Idle Workers After Build Command

In this short post, I will discuss how having idle workers after build commands can have its advantages, even though the disadvantages are obvious.

Unlike Probe and Drone, Scv has to “stick” to the structure it’s building, and it will just stop next to the building when it’s completed. This is what I mean by idle worker after a build command is issued.

This happens in top level games, as you can see from the GSL final vod below (time stamped). TY’s two Scvs on the top right were not doing anything after the Supply Depots they built had completed. These workers could have been mining, and hence, idle workers are lost mining time.

However, this does not occur every time. In the same game below (different time stamp), TY’s Scv returned to mining right after the Scv had completed the Supply Depot at the ramp.

This is because the Scv had been issued a queued command to return to mining after the building was completed. This can be done by selecting a worker to build a building, then hold shift and right click on a mineral patch. Thus, after the first command of building a building is completed, the Scv will execute the subsequent command you have queued through the shift key and that is to return to a mineral patch.

The question is, do these top players want their workers to return to mining immediately after every building they have built? If yes, then the players are basically not being “perfect” with their mechanics based on what they intend to do within their capability. Imperfect mechanics is actually a plausible explanation because workers idle more often in later part of the game when there are more things happening at the same time, and it makes sense that the players spend their apm and attention on other more important things. Mechanically, it is not that much of a chore to shift click the workers back to mining, especially when you already have the muscle memory down after issuing a build command. This leads me to think about it from a different angle.

What if the idle workers are intentional? At face value, this is lost mining time. But is there any advantage in having idle workers? I think there actually are merits.

Let’s start with what happens when you have idle workers. The idle worker sign will show up on the bottom left of the screen if you have any idle worker. You can select it by clicking the idle worker hotkey (default is F1), and you can select all idle workers with ctrl + F1.

300px-2014-03-24_MCL_check_No-idle-workersImage is taken from Liquipedia

This idle worker sign in fact tells you that your building has completed if you have no other idle worker. It has two practical implications.

  1. It allows you to carry out your build order better. For example, you want to build a Starport right after the Factory is completed. You don’t need to have your screen locked on the Factory to ensure you know it is completed, because the idle worker sign tells you when the Factory is completed.
  2. It reminds you to keep building Supply Depots in the mid to late game. There will be a point in the game that you just have to keep making Supply Depots to ensure you are not supply blocked. A simple way is to have two to three workers to keep building Supply Depot after they are done with the previous ones. This should also be an easy way to prevent you from building too many at one go.

These two implications clearly are not applicable if one has perfect mechanics, but they certainly make macro easier for an average person. Like I have mentioned earlier, idling workers after building happens more often later in the game, and the second reason is actually consistent with this observation.

I actually thought of another less likely reason. You will select multiple Scvs from the mineral line when you want to build multiple buildings, and often you will select more than the necessary number of Scvs when you select them with a “mouse boxing” way. Interestingly, if you issue a queue command for the workers to go back to mining, the unused selected workers will all move to the one mineral patch you have selected and bounce around.

For instance, when you want to build three Supply Depots, you will have to select at least three Scvs. If you happen to select five workers and issue command to build three Supply Depots, three workers will start building the structures and the two unused workers will continue to do what they are doing (i.e., mining). However, when you also have the shift right click on a mineral patch command issued, the two unused workers will move to that mineral patch. This unnecessary movement will mess up the mining workers temporarily, and this is indirectly lost mining time. Therefore, it may be better to not issue a queue command if you are going to box multiple workers. This again is consistent with the observation I mentioned, you only box select multiple workers because you want to build multiple buildings which usually only happen in the later part of the game. Generally, you will select one specific worker to build a building in the early game, and hence, it is better to use the queue command.

Just to be clear, these reasons are based only on my logical thinking through observation, and they are not meant to be conclusive.

Leave your comment and share how you execute your build command.

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6 thoughts on “Idle Workers After Build Command

  1. From the WoL days, Apollo’s tutorial (remember him?) always state the thumb rule for Terran: 1 SCV per base dedicated to supply depot full time. So 2 base = 2 SCV, 3 bases, 3 SCV. Those SCV never goes back to mining etc until 200 supply. These days Mule is less valuable thus supply drop is less punishing. But not getting supply blocked is still the most important fundamental , second only to always build SCVs until desired saturation. Playing Terran is very sequential, very monotonous, unlike Zerg and Toss.

  2. I’ve mentioned this in another avenue yesterday, but I wanted to propose here that we can utilize the window between structures beginning and workers being Idle. It’s a unique aspect to Terran. I see a lot of players boxing their workers, often multiple times over to get the specific selection. I like to use the “Select Builder,” hotkey to select them.

    1. How is the “select builder” hotkey relevant to this topic? I don’t see how the pros and cons of shift right click on a mineral patch are changed with this hotkey.

    2. I just discovered from your post that, the same way I can selct multiple idle workers with control + select idle worker key, I can do just the same with control + select building SCVs! As you say, this can be very useful in the situations where the different buildings ordered at the same time were spread apart; in that scenario, rather than boxing then individually or worse, boxing them and accidentaly boxing a combat unit popping out of a production building, I can simply select both buildings, add them to my control group (assuming they are of the same type, e.g. two factories, two barracks etc.) and hit control + select building SCVs to rally them back to gold. I could actually make a small video about this eventually, along with the idle worker tip (a video by Jakatak already explained it, though). Although the select idle worker and select building SCV cases aren’t exactly the same, it is clear to me how they both relate to proper base/workers management.

      1. no need to hold Ctrl when using the “Select builder” command. if you have a control group with a few rax and a factory under construction, for example, you can simply press the hotkey for the control group and then press the select builder hotkey to select all SCVs for any under-construction buildings that are in the control group.

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