Starcraft Strategy and a Discussion with Polt

Published on 05/27/2017 10:03 PDT by ROOT Gaming

Starcraft 2 is often seen outside the scene as an APM spamfest, and it is true that you need hand speed to succeed at the higher levels of the game but often what is lost is the mental aspect of the game. For many players, both professional and casual, they learn how to play the game or beat the meta by watching what other players do, usually the best players. But the flip side of that coin, for many of those who don't watch the tournaments or read reddit, who face the same problem, a build they can't beat or a race they struggle with. This leads me to today's discussion, viewing Starcraft 2 not as an real time strategy game but as a puzzle solver.

Early in 2011 I had a friend who I played Starcraft 2 with consistently, he was only Silver but he loved the game. One day we were sitting around and talking about the game and we got onto the idea of how to beat something he was struggling with. Often times we heard we should just improve our APM or scout more, both of which are true but are overarching goals that 100% of players work to improve, it didn't help us with our specific problem at the time which was Zerg mid game Roach aggression. My friend then suggested we step back, not view each game individually but look at the situation. We were struggling mid-game against Zerg so we laid out the situation on paper. Putting down the tools we had, we went through them, whether they be units/upgrades/timings/etc, to see which could help us. As we worked our way through this thought experiment we found ourselves having a lot of fun and in the end we solved our problem.

After this point I began viewing RTS games as a puzzle as well as an RTS. As I played more and more RTS games outside of SC2 this was reinforced, when presented with a problem, step back and view the problem through the lens of a puzzle game that you need to shuffle the pieces around as you try and find the right fit for the solution.

This may seem like a strange aspect to some players who rely on the pros to help them solve composition or meta problems. You a Protoss player struggling in 2017? Looking at Stats is a great way to try and learn how he wins. Pros do this as well. In preparation for his final WCS tournament before retiring Polt was struggling with Protoss and went and studied INnoVation during his Korean league games for help. On stream he was talking about how he was going to do that but right afterwards he said "But since I send most of my time thinking and talking about the game, I may come up with a solution on his own." Shortly afterwards in the Summer WCS Championship he took down three Protoss in the bracket stage, including knocking Neeb around in a 3-1 win. He did it, not with Inno's style, instead he went back to an old build, from Wings of Liberty to be exact.  As Nathanias said the in cast, this wasn't a build we see anymore, it was an old build but this tool (going back to that word) was what he needed to solve the problem.

After this series of events over the period of a month or so I wanted to write this article but was very lucky to be approached by Polt for the chance to interview him about the topic. So while he is now serving the in the South Korean military I want to present my interview with Choi "Polt" Seong Hun.

Question: Throughout your career you've lived with teammates, friends as well as by yourself. When you had questions or struggled with something did you always try and figure out a solution yourself or did you ask teammates for help?

Answer: I’ve always tried to figure out a solution myself, and I sometimes asked my teammates for help.

Question: Many view Starcraft 2 as a game won purely with hand speed or using the most popular build but some pros have mentioned that they view Starcraft 2 as a set of problems that they need to solve, learning your opponents and their builds and then learning how to beat them is another key to success. What are your thoughts on APM versus strategic study?

Answer: Both APM and strategic study are important in Starcraft 2. Even if a player knows what to do, he can’t make everything happen if his APM is too low. On the other hand, a player with very high APM will not be able to use it well if he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do.

Question: One of the more famous times you solved a problematic meta in Starcraft 2 was during the Blink all in era when you were one of the few Terrans having any success. Do you remember that period and what was your process for learning how to beat this build?

Answer: I tried to find their weakness in the early game and made a quite aggressive build. If I could do some damage in the early game, then it was good. Even if I failed to do damage, it was still fine as long as I forced my opponent to play defensively because I was still confident in that matchup if the game goes into late game.

Question: Another example where you seemed to beat the meta was during the first year of Legacy of the Void when TvZ was very difficult late game due to Ultras. We saw many Terrans struggle with this but in the first WCS Championship of the year you faced three Zergs in a row beating Firecake, Nerchio and Snute and taking down the Ultras with units most Terrans were avoiding, Ghosts and Thors. What lead you to look to these underused units to help you beat the Ultralisk meta?

Answer: I don’t exactly remember how the game was at the moment, so I will only explain why I used ghost and thor. Since ultralisk had great armor, terran had to use units with high attack damage. Siege tank was not good when its number was low, so I chose to use liberator, thor, and ghost. I don’t know why other players didn’t use them because there was no other option in the game.

Question: When you are laddering or watching a tournament and you see a strong build you struggle with, what is your process for solving that problem?

Answer: When I watch a tournament, I try to see how other players deal with the strong build. When I ladder, I watch replays and think about ways to deal with the strong build.

Question: You've had success that lasted longer than any other pro as you are the only player in Starcraft 2 history to win a Premier tournament in six straight years and only you and MMA have won a Premier tournament in all three expansions. We've seen a few writers attribute your ability to learn the meta and beat is as a reason for your sustained success, do you agree?

Answer: To be honest, I don’t think my ability to learn the meta was good because I always struggled right after patches or new maps came out. I was more like learning the meta slowly but correctly, and this was probably why I was able to play well in any meta.

Two quick thoughts before I sign off:

- I found his point that if you can force a player off their standard build you will have the advantage interesting. In 2015 he faced ForGG, known for a very rigid and specific style, and said once ForGG started playing his non-standard builds Polt knew he had won because that meant ForGG couldn't beat him with his strength so he was forced into the uncomfortable. Players like Has and NoRegret have make a living by making their opponents uncomfortable with extreme aggression or somewhat insane builds. 

- The idea that he was really slow learning the meta but he tried to learn it correctly. It seemed odd when I first read it but talking to a few other players it made sense, studying and thinking about the correct solution may take a bit longer but yields the best solution without having to throw yourself at the meta until something sticks. Or worse yet copying pro builds that are not effective but are the most common. We saw this in late 2016 in the WCS system when Terran were struggling against Zerg and because the most common build was the basic two Medivac stim timing that had been around for some time. But in late 2016 it wasn't effective but it was still the most used opening against Zerg. Terrans were struggling but refused to try something else. Clinging to an ineffective but common opening or build can be very damaging, as Polt noted when he talked about losing to TRUE when TRUE did a pure timing counter attack to the two Medivac opening and immediately killed Polt because he was too predictable with a bad opening.

In Starcraft 2 there are so many ways to solve a problem, from watching the best players to solving it yourself but I want to give you this admonition, if you are struggling and see pros struggling maybe instead of balance whining how about you sit down and try and solve the problem yourself. It doesn't mean it will work at the pro level or for a Bronze player but your goal is to win and building a solution that is right for you may be the way to go.

Starcraft 2 is a strategy game for a reason, give some time for the side of the game that isn't active, after a losing stream step away from the game itself and try and work out a solution. Day9 used to do this often on his Day9 Dailies, no reason to stop now.

About the author:

Topher is an American football and eSports writer with a focus on statistical metadata research. You can follow Topher on Twitter

Image of Polt courtesy of Cameron Baird and Red Bull. Special thanks to Skye for helping me once Polt left for training.

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