Pro StarCraft II Explained: Micromanagement

  • Blizzard Entertainment

Micromanagement in StarCraft II, known simply as micro, is the most obvious and exciting way for one player to outplay his or her opponent. Micro, at its most basic level, is controlling the units of your army individually and precisely. As armies grow to dozens upon dozens of units, this is a representation of impeccable skill and dexterity.

For example, if a Terran player sends one Cyclone to engage a large enemy force, it’ll be destroyed quickly without giving the Terran any value for the expense it took to create it. However, if the player micromanages that Cyclone by letting it fire, retreating out of range, and doing that again and again, they may be able to destroy multiple enemy units without losing the Cyclone at all. The Cyclone’s return on the mineral and gas investment increases astronomically.

When two units meet, it’s simple math to determine which one will win in a fight. But with micro, the player skews those odds and can overcome what the game says is stronger. Every bit of micro you’ll see in a professional game is centered around this idea of getting the most value from each unit they have in their arsenal. One particularly effective example is commanding units to attack specific targets in an enemy’s composition. For example, Terran Marauders deal extra damage to armored units. When going up against a Protoss, it’s much more effective to have them target enemy Stalkers or Immortals while letting Marines deal with the frontline Zealots. It can be difficult to notice in a large battle in a professional game, but this fundamental ability to control each unit in a large force is essential in high-level play. Let’s take a look at a few more examples from each race:

Terran units are mostly ranged attackers, so Terran players’ micro revolves around dealing damage while keeping distance between them and their opponents. The most common example of Terran micro is in their basic army unit, the Marine. Terran players want to allow their Marines to fire at the enemy, move, then fire again. There’s a short delay between each shot from attacking Marines, so the player uses that delay to move their units without diminishing their damage output in what’s commonly known as stutter-stepping. These patterns of movement and attacking keep opposing melee attackers at a disadvantage as they try to close distance, while the Terran units consistently deal damage. It all happens very quickly, but quick moves like this can make Terran players very dangerous while losing just a few units instead of their entire force.

Also watch for groups of Terran units to shift focus and pick off one particularly dangerous unit in a large group of enemies. For instance, Marines are vulnerable to a Zerg’s Banelings, so quickly picking those off before they can explode can avoid heavy losses. You may also see Terran players reposition to take out Disruptors, Infestors, or Tempests while suffering some moderate damage in doing so. They may lose more units in the moment, but taking down these particularly dangerous foes can keep Terrans from taking crippling damage.

Nothing can turn the tide of a battle faster than an excellent Disruptor shot. The Disruptor has no auto-attack but instead relies on a powerful guided bomb with a long cooldown. Without micromanagement, this unit has absolutely zero impact on the game. Its efficacy is tied directly to how well the player individually controls it. If you miss your shot, it’ll be a while before you’re able to take another one. If you land a great hit, however, you can instantly gain an edge to take an entire battle. Because of this huge impact on a battle, it’s imperative that the Protoss player read their opponent carefully, consider all possible flanks and positions, and force the perfect opportunity to take their shot. This could also mean retreating entirely to re-engage later if an opportunity doesn’t present itself. A skill Protoss player is patient and won’t risk losing their Disruptors for risky shots that might not gain value.

In the above animation, notice how the two Protoss players fire their Disruptor shots while “microing” their units to avoid the enemy’s Disruptor shot. In this deadly dance, one wrong misstep can lose games.

Stalker Micro.gif

Another common use of micro for Protoss players is repositioning their Stalkers. As a group of Stalkers fires on their enemy, those out in front will get damaged and, if left in the line of fire, destroyed. A skilled player will use each individual Stalker’s Blink skill, which allows them to teleport a short distance, to move a single damaged stalker behind other full-health stalkers to keep firing without dying. This tactic makes sense for any army, but Protoss’ shield regeneration essentially lets the damaged units “heal” once they’re out of harm’s way. It’s remarkable to watch the “cascade” sequence in action, and the extra sustainability of the Protoss army that comes with managing their units this way can win battles.

In Legacy of the Void, Roaches were given the ability to evolve into artillery units called Ravagers. These units launch a high-damage attack high into the air, which lands on a marked spot on the field after a short delay. Great micro comes into play on both sides once Ravagers come out. It’s important for the Zerg player to predict where the enemy will move so he or she can hit their shots. At the same time, the opponent has to read where shots are going to land, make a quick decision on where to go, and then reposition each individual unit to avoid taking unnecessary damage. If either side fails their micro game, the battle can be quickly lost.

Ravagers also give the Zerg player an extra element of control. By launching these artillery attacks, they can force the opponent to move in a specific direction to avoid taking damage. They can use this zoning technique to surround the enemy, set up a flank, or split up enemy units.

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Another important part of Zerg micro is keeping important units alive with an ability called Transfusion, which Queens are able to use to heal friendly units. Quickly using this ability on injured units in the middle of a firefight can make a Zerg army remarkably tough to kill, and in many cases can cause the Zerg to outlast their enemy in a firefight.

Battles are hectic affairs, and there’s a lot to keep track of. A Zerg player has to keep an eye on the health bars of all their units and prioritize which are the most valuable to keep alive. They also have to know how many Queens they have and how much energy they have available to keep performing Transfusions. All of this happens in a matter of seconds, so quick thinking and reflexes are necessary to pull this off. Watch out for large groups of queens keeping their forces alive unreasonably long and coming out ahead even when at a disadvantage in numbers.

Micro is one of the most engaging part of any StarCraft II game. While understanding what each unit does and what threats are present, watching a player deftly react and move their units has a distinct flow that you’ll pick up after watching a few games. No matter what else happens in the game, good micro is the great equalizer that can save a player from a bad engagement or an economic deficit. Great micro plays are what really gets the crowd cheering and screaming.

When a player wins an engagement from behind, punishes an enemy for their choice of positioning, or gets a huge amount of value from a few units, the casters and the crowd will go crazy. Watch for these plays, and you’ll be able to see when a game suddenly and decisively shifts momentum.