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Despite the release of the first major balance patch for StarCraft 2 last week – or perhaps because of it – many discussions about StarCraft 2’s state of balance have been taking place, possibly even more than during the beta, when things were constantly changing and before people have had the chance to experiment with the game thoroughly.

Is StarCraft 2 balanced? While only little time has passed since the game’s release, many already argue that the game is not as balanced as StarCraft 1, especially when it comes to the Zerg race. The Zerg have indeed been on the receiving end of quite a few nerfs during the beta. Particularly of note is the Roach, originally geared to be a fast, cheap, regenerating tank unit – which, during the beta, has had its armor rating reduced from 2 to 1, its supply cost increased from 1 to 2, its burrowed move speed reduced by 30%, and its regeneration changed and nerfed again and again to the point where it now regenerates more slowly and only while burrowed – a research that is only available at Tier 2, unlike in the original game, where Burrow is Tier 1.

Indeed, many players complain about the Zerg’s lack of viable options in the early-mid game: the limited ability to tech and macro at the same time (making a Queen prevents the Hatchery from being upgraded to a Lair); the extreme need to be reactive against Protoss and Terran early game attacks, which are themselves more diverse than what the Zerg can field during that period of the game; the much more demanding macro mechanic, requiring constant attention that one is severely punished for lacking; the lack of mobility before creep tumors can spread, and the competition between those and energy reserved for injecting Larva. All of these issues and more are even making some pro-gamers rant about the state of the game, a few going as far as as “threatening” to switch to a different race and to stop playing Zerg altogether.

IdrA, one of the most famous American Zerg players, has published his thoughts on the recent patch here.

The balance problems in early game ZvT come down to the fact that terran is simply stronger and much more diverse early on, zerg has to rely on hard counters to have any chance to survive, but cant scout in time to implement them.

Interestingly, in a recent interview, Chris Sigaty, StarCraft 2’s lead producer, said that he himself finds Zerg difficult to play and that he tends to avoid the experience:

I avoid playing Zerg as much as possible because I find them to be just more complex in general. Zerg, or rather larvae management is harder for me to deal with, so I don’t enjoy playing them as much.

On the topic of 1v1 balance problems, Chris does not seem convinced that any exist:

You can go up and read on the forums at any one time and there are a bunch of different theories about balance and imbalance. We’re being very cautious about making large swinging changes right now because at the highest level things are actually very strong. The things that we’ll probably be addressing are the 2v2 and larger scale games. Ultimately, the 1 to 1 is what we want to keep as sacred as possible, but as a result right now there are some things that we need to address in the 2v2 at the higher level. We’ll be looking at ways to do that without affecting the 1v1 balance.

Discussing the next patch, Chris slates it to be released by the end of this year, calling it “the e-sports patch”. Finally, and after months of being in demand, chat channels will be introduced:

largely our e-sport patch. A couple of big things that will be in there are support for the season rolling, so players can look at the history of how they did in past seasons. There will be bugfixes, balance changes and tweaks, too. Chat is the other major thing we want to get in there next patch. We’ll also add more significant features to the editor.”

Lastly, Chris makes a comment regarding balance and the time it took to achieve it in StarCraft 1:

[Balance] is an ongoing process that, honestly, will take a year of longer to do. Even after Brood War was released we still patched and continued to drive towards a really solid final balance.

Will patches be enough to balance the game, or will an expansion, introducing new units, be necessary for that purpose? Is the game balanced right now? Is the Zerg race “broken”? If you have an opinion on the subject, now’s the time to voice it! We are putting up a new poll on the sidebar to the right to investigate what you think about this important issue.

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Chris Sigaty also took the time to talk to PCGamer about the upcoming BlizzCon 2010 event and, most importantly, Blizzard’s decision to not show any aspect of StarCraft 2: Heart of  The Swarm at the convention.

We’re still working on the details [of the expansion],” explains Chris, “and the last thing I want to do is to talk about theoretical things instead of talking about what’s real.

