StarCraft 20th Anniversary & Me

Few games have the impact of Starcraft. On a personal level, I could not have imagined the influence Starcraft has on me when I first picked up the game. This is just a post about Starcraft and me.

StarCraft I experience

I was about ten when the game was first released in 1998. The first time I heard about it was in 2001 when my card game buddy Jason talked about four pool. I still had no idea what it was. Back then, news wouldn’t overwhelm you like it is today with social media. I was not that into computer games at that time, so I did not bother to update myself about the newest games.

Here is a surprising fact. I have not played a single Starcraft I game. Till now. It is hard to imagine for someone who loves Starcraft II and was at the “right” age when Starcraft was at its peak to not play a Broodwar game.

WarCraft III & Wings of Liberty

Wings of Liberty was my first Starcraft experience, but it is not my first RTS game. My first RTS experience was playing a Red Alert 2 campaign mission at my uncle’s home in 2000. He later gave me a pirated copy of Red Alert 2: Yuri’s revenge in 2001, and my interest in RTS grew. In 2002, I bought Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos after I had played it in a lan shop with friends. It was the first time I bought an original computer game, and it became the game for me. My interest continued when Frozen Throne was released a year later, but I never really got into 1v1 due to dial up internet. This changed when my friends showed me some WCG clips in 2004, and my competitive nature got me fired up to make sure I am the best among my peers. I followed the Warcraft III professional scene very closely, but the lack of streaming services made it difficult. The Chinese Human player Sky was my idol. I spent so much time on my first laptop with 200+ ping to the US server. I did not even know what ping is, and I thought the delay was normal. Ignorance is indeed a blessing.

Here is a funny story. After having sex with my then girlfriend, I went on the Battle Net for some games. While I was microing my heart out in a game, she came over to… well, just say to practice her micro skill on me (cough* cough*). As unbelievable as it sounds, I was so engrossed with my game that I was not really sure what she did. She later sat on me and said “there is a hot and naked girl sitting on you and all you do is play Warcraft!” I remember I just lean side way to ensure her head did not block my vision. I was the meme before there was such a meme. When she told her friends that I was too addicted to Warcraft, the first thing I said was “just to clarify, it is the RTS, and not WoW. I’ve class.” lol

Frozen Throne was on its last breath in 2010, so Wings of Liberty was the obvious choice. I was so desperate to throw myself in 1v1 that I picked a main race without playing more than two games with the other two races. Terran was the choice as its production mechanics are more comparable to Warcraft. It goes without saying, I got destroyed. I was placed in bronze.

Coincidentally, 2010 was also the year when I started university. I left home and moved to Brisbane alone. Everything was new, and I knew no one. Starcraft naturally became an important part of my life under such circumstances. I remember seeing someone watching a Protoss tutorial video in the computer lab, and I went over to start a conversation. I am not those who feel comfortable talking to strangers, but Starcraft is just too alluring. That guy thought I was trying to get him off the PC since he was not using it for work purposes, so he just left. It was then I learned that Protoss players aren’t the smartest kind of people. ;)

I attended my first Starcraft gathering in university in March 2012 to watch the GSL final between Genius and DongRaeGu. It was poorly organised, but the joy of watching live Starcraft with others makes everything else okay. I decided to start blogging about Starcraft after the event.

Starting TerranCraft

I started blogging under terrancraft.wordpress.com with no particular plan in mind. I always have many thoughts about the Starcraft games played by the pros and how I can learn from them. I started off by summarising what the pros do as that is equivalent to note taking. As time went by, I became more critical about things, and a style started to develop unintentionally.

I don’t scrutinise games independently. Rather, I look at the overarching pattern in a pool of relevant games, and this seemingly small difference makes a big difference in deducing what are planned, reaction, coincidence etc. In other words, I have a more accurate attribution of the actions done in the games, and this shifts my focus from the minor things to big problems worth talking about. Often, I form several hypotheses in my mind of why certain things happen, and I break down the necessary prerequisites, underlying goals, and plausible outcomes. Then, I constantly look for thesis and antithesis for my arguments, and the posts I make are essentially the synthesis of the constant battle of different perspectives in my mind. It is the phenomenon that interests me. This is the main differentiation I have with others who write guides.

