Best Approach to Learning Starcraft 2 as a Beginner – Is macroing really “most effective”?

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Best Approach to Learning Starcraft 2 as a Beginner

There are a lot of strong opinions about what are the most important things for a beginner to focus on when they begin playing. Many believe macro is the only way to learn properly and early aggression should be excluded at all cost. Today I will be talking about what I think is the best approach to learning as a beginner. This will be based on my experience over the last eight years teaching Starcraft 2 and some fundamental knowledge of how our brains learn and compartmentalize information.

Bottom-Up Approach to Learning

A bottom up approach to learning involves exposing the learner to fundamental concepts of a subject matter in isolation. After exposure, we then slowly build upon these components to increase our understanding of the whole subject. You can think of this approach as setting up a foundation to build upon later. In Starcraft this would involve creating an opening, learning basic mechanics, learning only about the units you need early on and gaining a strong understanding of these components before moving on to master the next phase of the game.

Top-Down Approach to Learning

A top down approach to learning is the exact contrast. In this learning format a wider perspective of the material is prioritized to give the player a more birds eye view. This helps the learner gain a greater understanding of material they will need to synthesize over the course of their progression and mastery. In Starcraft this would involve learning about compositions, end-game interactions, as well as the functions of all the units in the game including your units and your opponent’s units.

What do players need to learn?

Before I explain what I think is the best approach, we need to figure out what exactly new players need to learn and how to teach them that effectively. The common sentiment in the Starcraft community is that macro is the ultimate priority for new players. I do not necessarily disagree with this statement… but there is a very large discrepancy between what a high-level player will think a new player should learn to macro effectively and what a new player actually needs to learn to macro effectively. I believe this discrepancy comes from the efficiency to which our brain stores information. At some point in your development you do not need to think anymore about which key on the keyboard to press to make a unit, or which control group you assigned your mutalisk too. This is because your brain has compartmentalized this task into simply “making a marine” or “selecting the mutalisk”, and so it appears as if the task is much simpler than it is. For a new player, this task will require them to remember which key their mutalisk is on, find the number on their keyboard and then press it to select the mutalisk. This may seem similar, but the magnitude of difference is 3x. There are more complex tasks where this magnitude is even larger.

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**Written out to show difference**

Experienced player (1x task complexity)

  • Select mutalisk (without thinking about which key they pressed)

Novice player (3x task complexity)

  • Remember the control group they saved the mutalisk to
  • Find the corresponding # key (might require looking)
  • Press the corresponding # key

Like the task of selecting mutalisk, experienced players greatly underestimate the things with which a new player is tasked with learning. Experienced players might have the perception that a new player should begin with the following:

  1. Spending their money
  2. Scouting and reacting properly
  3. Getting map vision

All of which are great areas to focus somewhat early on, but they are not the absolute first things that a player needs to learn. There are a ton of things new players need to work on before they can even think of the suggestions above. Things which might be totally glossed over by an experienced player who does not even need to think of the basics.

What new players need to learn

  1. Making workers constantly
  2. What the units and buildings do
  3. The hotkeys for the units and the buildings
  4. How to make control groups
  5. How to attack move (this is less intuitive than you might think)
  6. The macro cycle

Also, some habits

  1. Shifting workers back to mineral lines (if you play Terran or Protoss)
  2. Consistently control grouping units & buildings
  3. Not looking at the keyboard too much when using hotkeys
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These habits and techniques are much easier to learn in a simple environment without too many extraneous variables to account for. If the learning environment becomes too complex than not only is it going to be frustrating for the beginner, it is also going to lead to a poor learning outcome. The optimal learning environment is challenging, but not too challenging. Basic tasks on one base is plenty difficult enough for most new players. Search ‘flow’ for more information on the optimal state of mind for learning.

Best Approach

So based on what players are actually learning when they start playing the game and believing strongly that maintaining an environment that is not too complex is vital for enjoyment and the acquisition of knowledge I think it’s a much stronger approach to begin with Bottom-Up learning. This will have strong benefits like making the experience less frustrating for the beginner, leading to enjoyable outcomes, resulting in visible improvement, and very clear goals and achievement. There is a place for top-down learning in a player’s development, but I believe bottom-up learning is considerably more conducive to learning at the beginning and top-down only has a place once the fundamentals have been acquired.

So, a best approach might look something like this

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Bottom-Up Learning -> Bottom-Up Learning #2 -> Top-Down Learning


Four Gate (low complexity) -> Two base charge-lot archon (medium complexity) -> End
Game Discussion (begin building larger area of understanding)

By beginning with a four gate (could be another simple build), the learner has a chance to learn some of the tasks that an experienced player does not need to consider such as learning how to hotkey their production, training themselves to build workers constantly, practicing a simplified macro cycle & receiving more instantaneous feedback of their progress in the form of a win or a loss.


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