However, Blizzard will hold a story panel with a Q&A with the fans, tying some loose ends from Wings of Liberty. Some Heart of The Swarm bits of information can be expected despite the promises to the contrary.

http://www.sc2blog.com/2010/07/08/starcraft-2-beta-phase-2-begins-brings-patch-16/
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Blizzard’s has announced some changes to its matchmaking algorithm, making some match finder adjustments while improving skill-level compatibility between the matched players. The issues addressed in the update are important mainly for arranged teams, whose individual player rankings are now taken into account.

Improved Matchmaking for Teams


While the matchmaking system as a whole is looking very strong, one area we identified for improvement was matchmaking for arranged teams that were still in placement matches. We found these first few matches for arranged teams were giving them an unfair advantage against their opponents. Since so many new arranged teams were being created every day, this was resulting in a noticeable amount of imbalanced matches for team games. The corrections we’ve made should show an improvement for many team players, especially in the sub-Gold leagues.

When two Diamond league players casually pair up for a few games, the placement matches can easily become a 5:0 freeroll for the arranged team and a hopeless encounter for the random Silver league players facing the duo. The new and improved mechanism will provide challenging matches for high-level teams from the get go.

Improved Placement for Teams


Another related issue we’ve received feedback on and experienced firsthand is the difficulty of placing in a high league while in an arranged team. We made two changes that should improve the experience. 1) The improved matchmaking mentioned above will help teams find opponents of similar skill sooner and, as a result, help to more quickly place teams in the league in which they belong. 2) We also found we were being too conservative in how teams were being placed in leagues and have made some adjustmentsto allow teams to be more easily placed in higher leagues. 3v3 random and arranged teams will likely notice this change the most.

A complimentary aspect to facing higher-level opponents is progressing faster through the ranks, placing the team in a fitting league after fewer matches.

Team Matchmaking Improvements
We found conditions where the matchmaking system was forcing certain teams and players to wait longer than needed for team matches. Those conditions have been addressed and the wait times should be reduced without affecting the quality of the matchmaking.

A very interesting and insightful FAQ has been posted by a user named ExcaliburZ on the Battle.net forums. The post is one of the highest rated forum posts in the US and includes answers to the following, very commonly asked questions:

Q: If I’ve never played 1v1, but I’m 2v2 Diamond, who will I face in 1v1 Placements?


A: Your performance in other brackets is considered when initiallyseeding your placement matches. In this case, you’d likely be paired with a Diamond player to start.

Q: Do I need to reach a particular point value to get promoted?


A: No. Promotions happen independently of your displayed rating.


Q: I won 10 games in a row! Why am I not promoted yet?


A: Your MMR and sigma may not have reached stability, or the system is simply unconfident about you. Expected outcomes cause you to stabilize the fastest. Your MMR will continue to rise until you hit your skill ceiling, at which point your win ratio will decrease and your rating will start to stabilize.


Q: I’m in Bronze. Is it possible to get promoted directly to Gold?


A: Yes. It’s possible to go from any league to any other league, wherever your MMR and sigma stabilize.


Q: Is it possible I haven’t been promoted because my APM or end-game score isn’t high enough?


A: Both factors are irrelevant because they can be gamed. The only contributing factor to promotion is the end outcome (win or loss) and the skill level of your opponent (his MMR). This is confirmed by Blizzard’s Leagues and Ladders FAQ, found in a sticky at the top of the Multiplayer and eSports forum.

While Blizzard has not officially confirmed most of this information, many have researched these details thoroughly and have produced rather-conclusive results.

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It’s time for another Replay Roundup! Since StarCraft 2’s launch, many great, high level games have already been played in various tournaments and competitions, bringing the most out of some of our favorite players. Today, we have a few epic games in store along with shorter ones that show a specific successful strategy being utilized.

To start, here’s a game that’s already been published on our Facebook page last week between Huk and drewbie from the finals of the Gosucoaching tournament. A Protoss versus Terran game on Steppes of War, starting with a “normal” build and progressing into the bizarre when JP, the game’s caster, jokingly whispers Huk to Mothership rush…

Next up, an epic game between Liquid’TheLittleOne and Hasu on Metalopolis, a Terran versus Protoss.

