Base-count Scouting

Players at the level of Platinum and below are frequently told not just to focus on macro, but that macro alone will raise them to higher ranks.  This is mostly true and the lower your rank the more true it is. But there are some non-macro factors too.  Your 3-base roach/hydra plan can be stopped by 1-base marines before you build any momentum.

The purpose of Base-count Scouting is to allow your strong macro to win games by giving you the information you need to make big picture decisions of when to make army and when to drone, and to do that without being a major distraction from your macro.  It is based upon the premise that your opponent's macro is at least not better than yours.

Army now vs army later
When does a drone pay for itself?  You have 50 minerals and a larvae.  You could make a pair of zerglings, or a drone.  The drone is an investment in the future, but how far in the future?

In a 16-drone mineral saturation, the average drone is mining about 50 minerals per minute.  So that drone will pay for itself in 1 minute of mining time, plus the time for it to build and walk to a mineral patch.  So in a minute and change you can have the drone and also start that pair of zerglings, which I will call even on army.  In two minutes and change you can have two pairs of zerglings, which I will call ahead on army.  And of course your income is also ahead, so it isn't just two pairs of zerglings now, but one additional pair every minute from this point forward.

Would you like one pair of zerglings now, or two pairs of zerglings and an additional 50 minerals/minute two minutes and change from now?

This is a miniature version of a very important fundamental in Starcraft 2.  Army now vs bigger and better army later.  The bigger and better later army is superior unless you die to someone else's Now Army before your investment has time to pay off.

When you drone you are deciding to be weaker now so that you can be stronger about 2.5 minutes from now.  This is one kind of Investment in Future.  Another is building tech or upgrades, and this also represents being weaker now in favor of being stronger a few minutes from now.

Defender's Advantage in macro play
Defender's advantage refers to factors that make it in some ways easier to defend than attack, particularly in the early game.  Travel time across the map means that you can have more units than your opponent even with the same economy, and reinforcements will arrive sooner.  Travel time can be negated by proxies. The defender can also benefit from static defenses, ramp terrain, the use of queens, pulling drones, and being on creep.

In very simple terms the attacker's strength is just their Investment in Army (versus their Investment in Future).  The defender's strength is Investment in Army + Defender's Advantage.

What this means is you can invest a little more into your future and still defend against an aggressive player.  A little, not a lot.  If you are too greedy, aggression will kill you.

We will break the opponent's play into categories of Aggressive, Standard, and Greedy.  Standard for Terran or Protoss will be 2 bases in the early game.  Aggressive is 1-base and Greedy is a very fast 3-base. The rules are different for ZvZ, we are really not talking about that today.

Standard Generally Zerg needs to be a base ahead.  So if your opponent is playing a standard 2-base opening then you go to 3 bases, defend harass, get your 3-base economy and then macro up a 3-base army and try to stop them from getting a 3rd base or to take it out before they can saturate it.  This is your normal macro play!  You can also move up to 4 right after but let's keep this basic.

Sometimes they will not even try to take a 3rd, and this is generally a 2-base tech play.  It is a kind of greed that you cannot see just by counting bases.  Later when you have more advanced scouting you will be able to identify this.  Get ready to face their tech and feel free to poke at their front to find out what that tech is.

Aggressive If your opponent is on one base your first overlord scout will generally find this out at around 30 or 33 supply when you have two hatches, about 1.5 bases of saturation, and are about to put down a 3rd hatch.  Your opponent being on one base means Aggressive!  Stop droning.  Cancel or delay your 3rd hatch.  Make zerglings for several rounds while building more queens and wait to defend.  If you need more larva and don't feel safe taking your 3rd, put down a macro hatch and queen.  Most of the time an early attack is coming and you will be ready!  If you don't lose drones you will be ahead in economy.  They have one base, and you have 1.5!  Once you are comfortable that you have defended you can squeak a few more drones out each round that you're making army.  If they expand, go full macro again.  (Or attack!)  If they don't, they are slowly losing this game.

Sometimes the attack will not come.  What are they doing?  There are a few possibilities.

  • They could be doing a one-base tech rush.  If you have not already built your safety spores in each base, do so immediately.  You have a scary army and a better economy so it is only surprise tech that can really kill you.  If they show up with Void Rays or something don't forget to take the part of your army that doesn't shoot up and attack their base while you are defending at home.  
  • They could have a hidden expansion (or two!).  Take some zerglings that are not on your main army group and go poke around at all the base locations.  If you find a hidden expansion, take your significant zergling army and go kill it.  
  • They could be turtling on one base.  You might be able to attack into it but if they have a really good defensive position with tanks and mines and so on it is generally better to just out expand them and come back with a truly massive army.
Feel free to try to attack them.  If it goes badly you can make more.  Your economy is better!  This will give you good information about what they are doing because you will see what they defend with.

Greedy There are two options for dealing with greed.  The first is to be even more greedy, and the second is to turn aggressive and kill them.  Both are valid but I prefer aggression.  If I'm still droning my 2nd and Protoss has already taken a 3rd I will stop what I am doing, flood zerglings and kill them.  You could also just go straight to 4 bases and macro from there.

Keep in mind that Base-count Scouting can only find expansion greed, not tech greed.  You'll have to level up your scouting to identify that.

Rock, Paper, Aggression
Aggression beats Greed.  A little Greed beats Standard.  Standard beats Aggression if Standard is safe enough or knows it is coming and prepares. If you both pick the same the victor will be determined by other factors.  Starcraft 2 is far too complex a game to actually reduce to rock, paper, scissors, but what I am saying here is true as a basic concept.  So you can plan to play standard, identify what your opponent is doing, and then adjust if necessary to keep the advantage on your side.

Good Macro is the foundation
All of this is based on the premise that your macro is at least as good as your opponent.  If that isn't true then they could outproduce you on fewer bases.  If your macro is almost as solid as it can be than this isn't a thing you need to worry about.  Having great macro lets certain assumptions be solid:

  • Your opponent on 1 base can't outproduce your 1.5 base economy.  Can't.  Unless you are taking terrible engagements into defensive kill zones your army will overwhelm theirs, if not now then in a few macro cycles.
  • If you have been droning up early game and then you switch to producing units for about 3 macro cycles (1.5 minutes about) then your opponent can't have a bigger army right now.  A minute from now, maybe.  Right now?  No way.  You are for sure stronger but that is on a short timer.  Do something with those units before their value erodes.  I will usually attack if I have over-prepared for a defense or prepared to defend an attack that never came.  You don't want to let that army advantage go to waste.
And so on.  You have to work with tradeoffs and so does your opponent.  If your macro is good then what is not possible for you is also not possible for them.  This lets you know about things you did not see.

If they're on one base get on 1.5.  If they're on 2 get on 3.  If they're quickly on 3 either get on 4 or kill them immediately.  That's it.  All you need to do is use either overlords or zerglings to keep an eye on the answer to one simple question: How many bases does my opponent have? This, solid macro, not taking super-bad engagements, and defending early harass will get you into Platinum if not higher.


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