Legacy of the Beta

Legacy of the Beta

With the beta starting to wrap up, I feel like it’s appropriate to say a few words in parting about the Legacy of the Void beta test. I’m not going to pretend that my thoughts matter. I’m just Diamond league. I played just a few above 500 games in the beta. Not good, not bad, just average. This is an epilogue on the beta from an average player’s point of view. Word of warning, this is going to be a long wall of text! What a long, strange trip it has been!

I got into the beta fairly early during the Blizzard invite wave for the top 20% players of Starcraft 2. If I remember correctly, I was either Platinum or Diamond at the time. Note that this was the time where league distribution was pretty chaotic, with Diamond representing the top 8% instead of the top 20%. It probably marked the first time my in-game achievements meant for something.

Which was quite timely too. I was really looking forward to getting into the beta because HotS was starting to become ugly. I don’t mean that in a “I’m tired of HotS” kind of way. The meta started to shift toward long, passive, turtle games. Mech and Air Toss was becoming rampant on my MMR.

Which is fine, if not for me being a Zerg player. Zerg’s less cost efficient units meant that late-game armies are near impossible to beat. The 3-base saturation cap meant that even though Zerg would have the advantage in number of bases, it didn’t really matter beyond the 3rd base. Late game situations were a nightmare and it didn’t help that Blizzard nerfed the only unit capable of standing toe-to-toe with late game armies, the Swarm Host. Due to the turtle-y nature of the meta, some broadcasted games take hours with both races locked in attrition. Blizzard incorrectly (and I say this with certainty) attributed these long games to the Swarm Hosts, nerfed them, and made HotS hell for any Zerg still playing.

You could imagine the frustration. Which is why I was really looking forward to the LotV beta. It might be a better game, it might be worse, but at the very least, I don’t get to deal with turtle strats every damn game.

Economy changes

While I disagreed with the Swarm Host nerf, at the very least Blizzard knew that the 3-base saturation cap was the main problem with HotS. Going into the beta, the solution they’ve decided on was to have less mineral patches per base in order to force the players to expand more. The 3-base saturation cap would still remain, but the increased pace of which expansions need to be taken would mean that players would be stretched out more. Turtling will be less effective since simply buckling-in on 3 bases wouldn’t cut it.

The community discussed this change pretty thoroughly. Some argued that as long as the 3-base saturation cap remains, the problem will remain as well. A lot argued for an approach similar to Brood War, wherein the poor worker pathing allowed for less efficiency in worker mining which means that base saturation are not capped at a specific number of bases.

I wasn’t in the beta yet then, but a few weeks after the start of the beta, an article on Teamliquid.net came out called “A Treatise on the Economy of SCII”. The article argued extensively about the benefits of having a less efficient worker mining in order to break the 3-base saturation cap. The article also presented a solution to the problem in the form of a subtle change in which a worker would mine twice before returning. Without going into the details, this theoretically solved the problem by rewarding expansions beyond the 3-base saturation cap. This is in contrast to Blizzard’s design which encourages expansions by having bases mine out faster. The article was well written, well researched, and more importantly, well received. Everyone rallied behind the article’s arguments and pressured Blizzard into at least trying it out in the beta.

Blizzard responded by sticking to their guns and continuing on with their original plan. As someone who was once convinced of the arguments of the aforementioned article, Blizzard’s response, or lack thereof, was baffling. Here is a well researched, well documented, and well received solution to the problems of the game, yet they absolutely refused to try it out.

In order to convince Blizzard to at least give it a shot, showmatches were organized using the models proposed in the article. Watching the showmatches convinced me that the article’s solution was only good theoretically. Most players still employed the HotS turtle meta. The rewards of taking additional bases were not as impactful as they should be. Plus, 3 bases was still as effective as before. It wasn’t far removed from HotS at all (which was apparently intended, as the writers expressed).

I personally still think that the article made sense and could work. However, in order for it to be an effective change, everything (and I mean everything) have to be rebalanced. What use would the additional income be if the units remained the same? People would just turtle on 3-bases anyway since it’s still going to be as effective as before. Unit costs, damage, and health must all be accounted for else turtling would still be as effective as they were and with the beta only a few months long, there was clearly no time to redesign the game from the ground up.

I think the proposed models are superior to what LotV has right now but Blizzard chose what is best for the game at this point. I’m guessing they cannot justify spending man-power on basically rewriting the game from the start. Maybe for the next Starcraft game.

Abilities

Another thing that was pretty divisive with the community was the focus on micro by adding skills and abilities to new and existing units. Most of these abilities were activated and with an intended counter-play, usually in the form of unit micro themselves. This would create intense moments that would excite players and spectators alike.

A part of the community saw this as a negative, saying that adding micro through unit interactions such as movement and interesting or different unit attack types was the correct way to go. They argued that having units with abilities are a cheap, band-aid to the lack of creativity in unit design. I disagree.

Advantages in Starcraft 2 snowballs really, really quickly. One mistake can and will be your last. Although I relished the tension that situation causes, this is a criticism I personally held. Once you are ahead, it’s often very difficult for your opponent to come back. The only way to win these situations is to wait for an opponent to make a mistake and capitalize on it. While this makes comebacks a mark of true player skill, the difficulty of achieving it makes the game less fun in my opinion.

This is where the abilities come in and why I personally love them. The abilities added in LotV opened up a way to force mistakes. It introduced a way to check your opponents and force him to respond to these checks. Because there are ways for your opponent to counter these abilities, then battles become a series of small checks and responses as opposed to a single, large one where the victor will ultimately decide the game.

There were concerns of the opposite however, as most of the unit abilities deal high damage and can quickly decimate an army. They argued that this makes the pace of the game even faster. While the concern was not unfounded, and I can see it being true particularly in the lower levels, I think that in the end, it will end up doing the opposite. It’s like the concept of MAD or mutually assured destruction. If both sides has the capability of wiping each other out at a moment’s notice, then you bet that both sides will be as careful and deliberate as possible. Even the largest, 200/200 battles will be a battle of pre-positioning, poking and prodding, and micro instead of the A-move engagements we all have now.

Goodbye Beta

The best parts of the beta were definitely the amount of communication the devs had with the community. Funny considering it took a massive outcry from us fans. Yet instead of the usual whine, all we wanted was communication. “Tell us what’s happening!” And they did… it was amazing. Not only did we know what they were doing, we also realized how much feedback they took from the community. There had been a rise of more detailed posts and discussions on forums regarding issues brought forth by the devs. The community got more involved than ever.

Going into the beta, I was sceptical on the future of SC2. With the attention being given to the other Blizzard games as well as the lack thereof on SC2 then, it was an alarmingly accurate opinion and more importantly, I wasn’t alone in thinking it. With a very transparent development period and the promise of future support to the game, Blizzard managed to turn the gloom around. Now that the beta is about to end, I couldn’t be more excited for the future!

So I bid the beta servers adieu and look forward into the future. November 10 can’t come soon enough.

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