Over the past few months Le Petit Dodo and me have been regularly playing Starcraft 2 in an effort to get better at the game. After watching people play and trying to understand what was going on in e-sports game at Meltdown, I decided the only thing to do would be to actually have a go at the ladder, playing 2v2 means I can take credit for our victories and blame our failures on my teammate. Sadly there are more failures than victories and after a couple of months we’re still in Bronze, although we came top last season. Over the course of these games I’ve learnt a lot, and even started to see how people get addicted to Starcraft. It’s one of those games that you keep thinking about when you’re away from them (known as the ‘Tetris effect‘) and I was thinking today how that might not be a bad thing. Being naturally introverted and a little awkward I tend to see my life as a series of challenges, puzzles and obstacles – perhaps as I’m learning how to overcome difficulties in Starcraft I can convert that into useful ideas about life. So here goes:
1. Always be doing something
In SC2 there’s never a good reason to not be doing anything at all. Every action you miss is another opportunity for your opponent to gain a lead. Even in the opening minute if you watch pro players they’ll be practising their click and box accuracy or using drones or overlords to scout around the map, maybe they’ll be setting up their camera hotkeys for later. Every time you complete an action you’ve got closer to your goal.
In real life, while doing nothing is often attractive, it can also be incredibly damaging. I’m not saying you should always be moving, but you should always attempt to be doing something productive in terms of what you want from life. Playing games can often be hard to justify, but I enjoy the rewards I get from it and have used this website as a way to turn my game-playing time into something I’m creating. When you have time to relax try exercise to improve your health or reading to improve your mind. When you talk with friends try discussing real problems rather than soap operas. All the time you’re inactive is time wasted when you could be getting ahead in life and, just like Starcraft 2, you’re very likely to only have a finite time available to you.
2. Plan ahead
In SC2 a good build order is essential to start off your game. Any time you spend deciding what to build or where is again time wasted. In order to maximise your efficiency you need to know what you’re working towards. If you take gas early, but then end up stockpiling it that’s a massive waste of minerals thanks to your drone’s time on gas, that could be an extra few tier 1 units in a crucial battle. If you wall off completely and then decide to expand into your natural, you might have just prevented yourself from defending your expansion.
In real life planning and considering long term consequences allows you to achieve great things. Every month you could spend half your paycheck on alcohol and movies, or you could save it for a few months and buy a high-end gaming PC or an exotic holiday. Spend all your money on a house that impresses you and you might not have enough to cover repairs and unexpected bills. Don’t consider your future career at school and you might end up locked out of your dreams thanks to hard-to-get qualifications being out of reach as an adult. Planning isn’t even necessarily boring. Research has shown that planning to purchase something often brings more joy than actually owning the product and the same can work for planning holidays, relocations, careers and families. Thinking ahead is a huge part of being successful in life .
3. Be flexible
While those build orders in SC2 are useful, if you stick to them you’re often going to find yourself fighting an impossible battle. If you’re playing a sufficiently skilled player who scouts you early on, they might be able to work out what your planning and build the perfect counter. A couple of days ago me and Le Petit Dodo were both playing as Terran, and came up against a two Zerg army. The Zerg out macroed us and built up a giant army of roaches that came and knocked on Le Petit Dodo’s door. Except instead of knocking they spat acid, and instead of his door it was all his marines’ faces. Their supply was huge and their army was massive, but I had two siege tanks guarding my front ramp. As soon as I saw the roaches being built while doing a marine drop I immediately stopped building marines and put up three more starports with techlabs. By the time he had started to take out my siege tanks I had a fleet of unopposed banshees in the air. For some bizarre reason he and his teammate continued to build roaches as my banshee armada grew and grew until I wiped his forces out completely. By the time he had got a Hydralisk Den up (he never built a Spire) my banshees were too numerous and able to cloak, decimating his bases one by one. If he’d been flexible and switched to mutas or hydras he could have shut us down, but by sticking to his plan they lost the match.
In real life being flexible is just as important. By sticking to one life plan you could miss so many amazing opportunities for no good reason. When you’re on holiday it can be useful to think up a rough itinerary but forcing yourself to follow it can be a massive waste. When I was last in Paris we spent a day doing all the cultural sights and completely wore ourselves out. Trying to do the Louvre in a couple of hours is no small feat! While we had planned to attack the Catacombs and Eiffel Tower the next day, we sat exhausted in our hotel room in the evening and thought ‘maybe it’d be nicer just to go to Disneyland’. A few questions down at reception and we had some half-price tickets, cheap train tickets and were off to Disney the next morning, it was completely frozen and busy enough but with so few queues we had an incredible time. If we’d stuck rigidly to our plan we’d have just been exhausted and grumpy.
4. Only take on battles you’ve already won
This is slightly paraphrased from Sun Tzu but the basic notion is that you don’t even enter a fight unless you’re certain you’re going to win it. In SC2 there’s no point throwing away troops into a skirmish you’re unlikely to win. When you watch professionals you’ll see them constantly sending forces out and then retreating seconds later after doing a little bit of damage. They’re doing that because they know if they push forwards they will lose some units, so they try to preserve as much as possible. By doing this you can enter the late game with a giant army and enough resources to continue expanding and researching, if you’re constantly having to rebuild your army you’re wasting minerals and vespene that could be spent on better things.
In life there’s a lot of pressure put on people to take risks and be adventurous. While that can take you far if you’re competent, it can also be demoralising and damaging. When you know you have a challenge up ahead of you, do you have to take it on right now or can you be more prepared? When you’ve got a job interview lined up, do your research, wear nice clothes, practice. If you go into that interview knowing you’re going to be an outstanding candidate you’ll have the confidence and preparation necessary to excel. If you turn up at all unsure of yourself you’ll come across badly and potentially lose the position. Part of life might be taking risks but if you’re trying to succeed it’s often better to pick opportunities where you know you’re already onto a good thing.
5. Learn from your mistakes
Every SC2 player loses games, even the big names in tournaments. Watch players like Taeja and Hero stream and you’ll see them lose games, sometimes with alarming regularity. How do they turn these losses into outstanding performance at tournaments? By learning from them. James Joyce said “Mistakes are the portals of discovery” and by making mistakes and losing games, you’ll see how your opponent capitalises on them. By watching replays of your losses and following your enemy you’ll be able to close up gaps in your own strategy and learn how to exploit the mistakes of others. If you don’t watch replays you’ll struggle to improve as with games moving so fast it’s almost impossible to check whether each decision was a good one. Accept your mistakes and learn from them, then try again with an adapted strategy.
In real life you’re going to make bad decisions. The people that make bad decisions and then blame the consequences on others or on ‘bad luck’ continue to make bad decisions and continue their run of ‘bad luck’. The people that mess up and then think about it and learn from it tend to succeed. No-one gets everything right first time but if you’re prepared to learn from your mistakes and misfortune you’ll be able to avoid the issues that plagued you next time around. If you fail at an interview ask for some feedback, if you’re struggling with a hobby think carefully about what you could be doing wrong. By accepting responsibility for your mistakes and modifying your behaviour in the future you become a better person, that’s the essence of learning.