The Art of Warfare: Stop Playing Blindfolded

Heyjo there! I’m Alexander ‘AleXusher’ Hartl, and welcome to a short guide to vision and its importance in StarCraft 2. There’s no way around it: vision wins games! Maybe you wonder why your opponent seems to know where you want to drop or when you move out, his counterattacks always land when you can least afford it, and overall he’s just inside your head all the time! While StarCraft does have some element of blindly ‘reading’ your opponent, as in a fighting game, it’s far better when possible to base your decisions on the information your units reveal.

When your opponent reacts so superbly, the most likely reason is that he was able to actually see your actions coming (e.g. spotting a Dropship with an Observer, seeing your army with the Xel’naga Watchtower, noticing your Warp Prism flying above the Creep, passing an Overlord, etc.). In this article, we will see some examples of good and bad vision, the benefit and drawbacks of those and of course, when and how to best get the best vision, without sacrificing to much of your army.

Let’s begin with a simple question: would you play StarCraft blindfolded? Of course you’ll answer no, but what can you call it when you can only see as much as this Protoss player?

Poor Vision

You can hardly see anything on the map, and won’t be able to spot an attack until it’s at your doorstep! We can surely work on that. But first, we need to answer one key question…

What does it mean to have good vision?

The answer might seem obvious, but let me explain. Even in Master League, people tend to neglect the importance of this! If you see when and where he is moving out with his army, when and where drops are headed your way, you can prepare for it or, even better, set a trap! Snipe the drop, ambush the army, and you can swing the game’s momentum without a major commitment of your own. To sum up, good vision lets you spot your enemy’s movements while leaving you enough time to respond in an effective manner.

What does perfect vision look like?

Let’s have a short look at the following picture, imagining ourselves as the Zerg player:

Superb Vision

In this situation there is almost no way the Terran can make a move without the Zerg player knowing. Even if a drop moved to the far right side of the map, and then from there to the Zerg main, he would still have plenty of time to prepare because of his two far-flung scouting Overlords.

In an even game, map control and thus vision should be roughly evenly split between both players. On maps with two Xel’Naga Watchtowers, this effect can often be seen. So with each player holding the Watchtower nearest their bases, the map gets divided into two exacting halves, which can lead to funny situations like this near pass of armies.

Army Passby

In this case the Terran has slightly worse vision, as he will see the army of the Protoss when it launches into an attack on his third base. Meanwhile the Protoss will spot the Terran army earlier, due to the random Pylon on the right hand side of the map. This will making it slightly easier to prepare a defense and evacuate the Probes, which will give him a lead in a possible base trade scenario! Notice how, in this case, a single Pylon gave the Protoss player a definite advantage in the upcoming battle…

How can you get good vision?

So now that we know why vision is so important, we can move onto the meat of the discussion! You might think: “I just make extra units and spread them everywhere!” While this works in some cases, we can reach a deeper understanding. First we need to clarify when we should set up vision, and which tools each race uses to do so!

Let’s start with the timing to start obtain vision, since this holds for every matchup! When you scout your opponent in the early game, for instance as Terran with a Reaper, and you see he intends to play a Macro Opening, it’s second nature for most to leave the Reaper near the opponent’s base, or just grab a Watchtower. In the early game you want to have some kind of map presence, and fast units not only give you some map control, they’re also awesome for scouting and generating vision! You can adjust the areas you want vision of quickly, you can evacuate them if needed, and you can (hopefully) outrun your opponent, so you can save your investment and use it again later!

Typically vision is most vital when you enter the midgame. In the early game you scout your opponent, identify his build, and derive from it what can hit you and when. A high-level player uses this information to predict the paths an opponent will use to attack you, so you don’t need units everywhere! Of course, that doesn’t mean you don’t need vision in the early game at all… But rather that you should be aiming to specifically scout for your opponent’s intentions instead of building general map vision!

With all that said, let’s look at each race’s toolkit for taking the vision advantage!

