It’s no secret that multiplayer matches in real-time strategy games require a significant amount of skill in terms of multitasking. Each player tries his best to manage a stable economy and production, defend incoming damage from attacks from his opponents, and manage his attacks all at the same time in order to succeed.
As we all know, true multitasking is not possible for a human mind. It’s impossible to focus on doing things simultaneously. What we know as multitasking is better termed as rapidly-shifting-attention although to be fair, multitasking is easier on the tongue. The more player who is known to be better at multitasking is not really able to do multiple things at once. He simply manages to divide, shift, and focus his attention on the right things at the right time. As it becomes limited, attention then becomes a resource that one must use correctly.
While what to focus one’s attention on may be an idea for another post in the future, it is not what I would like to talk about. What I’d like to talk about is using the knowledge that attention is finite in a game against an opponent. The concept is simple: Since true multitasking is impossible, attention becomes an important aspect of play. If we can successfully divert an opponent’s attention away from where he should be optimally focusing on, this can net us an advantage, sometimes even outright a win.
Misdirections and Multitasking
How do we go about achieving this? The answer will never be set in stone. It’ll depend on your strategy, your tactics, and the level of multitasking you yourself is at as well. However, there are common elements that are crucial to this tactic. It usually involves a small contingent force separate from the bulk of the main army, a specific objective that you want to achieve, and a defending, dug-in opposing force that you do not wish to engage head-on.
Execution will depend on your objectives. Often, the small contingent force will attack another point away from the main location of attack just before the main attack begins. This will force your opponent to divide his attention between defending the flanking force and defending the bulk of your army allowing you to exploit this gap in attention however you can.
The opposite can also be applied. Your contingent force might be able to take a specific map objective by themselves. To give them breathing room, you can use the main army as a distraction. The threat of a main attack will often force your opponents to pull his forces towards your main army, allowing your contingent force to achieve their objectives in turn.
Challenging your opponent’s abilities to multitask is a double-edged blade. While it certainly forces your opponent to scramble to deal with both attacks, it’s important to note that your own attention is also finite. Focusing on the wrong thing at the wrong time will lead to a loss in advantage instead of creating one. It is imperative that you have a specific objective in mind (attack an expansion, dislodge a dug-in position, destroy an important unit or structure, etc.) and that you focus on achieving this objective.
Timing is also an important factor. Waiting to engage after misdirecting your opponent will often allow your opponent time to respond to both attacks. The longer you wait, the more allowance you allow your opponent to deal with both things.
While a highly effective tactic against players who cannot multitask efficiently, more skilled players are able to quite adequately defend two fronts at once. You must understand that while abusing attention is a smart tactic, it is not bulletproof. However, the advantages of creating space is almost just as important. This makes attempting to challenge your opponent’s multitasking almost always worth it. Also remember that you don’t have to commit. Sometimes, even as little as showing your opponent your army is enough.
Do or Do Not
Tactics, strategy, reaction times, and mouse accuracy and precision are all skills broadly observed across other competitive gaming genres. Yet attention as a resource and as a skill and point of contention is something unique to RTS. If you are new to RTS, it’s important to take this into consideration. Learning to use and abuse attention as a part of your skill repertoire will allow you to make the most out of your game.