Teaching a Lesson

I sat down to my computer as was my daily custom and began to look for ways to entertain myself. Aaron and Dave, as always, joined a call over Skype with me and we started to play Starcraft 2 together, which had become our primary source of distraction in the early months of 2011. One game after another blurred together and by the time the last one had finished, I was ready for bed. This routine began to get tiresome, and after some months had passed by, the three of us began to try some of the many custom maps created by players and fans of the game.

Nexus Wars, a game suited for eight players, was our first discovery. For those faithful readers who do not know much about Starcraft or video games in general, the best explanation I can give of Nexus Wars is that armies get produced automatically based on some decisions the players make, and the armies attack each other continuously until one side defeats the other’s primary building; a Nexus, hence the name. This sort of map is often called a tug-of-war game precisely because the winner and loser change spots like the traditional game of the same name, back and forth until a victor emerges. Our enthusiasm for Nexus Wars waned as update upon update from the creator caused the gameplay to become broken in ever more subtle ways that were increasingly difficult to discover and compensate for.

One evening, the three of us loaded up a game called Desert Strike. The idea was fairly similar to Nexus Wars, although the variety of choices in determining army composition was far superior, the matches were more balanced, and the game inherently prioritized strategy over luck. An added bonus was that the game was optimally designed for two teams of three, meaning we didn’t need to find a fourth friend or guest to join us. We started the match and proceeded to be annihilated by the opposing team. As it was our first match, we wrote it off to inexperience and tried again.

It became increasingly frustrating when, after several weeks, we had not managed to win a single game. I was determined to learn some of the strategy in what seemed like a relatively simple game and came across a tutorial on a website that I’ve since forgotten. The three of us slowly adopted the strategies that were written in the tutorial and tweaked them as we went along. Finally, after all of the failures, we won a match.

For a few days, we would win and lose alternatively, until finally, we had mastered the game. The three of us were unbeatable. Our strategies were nearly perfect. We began to refer to the experience as “Teaching a Lesson”; a service we offered generously to any who would play with us. Our goal as teachers usually came down to one priority: to teach other teams that they ought not to play against us. This has continued for two years.

I’m afraid that readers unacquainted with Starcraft may find the following to be a bit boring or technical, but you are invited to press on if you’d like as I briefly outline the strategy.

Almost always, Aaron plays Zerg, I play Protoss, and Dave plays Terran. This order is also the order that we join the party (Aaron invites myself, and then Dave). The order is important, as it also determines in which order the armies spawn in the game. In the opening move, Dave builds a bunker (or Bonker, as we have renamed it), on the enemy’s side of our silo. Aaron builds speedlings to counter any initial enemy rush, and I wait to build my first geyser.

The first few minutes following this consist of slowly building all of our geysers, repairing the Bonker, and building very small forces to slowly defeat the enemy. By round 20, each of us has built a core of basic units and we determine which sorts of players we are competing against. If the enemy appears competent, we waste no time whatsoever building the strongest possible counters to their forces as modifications to our primary strategies that we seldom waver from. If the enemy appears to have little idea of how to play, we often take greater risks and sometimes even ignore our primary strategies in order to experiment. These variations are a bit difficult to describe, but our traditional decisions are not.

Aaron builds swarm guardians, corrupters, and a ground force of infesters and hydralisks. I build a “critical mass” of colossi and a retirement community’s worth of high templar, supported by fade initiates, archons, and immortals. Dave builds a wide variety of units, focusing on tanks, point defense drones, infantry and supporting medivacs, and a salute of airborne vikings. We have found this strategy to work so often that defeat occurs as an anomaly.

We continue to offer free lessons to any three willing students who happen to be matched against us. If you play, maybe we’ll run into you sometime as well.