Zerg

  • Overlords
    Those flying space-cows are great at granting vision. While you need to be careful not to lose too many, they make great spotters since they cost only Minerals, can fly, and you have to produce them anyway. Especially scattered around your bases, they provide “free” vision to spot drops or run-bys.
  • Creep Tumors
    Creep is awesome – it not only helps by making your units faster, but the Tumors also grant you vision! Accordingly, the better your Creep spread, the more you will see. Much like a spider’s web, anyone entering your Creep runs a huge risk. You know exactly where they are and how big their army is, if they move onto Creep before killing it, and thus you can set up awesome concaves, flanks, and ambushes!
  • Zerglings
    They are so cheap and fast, and you get two of them for 50 minerals! Use them liberally to spot and delay your opponent’s expansions and scout uncommon pathways on the map.

Overall I would say Zerg has the best tools to get vision advantage on the map, but this race requires a lot of effort to set it up and should be using all three methods whenever possible (consistent Creep spread, good Overlord distribution, and Zerglings).

Terran

  • Marines
    With Stimpacks, Marines can outrun most units, but they are weak and this relies on the player paying attention to micro. Holding the Watchtower with pure Marines can be difficult as they get killed very fast, so maybe it might be good to have a small mixed group to prevent easy takeover.
  • Hellions
    Similar to Marines in that they’re excellent at scouting but fragile. Also, dedicating multiple Hellions just to holding a Watchtower gets costly and supply-inefficient.
  • Supply Depots
    Immobile buildings are definitely not the best scouts, but they last a lot longer than a Marine when delaying is of the essence. In TvT, for example, if your Depot spots a drop, you will often gain extra time while they unload and kill the structure before making the next move.

Protoss

  • Adepts / Zealots
    These units have reasonable speed, are tanky, and dish out good damage. Having just one of them at a Watchtower is normally enough to hold it. I wouldn’t use them to spot other pathways personally.
  • Stalker
    Faster than Adepts and Zealots, but individually a bit weaker. Still good, especially with Blink researched as you can easily evacuate them from a bad situation. Like the previous units, too cost-ineffective to be used for spotting uncommon paths.
  • Pylons
    Just like the Supply Depot, and as in our example situation at the start of this article, random Pylons can spot and give you extra time if your opponent stops to kill them before moving on. A well-hidden Pylon can also warp in units for a flank in some cases.
  • Observer
    This is by far the most important “vision-generator” you have in your toolkit as Protoss. It couldn’t be any better suited to the role, since it’s invisible and can fly! You definitely want to have enough of these little sweethearts. Position them on pathways you wanna observe, as well as covering common drop positions. An example:

Observer Placement

You also always want to have an Observer positioned near the opponent’s natural base and third / fourth when applicable, basically where you can see any army moving out. Why? It not only gives you time to prepare defenses, it also makes it possible to start a counterattack! If you warp in enough Adepts via a Warp Prism to overwhelm his production capacity, he needs to decide to either attack and all-in, or fall back and defend! In both cases you buy time – lots of time – to prepare your next move.

How can you remove your opponent’s vision?

This is quite simple in theory, kill or harass his units, then set up your own! It isn’t uncommon that the majority of battles in a pro game are fought only to obtain vision until the final clash. I’ve personally had many games where we constantly duel for the Watchtowers until both armies are drawn out into an all-out clash, so be careful!

Last but not least, a short example of what vision can do for you, and how it can harm your opponent if you take away vision from him:

Awesome vision

Awesome vision, right?

Not so awesome

Not so awesome any more. Now you can threaten to attack Zerg from a dangerous angle, forcing him to commit to producing more military units!

As a final note, you should NEVER use the “Select All Army” hotkey, as it will destroy all the vision you’ve carefully built up! If you start using all the tools available in setting up vision, as well as deny the your opponent’s vision in your games, you will see how much less stressful and easier the game becomes!

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. So far I’ve coached quite a few people from various leagues with success.

With that said, I wish you a very nice day and goodbye! 🙂