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Road to Masters #1 – The Road Ahead

It’s been five years since I started playing StarCraft seriously. I’ve been to tournaments (on and offline), met awesome friends and have made my way all the way up to Diamond.

Behind the scenes, I’ve faced several challenges along the way that have nothing to do with StarCraft. Changing cities, moving to my own place, managing jobs, freelancing, along with a dream of creating content about the games that I love; specially, StarCraft.

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably been here for most of it.

Recently, I’ve started working on going back to the good habits that brought me here. I felt at some point, that I was neglecting the continuation of my improvement in StarCraft because sometimes, practicing the same thing over and over again for hours can be quite dull.

I’ve tried different approaches to getting better at the game throughout the years. I’ve been given advice by many different people. Some of it has been extremely helpful. Some of it has been, well, not.

I feel at this point that I’ve learned not as much about the game as I’ve learned about myself and the way I learn.
As some of you might know already, I’ve been a teacher for the last five years. The process of acquiring knowledge has become of great interest to me. It had been in the past, but now, it has seeped deeper into other aspects of my life.

This has got me thinking a lot about the way I learn StarCraft and what could be better strategies to go about improving at the game.

A quick disclaimer, the following strategies are things that have worked for me. These are in no way ultimate truths or secret recipes that will work for everyone, but maybe the process I’ve gone through might be useful to you.

Deliberate Practice

One of the things that has helped me in the past, is to isolate the issues in my play.

Now, identifying and isolating them is only a small part of the process. What made this the most helpful was scaffolding these issues from the most basic to the most complex, and also, from the most fundamental to the most peripheral skills to perform at the game.

Based on this scale, I allocated time to focus on each skill. In my case, for example, practicing macro and multitasking is a priority over micro. So micro for me, gets less time when it comes to deliberate practice.
At the moment, out of the 100% of the time I’ve been devoting to pratice, 40% goes to skills related to micro (stutter stepping, splitting, focus-firing, spellcaster control, etc.) and 60% to macro mechanics (macro cycle, multitasking, continuous production).

Practice Partners

This is a very important aspect of practice that I just started implementing. Having people around you to exchange ideas is one of the most effective ways of building knowledge.
There are many ways in which we can gather information and accumulate it. But socialization gives us unique opportunities to process and build upon this knowledge.

Up to now, I have been practicing with protoss players. My current most challenging match up.
StarCraft is, quite literally, too dangerous to go alone. Even the best players in the world have sparring partners, teams and friends to exchange intel with and practice. They don’t have to be extremely knowledgeable or even at a higher level than you. They just have to want to commit as much as you do.

Create a Routine

One of the most important aspects of improving is to create a solid practice routine.
This is not just about the drills, the builds and the ladder. It’s also about the quantity and quality of time you are willing to invest.
Ask yourself, “when am I the most focused during the day?”, “when are there less distractions?”, “at what time of the day do I perform better?”

If you don’t know the answers to these questions yet, GO FIGURE THEM OUT. Try practicing different things at different times of the day. Try weekdays, try weekends. Slowly but surely you will find a practice schedule that is right for your routine.

Design a routine that fits your lifestyle. There is no reason why you should set up unrealistic expectations at the expense of other important things in life or compromise other activities that might be beneficial to you.

It’s not all about the game. The mind and the body need care and nurturing. Practice shouldn’t make you ill, it should make you better.

Practice routines should include rest. PRACTICE. ROUTINES. SHOULD. INCLUDE. REST.
Burnout is a real thing and it can knock you back unnecessarily. But more importantly, it can ruin your motivation to go on. Having time away from the game will give time for the knowledge to sink in, and for that back, wrists, fingers and arms to cool down. Schedule that time and respect it.

Add variety to your practice

Pedagogically speaking, ladder is the worst environment for learning.

Let me repeat that…

LADDER IS THE WORST ENVIRONMENT FOR LEARNING.

The ladder is a highly competitive ranking system. The whole point of the ladder is to segregate players into different tiers based on how many games they win.

Ladder is no different from a standarized test. Playing in the ladder repeatedly might give you an understanding of how the ladder system works, but without any external information to aid you, you could be stuck in there forever. The other thing to note is that ladder doesn’t measure your skills in the game, it rewards you for winning. If you don’t win, you don’t move. The improvements you make everyday do not matter to it. Hence, you have to keep track of and appreaciate those yourself.

If you play a 100 games on ladder and never look at them again, analyze them, share them with other for feedback, chances are, those 100 games will take you nowhere.

What helps us move up in the ladder is not playing the ladder itself but what we do when we’re not on it. Analyzing replays, exchanging notes with other players, practicing a build order, going over a tutorial for a particular skill, watching how others solved the problems you are facing right now. Learning from others and teaching others what we know is what will eventually help us break the barrier between tiers.

Use the ladder not as a means to practice but as a tool to evaluate what your practice is doing for you.

Join a tournament once in a while. Tournaments are great places to connect with other players with similar goals and interests. They also give you a unique experience in that you face a same opponent for more than one game. Take this as a tiny test of knowledge, skill and adaptation.

In this video, I briefly discussed and shared some of the things I do for practice. Have other resources or suggestions for practice? Share in the comments what you do to become better at the game!