Great skill displayed by both players as they battle constantly throughout this long game that will keep you on your toes!

Our next game for today was chosen for its perfect illustration of the reason Reapers are being nerfed in the upcoming patch. In this match, Morrow, a Swedish Terran player, fights against the infamous Zerg player, IdrA, on Xel’Naga Caverns. Marrow quickly sets up many Barracks with Tech Lab add-ons and proceeds to abuse Reapers to the max!

Our final video of the day presents an amazing display of multitasking leading to a very decisive victory. This Terran versus Zerg match on Metalopolis started with the Zerg’s fast expansion taken out by the aggressive Terran, leading to a mid-game where the Terran’s in the lead but with the Zerg still in the game. Here’s part two, where the amazing conclusion takes place:

Does one really need 260 APM to pull this off? Well, it can’t hurt!

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Bashiok, Blizzard’s community manager, has posted on the battle.net forums, discussing a subject that’s on the mind of every StarCraft 2 player: gameplay balance and patches that change it. The thread began with worries that Blizzard is keeping the game in an unbalanced form that will only be addressed by the next expansion, Heart of the Swarm, when it introduces new units and balance changes.

First of all, Bashiok quickly dispels this myth:

Our intent is not to have a game with broken balance in an attempt to sell an expansion. That should go without saying. It makes me sad it isn’t.

Next, he clarifies Blizzard’s approach to patching:

Our intent is also to not apply knee jerk fixes based on the first few weeks as understanding of the game and strategies are still in flux. The game is young, and we don’t feel that it would have been helpful to progressing peoples understanding by throwing in tons of fixes based on flavor-of-the-week (or day, or hour) strats.


We see a lot of variation between the regions. Making a change for how NA players play may be completely ridiculous for how KR players play, and actually mess up a balance there. For instance 10 of their top 20 players are zerg. So that’s one place where we have to be mindful and careful and attack balance issues with great prejudice.

Unlike during the beta, Blizzard can’t afford to patch the game every few days or radically alter components of the game for a test run. “Real” patches are indeed coming, but they will be heavily scrutinized first to make sure the introduced balance changes are worthy:

That said. There are balance changes coming. What everyone was seeing in beta with tons of quick balance changes are because it was in beta and we feel we can get away with throwing out a lot of ‘we think this may help’ type fixes. With a live environment we’re not going to throw stuff out there unless we’re pretty sure. We’ve played. We’ve looked at data. We’ve looked at each region. And then we act. Which isn’t to say we may not be wrong from time to time, but it’s a more measured approach than beta players may be used to or expecting.

There you have it! Balance changes are coming, and they’ll be thought out and tested before we’re exposed to them. Indeed, in mid-September, Blizzard is planning on releasing the first real patch, and they’ve already released a situation report detailing some of the planned changes:

Patch 1.1 will contain a number of improvements including additional mod features, Editor improvements and bug fixes, some custom game improvements, support for NVIDIA’s 3D Vision, and more. We’d also like to share some specific plans for this patch with you.

Balance Changes

We have several balance changes in store. One general change we’re making is that friendly units will no longer provide vision after being killed. Enemy units previously revealed will no longer be targetable. Now let’s break down the additional balance changes we’re implementing.

This changes the way vision works so that units that are killed immediately lose the vision they provided on the field. Previously, killed units would still supply intelligence for a few short seconds, allowing players to jump to the location of the “under attack!” ping and see exactly what had happened.

Maps

We’re going to be adding destructible rocks to the Desert Oasis map to make natural expansions easier to protect. In addition, the center map watchtower area is being narrowed.

Protoss

We have two key changes in mind for the zealot: the build time is being increased from 33 to 38 seconds, and the warpgate cooldown is being increased from 23 to 28 seconds. Zealot rushes are currently too powerful at various skill levels, particularly those that rely on rapidly assaulting an enemy base from nearby “proxy” gateways. We feel the window players have to scout for and fend off this rush is too small. We also want to address the problem of protoss being able to dump minerals a bit too quickly with the combination of warpgates and Chrono Boost.

