Pro StarCraft II Explained: Macromanagement

  • Blizzard Entertainment

Macromanagement in StarCraft II, known more commonly as macro, is the flip side to micromanagement. Macro refers to everything involved with building a base, spending resources, creating units, and managing Supply. Most macro occurs off screen with players using hotkeys and very quick screen movement to take care of things at their base, so you likely won’t see much on your screen during a tournament stream. However, knowing what’s going on behind the scenes of pro play can give you an extra element to appreciate.

Supply Block

Supply Block.jpg

As a player creates Supply Depots, Overlords, or Pylons, they get an allotment of Supply to produce units. Supply is a vulnerability that an opponent can exploit directly by attacking Supply-giving structures, or indirectly by tying up the opponent’s resources, armies, or attention. If a player produces too many units without creating enough Supply-giving structures to support them, unit production will cease until the player builds more of the necessary structures. This is called a Supply block.

Becoming Supply blocked can be a huge detriment to a player’s ability to build and enhance their forces. It can also cause a player to miss specific timings or lose a very important window to press an advantage. This is most commonly an issue early in the game when the player needs to increase their max Supply as the same rate as their current Supply count, but it’s a constant threat throughout the game as army units become more valuable. If the opponent comes across a large group of a Zerg player’s Overlords and destroys them all, the Zerg player won’t be able to replenish their army until they create more Overlords. That gives their opponent a large timing window to do a lot of damage with less resistance.

Resource Bank

A finer point about economy to consider is having banked resources. When you see how many resources each player has on the observer panel, it’s easy to think that the player with the most resources is doing better. In reality, the opposite is true. While a higher income is an advantage, you’ll typically see pros spend any banked resources to turn potential power into real power in the form of units or upgrades. A hundred minerals can turn into a Zealot or Marines and have an impact on the battlefield, whereas a hundred minerals in the bank isn’t attacking or defending anything on the map.

While that’s a simplified example and a player can’t spend 100% of their resources immediately, they do typically want to use their resources as fast as possible and have a plan for spending them in the immediate future. If they need to save up for a large upgrade or an expensive building or unit, that’s a tactical decision that comes with a known risk. Or if they’re about to gain access to a new, powerful unit, they may bank some resources to create a bunch of those units as soon as they’re able. But you usually won’t see a player with thousands of unused resources lying around unless it’s a very long, slower-paced game. A pro player has to walk the fine line between building a strong enough economy to support their army production, but not invest so much in economy that they can’t produce enough military units to spend their income.

In the very late game, this priority shifts. When both players have maxed out armies of 200 Supply each, a large bank of resources determines how quickly they can replenish lost units and outlast their opponent. If a game lasts this long, keep an eye on their resource bank to see who’s likely to win this battle of attrition. Each engagement will cause each player to use their banked resources to replenish lost forces. Whoever burns through their stored resources first without a way to set up a new base will be at a severe disadvantage.

Active Queueing

It’s important for players to go in with a strategy in mind. They plan out when they build what, and they keep in mind how they may need to react depending on what their opponent is doing. In-game, each action and step in their plan is made actively. That means if they know they’ll eventually need four barracks, they won’t build them all right away. They’ll build them one at a time as their economy grows to support producing army units from one barracks, then two, and so on.

Additionally, this means never queueing up units for production ahead of time. A Protoss Nexus can queue up five Probes at once, but four of those probes won’t be produced until the first one completes, and that’s 200 minerals tied up that won’t be impacting the battlefield for several minutes. Most pros decide to spend those resources elsewhere with a more immediate benefit, like on two more Zealots or another Gateway. It’s a constant balancing act of fighting now versus giving one’s self options for fighting efficiently and more effectively later.

Terran Macro Mechanics

Terran players have two abilities at their disposal to help their macro game. Both of them come from the Command Center after it’s upgraded to an Orbital Command.

The first and most important ability is Calldown: MULE. This creates a temporary upgraded worker unit that can mine minerals much faster than a standard SCV, but only for its 90-second lifespan. This is a huge benefit, especially in the early game when one or two units created from those extra minerals can mean the difference between holding off early aggression and losing the game. Pro Terran players call these down whenever they have enough energy and aren’t saving energy for a crucial Sweeper Scan.

The second macro-related ability in the Orbital Command is Calldown: Extra Supplies. This uses energy to double the Supply granted from one Supply Depot. While not as popular as the MULE, this ability can be extremely helpful when Supply blocked or when a specific strategy needs the extra Supply—and the additional army units they afford—for a quick, aggressive push.

Zerg Macro Mechanics

Zerg players also have two macro-related mechanics to keep track of throughout the game. Both of them revolve around the Queen unit.

Queens have the Spawn Larva ability, which can be used on a friendly Hatchery, Lair, or Hive. Doing so causes three additional larvae to spawn after 29 seconds. Larvae are the only way Zergs can create units, so it’s essential that Queens use this ability immediately once the previous Spawn Larva finishes. It’s an active ability that requires pros to master a quick “select-activate-waypoint” sequence every 30 seconds, but any time wasted between uses of this ability is production time that is lost forever.

The second Queen ability that Zerg players leverage is Spawn Creep Tumor. Creep is the pulsing tissue that Zergs cover the map with. While Creep is necessary to build any structures, it also helps the player’s macro game in two important aspects: vision and movement. If the Zerg has their Creep spread across the map, they’ll be able to see when the enemy tries to expand, moves their army, or tries to sneak a harassment force into their base. That information is invaluable and gives the Zerg time to respond. If they fail to spread their Creep effectively, they lose this critical advantage. The other benefit is movement speed. With information on the enemy’s movements in hand, Creep allows the Zerg to move their units quickly to get into position for a flank, ambush, or defense. Without Creep, some units like Queens and Roaches move too slow to get into position, which can mean the difference between winning a battle and taking unnecessary losses.

Protoss Macro Mechanics

Protoss players have two mechanics to assist their macro as well, though they don’t come from the same place for this race.

The primary structure for Protoss players, the Nexus, has an ability called Chrono Boost. This ability can be used on any other building to increase its production rate. As the battle evolves and changes, it’s important for the player to change which building has Chrono Boost enabled to make sure they get the most important units or research completed at the right time. For example, it may be wise in most cases to move the Chrono Boost onto the Forge to get an attack upgrade completed, but if the enemy has been highly aggressive early on, it may be best to leave Chrono Boost on the Gateway to get more units to defend.

Once the player builds a Cybernetics Core, they’re able to research technology that turns Gateways into Warpgates. Units from Warpgates can be warped in anywhere near a Pylon, extending a Protoss player’s ability to quickly impact the battlefield. The additional time savings on warp-ins provided from Warpgates is enough to make this an essential upgrade in any game and changes the nature of the fight for the Protoss and his or her opponent.