play with my business (yeah, I know: business is serious stuff, but so is WoW). There are some disturbing similarities on playing a priest in WoW and being a CEO. Everyone plays the game a bit different. Others are more prone to lead a company more like a tank, others prefer the DPS role. I prefer the healer.

So, what did I learn from playing a healer in WoW?

1. You are the backbone of the any group

Sorry damage dealers and tanks, but that’s the way it is. Sure, the holy triangle of aggro management — healing — dps is important, but its the healer that keeps the group going. Group can survive with a mediocre damage dealer or tank, but it won’t survive with a crappy healer.

When you play a healer, you don’t play solo. You are responsible for the well being of the group. If you fuck up, all will die. If you twitch on a wrong moment, tank gets splattered on a floor, and monsters will come and tear you a new one. Pretty simple.

Before you get the loot and epics, you need to pry the booty from the dead hands of the previous owners. It’s bloody and time consuming business. Both in game and in real life, the biggest and most awesome loot is only obtainable with a proper teamwork and strategy. And to get there, the whole group has to tackle many barriers, including fire, acid, goblins and evil gnomes.

Its pretty much the same in real world too. Well, not fire and acid, but evil gnomes, definitely.

2. …but you are squishy on your own

If you are healer, you don’t want to be seen. You want to be in the back, in the shadows and out of the line of fire. You are squishy, and you can’t even kill a rat without breaking a sweat. Alone you are easy kill, but when combined with a proper group, nothing can stop you.

It’s the same in business. CEO has to keep the group together, pop up some heals and dispel some curses, and when CEO is out of mana, the group stops on their tracks. Sure, you can push the group for a multiple runs, but you end up dying all the time, war fatigue will eventually kick in. There is only so many failures a group can take.

3. DPS is important, but not that important

If you see the normal specialists in your company as a DPS characters, you get my drift. They are crucial for the group too, because without a proper damage output fights would never end. Eventually, a healer runs out of mana, and a tank gets killed. End result is destruction of the group. So, you need to have damage — lots of it. But it doesn’t matter how many damage dealers you have, if you don’t have proper amount of healing or tanks. And even if it’s nice to gear up damage dealers for some extra DPS, its irrelevant, if the healer walks in blue items on an end game raid.

Playing a DPS is actually most fun to play. You don’t get that much pressure or responsibilities and you get to fiddle with your epics in peace, until you are needed in a fight. And yes, everyone likes to be a DPS player. Sure, you need to focus on the strategies too, but most of the time its enough that you don’t step on anything that has fire, acid or evil gnomes. Unless you are told to.

Again, its pretty much the same in business. You need to have proper tools for the damage dealers, but it’s not that important, if you look at the bigger picture. You need equipment that has best bang for the buck, not the shiniest epics. You can get that shiny E-Peen Expander 2000 -sword later, after your group knows the strategies properly.

4. Tank pulls first

Every group needs a one proper tank or more. Their whole purpose in the group is to draw enemy fire and suck it up. That’s why they are called tanks. They are flashy, big and noisy. They are so annoying that any enemy wants just to stomp them flat. They go in first. They get healed first. When they die, all die.

I think that the tank is most hardest role to play. It has something to do with the mindset. Sales people are like primary tanks: they go out there, poke the bushes and see what pops up. Usually its something nasty with teeth and tentacles, so it’s better that the first opener is someone with a tough skin and skills to deal with angry creatures.

And yeah, tanks get pounded a lot. They love to get beaten, over and over again. Good tank gets their kicks out of a proper fight, where he/she can only focus on the Big Boss. They take the damage, direct the bosses attention to the right place, until the whole group can initiate the tank & spank phase and close in for the kill.

Tanks can’t do it alone, though. They need proper support and care from the healers and DPS. They need the shiniest gear, the toughest shields and the biggest sword there is. Primary tanks get the first picks of the loot, and everyone else is secondary. It doesn’t matter how sharp the rogue’s knives are, if the tank is wearing tinfoil.

Its the same in business. It takes a special mindset to be a sales person. And even if you wear some big shiny armor, that alone doesn’t make you a good tank. You need skills and talent too.

5. Life is a “Whack-a-mole” -game.

Funny thing about being a raid healer is that you actually don’t see that much of the game details. It took me 20 or so Molten Core raid runs to actually look the scenery. And when you play a raid healer, your whole screen is full of little boxes that changes color from green to red. Those boxes are other people. Sometimes those little boxes yell at you. As a healer, you are only interested in tanks and then the others. My normal raid night was 6 hours of playing a whack-a-mole game.

I have had my fair share of players crying at me, when someone got killed. There is only so much mana and time, and it has to be shared for those who need it the most. Group is more important than a single member. Sorry about that, but this is the way it works.

Its pretty same in the CEO mmorpg too. You prepare, level up, stack up, and when its time to act, you whack the moles. You just can’t focus on minor details, when the group survivability is the primary goal. Sure, sometimes you miss click, and a someone gets shafted. It’s tough.

6. No slackers allowed

In game, you can get away some slacking, but sooner or later, when the bosses get tougher, slackers become more evident. If you can’t get past the minions as a group, someone isn’t doing his or hers share of the burden. The larger the group, the harder it becomes to spot a slacker. You need metrics. Every proper raid guild checks the stats after the fight: how many heals, how many points healed? Curses dispelled? What was the sustained DPS per ranged damage dealers and melee damage dealers? And so on.

