First steps from stagnation: Breaking out of ruts

ruts

For the longest time, I have been stuck in a rut when it comes to improving my play in Starcraft II. I would queue up, plan my course of action, do my builds, and execute them to the greatest of my abilities and would either win or lose depending on who is the better player.

To be honest, it’s how I always played the game. Up until a certain point in Starcraft II, mechanics is king and if you keep your money low, your income high, and your units produced, you can easily move up the ranks. Which is what I did…

…Until a certain point. While I am able to maintain my rank of Diamond, it felt like I was not improving any more. I can see my spending become crisper, my control become finer, and my builds become smoother but I don’t feel like I’m improving. And being stuck at the threshold of Masters mirrored that. It’s been that way for years now. I’ve tried everything: offracing, playing on Korea (which was even worse because everyone at Diamond cheesed to hell and back. It makes for good practice against early game but my late game suffered.), playing a minimum number of games every day, etc.

This went on for years, I think. It came to a point where I was starting to become content with Diamond, never reaching the long-sought for ranks of Master’s league again.

Fast-forward to the release of Legacy of the Void, renewing interests in the game and at the same time, interests in improving. It also helped that my LotV Beta experience helped me propel to the top ranks of Diamond league early. I got to brush elbows with Masters players on occasion and this made me realize that I really, really want that shiny portrait border. This revitalized my drive to find further improvement. Damn it, if I’m spending this much time on a hobby I love, then I might as well be the best that I can be!

Starcraft II is more than a video game to me. It’s my primary hobby, it’s just that it happens to be a video game. I think most SC2 fans see things the same, whether or not they are cognizant of the fact. But I digress.

It’s around this time that Root CatZ, a GM Zerg, decided to rebrand his stream as an educational channel where he commentates his thoughts and encourages chat to ask questions. Something he said on one of this streaming sessions stuck to me. Someone asked on chat about mechanics and doing specific builds which I can’t remember all too well. To paraphrase Catz’ answer, he noted that the guy could do that but it’s more beneficial in the long run to think about the game and understand  why you do the things you do.

This became quite a wake up call for me. I’ve never really thought about the game much when I play. I would just queue up, plan my course, do my builds and execute them. While I analyzed my losses, I only really focus on what went wrong. I thought, “Could this be the reason I’m stuck in a rut?”

It makes sense too. Starcraft II is a game of logic, above everything else. It is a game where you pit your decisions against your opponents’ and in order to make the correct decision, you need to logically arrive at a correct conclusion. It’s a game of foresight as well. Decisions don’t happen in a vacuum and most if not all of the decisions you make at any point of the game will have ripple effects later on.

Being too focused on mechanics, I forgot that at its core, Starcraft is a strategy game. It’s a cerebral game. While mechanics is good, knowing what to do is even better.

Knowing this, I’ve been enjoying laddering a lot more. I’ve decided to not  completely focus on refining my mechanics, trusting that the years of muscle memory from playing can keep me afloat. I’ve started to play more logically, thinking about what I do when I do it. I decided to improve my scouting too, because you can’t make decisions without knowing what you’re up against.

An episode of Lycan’s Evolution Chamber show also helped a ton. Neuro’s topic was about the mentality of the game and improving the quality of practice. The main thing I took away from it is that the ladder is a tool to measure progress and not the other way around. You shouldn’t approach it as if you need to improve in order to climb. Climbing it is a side effect of improving.

Ironic too, because the renewed drive to improve started with the desire to become Masters. It’s just that now the desire to improve is much, much greater than my desire for that shiny border portrait.

Did it pay off? I don’t really know. Am I Masters yet? Nope. All I know is that I feel like I’m improving. That means I’m no longer stuck in a rut.

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