While this gives victims of proxy gateway rushes a little more breathing room, it also puts Protoss players in danger of getting Zerglings going past their choke point just slightly before the first bouncer Zealot comes out.

Proxy Gateway

The late-game effect that slightly hinders the Protoss’ ability to mass up Zealots quickly is also no doubt a reaction to the following Siege Tank change:

Terran

There are several changes in the works for terrans. Reapers against zerg are stronger than expected. Due to the zealot build time increase, reapers would be a bit problematic in combination with proxy barracks, bunkers, and/or marauders against protoss. Therefore, we have decided to increase the build time of reapers as well from 40 to 45 seconds. Fast reaper + bunker, or fast marine + bunker rushes are problematic against zerg. Although this rush would never outright destroy the zerg player, we feel zerg suffers too much of a disadvantage from either having to cancel the fast expansion, or getting trapped inside the main base for too long, so we are also increasing the bunker build time from 30 to 35 seconds.


Siege tanks in large numbers are performing too well in all matchups. In the mid- to late-game, siege tanks are too dominant against all ground units. We want a small set of light and unarmored ground units to perform better against siege tanks. With this in mind, we’re changing the Siege Mode damage of the siege tank from 50 to 35, +15 vs. armored; to correspond with this, damage upgrades will be changed from +5 to +3, +2 vs. armored. This change reduces the base damage of the siege tank against light and unarmored units, as well as the splash damage.

Siege Tanks will now perform more like their StarCraft 1 Predecessors, dealing less damage to light-armored units like the Zealot, Marine, Zergling, and Hydralisk. A huge change for this unit that the Terran race has come to rely on, Tanks in siege mode will now be significantly less deadly to these units. Hydralisks will need 3 shots instead of 2 to be killed; carapace-upgraded Zerlings will survive the first shot, non-stimmed Marines will as well. Zealots, already capable of taking some tank fire while charging in to the battle, will be able to take one extra hit as well and survive 5 direct shots. This is not the first nerf to the Siege Tank, which has already had its damage lowered from 60 to 50 during the beta.

Siege Tanks will now benefit greatly from the +1 damage upgrade, allowing them to one shot Zerglings regardless of upgrades. A +2 attack Siege Tank will two-shot Hydralisks again, even if the Hydralisk is +2 carapace upgraded itself.

Battlecruisers currently lack good counters from the ground and still perform very well against a wide array of unit types. We’re aware that it is not easy to get battlecruisers out for the cost, but at the same time, it is possible in both 1v1s and team games to create stalemate situations to bring them out. Overall, we feel that battlecruisers are too strong for their cost, and the terran-forced stalemate situations are causing less interesting gameplay. We will be lowering their damage against ground units from 10 to 8.

Zerg

Ultralisk damage is being decreased from 15, +25 vs. armored to 15, +20 vs. armored. This reduction is comparable to the changes being made to the battlecruiser and siege tank. Like the battlecruiser, ultralisks are simply too powerful for the cost, even though they are difficult to muster. Also, in combination with other units, ultralisks are difficult to counter from the ground. The ultralisk building attack (Ram) is being removed because the damage rate is too similar to its normal attack, which will be used against buildings instead. When ultralisks target tightly packed smaller buildings such as supply depots, the Ram attack is actually outputting considerably less overall damage than its normal attack, as Ram only hits a single target.

The Ultralisk, which was highly underused during the beta, has finally been seeing use since the release of the game thanks to the final patches of the beta that have improved the unit’s damage, speed, and have given it a permanent “frenzy” effect along with the ability to break down Sentry Force-Fields. This is has made it quite devastating in some situation, so the current damage reduction definitely makes sense. On the other hand, Ultralisks will now be better than ever for breaking down tight chokes, as their AoE melee attack will be used against buildings as well.

Interesting changes all around, and these are only some of the promised ones to come in the next patch!

In a hilarious and predictable turn of events, that will perhaps prevent Blizzard from releasing these situation reports prematurely in the future, players who had read the report and have noted that Zealot proxy rushes and Siege Tanks are overpowered are abusing those to the max while they still can. Be warned!

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