You can slack in a single fight, but eventually you get booted. Nobody likes slackers. Such is the life in business, too.

7. You need some rest and refreshments too

After a good run, its tempting to make another run after the first successful one. This is not a good idea. People are tired, even though the victory is fresh in the memory. You just can’t push people over their limits, because there will be consequences. Tired people make stupid mistakes.

When the boss is dead, its better just to celebrate and rest for a while. Gold is shared among players, and loot is distributed so that it benefits the whole group. Its also a good idea to take a few moments to give compliments for those who have participated for the group effort.

After all, work should feel like fun, not a constant grind.

How old are the gamers out there?

Well this is an old news for me, but lets discuss it a bit anyway. Many people (primarily those people who doesn’t play computer games, or think that computers are some sort of incarnation of the anti-christ) think that only young boys play computer games. While it is true that many young people do play computer games, it doesn’t mean that they are the primary focus group. Its pretty clear that most of the computer games are targeted for more mature gamers like myself, who have the bucks (but sadly, not much time) to pay for the absurdly high prices of electronic enjoyments.

I still have weird looks from the older people when they hear that I play games like StarCraft 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Dragon Age II and the sorts.

Leading a web design agency is like playing StarCraft 2

If you don’t happen to like gaming, and StarCraft 2 especially, this story isn’t necessary for you. But, if you do happen to love entrepreneurship AND gaming, enjoy.

I am a dedicated SC fan. I loved SC1, SC:bw and SC2 was the second best thing that happened last year (best thing beeing my wife’s pregnancy, but thats another story). I honestly screamed out loud out of joy, when a friend popped a SC2 beta invite for me. So far, I have over 500 1v1 games under my belt (and about 300 games on the beta stage), so I pretty much know my limits on the game. I suck at it.

I am also founder of a small digital media agency in Finland. During the last few years, we have grown from man-and-a-dog -company to a 5 person digital media agency, with several sub contractors and respectable client base. So far, I love it. Every day is different (in good and bad), and you can pretty much blame yourself if something goes wrong. On the other side, when something goes just the way you have planned, you feel like flying. Oh, the ups and downs of the enterpeneurship!

There are a few things that are in common with both entrepreneurship and SC2.

Resources are limited

In SC2, obtaining as much resources as fast as possible (and constantly) is crucial to your success. If you don’t get enough minerals and/or gas, you dont have enough units for defending or attacking. If you dont have enough supply (3rd resource of the game), you end up slowing your unit production and the enemy will crush you like a bug. Which, in case of the Zerg, is pretty accurate description anyway.

This is true in business too. You need to have constant flow of cash to survive, and every glitch in the resource harvesting will slow you down. And, like in SC2, if your workers die, you dont have any income. Its pretty simple, really.

Bigger army wins

There is no going around this one. The bigger the army, the better the odds are for your victory. If your army is small, you just cant hope to win battles with your enemies. If you fight a huge battle, you can lose few arms and legs, but it doesn’t matter that much, if there is enough reserves to draw fresh marines from.

In business, this has been true for a some time. Times are changing of course, but bigger is still considered better, eventhough there isn’t much correlation between those two. But, if you can build an balanced army, you can survive any kind of encounters.

…but not always

We do love stories. Everyone has probably heard the story of David and Goliath, where the smaller but more agile David wtfpwns bigger but slower Goliath. Its a classic. In SC2, its pretty normal that outcome of the battle is usually defined by the unit micromanagement (actions per minute of the player has serious impact on the micro management). This means that gamers control whole armies, but micromanage the crucial units in the battle. Faster players can run in circles around the slower players, and end up winning battles with smaller an cheaper forces.

This doesn’t work that well in real life, though. Micromanagement can be good, but if you do it too much, you end up shooting yourself on the paw. People aren’t computer generated units. And uhm, if you poke a single unit enough times, it will start to crumble and complain. Nobody likes to be poked all the time.

Upgrading is cheaper than you think

In addition the micro management skills, there are other things that have a huge impact on the outcome. Units can be upgraded (more damage, more defence, special attacks), and units have very different abilities. You need to know all the unit types, including those that your enemy uses, because different units have a very different kinds of strategic and operational abilities. For example, some units cant shoot on air, and some air units cant shoot to ground. And some units are sneaky bastards, that can turn invisible and put a knife in your back. You need have a special scout to detect these.

In real life, you can, and should upgrade everything whenever possible. If you have extra resources available (time, money, know-how), you should use every oportunity to upgrade your processes, educate yourself and others. It will pay back on the long (and short) run.

Scout or die

In SC2, if you don’t scout constantly what your opponent is doing, you are asking for trouble. If you don’t know what kind of unit composition the enemy has, you cant prepare with a proper counter. If you don’t scout the enemy base, you don’t know where to strike. If you don’t scout the whole map, you might miss the time window when enemy expands (which will lead to your demise, because soon enough your opponent has more resources to spend in units and upgrades).

Again, its the same with business. You have to scout opportunities, and you just have to know as much as possible what your opponents are cooking up. I must admit, I suck at scouting, but I get better at it. And like in SC2, you get better with each time you win or lose.

Bigger teams are better

In SC2, there are different kinds of game modes (1v1, 2v2, 3v3, 4v4 and FFA). The bigger the team, the easier to avoid mistakes. Yeah, you can screw things up royally, but there is usually a teammate around that can give his/her helping hand (or claw/psionic blade).

And, like in SC2, its easier to run a business, if your team is full of equally good players that are willing to communicate and work for the common goal.