The Discussion Around Maps Could Be Much More Productive

Recently, there have been a large number of complaints regarding StarCraft II’s current map pool, particularly from Terran players. While I am sympathetic to these concerns, if I were to put myself into Blizzard’s shoes, I don’t find the arguments convincing:

I think a major problem in this discussion is the lack of concrete examples. I’d like to credit my friend Avex for approaching this correctly from the start – by using hard numbers and data. For example, a common talking point has been that the maps in the current pool are too large and feature excessive rush distances. But this is not accurate:

Avex is taking specific complaints – in this case, that the rush distance has grown too large in the current pool – and using data to measure whether this is correct. This focuses the discussion and allows everyone to move past incorrect talking points. The point here isn’t that Avex “wins” the argument; it’s that he moves it forward, making it more likely that players will identify what’s actually bothering them.

For example, Disco Bloodbath LE is a great example of a map with a “short rush distance” that is significantly elongated by the placement of ramps and rocks, forcing armies to zigzag to get to their destination. The common third base location (away from the main rather than between it and the natural) feels like it’s light years away. Thunderbird and Triton have similar features that make them play out bigger than they actually are, while Winter’s Gate has speed inhibitor zones. From the start of the season I had “a sense” that something was different about the layout of these maps, and it was thanks to Avex’s data that I started to focus on layout instead of overall size.

(And maybe, Avex will come back with more data showing that this perspective on layout is also incorrect. Which would be good! Because it would move the discussion forward).

What’s needed to further focus the discussion – and that pro players are responsible for providing – are concrete examples of gameplay scenarios that don’t work given the new maps. It’s not enough to speak in generalities like “Terran needs more dead space” because generalities are often exaggerated or unfalsifiable.

For instance, suppose I’m playing TvP. I open with the now-standard 6:30 timing attack with three medivacs, +1, combat shield, and stim. This build leverages a mine drop at the 4:30 mark, which exists to get scouting information and prevent the Protoss economy from spiraling out of control in the mid-to-late-game. Because on several of the new maps I can’t reaper scout to determine the tech path – Robo, Twilight, or Stargate – I have to either a) assume it’s Stargate, and leave too many mines at home against something that’s not coming, or b) gamble and hope it’s not Stargate, and leave one of my bases vulnerable to an Oracle. I have to choose b) because finding damage at this point is essential. I make a similar gamble with regard to detection (in case it’s Twilight into fast DTs). Gambling is not aligned with the tenet of rewarding the highest-skilled player, so the developers should offer me a way to figure out the Protoss opening without burning an expensive scan.

Thinking in these terms – build orders (proactive plans) and build order traversals (reactions to scouting information) – focuses the discussion on concrete problems. It’s not only essential for pointing out issues, but also critical to developing the meta-game. For instance, in my above example, it’s possible that either my proactive plan or planned reactions are non-optimal, and I could resolve this situation myself through better decision making. But I can’t reach that resolution before I define what my decisions are and why I’m making them.

I regularly watch the streams of several professional StarCraft II players. Many of these folks seem to take a lot of pride in how analytically they approach the game. I think it would behoove everyone involved to take this same approach to the current map pool. Define metrics and show how they’ve changed in the current pool. Use concrete examples of build orders and build order traversals to demonstrate specifically what’s causing you to gamble and what could be done to address it. Be specific and cite VODs or replays that everyone can look at and judge for themselves.

Everyone has the same goal – to produce fun and fair maps for competitive play. I would urge everyone to keep that in mind as they participate in this discussion. Remember that the folks you’re arguing with are seeking the same thing you are! So focus on building strong, data-driven, and specific arguments, and be willing to listen when the data shows that you are incorrect. This, in my view, is a much more productive way to approach this topic.

Thanks for reading! I create analytical content for StarCraft and Age of Empires. I’d love it if you followed me on Twitter and Facebook to catch more of my work.

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