My understanding improved as I wrote more. I started to see the connections of the seemingly unrelated topics, and I integrated them and developed generalisable concepts to further my understanding of the game. Among them, the convergent points concept receives the most attention. Sometimes my little rant about others’ misunderstanding are perceived as guides for certain topics. Ironically, I just have a low interest in writing build orders per se. I don’t find that intellectually stimulating. All these “training” make me think deeper and look at things from different perspectives better.

Oh, in case you don’t know. English is my second or even third language, Terrancraft actually improves my writing. It’s particularly hard to articulate abstract ideas across using logic alone. English has slowly become my best language. Many readers message me with the first sentence being apologetic about their English because it isn’t their first language, and I always wonder if I should tell them it isn’t mine too.

This month marks the 6th anniversary of TerranCraft.com. If you told me when I started blogging that I would go beyond six years, I probably would not have believed you. Thanks for the support for these years.

I’ll also take the opportunity to humble brag here. One of the most satisfying things resulted from this site is when people explicitly tell me I’ve inspired them. I often at least leave a message of encouragement to other Starcraft sites that resemble a small project, and I was sometimes told they got the inspiration from Terrancraft. Some even said they bring the style to other games. As shameless as it sounds, knowing that I’ve inspired others, I really feel good about it. It’s as good as just having one student after a semester to come to me and say I made a difference. Just pure satisfaction.

Identity defining

Starcraft, as a relatively niche game, is a good conversation starter. “Oh, you play Starcraft too!?” Few people in the world are comparable to those in video below in terms of calling Starcraft is life. But to many, myself included, the game becomes part of one’s social identity. If I were to name three “products” which tell people who I’m, Starcraft is probably number one.

Because of this identity, I feel offended a little when people associate it with Dota or LoL. I used to have a Team Liquid sticker on my notebook, and people talked Dota to me as Liquid is now associated with Dota. That’s just humiliating and rude! I understand how Sheldon Cooper feels when people mistook theoretical physics with rocket science. When my students ask if I play games and follow it up with a “Dota or CS” question, I tell them not to project their intellectual ability on me and bring me to their level. Lol. But seriously, it’s kinda sad that they have heard about it, and never get to play at least one game.

Why hiatus

As you are probably aware, I stopped posting for a while. Long story short, it’s due to time and health. I am in my final year of PhD, and I don’t have much time for other things. I am very stressed up due to things directly and indirectly related to my PhD. It is like everyday I’m on the verge of losing everything that I have been planning my whole adult life. It is hard to explain the challenge of doing a PhD to others, as people often assume the source of stress comes from the work itself. Sure, there is lots to do, but it is the chronic anxiety about future and self-doubt that makes the journey a living hell. More than one third of PhDs report mental health problem. This short entry explains the core of the problems well. Being an international student makes it worse, as I need to think about scholarships and work. My girlfriend is in Hong Kong and my parents are in Singapore, while I’m in Sydney. What I’m going to do, where I’m going to be, where can I find a job, what happens to my visa etc.

The constant pressure takes a toll on me both psychologically and physically. Last December was probably the peak. I could not eat and sleep. I was underweight, and I just puke due to anxiety and stress when I think about things. My mind was always stimulated and my heart was beating fast even when I was on bed. I was so tired but I could not sleep because of the adrenaline. I just sat at the edge of my bed and was constantly trying to catch my breath. I had panic attacks too. When I read all the different pieces which people talk about their PhD experience, I can tell that others find it hard to put feelings in words. The word “dark” is always used to describe the experience.

There were many things that I could not control were not working in my favour. I know thinking about things that I could not control are not going to help, but it is so hard to control my thoughts. Starcraft became my best getaway. It is hard to think about things outside of the game when you are playing it, as it loads you cognitively. It became my drug of not worrying about other things.

On the bright side, I have received a lot of supportive messages from you. I read every comment in that post that I said I have to step away for a period of time. I also received messages from Facebook, Twitter, Discord, and emails. I am overwhelmed by the support. It is like, we don’t really know each other, but I can feel the genuine care from others all over the world. I cannot find the right words to describe that feeling. Definitely made a difference. Thank you very much.

