The Devil Plays Protoss: Let’s Talk About Maps

BY Andrew Miesner / September 28, 2011

The Devil Plays Protoss: Let’s Talk About Maps

by Jacqueline Geller and guest contributor Josh Folland

Any opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of compLexity Gaming or its parent company.


“The map pool is so shit.” coL.MVP DongRaeGu on the MLG SC2 Pro Circuit, Live on Three Ep.89

SCBW tournament map pools stopped including Blizzard maps shortly after the first year anniversary of the game’s release. If you’re a fan of both SCBW and SC2, you may have noticed that the landscape of the map scene is extraordinarily different between the two. Major tournaments such as the North American Star League continue to consistently use Blizzard ladder maps instead of community created maps, preferring the comfort of the outdated Xel’Naga Caverns over the excitement of balanced and fresh Sungsu Crossing AE. Maps that were included in the SC2 beta (see: Metalopolis) are regularly used in SC2 tournament map pools while melee custom maps are often overlooked in tournament map pool selections. Why is the lack of custom maps in SC2 tournaments an issue?

A melee custom map is designed from the ground up with one goal: to provide balanced and entertaining SC2 at the highest level of play.

On a balanced map, each race has a relatively even chance to win throughout all stages of the game -from early to late- and can use a variety of strategies throughout. A balanced map allows players of all three races to use different strategies and adapt different play styles to suit the map. Balance is achieved through both map testing and routine editing. Editing older maps ensures that the map is usable with the current patch and game balance issues. A single patch change has the potential to make a balanced map imbalanced, and it is important that balanced maps are used to ensure balance between the races.

Not all maps are macro maps and not all maps are rush maps so build orders, openings and strategies need to be altered by the players to account for that. That brings us to the second part of the goal of a melee custom map: entertainment value. The point of competition is to show who is better than the other at something. A SC2 tournament’s goal is to determine who was the best player of among those who entered. In a SC2 game, build orders, openings, strategies and many more things have to be taken into account in order for a player to be successful. Maps are designed around that knowledge. Important areas to control, rush vs macro maps, what builds work and so on are taken into consideration during the initial map design stage. In competition, a measure of a player’s true skill will display his knowledge of the map’s intricacies as a player goes into a match with more than a few builds in mind. Pro players must go into each game with a plan for every game on every map in the tournament map pool. Both a rush and a macro map (and everything in between) can be boring or entertaining depending on the depth of the map. The more depth a map has leads to a higher skill ceiling which leads to a better showing of the better player.

“The main difference here between custom and Blizzard maps is that goal of providing balanced and entertaining SC2 at the highest level of play.”

The main difference here between custom and Blizzard maps is that goal of providing balanced and entertaining SC2 at the highest level of play. Blizzard maps are focused on providing different things – a simple SC2 game between two players that at a lower level of understanding can be interpreted as entertaining. Ladder maps are designed for the average player, not the pinnacle of the SC2 competitive scene. Once you approach the higher levels of play, you quickly realize that Blizzard maps simply do not work. Ladder maps are designed to be some slight variant of Fastest Possible Map – take some expansions, build an army and run it into your opponent. These maps offer few important features of the map to control, and at times, these features are no more complicated than a Xel’Naga Tower or a single choke point. While you can still have an epic and entertaining game, it’s far less common on a map that’s designed to be played exactly the same way you would any other map.

Why is using Blizzard maps bad for competition? Games that end on 2 base timing, all ins are generally won because of a coin toss scenario. An all in are typical strong against everything but one one or two builds. If the opponent flips a coin and does the right build, he wins. A rush strategy is possible on many maps but there are a number of ways to mitigate the effects. It’s important to note that when a player sees an opportunity to end the game they’ll take it or use it to build an advantage. The simplicity of Blizzard maps allows players to easily figure out how to end the game. Many custom maps have an added degree of complexity that makes those simple solutions either more ambiguous or not possible. An example of this would be a rush distance so huge that the defenders advantage allows them to rebuild in time after successfully defending. The attacking player can gain an advantage but the game goes on. Metagame evolution is another important factor to consider when debating the use of more custom maps. It can be argued that the lack of map rotation within the SC2 community is slowing down that process. Although players and teams are getting more time to flesh out older maps such as Metalopolis, they’re also not exploring anything new. Players and teams are simply rounding down to a smaller set of variables. Within SC2, less variables equals an easier to control game. The state of the metagame will remain much more stagnant on Blizzard maps due to their relative simplicity and similarity. The lack of depth means lack of new things to explore and results in familiar games and the recycling of matches.

