The macro-management elements of StarCraft II are important enough that everybody, even veteran pro players, probably has room for improvement. Mastering the skills required to set up the best economy possible is crucial because you want to be unfettered in creating the army you need to go toe to toe with the enemy. Without a strong economy, you won’t be making and remaking the units you’ll need to continue the fight, and you will eventually fall.
Beyond securing an early natural expansion base as a part of your build order, it can be tough knowing the best time to expand your economic capability. I reached out to veteran StarCraft II personalities Jared "PiG" Krensel and Ravi "feardragon" Pareek to get an understanding of what players need to look for when they’re trying to safely secure a new base.
PiG insists that how you start the game, including your opening build order and initial strategy, will tell you when you should go for the additional minerals and Vespene gas you’ll need for the next phase of the game.
“To figure out when to do this, you need to understand the concept of a 'safe lead.' A safe economic lead is where you go up a certain number of bases and workers—to the point where you can still defend an incoming attack using defenders advantage,” says PiG. “Defenders' advantage [is the idea] that your reinforcements will hit the field of battle sooner and you can choose strong defensive positions to maximize the effectiveness of your troops."
PiG continues, “A good general rule for a safe lead from an even game is to only ever go eight workers above your opponent, maybe a maximum of 16 workers. Any more than this and you risk not having enough army over your opponent.”
Expanding to a new base represents one of the greatest expected risks in StarCraft II because it costs money, army units, and precious time to secure those new resources. Staying stingy in a game effectively shrinks your window of opportunity and limits your options, so—sooner or later—you have to take a shot at a new base and all of the potential that comes with it.
“Knowing when to expand can be difficult even for pros because it relies on a few different factors," explains feardragon. "More often than not, you'll need to have good scouting information to know what your opponent is capable of and judge their army and tech compared to yours. Your expansion is a sunk cost from the moment you put it down until you mine as many minerals as the expansion itself cost, which can be roughly a minute and a half to two minutes of vulnerability."
Feardragon adds, “Use your scouting information and ask yourself, 'If my opponent attacked during that period of vulnerability, could I survive? Can you prevent your opponent from attacking by doing some harassment of your own while you expand?' Try to think of ways to solve that problem!”
Essentially, the question of expansion is at heart of the flurry of tactical decisions a StarCraft player must make. It takes money to build the army that will defend, attack, and secure the additional money you’ll need to defend, attack, and secure. With these tips (information is everything), hopefully you’ll be on your way to better expansion choices.
Be sure to stay with us for more StarCraft II Midgame Moves all week.