The Art of Warfare: Multitasking and Windows of Opportunity

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Heyjo there! I’m Alexander ‘AleXusher’ Hartl, and welcome to a short guide to multitasking in StarCraft II! When you watch professional gameplay, you’ll see tons of actions being performed (apparently) simultaneously. How can anyone do this, you might wonder? The secret is, they don’t! In this guide I’ll present my theory of multitasking, as well as some ways that you can train to become more efficient! Don’t take this as the only truth though; everyone has a different approach, and if something helps you to redirect your thoughts, then this was a huge success!

Multitasking: The Big Picture

So first things first: in StarCraft 2, nobody can really multitask. Even if you were capable of doing more than one thing at once, the computer you’re playing on doesn’t support this! What does that mean for you? For example, you can’t queue up Marines in the Barracks while at the same time using a Dropship to harass your opponent. What you can do is queue up commands and time them so that they are executed more or less simultaneously!

This vital realization leads us to an important conclusion: there is no “true” multitasking, just windows of opportunity (we’ll call them “WoOs” to save time). Learning to “multitask” is really about identifying these WoOs and using them to your benefit and against your opponent! That might sound a bit strange, so let me explain. Take a look at the following picture.

Here, the window of opportunity is the time the Reaper is moving to the destination you set: just a second or so. But the situation could differ… in this case, you only have a WoO because your Reaper is safely retreating! You can use a riskier WoO – for example returning to your natural – but then you have to guess at how long the window will be. This is because the window is so long that the opponent has plenty of opportunities to shorten it, via faster units or just intercepting its path. In that case, you’re relying on your opponent not to shorten your WoO by counterplaying!

The main thing to start with is that all your actions create a “Window of Opportunity” in which you can divert your attention to other things (e.g., building new structures, checking the minimap, microing units, etc.).

Multitasking: Comprehension

From this simple beginning, we’re now a step further towards understanding multitasking. Let’s break the apparently simple lesson we just learned down, so that we can better understand it. There are three important aspects, so open your mind:

Every action you perform can potentially generate a window of opportunity.
We need to identify those windows and order them so that many small windows fit inside bigger windows.
In this way, we can have multiple actions occurring at the same time!

Let’s take another look at an example situation…

Between these two pictures, we can see how to generate a WoO in an offensive drop. First we order our Marines to move deep into his main base, then use that time to get our Widow Mines into position at his natural expansion to kill Probes. But there’s even more we can customize to the situation. The opponent is reacting by moving his harvesters away the threat we’re presenting: depending on our goals and where we send our units, we may be able to increase the length of the WoO and start building additional structures, for example!

Still, we’re just getting started on the whole story. There’s much more to explore!

Multitasking: Implementation

Now you know that your units can generate WoOs and trying to identify these moments, you need to try to create them knowingly! If you’re able to generate your own windows, you might also be able to identify those of your opponent and shorten them, which will hurt his chances at victory! If your WoOs are scheduled more efficiently than your opponent’s, you’ll start to out-multitask (out-produce, out-micro, etc.) him and deal heavy blows to his bases, economy, units, army, and vision. (This is what’s commonly meant by “outplaying!”)

Moving past this stage requires a proper setup, from screen positioning to your control groups! This means that most actions, like producing units, researching upgrades, and so on, can be performed via unit control groups. This is a primary barrier for most newer players: if you can use more control groups and use them faster than your opponent, you can fit more actions into a given time. You can even fit many small actions into a longer window! We’ll look at some more examples, so don’t worry if you still don’t quite get the implications!.

Before we move on, here’s a WoO that might seem smaller than it really is. Not only does the Medivac need to cross the map, but the time it needs to unload units also adds to the WoO it generates!

Multitasking: Improvement

Let’s jump into the next section of this guide, which will examine how you and your opponent might limit the length of each other’s windows of opportunity! For instance, when you retreat with your Reaper and the Zerg chases you with Speedlings, you’re forced to alter your path and spend more attention or lose the unit. Another example: you retreat with a drop and the Protoss pursues with Blink Stalkers. In this case, the WoO you generate is shortened as your opponent forces you to pay attention to your units before they finish their initial actions.

Here’s a brief example of a Reaper being chased down by an Adept Shade. Notice how often the Terran player has to micro the Reaper and give new commands to keep it alive!

As you can see, the Terran tries to keep the window “open” as far as possible by giving the Reaper commands to move further away from the Adept Shade, but because the Shade is faster these actions don’t do much for the Terran. In this case, the Protoss could use leave the Shade attack-queued on the reaper, send the adept on attack command as well, and do other things in his base while the Terran tries to keep his unit alive. Force your opponent to perform actions and you’ll cost him attention he wants to spend elsewhere!

At the beginning of this guide I mentioned that you can schedule WoOs inside other WoOs. Here’s a sample of what that looks like.

As long as the Terran keeps his opponent’s attention on the drop, he can use the small WoOs the Marines and Medivacs generate by moving around the mineral line, to create a larger window of opportunity. In this case, he uses it to assemble a sizable army and move out with his main force to siege the Protoss third base. Unfortunately, the WoO is not long enough for the whole army to reach the third base, and so the Protoss is able to react in time. But if you manage to synchronize your windows of opportunity, while shortening and limiting those of your opponent, you’ll be able to just outplay them!

Multitasking: Putting It All Together!

The big question for most of you might now be “How can I use many small WoOs like the pros?” or just “How can I best improve my multitasking?” While it will take lots of training, there’s no harm in starting slowly. First, play your games as usual, but try to just remember what you read and concentrate on identifying your WoOs and (when ready) the WoOs of your opponent. Look for moments when you know that your enemy’s attention is elsewhere! Once you feel comfortable with these basics, you can try to knowingly generate some windows of opportunity. At first, make them as long as you need them to be, to put some actions inside. E.g., let a Reaper retreat ten seconds instead of just two, and use that time to build new structures, or give other units commands, and then return!

Step by step, you can create more windows or shorten the time you need to complete other actions. You’ll still be able to perform the same actions within a given WoO – or you can fit more actions in when needed! It’s a process of deliberate improvement: just keep working to get faster, until you reach perfection!

The ideas presented in this guide are challenging to master, so don’t be discouraged if you have a hard time implementing them. You’ll definitely be equipped to think differently about the game and multitasking in general, preparing you for greater game knowledge and also boosting your overall skills. If you read through the whole guide, congratulations! You’re now a (theoretical) expert in the martial art of multitasking.

That’s it for today: I hope it was helpful! If you have feedback, constructive criticism, and/or wishes for future articles just let me know! And if you enjoyed this piece and want in-depth, professional help for your gameplay, try out a session with me! I’ve coached quite a few people from various leagues with success. With all that said, I wish you a very nice day and goodbye! 🙂

 

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