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Edit: Wow, Front page! I just want to thank everyone for their amazing responses. I'm thrilled that writing this up was helpful to so many people, it was definitely helpful for me. Thank you again for the congratulations, the words of encouragement, and everyone's sharing of similar stories. I'll be trying to follow up the questions everyone has posted and hopefully will still be posting in the next few days.
Let me start off by giving you the reason this post even exists. In July of this year I was eagerly awaiting the response from the 2+2 Program of Harvard Business School. The last 2 years I had developed an obsessive interest in entrepreneurship, strategy, and the psychology of business. A student of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I had started my own gallery that received a surprising amount of press coverage and critical reception. With this success, I decided to try to apply to the holy grail of all those obsessed with business: Harvard Business School. I talked to everyone I knew that was connected to it, and spent roughly 100 hours crafting my application and essays. Everyone I knew was confident I would be accepted, but I was skeptical. And on July 19th, I got the response: Thanks but no thanks.
Needless to say, I was crushed. I did not show it to anyone, but I had lost all the confidence I had gained in the last 2 years of hard work I had done. I was unsure of how to regain it, or if I could even start over. Days went by and I found myself continually checking out the preview videos for Starcraft II. I had loved the first one, for its vivid campaign story and its ridiculously fun custom defense games. I had never won a melee match online, and I think in the 12 years I had it I played around 10 games, though I must have played hundreds of custom maps. When I read a little more about the competitive aspects of the game, and I started to see people talking about the game the same way I had read about and run my own business. I made the decision right then and there: I’m going to prove to myself that I am what I said in my application. I’m going to buy this game and try to get to diamond league within one year.
This is the story of me going from never having won a melee game to top-level diamond in 101 days.
432 won, 398 lost, win ratio of 52.05%
Games played: 833 : Estimated hours of play (15 minutes per game): 208 hours.
Average games per day: 8 ¼, realistically 7-10
Day started: July 29th, 2010, 2 days after release. Day I got to Diamond: November 6, 2010
Day 1: Installed the game on my girlfriend’s MacBook Pro. Started the campaign, skipped the practice league, and lost all 5 of my placement matches within 10 minutes. I Start in Bronze league with 0 Points and a bonus pool of around 115.
--- BRONZE LEAGUE ---
To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing at this point. With no experience in 1v1, I would just simply build some workers, get both gas, and just make some stuff. Soon enough, I realized the more expansions I had the bigger army I would have, and just won by getting to 200 supply with colossi and stalkers. Started understanding terrain and unit composition by doing a few challenges, used this to my advantage with colossi. Once I knew what I was doing, my APM was around 30.
Strategies I saw: A lot of people did the same thing as me: made the units they were comfortable with, and rocked out. No one, including me, started to make more than 10% counter units in their army. They would simply do the army they liked (MMM, gateways units, mutas) and compliment them with a few counters. This is the reason colossi and stalkers were so effective, no one would see it as necessary to change what they were doing.
Strategies I learned: Build a bunch of stuff. Attack with it.
Day 2: After about 10 losses including my placement matches, I win for the first time. With 10 APM, 15 SCVs, one base, and 25 minutes, I nuke my opponent’s base on metalopolis. He GG’s.
Day 4: Played my first 2v2. Completely owned by stalkers and colossi. Switch to protoss.
Reach 10 wins with protoss, solo Hot Streak 3. Win games by going mass stalker and colossi.
Day 5: Solo Hot Streak 5. Finish Campaign.
Day 6: Watch “TLOWNAGE” by HDStarcraft, shown to me by a friend.
Day 10: Reach #1 in Bronze league. 25 Wins with Protoss
Day 11: Promotion to Silver League
Edited by PHAIIANX on 11/11/2010 1:00 PM PST
--- SILVER LEAGUE ---
After my summer job, I was finally able to afford my own computer. I finally returned my girlfriends MacBook Pro (to her relief) and decided to get a desktop for the first time in years. I got a 27” quad core iMac, with a Bluetooth keyboard and multitouch magic mouse.
This was the first time I really hit a road block in my games. People no longer seemed to just build stuff and go for it, they actually changed their build to counter my units. While waiting to get to 200, I would be long scouted and countered. I could no longer learn everything just by watching my own replays.