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17 thoughts on “StarCraft 20th Anniversary & Me

  1. Happy that you’re back!!

    Good luck with your end of PhD., it’s barely a good moment, I personally needed to take it easy (10 years back, during the subprime crisis with no open jobs…)

      1. sorry if that was frightening ;-) it was not my intention. No matter what, you will find your way for sure

        My way out was “focus on first steps”: finish this stuff, try to keep self-pressure reasonable, find realistic consistent plan that makes sense, collect all data to achieve plan. One good tip is to name/define which work should follow up yours (super good tip for conclusion), by definition noone can have fully closed his/her topic (those who have this impression are fools :D )

        The PhD student makes some steps ahead, sort out some stuff, find some approach to deal with something complicated/new etc… and at the end it’s time to accept/recognize your limited results (it’s a bit like humility in the ladder, be as strong as Neuro from a mentality perspective!) and pack them into a consistent meaningful document and pass the ball. Please don’t forget that things need some time to become obvious, your PhD thesis has good chance to help some guys engaging the PhD path later

        feel free to email me if you need some support, for chat you can ping on TheCore Lite Discord server: https://discord.gg/CeC7MEG

        1. Thanks for the support man. Like the counsellor said to me, I need to consciously remind myself that there is no point stressing about things I can’t control, and I need to shift my focus constructively.

  2. Hey,

    Great job keeping this blog up. I’ve been playing SC since around the time you heard about SC1, and also had pirated copies of Red Alert and what not. Keep up the good work!

  3. Thank you for your article on what SC means to you. An of course countless articles on being the best terran and fighting the alien scum on ladder. Your articles are always premium reading material :) Good luck with your PhD.

  4. “While I was microing my heart out in a game, she came over to… well, just say to practice her micro skill on me” This is who I aspire to be.

    Great article Max! As a high schooler, I have no idea what getting a Ph.D. is like but GLGL!

  5. Hey Max,
    great that you’re back! I missed your analytical and inspiring articles and was afraid about what might happened to you in December. As an engineer in natural sciences, who studied in the 80s, I comprehend your thoughts and fear in your final year of PhD. I totally agree with bobo38 and your counsellor. Take one step after the other and recognize the limits. I am impressed about your analytical skills and I am sure there is a job out there for you and that you will make your way. Care for family and friends, they are the stable factors in your live you always can rely on. I’m a senior SC gamer (aged 50+) and have started with WoL in 2011. Your articles improved my knowledge about SC. Thank you for that and all the best for your future!

  6. Hi Max, I love your blog, and hope you get through this difficult time.

    If your heart has not been hardened too much by your time in the universities, you may find solace in the words of our Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Matthew 11:28-30 (KJV) ¶ Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

    1 Peter 5:6-7 (KJV) Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: 7 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

    I’ll be praying for you!

  7. Hey Max,
    I’m sorry to hear about everything you have been going through. Since I got into college 4 years ago, I have been living in constant state of anxiety, in my academic interactions to my social life. I don’t know if I actually have a mental illness or not, but regardless I’m not in a place where I could spend money with a counselor. I never got to the point of trowing up, so I can only imagine how much worse your situation was.
    For some reason I can’t explain, your blog have always been one of my favorites on the internet.I would usually stay months away from starcraft, but It doesn’t matter if I was following starcraft or not, I would always read your posts. I think it’s the way you think, your posts are not just a guidelines of how to play the game. They usually cover the history of how the meta is evolving. Instead of just showing a solution, you will go through the problem and what 2 or 3 pros are doing in order to find the best solution.
    I also relate with you when you say you have been using this blog as a way to improve English. I’m pretty sure I was one of those who apologized for any English mistake beforehand. In this regard you are inspiration for me. If I keep studding, maybe one day I will be able to write just as good as max :D
    I’m happy you got back to posting here and on reddit. I hope you are in a better place right now. Take one step at time and keep moving
    Best wishes!
    /u/chinpanze
    Ps: I will go back to posting all your stuff for karma on /r/AllThingsTerran/.

    1. That’s really flattening. To be honest, if you didn’t say English isn’t your first language, I wouldn’t have guessed it.

      I never thought about seeking help until I received an email about free counselling service in campus. Mental health issues don’t discriminate.

      I’ll remember /u/chinpanze. ;)

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