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Metallion avatar 4:09 PM on 03.08.2010  (server time)
The Starcraft 2 beta and what it means to me

Ever since the release of Dune II back in '92, Real-time strategy has emerged as one of the most popular genres on the PC market. It was a genial formula that still stands tall to this day. You collect resources in order to advance your technology and train soldiers that you lead into combat. My personal introduction to this genre came much later with the release of Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun in 1999.

I played through big parts of the single player but I soon found that skirmish battles against the AI was where it's really at. In this mode I would build a huge base with exactly one of every building in the tech-tree and fill it up with walls and defensive turrets. Then I'd decide upon one unit of my choosing and slowly mine resources until I have enough to mass up a huge amount of them. Once this was finished, they'd move out towards the enemy base where I micromanage them to focus their attacks on one building at a time. In case I failed to achieve victory, I'd return to my base where my workers had continued mining while my attention was on the battle. By now there would usually be a huge amount of resources in the bank which I'd then use to start building up a new army. This has been my strategy ever since the beginning and still is my strategy today.

Anyone with somewhat of an RTS brain must have realised one thing at this point: the fact that I am a total n00b. While I'm busy waiting for all buildings to complete and my single harvester to bring me more money, anyone but an AI opponent would come wipe the floor with me a million times over. If you're ever playing a two Vs. two online and your ally's name is Metallion, you might as well type in GG and leave the game because you have no chance of winning. Although I did finish all six single-player campaigns of Starcraft: Brood War and played a few games in the Command & Conquer series, I have accepted my failure and real-time strategy has become a genre that I respect but steer clear of at all times.

After reading this introduction you must be wondering what a guy like me could possibly get from Starcraft 2. The answer lies in Blizzard's promotional campaign for the game. When I saw the first teaser trailer and the terran marine muttered "Damn, it's about time!", even I couldn't help but get excited. Although I had no plans to ever play the game myself, I was intrigued by it and followed any news on its development. First came the introduction of the Protoss race and a showcase of how each unit fared against other units with an explanation why. In my unknowing eyes, the army size had always been the number one deciding factor and this new look at it was cool.

Then the battle reports followed. In order to showcase the new game, two players faced off in a multi-player battle while a commentator offered insight into the strategies available to them. They hid their tech from each other, played out their units' advantages and carefully timed all of their attacks and the construction of new bases. This wasn't cool... This was fucking awesome! For me, the game of Starcraft and its impending sequel had become a spectator sport.

I watched all three battle reports and enjoyed every second of it. I wanted more! At this point I started scouring the internet for the professional Starcraft scene and I found it in a way more accessible condition than I could have ever hoped. As I watched more and more games and listened to the commentators' explanations, I gradually learned the concept of build orders and proper micromanagement. Most of all, I was amazed at how players have kept refining and even coming up with new strategies for a game that has already been out for twelve years.

With my new found insight into viable strategies and Starcraft 2 entering its beta stage, one question is whether I'm going to give the RTS genre another chance. No, I am not or at least not as a player. Though there isn't a professional scene for it yet, Many of the English commentators shifted their focus. They have received beta keys from Blizzard and now dedicate their time to covering the new game's feel. When I look at the comments on their videos, I see gamers full of envy, wishing they had a key of their own. I am different from them.

In the original Starcraft, I arrived a decade after the game was established and retrospectively learned about viable strategies and important players like Boxer, Nal_Ra, JulyZerg and so on. Where Starcraft 2 is concerned, I am witnessing the birth of a new professional gaming stage. I see new build orders first hand as players invent them and will see the new great players rise and fall. Even though there is no pro scene yet, the Starcraft 2 beta does seem to have a few of its own characters already.

For starters there is David Kim. Until recently, he has firmly held a win-rate of over ninety percent. As he has admitted in an interview, this is because he is a balance designer at Blizzard and has played the game more than anyone else in the world at this time. His win rate has already dwindled down to somewhere around seventy percent as other players gain more experience but still. If you're going to make a name for yourself, this is the guy you'll want to beat!

Then there's IdrA. This is an American pro gamer and one of the very few non Korean players currently active in a professional Starcraft team. He has openly stated that he plans to switch to Starcraft 2 as soon as he can and is already practising in the beta. He's actually one of the most colourful characters around with his shameless bad manners and an ego that is much larger than his results. Whenever he loses, you can expect him to tell his opponent exactly what he thinks about him. IdrA is the villain of Starcraft. You can either love or hate him but you can't deny the drama and entertainment value he brings to the game.

As Starcraft 2 draws closer to completion, I hope to see a vivid colourful professional scene unfold. It would be great to see current top players like Flash, Bisu and Jaedong make the transition and return in the new game. Whether or not they will do this, will be up to them and their teams but one thing is for sure. I will be watching and cheering from the front lines!

Late update:

Here's one of the best Starcraft 2 games I have seen so far. It could be interesting for future players as well. Keep in mind that this is still beta footage and balancing patches are released on a daily bases.

You might also want to have a look at Husky's meet videos. He briefly introduces every unit and every building the Starcraft 2 races are equipped with.

Meet the Terran

Meet the Protoss

Meet the Zerg

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