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Published on April 7, 2015 By Frogboy In PC Gaming

Starcraft requires a great deal of skill to play.  But not all races require the same skill level to play.  For example, a Platinum Zerg player is probably more skilled than a Diamond Protoss player.

Having both worked on and played Starcraft over the past 18 years, below is a rough estimate of the skill level difference between the different races.

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Explanation

This chart is, of course, subjective.  I’ve played all the races for many years and love them all in their own way. I do often tease my friends who play as Protoss because of the relative skill level difference between it and Zerg/Terran.

So what are these numbers based on?

  1. The number of viable openings each race has.
  2. The relative difficulty each race has to counter a particular strategy.
  3. The level of situational awareness each race requires
  4. The level of error forgiveness each race has
  5. The relative difficulty in building a lethal force

Details

Now, every race has its “OP” thing.  Terrans have Mules, Zerg have seamless unit composition transition, and Protoss, well Protoss requires its own explanation.

What makes Protoss different

Back in the day, I talked a bit to Rob Pardo regarding the Protoss.  This was during the Starcraft 1 era and I always got the impression that the Protoss had a special place in Blizzard’s heart.   The Terrans were the “relatable” race.  The Zerg were the truly alien race.  But the Protoss? They were the really cool race.

Now, to be fair, I’ve never talked to Dustin Browder (lead designer of SC2) nor David Kim.  So I don’t want to suggest that Blizzard has ever intentionally made the Protoss “better”.   I also don’t think that Protoss is “OP”. It simply requires less skill to achieve the 50/50 win to loss ratio necessary to stay in a higher league than one’s relative skill would normally merit.

Units

Below are Protoss units that are not easily changed nor are they “OP” units they are simply units that perform their function without a lot of skill.

  1. Colossus.  This unit can move and do massive area of effect damage on enemy units. No other race has a unit that can both move and do massive damage simultaneously at the same time except…
  2. High Templar.  This unit can cast an area of effect damage spell while moving that lasts 4 seconds and can be recast 2 seconds later.  The player literally only has to point at the area they want to die. Unlike the Colossus, at least this unit requires player interaction.
  3. Archon. The HT can then merge into a universal tank unit that can attack ground and air that can do so while it moves.
  4. Dark Templar.  No other race has an invisible unit that can remain so indefinitely. Even at the pro leagues, games have been won because the Protoss player got a few DT’s into the enemy’s base.

The Zerg and Terran strategies are literally formed around preventing the player from obtaining these units in any real quantity.  That is because it is very hard for an equally skilled Zerg/Terran player to counter the use of these units.

Openings

Every race has a “cheese” opening or two. However, the Protoss has, by far, the most potential openings. A Protoss player might rush for blink stalkers (heavy units that can actually teleport into a player’s base) or they might do a Zealot rush or they might do a proxy stargate or they might do a proxy DT rush or they might cannon rush.

For Zerg, they have some creative cheese options but most of them boil down to building Zerglings early.  The Terrans have a few more options such as early cloaked banshees, reaper rushes, proxy floating factories (putting mines in the enemy’s base) but most in both the Zerg and Terran cases, there is a significant level of punishment for a failed opening.

By contrast, the Protoss player gets a magic defense called Photon Overcharge and the Mothership core. So even if the Protoss does get caught unaware, their base can become a weapon to stop early aggression, a weapon that can attack both air and ground.  The Zerg, by contrast, have to build a Queen which can be easily killed.

In addition, if a Zerg or a Terran player launch an attack that gets countered by having their home base attacked, they pretty much lose.  By contrast, the Protoss player can “recall” back into their base.

Protoss players can always have units warp in at any Pylon on the map making for additional opening strategies viable.

What would make things more equal?

I do not think there is an issue with Protoss in general as much as there is a weakness in Zerg or Terran.   The “Protoss Death Ball” is a well understood issue with Starcraft that is used because it is so effective.  

Protoss having a lot of viable openings is a good thing. Thus, the issue should be that the other races lack viable openings.  In game design, we tend to repeat the mantra: “No counter should ever be more difficult to execute than the strategy it is countering.” Protoss fails that test repeatedly because the other races are not given the tools to mitigate Protoss strategies at equal levels of skill.

There is nothing wrong with having one of the races “easier”.  It does, however, make it harder, in some cases, for Protoss to win at the pro level because, ironically, at the pro level, many Protoss players never had to develop the skills on their way up that their Zerg and Terran opponents had to learn. 


Comments
on Apr 08, 2015

Great post!

 

I've always said that Protoss is OP both in BroodWar and StarCraft II. Back in the day, I played StarCraft but never BroodWar. Couldn't handle Dark Templars....

Even a netfriend I played alot said: "It feels like Protoss are always a step ahead in the countergame".

I agree with that.

on Apr 09, 2015

Wow this takes me back. 

Factions are designed around the player traditionally since Warcraft 3 and yes that includes the RPG classes for WoW based on customer demographics.  A universally easier faction choice is needed to entice the newer customers but it comes at a trade off cost with all the balancing act that goes with it.  Keep in mind this changes with every expansion, before it was Terran now it is Protoss.

In early WOL, Zerg had invented some fiendishly clever "soft" counter strategies.  For example, if Terran went with mech & Thor rush combo, Zerg would deploy extra overlords out from the base perimeter to exploit Thor autotargeting and draw fire thus forcing the Terran player to micromanage a lot more.   Yeah that had to go because it was too much additional micromanagement for the new player friendly faction despite it only working on a early rush.

 

Inevitably all of them were patched out save the broodling spawned from structures on death.  At least they let us keep one.

So there you go, give the defender clever options to force a need from the opponent to increasingly micromanage his invasion force units more.  Preferably with some involvement of base defenses.

Edit: Yikes!  How did I change the color?