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StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void, Rebuilding the world’s premier competitive RTS

StarCraft II is hard. That’s the cornerstone of its appeal as a competitive game, and the reason that prior to the rise of the MOBA it was really the only eSport to gain serious and sustained international traction. But its importance to the scene is fading. While Blizzard’s RTS has never been in danger of sputtering out entirely, the past few years have suggested that competitive StarCraft has finally found the limits of its fanbase. Its growth has stalled a few leagues short of League Of Legends, and as its most prominent personalities dabble in making new names for themselves in other arenas some heading to the game’s upstart stablemate, Hearthstone there’s a sense of momentum arrested. StarCraft is simply no longer as vital to the health of eSports as it used to be.


This isn’t necessarily the fault of Blizzard or Heart Of The Swarm, the 2013 expansion that Legacy Of The Void will follow. It was, and remains, an excellent game. The issue is arguably more serious than that: a basic degree of complexity common to the series as a whole that requires work both to play and to appreciate. StarCraft II is hard, and if LOL is football, this is chess. That it has filled stadiums is commendable, but the limits of its mass appeal are not surprising.

The closed beta test for Legacy Of The Void, which went live in March, represents the beginning of Blizzard’s concerted effort to revitalise StarCraft II as an eSport. It also aims to provide new ways for novice players to get started with the competitive game, and for experienced players to teach them. These goals are related, but they don’t always play well together: even as it gets easier to teach, StarCraft gets faster and more demanding.

The most visible changes arrive in the form of five new units two each for Protoss and Zerg, one for Terran with a sixth human option currently under consideration. The additions have two things in common: they are all situational, and they require a high level of manual finesse (‘micro’) to use effectively. Returning from ’98’s Brood War, the Zerg Lurker is a burrowing unit that does splash damage, projecting spines in a long, straight line when enemies come into range. Positioning is key, but the reward for getting it right is more flexible defensive play than the Zerg are traditionally capable of. The other new Zerg unit, the Ravager, is a Roach evolution that acts as a siege unit with its manually targeted, delayed-impact Corrosive Bile ability. It’s great against buildings and entrenched positions, but in the right hands it can also snipe fast-moving air targets. Of the new set, it’s the one we’ve seen the most of in the beta, perhaps due to the preexisting popularity of its base unit.

The Protoss have a new primary unit in the form of the Adept, a shield-bearing ranged fighter with the ability to project a ghostly apparition of itself that is controlled separately from the main unit. This phantasm is fast and invulnerable, but cannot attack, and after a couple of seconds the Adept warps to and takes the ghost’s position. It has tremendous potential for harassment and clutch escapes, but is very tricky to use. The Disruptor is easier, and more immediately satisfying. It’s a floating orb that can’t attack traditionally, but can transform into an energy form that allows it to phase through units and move at increased speed. After a delay, the Disruptor returns to its previous form while doing substantial damage to all around it. We’ve seen it devastate massed Zerg armies and destroy unguarded mineral lines. It’s extremely expensive, but its damage output marks a change of pace for the Protoss, who have traditionally favoured hit-and-run and attritional tactics.
The feel of StarCraft II as a whole has shifted, too, thanks to an accelerated early game
The sole Terran addition is the Cyclone, a missile buggy that can lock onto a target and attack while moving so long as it remains in range, even if line of sight is broken. Those we’ve encountered value it as a hit-and-run option, a cheaper alternative to the Banshee that’s viable in factory-centric strategies.

Changes to existing units are just as impactful. Terran Battlecruisers can teleport anywhere on the map without line of sight; Oracles can create army-trapping Stasis Wards; Corruptors can project Void Ray-style channelled damage onto buildings. There’s far more, but the universal principle is the same: the higher your effective actions per minute, the more you’ll get out of the game.

The feel of StarCraft II as a whole has shifted, too, thanks to an accelerated early game. Players start with an increased number of workers, doing away with the quiet time that used to precede the first major build order decisions. Early expansion is encouraged by changes to resource distribution in bases, a macro-scale increase in complexity to match the micro-scale changes elsewhere. Capable and pro players will do tremendous things with these changes, and early signs suggest that Legacy Of The Void will be very healthy for competitive StarCraft II as it is now. It may well pull in a new viewership as a result. It’s less likely, however, to grab new players: this is a hard game, and it will only be getting harder when this expansion’s prolonged beta phase comes to its conclusion.

Two Heads
Archon mode adds the ability for two players to control a single base and army. It’s named for the Protoss unit that is formed when two Templars sacrifice themselves to form a superior being, but the mode itself is more pantomime horse than fused energy god. It’s a good distraction for high-level players, who get to experience being in two places at once, as the pros sometimes seem to be. It’s less successful as a teaching tool, since the newcomer can’t see the cursor movements or hotkey uses of their tutor: you can tell somebody what to do, but you can’t really show them how to do it. The community may well make a competitive mode of it yet, but it’ll never supplant StarCraft  II’s core format.

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