At this point I started watching HDStarcraft and HuskyStarcraft Videos. I watched everything I could by TLO, who was German like myself. With these videos, I started to learn what build orders and openings actually were, and the importance of scouting. I started understanding that certain builds work on certain maps, while others completely fail. Short rush distance? Have a few units out within a certain timeframe. Long rush distance? Keep an eye out, but have the courage to get those higher tier units quickly.
Strategies I Learned: After a long plateau, I discovered two crucial components of protoss play: chrono boost and 4gate. I don’t know why, but I literally didn’t know about chrono boost for the longest time. Once I knew about it, it was like a gift from god. Secondly, from HD and Husky I learned how to do 4gate, propelling me into gold league in 3 days after a two week plateau in Silver. Another great strategy I learned was to effectively use the protoss mothership. I learned that static defenses didn’t mean much if you had 200 supply of cloaked units warped into your main base.
Strategies I Saw: The most annoying thing I experienced was playing against terran on desert oasis before it got patched. They would always put tanks right next to my base on the hard-to-reach ledge, build turrets, and intercept all incoming forces with marauders. I did not realize at this point that I could just X out the map on my preferences. Got cannon rushed a few times, and learned to keep an eye out in my base and check for cheese before scouting. I also did the opening gambit and rush challenges to learn how to survive the first 10 minutes.
Cheesing: This was the only league where I did a few cheeses. I was terrible at PvP, so I proxy zealot rushed protoss opponents roughly 10 times. After gold league, I stopped doing this.
Average APM: 45
Day 16: Gold medal in Rush Defense and Opening Gambit Challenge
Day 20: 50 Wins with Protoss
Day 27: 100 Wins with Protoss
Day 30: Reach #1 in Silver League
Day 31: Promotion to Gold League
--- GOLD LEAGUE ---
As soon as I got into gold league I realized going for diamond might not be so impossible. Because of this, I decided that I had to really learn the game inside out. The day I got in, I poured boiling hot tea all over my hand and knew I wasn’t going to be able to play well for at least a day. So I spent a day doing nothing but getting all the gold medals in the challenges. This taught me an immense amount: partially effective micro, and the potential of sentries and templars.
Strategies I learned: Though I knew 4gate wrecked zerg, I was still having problems with MMM and mirror matchups. I started using templar instead of colossus, and learned about 2gate robo from watching videos, which I started to do on a daily basis. It was at this point that I decided to switch to random.
Playing random I learned the most powerful tool of all: decoding what you scout. I had previously just scouted to see his army size, and whether he was attacking or not. After a number of random games, and with many builds in my head from watching replays, I started getting a feeling for what build order meant what. Now when I scouted, I knew not only what my opponents were doing, but also what I would see in 5 minutes. If there were gas and a spawning pool, I’d prepare for zergling speed. If they didn’t come out, I’d assume that mutalisks were coming but scouted to make sure. Knowing what your opponent’s build order could tell you, and the time it took for those build orders to produce their desired effect let me adapt and counter his build. I started upgrading once I hit the 10-minute mark.
Strategies I saw: Terran players were still going mostly MMM balls. Protoss would either try to dark templar rush, zealot rush, or play a long term mass game. Zerg mostly went either for fast speedlings or tried going higher tech like ultras or mutas, even brood lords. 75% of Zerg players did not know how to counter 4gate. Knowing how to counter all of these made my stay in gold league only 6 days.
Average APM: 55
Day 31: Get all remaining gold medal in challenges.
Day 33: Switch to Random
Day 36: 10 wins with Random. Reach #1 in Gold League
Day 37: Promotion to Platinum League
--- PLATINUM LEAGUE ---
This is where I got a little side tracked. My friends who were still in bronze league asked me to play against them, and I would take on both of them as Zerg and completely outmacro them both. This went on for about 5 games. Because I was having so much fun, I decided to switch to Zerg in 1v1. Needless to say, the excitement of beating two inexperienced players did not translate into wins in Platinum league. No one left me alone for 15 minutes, no one let me take control of the whole map, and I was relentlessly owned. 4 days after I had gotten promoted, I was back in gold league.
Day 38: 25 Wins with Random
Day 41: Demotion to Gold League
--- BACK TO GOLD LEAGUE ---
School started again around this point, so I did not have time to play all day to get back into Platinum. It took me a while to realize why I had been demoted, and decided to switch back to random and get my fundamentals right. I had learned my lesson: Adaptability was necessary, not trickery.
