How do you tell what units are in Starcraft 2?

I’m trying to get into this game. But it seems like it is intentionally daunting. For example, I have no idea what the counters are (and unlike games like Age of Empires, where I can at least use history as a rough guide, I have no idea what Protoss shiny thing is supposed to counter a particular Zerg blob thing).

I know that there is a place in the game that lists counters, but in game, I have no idea what unit is actually what. It appears (unless I’m mistaken) that when you hover the mouse cursor over an enemy unit in game, it doesn’t even tell you what the unit is.

It seems much more difficult than I remember games like Age of Empires, Rise of Nations (which I believe literally told you the counter in a tooltip when you hovered over a unit), etc. Am I just getting old? Starcraft 2 seems very unapproachable without basically sitting down and memorizing what units even are (which tend to look alike to me - Zerg stuff is all that same ugly grey and brown pallet, for example) and then also memorizing the counters.

I think the counter to everything is macro better.

Are you just jumping into multiplayer? In the campaign they introduce units slowly. The downside is that they introduce a ton of units that aren’t even in multiplayer.

Armiger is right in that you do not need to focus on counters to do well. Even very well. That comes way later. I mean, you need to know what can attack ground and air do you don’t build tons of units that can’t fire up against the enemies air only force. But beyond that just play. If you aim for a reasonably balanced force you can start adding in tweaks over time as you get more comfortable. Like, hey, he’s got a lot of small squishy units, maybe I can add some more units that do splash damage. Or just basic stuff, he’s got a lot of air things, maybe some missile turrets.

Random idea: try searching for a map called “Unit Tester” (or maybe Unit_Test_Map or whatever). This just lets you plop down units and watch them fight. I bet 20 minutes of messing around with that would teach you way more than playing a bunch of games against the easy computer or whatever.

Also, check out the challenges (I think they’re called) – their tiny scenarios designed to teach you how to use and respond to certain units / strategies.

I think you were meant to play through the Single Player campaign as your tutorial. Jumping right into multiplayer/skirmish would be difficult without some prior knowledge of Starcraft 1.

You can check out Blizzard’s site for some in-game fiction about unit types and uses. Under each unit it explains its primary uses.

Short answer: yes, the game requires a lot of learning upfront. Also, if you click an enemy unit, the name of it appears. Until you’re comfortable using control groups to get back to your own forces, that’s understandably frustrating to do mid-battle.

The game’s various training missions and even its two campaigns are pretty decent tutorials on a lot of the basics, although obviously they’re built around balance updates and metagames that are, sometimes, years old by this point (so, don’t expect it all to translate perfectly to multiplayer).

Still, the essentials are thus:

Tanks, DPS, and AoE

Tanks are generally high HP, high armor, moderate damage units that generally do bonus damage to other armored units. They’re great for soaking up hits and taking out AoE units, but are generally slow, expensive, and weak versus DPS units: see Roaches (black spidery things for Zerg), Marauders (Bulky infantry for Terran), and Immortals (great big yellow quadrupeds for Protoss).

DPS are generally low HP, light armor, high damage units that often have an upgrade to increase their efficacy. They’re great for tearing through enemy tanks or structures, but are generally weak to AoE: see Hydralisks (taller upright snakes for Zerg), Marines (Slim infantry for Terran), and Zealots (Yellow melee infantry dudes for Protoss).

AoE are exactly that: Area of Effect. Some are higher HP high-tier units, others are disposable suicide bombs, and still others are somewhere between. They’re great for mowing through enemy workers or DPS units, but generally fall pretty quick to Tanks: see banelings (rolly-polly blobs of green for Zerg), Tanks (typical looking tanks that deploy into AoE death lines for Terran), and Collosus (massive yellow tripodal walkers lancing out lasery death for Protoss). There’s other, more specific counters you can learn (Colossi can’t shoot UP, so air units kill 'em great) and of course, if your enemy has 4x the amount of army you do, counters won’t save you, but the basics are worth keeping in mind while you’re still new.

Each side usually has a utility caster and a combat caster, an anti-air air unit and an anti-ground air unit, their worker, and a couple of miscellaneous gap-fillers.

If you can keep the tank/dps/aoe trifecta in your head, and then just practice building up a large economy and enough troop-producing structures to utilize it efficiently, then you don’t need to do much more than that at low levels of multiplayer play.

