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Now that the community has gotten to sink its teeth into the full-fledged version of Wings of Liberty, many players are experiencing the joys and heartaches of playing StarCraft II multiplayer in a competitive setting.  Players are continually looking for a way to better improve their game play and obtain the coveted rank-one position in a diamond league.  When you boil it all down, success in StarCraft relies on a player’s strategy and execution. Many players focus on their execution by playing StarCraft II night and day; some racking up more than 1300 games in less than one month.  But improving their basic strategy of the game is equally as important.  A better strategy of the game can be gained by understanding the finer details in the numbers behind StarCraft.

There are a lot of different aspects of the game that can be better understood by understanding the relationship of the numbers and the stats.  With numbers used to describe everything from damage, unit sizes, spell radiuses, weapon and movement speed; many players are simply overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data given to them.  Rather than look into every aspect of the game, this article will simply focus upon gaining a better understand of the economic system and its relationship with build times.

One of the most fundamental systems to consider in StarCraft is the economic system of gas and minerals.  Many players do not take the time to think about this and simply train workers until they feel they have enough while putting three harvesters on gas.  Although this strategy may work for some, a good understanding of the economic system will give players a leg up in inventing new strategies while honing existing strategies.  In order to build all but the most basic of units, the player needs to harvest gas. Unlike minerals, the maximum collection rate of gas per base is capped at six assuming proper mining distances.  Adding additional workers to mine gas will have a zero return on your investment.  By gaining an understanding of the economic system a player can answer this very important but basic question: How much gas do you collect during one game minute from one Extractor/Refinery/Assimilator assuming three workers and correct Hatchery/Command Center/Nexus positioning?

First, what is a “game minute?”  The simple answer is a game minute is 60 game seconds but one second in real life does not necessarily equal one game second.  Because StarCraft can be played at multiple speeds, it is important to note that all time will be discussed using StarCraft’s time system.

Second, why is it important to discuss the proximity of the Geyser to Nexus/Command Center/Hatchery?  One of the limiting factors in the harvesting of minerals is the travel distance between these two locations.  The longer the distance, the slower the collection rate and the more workers that are needed to reach maximum mining rate from the Geyser.

With those two details explained, the answer to the question is approximately 112 gas.  Now many of you may be thinking “An entire paragraph dedicated to giving an answer of 112 gas?  Big deal, what does this have to do with strategy and why does it even matter?” Once a player gains the basic understanding of the resource collection rates, they are able to develop and immediately know what strategies may or may not work.  For example, a player might try a strategy of massing Banshees off of three Starports from one base.  Although this strategy may sound amazing on paper, it is simply not possible.  Banshees are a gas intensive unit that require 150 minerals and 100 gas per unit.  In addition, Banshees also need 60 game seconds to be built.  With this knowledge and a little math, assuming maximum harvesting of gas from two Geysers in one base, your gas collection rate will be approximately 224 gas per game minute.  This is well shy of the 300 gas you need in order to maintain production of continuous Banshees.  Instead of constructing an additional StarPort, wasting the 150 minerals and 100 gas, the minerals may be better spent on constructing a Barracks and producing additional Marines as producing two Banshees every 60 game seconds is already using up a majority of the gas you are collecting.

By gaining additional understanding of the gas and mineral collection rate, players can develop strategies to spend their resources as they are being collected to efficiently produce well-balanced armies.  This is the difference between being a proactive player and a reactive player.  A reactive player simply responds to what is currently stored in their bank.  These players will often find themselves gas locked, with a large number of minerals but no gas to efficiently produce units.  If this describes you, you must examine the current unit combination and what you are attempting to produce.  Units with a high gas to mineral ratio are generally difficult to mass.

The strongest and most efficient strategies use a balance of gas heavy units with units that require little to no gas.  Take, for instance, the popular Mutalisk/Zergling combination for the Zerg army.  The Mutalisk is a gas heavy unit requiring a one to one ratio of gas and minerals.  Because of this, a Zerg player will find themselves sitting on a large amount of minerals in a short amount of time it they neglect to produce Zerglings.  One of the benefits in this particular combination of units besides how well they work together in the battle field is how they balance out the high gas cost of the Mutalisk with the Zergling, a unit that is easy to mass and no gas cost. Although it may be tempting to only produce to most advanced and powerful gas intensive units, it is important to spend your minerals in an efficient manner as minerals in the bank don’t collect interest and do nothing to stop an incoming army.

And while it is also tempting to simply play StarCraft II hours and hours on end to improve your execution, its important to set aside time to look into the numbers behind the game itself.  This is just a simple example of how studying the numbers behind the gameplay can improve a players strategy and overall gameplay.

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