The lack of accessibility of custom maps is a huge factor in the lack of custom maps in major tournament map pools. Players often use the ladder practice for a major portion of their training regimes. This in turn results in tournaments using ladder maps because that’s what players are familiar with and want to see included in the map pool. If players do not want to enter a tournament because of the map pool, it results in no business and no tournaments. Tournament organizers must find the ideal balance between familiar maps and fresh maps in order to encourage both entrants and fresh play. A prime example of the balance needed between fresh, new maps and familiar, old maps is the NASL Open and Semi-Open Tournaments. In an effort to use new maps and involve the map-making community, the NASL is partnering with the Planetary Workshop. There will be 9 new maps added to the Open and Semi-Open Tournaments map pools, and 3-4 of these maps will be selected to be added to the NASL Season 3 map pool. It’s a great initiative, but the registration for these tournaments have been a bit lackluster. The first Open Tournament is this weekend and according to the BinaryBeast tournament page, it only has 16 registrants. A number of other factors can be attributed to the low registration numbers from last-minute registrants to lack of marketing and everything in between, but the thought of having to learn the ins and outs of nine new maps specifically for one tournament qualifier in intimidating.

Bel’Shir Beach.

That being said, teams practice in custom games using whatever maps the tournaments are using whether it’s a ladder map or a melee custom map. The only way for a custom map to be used in tournaments is for it to pick up momentum. Both Dual Sight and Bel’Shir Beach by LSPrime have been able to do this, starting out in the GSL map mool and making its way into NASL, MLG and so on. Blizzard and do not help custom maps whatsoever. The custom game system misrepresents demand by making pickup games on unknown maps impossible, and getting a custom map onto ladder is hopeless so there is this borderline insurmountable hill to climb just to get a map played. Custom maps being added to tournament map pools is an important step for the evolution of the SC2 game. This change must happen gradually and cannot happen overnight, but it does need to happen. I’d like to strongly encourage tournament organizers to starting including one or two custom maps in its tournament pool. Don’t be afraid of adding one or two new maps to the mix! Custom maps keep the game fresh, entertaining and epic.


PS. A big thank you to map maker Josh “prodiG” Folland for his wisdom and contributions to this article.

Visit @prodiGsc on Twitter

PPS. Want to learn more about SC2 maps? Check out the new show, hosted by prodiG and myself, “MapCraft: State of the Terrain” debuting October 2, 2011, at 12:00pm MDT on!


About the Author – Jacqueline Geller

After years of playing World of Warcraft, a friend introduced Jacqueline to Starcraft early last year. Jacqueline’s relationship with Starcraft started out slowly: a handful of casual dates, a little bit of flirting but nothing serious. She took her relationship with the game to the next level after BlizzCon 2010 where she experienced eSports magic first-hand and realized that Starcraft was the one. Despite being a mediocre player, she has been clambering the ladder at a glacial pace and has spent more time watching Starcraft online than she’d like to admit. In March, Jacqueline made the leap from eSports fan to eSports professional when she was hired by the Handsome Nerd as their Art Director, combining her design skills with her love of Starcraft. Since its start in April, Jacqueline has been a contributing writer for the North American Star League, writing coverage for Division 1. Offline, Jacqueline is a bookworm, a runner, a freeride snowboarder and has a Human Ecology degree with a Clothing and Textiles major.

View Jacqueline’s profile here.
Visit @jacquelinesg on Twitter