You’re a Terran and you see that your Protoss buddy is massing up Colossi (or maybe you just got hit by their other AoE attack, Psionic Storms, which are big clouds of lightning)? Marauders should be able to plow through the worst of it and get in close to take 'em down. You’re a Zerg facing a Terran opponent massing up DPS-heavy marines that cut through air and building like a hot knife through butter? Sweeping in with banelings from two sides at once will halt his mobility and let your AoE wipe out the marines. You’re a Protoss facing off against another Protoss who’s heavy on Immortals that melt your Stalkers in a second? See if you can’t get in close with Zealots instead to carve 'em up.

Also worth noting each side’s biggest/most common caster gimmick. Terrans bring along Medivacs to heal up their infantry: having anti-air units like Hydras or Stalkers will enable you to pick off the healers quickly to render their ground force unsupported (look for flying things with green lines shooting out onto the Terran units to ID a Medivac). Protoss use Force Fields to place temporary barriers on the battlefield to divvy up enemy forces or defend their frontline: so, don’t attack through narrow areas or hit the front with anything less than overwhelming force. Zergs rely on Fungal Growth to lock down troublesome enemy units to enable their own counter-forces to do their work, so avoid clumping up your units or extending deeply into Zerg territory without knowing where his forces are.

Final final final advice: watch pro Starcraft on Most casters speak from a beginner friendly mindset and will explain what’s going on onscreen. WCS is probably best for this, while smaller European tournaments are probably worst (in terms of overall audience experience level). Learning by osmosis is totally a thing!

As armiger said, “macro” is everything up to decently high levels of play. However, if you are a noob like me, you’ll be wondering WTF “macro” is. The TL;DR version is that you should always be building/expanding, always gathering resources, and you should never have idle resources unspent. In the middle of combat? Tough - you better still be building/expanding.

Now that said, my description is horrible. But the key phrase “macro” is what you need to google and you’ll find a wealth of youtube videos that help. The game is crazy intense, and you will lose initially simply by being overwhelmed by the number of units the opposing player can toss at you (unless you are an RTS vet, and you can keep up already).

Let me try to distill the idea of the races and which (overall) unit does what. Armando’s explanation is not bad, but not quite condensed enough for my tastes. So here are my basics.

There are three races, with three main themes.
TERRANS heal infantry, repair buildings, and repair mechanical units (ships, tanks, ect). Terrans build using workers, one worker per building.

ZERG naturally heal at a slow rate, build all units out of one production building (via larva), and spread creep across the map. Zerg build by using up a worker, one worker per building, and usually only on creep.

PROTOSS cannot heal or repair but have shields that quickly regenerate after battle. Protoss warp in buildings, all of which except for the Pylon and Nexus, have to be in range of an existing Pylon. Warping is autonomous once begun by a worker.

There is a very basic Tier 1 level counter between units.
TERRANS - Marines & Marauders
PROTOSS - Zealots & Stalkers
ZERG - Zerglings and Roaches

If you’re more familiar with the game you can go into the subtleties of why, but for now:
Marines counter Zealots and Zerglings
Marauders counter Roaches and Stalkers
Zerglings counter Marauders and Stalkers
Roaches counter Zealots and Marines.

As the game progresses the three races branch out into many complicated tech tree paths, but the major themes are AoE and/or Airpower. Seige Tanks do massive AoE in Seige Mode, so human players are likely to have a big ball of Seige Tanks, stimpack unlocked Marines and Marauders, and Dropships to move and heal crucial units.

For Protoss to counter the massive damage of a stimpack’ed ball of Marines and Marauders supported by Seige Tanks, they need two units, the Immortal and the Colossus. Colossi do large amounts of “normal” damage over a large area which is not high enough to take on high HP mechanical units, but is perfect for wiping out Marines. Immortals are protected by a special shield that takes a maximum of 10hp per hit until it falls; perfect for shrugging off the blasts of Seige Tanks. It also does extra damage to large, mechanical units like Seige Tanks.

That’s like the most basic idea. Starcraft is a game about production and destruction; if you produce more, you can still win even if all you do is throw units into the grinder (with at least some common sense). To that end the Zerg are especially dangerous, as they are famous for being able to expand rapidly across the map. In a good player’s hands, expanding not only gives the Zerg player more income but more unit construction ability, so very quickly a rich Zerg player can simply overwhelm the enemy with sheer numbers of units and unit variety. Because the Zerg only need one “type” of building to be built in order to make a larva into that unit, unlike the other two races which require a specialist building for each unit, Zerg can “switch up” units extremely easily - one wave of Zerglings followed by a wave of Flying units followed by a wave of Hydralisks - which makes countering a Zerg very problematic if the Zerg has a production advantage.

