Three Most Elegant Balance Changes in StarCraft II

The WCS Global Final has concluded and we all set our eyes on the anticipated major patch. I was critically comparing the upcoming changes with some of the old changes in a discussion with Brownbear, and three previous small but well thought out changes came to mind.

We often scrutinise the big changes, but overlook some small changes that could have tremendous influence. A typical example of such “small” change is the Queen attack range buff way back in Wings of Liberty. Queen’s anti-ground weapon attack range increased from 3 to 5 in patch 1.4.3. This was the one change that in my opinion, and of many others, led to the rise of the infamous Broodlord Infestor era. No change was done to Broodlord and Infestor themselves, but the improved Queen allowed Zerg to get to the ideal composition much easier than before.

The three balance changes below are in my opinion the best small balance changes in StarCraft II. These changes solved the issues they were designed to address, and there were arguably no negative byproduct. Just to be clear, I do not consider redesign changes like allowing Hellion to convert to Hellbat with Armory as “balance” changes. They are in chronological order.

Patch 2.0.8: Spore Crawler

Mutalisk is the arguably only viable tech option in the mirror match up in the early Heart of the Swarm days. The mineral line got ravaged by Mutalisks even when Spore Crawlers were built. The player with more Mutalisks would destroy the other player in a Mutalisk war, and decisions made were mainly revolved around this factor. For example, it was risky to send Mutalisks to the opponent side of the map, because opponent would have a shorter rally point to reinforce with new Mutalisks. To put it simply, the dominance of Mutalisks made the match up frustrating for the players and boring for the viewers.

The patch increased Spore Crawler’s attack damage from 15 (+15 Biological) to 15 (+30 Biological). The base damage remained the same, while the bonus biological damage was doubled. Only Zerg have flying biological units, so this change did not have any negative byproduct on other match ups. The Zerg mirror match up became much more dynamic and interesting after the change.

Patch 2.0.11: Overseer

The change allowed Pneumatized Carapace upgrade to increase Overseer movement speed from 1.88 to 3.375 (previously 1.88 to 2.75). This may appear to be a simple quality of life change for Zerg at face value, but it improved the win rate of ZvT without directly tackling the micro battle between Zerg and Terran. At that point of time, Terran’s Marine, Marauder, Medivac, and Widow Mine composition was a major talking point, because Zerg were still adapting to the then new unit, Widow Mine. Additionally, INnoVation’s dominance in the match up at that time made you wonder if TvZ was too much in Terran’s favour. Rather than rushing to nerf Widow Mine (they eventually did and then revert it after realising it was a mistake), they increased the movement speed of Overseer to solve the problem.

The change indeed helped Zerg out more than one would have imagined. The identified problem was that the Overseer’s relatively slow movement speed made it difficult for Zerg to engage Terran’s MMMM effectively. This is because the Overseer would get picked off and Zerg had to remake them. Although this change clearly had an effect on ZvP, it did not have unwanted negative impact on that match up.

The other interesting thing about this change was its implications on the design philosophy. Blizzard acknowledged Zerg had a more difficult execution than Terran in managing the units, because Zerg cannot engage well without detection (Mutalisks cannot snipe Widow Mine too). Thus, the considerations for the changes are not limited to the evaluation of the outcome.

Patch 3.1.1: Adept

Adept was just broken at the beginning of the Legacy of the Void. Apart from the one I am discussing, It later went through two more changes with one decreasing its health and the other decreasing its shade vision. The first change to the Adept was to reduce its damage from 10 (+13 light) to 10 (+12 light). Prior to this change, Adept could kill Marine and Scv with two shots. They are both light units with 45 health. Protoss basically just destroyed Terran with mass Adept, and there was not much you could do about it.

By reducing the bonus damage against light units by just one, Adept needed three shots to kill both Marine and Scv, which was a significant difference when you multiply it with the number of units involved. Importantly, this did not change the early game interaction in PvZ, because Adept still required two shots to kill Zergling.

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