Day 53: 100 Wins with Random
Day 55: Re - promotion to Platinum League
--- PLATINUM LEAGUE ---
This is where I learned to most advanced techniques and encountered the hardest opponents I ever had. This is also where I spent half of the 100 days it took me to get from never having played to diamond league.
The difference I was seeing was that counter units were being used extremely effectively. Ghosts started completely ruining my templars. Most of all, I started seeing that while in gold league the turn away from cheesing had led to a peaceful early game besides scouting, high platinum and low diamond players were extremely aggressive without sacrificing anything.
I realized that I could no longer play with the mouse I had. The magic mouse has a huge problem: it cannot left click and right click quickly, because the multitouch surface requires on to lift the finger that was not clicking. Because of this, I decided to get a real mouse, and got a Razer DeathAdder at my local Best Buy. I had been using a notebook as a mouse pad the entire time, so a few days later I decided to get the cheapest mouse pad razer had: the razer sphex. After a few days of getting used to, my controls started getting much more precise.
Strategies I learned: Still playing random, I started exploring all the possible builds I had seen from opponents and watched on casts. From getting a hatchery first on long distance rush maps, to getting a void ray or two to accompany my 4gate instead of sentries. Most importantly, I learned that expanding was not just necessary intervals such as every 7 minutes, but that psychological damage could help me secure expansions. I started to expand every time I made a successful push, as I would see myself stocking up massive amounts of minerals during pushes, then blowing it all on reinforcements if the player retaliated. The 3 minute window of him being scared gave me the necessary time to get my expansion up, have it pay for itself, and then give me an advantage.
An advanced technique I learned in this league was timing. Talking specifically about expansions and returns, I realized there was a meaning to when casters say “this is where his economy kicks in”. In games, when a player invests in certain technologies to kick in, there is a time until the break-even point, which is the time between his investment and the expected return of that investment. If he builds an expansion at 9 minutes, his economy will be less than or equal to my economy until around 12 minutes, and this is the window of opportunity to attack. These opportunities and timings are what I learned could give me an advantage. If I made only units until 11 minutes and attacked, I would not only have more than him, but would be able to take out his expansion while making my own, turning the battle into my favor and giving me an advantage if the game went late.
While I had upgraded a lot in gold league, I started to learn to bring my economy to equilibrium. My production facilities matched my income, and gained in numbers once I had 2 or 3 bases running. At this point I would have 3 forges rather than 1, so I could get upgrades as fast as possible if the game went past the 20 minute mark. I never built too many structures too early, but realized that with 1,500 mineral per minute income I would need more than 4 warpgates and 1 robo facility.
My most frequent build orders were:
Protoss: 2gate twilight, 2gate robo, 2gate starport. Against protoss I initially would win because I had immortals to counter his 4gate, but when some players started killing me with rush zealots I went 2gate twilight instead. This let me either get rush zealots or blink stalkers depending on his build, then transition into midgame.
I suck at terran. Always have, always will. I’d usually just do a 3 rax push and see if it worked. The other build order I had learned was a fast mech build, where I could attack with 2 thors and 20 marines in 8 minutes. With this race, I never felt comfortable going into the midgame.
I really loved playing zerg. I would almost always go 14 hatch 15 pool, with roaches to defend until I got muta baneling, or hydras out. I never really had a specific unit composition, but learned from watching fruitseller to simply have every technology available and have the income to be able to spawn what ever army was necessary against the opponent.
Strategies I Saw: In platinum, every strategy I had ever heard of was thrown at me at least once. The list is too expansive for this already enormous post. I was not really thrown off guard by them, but lost almost every time if I did not scout.
Average APM: 70-80
Day 58: Bought a Razer DeathAdder
Day 62: Bought a Razer Sphex mouse pad
Day 68: Reach #1 in Platinum League
Day 91: Completed all Economy and Melee Achievements.