All very helpful, thanks. I’ve been playing Protoss, and have just been having a difficult time getting a handle on things (including use of the special powers).

Protoss is probably the most dependent on the special powers, notably the force fields. They tend to have expensive units that you want to keep alive.

Though you can’t go too wrong just massing voidrays.

Vikings! Of course I only knew that because…

Never even played a single game of multiplayer but I enjoy watching the pro games with the commentators. They like to explain things at a pretty basic level so anybody can follow along. The side effect is you learn counters pretty quickly since at the pro level it makes a big difference.

I’ve recently gotten back into SC2 myself since I realized I owned but hadn’t yet played Heart of the Swarm. The campaign is really good at teaching you unit purposes and countering strategies, I really enjoy them. I am not a competitive player, I can’t really handle a determined and skilled opponent (I stick to normal difficulty in the campaign) so I’m not really the best person to tell you how to prepare for that. But hey, if you want an opponent who will be an easy win, you can always look me up.

Focus on your macro. Always be be building and expanding. Never had unspent money. Winning a big fight doesn’t mean anything if you don’t take an expansion.

Watch this for an explanation of macro, build orders, and what you are doing wrong as new player :

Then check out whatever other Day 9 videos interest you. Every other game is worse for not having a Day 9 equivalent.

Yeah, but I was trying REAL hard to leave air units out of it all, since they don’t fit cleanly into my DPS/AOE/tanky model ;)

But yeah. Assuming that pro/competitive SC2 doesn’t die by year’s end (Sep 1 was a really bad fucking day for the scene when all the Korean contracts came up for renewal and half of them, um, didn’t), it’s by far my favorite thing to watch ATM, and has been since the late 2000s in BW. Soooo good.

I don’t follow the scene but the TeamLiquid site seemed to suddenly show a lot of bad news. Is LoL and DOTA2 (possibly) simply the next big competitive gaming scene?

Honestly… and i’m speaking from a position of intuitive ignorance here, but i’ve always felt competitive SC2 relies too much on the big ball o’ death, in a way that wasn’t as much of an issue in SC1, from when i used to play. It seemed like i was always being beaten not by some cunningly skillful timing but just some guy outproducing me and having a giant ball of wax to shove up my choke point. There is still a lot of micro within the death ball, but i couldn’t have those two front wars which i used to enjoy in SC1.

BW’s fall began with the match-fixing/betting scandal that would-be bonjwa Savior got caught up in. Viewership and attendance figures steadily dropped from there and other games started to come in. SC2 didn’t fare very well in KR (your call out about its relatively shallow strategic depth when compared to BW is spot-on–lots of Korean pros and fans have been saying the same thing since the beta launched in 2010) and never really made an impact in the PC bangs–net cafes. In fact, it’s only rarely been in the top ten most-played games for any of the months since launch.

The fact that the scene was split for about two years with most of the biggest names sticking to BW (while MBCGame switched over to being a music channel, killing the famous MSL tournament) and a lot of the B-team nobodies going to SC2 (with a few exceptions; JulyZerg, Nada, and Boxer were all extremely famous, but also getting old and losing their edge), so the viewers in KR never really knew what to do with either game, further hurting viewership figures.

When the old KeSPA teams transitioned over to SC2 late last year, Proleague figures got a brief bump, but it wasn’t enough–they hybrid season (half SC2 games, half BW) seriously hurt players’ ability to practice and was a weird format, costing even more viewers in the long run. By the time that KeSPA’s Proleague and OSL tournaments had joined GomTV’s TeamLeague and GSL tournaments in SC2 fully, figures were at rock-bottom.

Throw in lingering fallout from the financial crisis and some bad decisions on the parts of major Korean firms in their non-gaming investments, and suddenly a ton of once major sponsors of both BW and SC2 teams were crippled. We’ve lost Hwaesong (OZ), IEG (eSTRO), MBCGAME (HERO), WeMade (FOX), and now STX (SouL). On the ESF (new, SC2-based teams) side, we’ve recently lost New Star HoSeo (sponsored by a university), while AZUBU Korea is no more and the team is hemorrhaging players as the German side of the business may or may not be paying the remainder, PRIME is in dire straits financially, IM’s revealed that their so-called sponsor LG actually didn’t pay them for months before finally saying that they weren’t going to renew the contract anyway, and MVP is trying to sell their teams to Samsung KHAN over on the KeSPA side of things.

Tons of players have resigned in NA and KR in the last 3 months or so, including stalwarts like Bisu, Stork, and Kawaiirice (famed from early days as one of the few decent NA players). Stephano’s left the scene to pursue a medical degree, Sheth’s revealed he probably won’t come back, and Illusion plays more LoL than he does SC2 these days–and he’s hardly the only one.

WCS has, of course, made it all much worse. Now, instead of getting 2 OSLs and 4 GSLs, plus side-tournaments, each year, Korea’s getting 3 WCS events, split between OSL and GSL (so neither company gets full ownership, instead just alternating). ProLeague and GSTL are crippled by the team losses, sponsors are vanishing into the mist, and viewership and PC Bang figures continue to tank. The players are fleeing KR en masse, either opting for the safe route with military service or moving over to the EU or AM WCS tournaments because the competition’s easier there. . . thus driving out the NA players in particular, further reducing their own incentives to play.

In the US, IGN is gone, NASL has been coopted by WCS, MLG has dropped Starcraft from the remainder of their season, LoneStarClash has been silent for months, and the online cups have almost completely dried up.

In fact, the only real scene with any success at all is Europe, where Dreamhack, Assembly, WCS, IEM, ESL, and ASUS ROG are all posting huge figures, gaining tons of fans, followers, and viewers, and picking up sponsors left and right. Smaller teams like Mouse, My Insanity, NaVi, Millenium, and Empire are mostly doing well and picking up great new players, and TeamLiquid’s even decided to move their HQ over there (even though they’re shifting more and more of their focus over to DOTA2).

Of course, if Blizzard keeps doing things like scheduling their three regional finals on the same weekend as The International 3 and starving the KR scene of desperately needed money and exposure, I’m not sure that EU can hold up the rest of the world :-/

Sorry, that’s an enormous aside, but there’s a lot to cover from the last couple of days and the last couple of years, and I love this scene a whole fucking lot :(

Just curious, but what happened? Arthritis in the clicky finger? Early onset Alzheimer’s affecting their multitasking abilities?

Boxer in particular did suffer from a pretty taxing shoulder injury that he basically just played through until the responsibilities of team management and a ludicrous degree of drama surrounding his wife vs. his team killed his drive to do so. July had to get on into military service and wasn’t in the best of physical shape in general, so his retirement isn’t a huge surprise (he’d already earned his Golden Mouse in BW, too, so perhaps he just didn’t have much more to work toward). Nada played and remained competitive through near the end and did well as a coach/recruiter after he retired; military was supposed to be why, except he kept doing stuff, too.

More generally, yeah, reaction time and RSI-related issues are generally what bench the oldest players. For instance, Nestea (nee ZergBong back in the BW days) had worked as a coach and 2v2 player (when that was still a thing in team leagues) in his “old age” (mind you, the guy’s in his early 30s) as his team generally acknowledged his slow mechanics wouldn’t allow him to compete in top-tier 1v1 matches, but that his strategic brain was still an invaluable asset. In the early days of SC2 (2010-11) when the game was in constant flux due to patches and general newness, his tactical acumen allowed him to outstrip “faster” players and take home the second-most GSL trophies of anyone before or since.

Since everyone’s gotten near one another in terms of solidifying their basic strats and defenses and mechanics/timing/slight edges have become more important, he’s faded away. Interestingly, he’s also becoming known for making rather bewildering strategic blunders, so perhaps the ol’ noggin’s slowing down, too!

On the RSI/carpal tunnel front, a severe nerve injury brought Mvp, the most successful SC2 player ever, to a screeching halt last year; playing at all was agonizing or–more bizarrely–would result in his mouse hand going completely numb after a few minutes. He’s still great in short bursts, so tournament formats that allow you to prep for one opponent, play them, and then take a week or two off are still his forte (he actually took down WCS EU S1 based primarily off that skill getting him through the early rounds), but the issue’s never cleared up.

Similarly, the “Summer of Taeja” where TeamLiquid’s ex-SlayerS Terran god was winning every-fucking-thing he laid eyes on was cut short by a very nasty wrist injury that kept him from playing or even practicing regularly for months. The very same has got Scarlett, the only NA player worth a fuck in 2013, taking a two-month break from playing at all.

I mean, anecdotal, sure, but then again, these guys are putting out 300-400APM for 30-60-second bursts and maintaining ~250 for the rest of the time in 5-45 minute games, sometimes as many as 50 times a day, while seated at a computer desk. If that’s not a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is.

Jesus man, you should write a book.

Hey, man’s gotta have a hobby while he’s not playing all those games he bought four years ago on Steam.