Day 92: Completed all outmatched Achievements
--- FINAL PUSH TO DIAMOND LEAGUE ---
This is where I want to make my final point, the difference between diamond and platinum level. As you can see, I was stuck in platinum league for a long time. The reason for this is that I would frequently fall from number 1 all the way down to ranks like 37. Inbetween, I felt I wasn’t improving to the point that I would complete random achievements such as trying to learn something by facing of against two insane AIs or an Insane FFA. I was stuck in Platinum for 50 days. And then one realization made me go from platinum to diamond in 5 days.
I realized that while playing random earned me a lot of respect, I was simply not good at Terran, and only good to a certain point with Zerg. I played random until I got to 250 wins, but got 250 wins with protoss as well. I had switched to random at 100 wins, and only had 80 wins with Zerg and 80 wins with Terran. That meant that I had 150 times with Protoss while winning 80 times with each other race. I had literally won twice as much when I got Protoss. So I made the decision: though playing random is incredibly fun, I switched back to protoss. 5 Days later, I was in diamond. And here is why:
The difference between Platinum and Diamond:
2 Weeks back I started listening to the day9 daily special. While I had heard some of the things he said before, a lot became clear to me. Most importantly, I realized that the highest level players will not only build units and counter units, but build units to force opponents to build a certain counter, while he is actually using that to his advantage. With protoss, I was able to pull this off, with Zerg and Terran I simply did not have the confidence or knowledge. For example: I would build 2 colossi with a mainly stalker/zealot/immortal army. My opponent would invest massive resources into anti-air (in this case corruptors). I would attack with my army of 2 colossi but hallucinate a further 8 colossi with the sentries I had charged up throughout the game. By the time he realized the colossi were all fake, his entire ground army was destroyed and he was left with 15 corruptors that did nothing to my still 150 food army. Though he managed to transition to brood lords, my blink stalkers were able to decimate his corruptors to the point where he only had 10 brood lords, a manageable number for 30 blink stalkers.
I was winning against opponents with 300 APM while I was still at 60. It didn’t matter if they could click faster than me if I was making better decisions than them. Timing, Psychology, and choice were winning me these games. Focusing on these, I won 21 out of the next 30 games against high level platinum and diamond players.
This is the greatest difference: while micro and macro are similar between the leagues, the psychological damage that diamond players can do and bluffing sets them apart. Another example was going 2gate stargate against Zerg: by forcing my opponent to get hydras and intentionally sending in the void rays for him to see, I could crush him by coming in with 20 charge zealots. A lot of people say that Starcraft is a lot like chess. This is where it is most true: Great chess players calculate many steps ahead, bluff, and outsmart. Most importantly, they think quickly under pressure and never lose their cool. Constant aggression but no overcompensation.
This is what a great chess player is. This is what a diamond level player is.
Day 97: 250 wins with random. 250 wins with Protoss. 80 Wins with Terran and Zerg. Switch Back to Protoss
Day 101: Promotion to Diamond League
Conclusion and Notes:
In this 101 day adventure, I have indeed regained faith in myself. I have seldom been so challenged intellectually, psychologically, and mechanically. This journey has been quite amazing, and I have faced hundreds of people who forced me to go back to the drawing board and rethink everything I thought I knew. I want to thank everyone in the SC II for their advice, insights, and competitiveness. I am filled with pride to join the ranks of you. People weren’t kidding when they said this is the most competitive game in the world.
Here is the link to the replay pack, for those of you who want to watch any of the games I discussed (from mothership drops to the final push to diamond against 300 APM players)
Pics or it didn't happen:
Shoutout to Husky, HD, and Day9. You helped me like no others.
edit: Rather why would you write somehting like this if its going to be on the second page by tomorrow?
I always see threads about the difference between different leagues, what strategies matter, what decisions matter, who is OP etc.
I decided to share a point of view few have: someone who's been through all the leagues and all the races.
Edited by PHAIIANX on 11/6/2010 4:49 PM PDT
I also agree that platinum is the league where things get really difficult.
i hope the last part helps you. After getting to plat in one month, it took me 2 months to get to diamond. day9 helped me to revisit a lot of my basic mechanics and preconceptions, i'd give him a watch
edit: link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epMo2fLDU1Q
Edited by PHAIIANX on 11/6/2010 4:54 PM PDT
I also agree that platinum is the league where things get really difficult.
Yes, your post actually helped me realize some stuff. Like how psychological damage can give you time to get an expansion up. Thanks for your help!
And yeah, I watch Day9, he's cool. He helped me a lot.
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