Blizzard just released an anticipated community update to address some of the concerns the community has regarding balance. This is my opinion on the update.
First of all, I believe the Blizzard team deserves praise, not for the proposed changes, but for their engagement with the community. This community update addresses every notable issue voiced by the community (e.g., Warp Prism, PvZ late game). When i say “address”, I don’t mean Blizzard proposing changes to tackle each of the voiced issues. What I want to see is Blizzard acknowledging the topics and discussing them. Players fundamentally want to know they are heard. Whether Blizzard agree with the views and what they intend to change are secondary.
The quoted paragraph below is a great example. The team first acknowledges the general topic the community has been discussing. Then, they express their arguments and shed light on what they believe are the underlying issues.
While the results might paint a picture of Protoss strength, we don’t believe they tell the whole story. Rather, what we find more concerning and what we are focusing on for our next update is how players view and talk about the Protoss matchups. In both TvP and ZvP, discussions seem to boil down to how binary either matchup feels. In TvP, while Tank timing-pushes feel strong, Terrans say they feel disadvantaged as the game progresses. In ZvP, while Zerg players struggle with scouting and responding to Protoss’ various openings, professional-level Protoss players often give feedback that they’re the ones who are disadvantaged in the late game.
I agree with their assessment that the two non-mirror Protoss match-ups seem binary. I had broken down why TvP feels binary in this article. In the article, I wrote that the underlying concern is the income disparity with standard builds, and this drives Terran players to go for heavily invested choices that lead to binary outcomes. There are several options to improve this situation:
- Make adjustments to economy
- Improve Terran harassment options
- Increase Protoss’ risk to take an early third
Adjusting economy is a “direct” but extremely risky approach. It could potentially break the game beyond just TvP, so it should only be proposed in the yearly big redesign discussion. Improving Terran’s harassment options is a good approach, but this could have negative impact on TvZ. Increasing Protoss’ risk to take an early third Nexus is difficult to implement, and Blizzard had tried this before. Blizzard reverted a Marauder nerf in patch 4.3.0 to “improve Terran’s ability to apply more consistent pressure during the mid game” in TvP (source of the quote). The rationale and concern they mentioned were logically sound, but it seems like it is not as impactful as they would like. Their proposed Stim buff in the current community update is essentially doubling down this path of increasing Protoss’ risk to take an early third.
My intuition to the proposed change of decreasing Stim upgrade time from 121 to 100 seconds is that it may be too strong. The next thing that comes to my mind is, why 100 seconds specifically? Many notable recent research time changes conveniently become 100 seconds (see patch 4.8.2).
- Mag-field Accelerator research time increased from 79 seconds to 100 seconds.
- Weapon Refit research time increased from 43 seconds to 100 seconds.
- Warp Gate research time decreased from 114 seconds to 100 seconds.
Why 100 seconds? Or perhaps a better question is, why must all these upgrades take the same time? 100 seconds just seems arbitrary.
The other two reasons Blizzard stated for the Stim upgrade changes are two things that I have been pondering recently:
- Allowing Terran to more seamlessly transition from tech-based openings to a Bio-based mid-game.
- And perhaps most importantly: reducing the window in which the upgrade can be sniped.
The transition issue is not talked often enough in my opinion. The current Terran strategies revolve so much around the ambiguous builds that can transition to bio, mech, or air. These ambiguous builds are usually tech-oriented, so Stim upgrade is not incorporated as a natural part of the build order. Bio must have Stim to be functional in the mid game, and the army has to be sizable to matter. These two points mean Terran players have to sit back to gather a bio army and wait for Stim to complete. You cannot go out on the map before these criteria is met. The advantage you may have gathered from the tech-oriented build could dissipate because of the inability of bio to leverage the damage dealt earlier. This weakness is not limited to TvP. In one of the HSC final games between TY and Serral (see vod below), TY went for a push with Marines, Siege Tanks, Hellions, and other air units based on a 1-1-1 structure. He later transitioned to bio by putting down two more Barracks and research Stim. Serral was left to do whatever he wanted in that time, because TY must stay in base. This is one big reason why a mech transition is arguably better than a bio one for many ambiguous builds. The Stim upgrade time buff definitely helps with this issue. But like I said, it may be too much for “normal” builds.
I am glad that they bring up sniping of Tech Lab as a concern. Do you remember when Blizzard said they wanted to reduce sudden game ending moment? I think having the Tech Lab researching Stim destroyed qualifies as a sudden game ending moment. This is particularly frustrating when the spawn location, which is out of players’ control, plays a role in the problem. If the Stim upgrade change does not go through, I hope we can increase the armor of Tech Lab to help with this problem.
The proposed Ghost EMP upgrade is a pleasant surprise. It is pleasant, not because it is a buff for Terran, but because it shows Blizzard are willing to add something new to the game to address problems. As for the actual balance, I’m not sure how it works in practice. The rationale makes sense, and the stats of the upgrade seems reasonable. This maybe a change that mainly the top players can capitalise on.
Warp Prism is at the centre of ZvP discussion. While it appears that there is a consensus that Warp Prism is too good, the consensus is not extended to the explanations. It is difficult to address the problem if we cannot agree on what is the actual underlying concern. These are the commonly mentioned concerns people have about Warp Prism:
- Pick up range
- Reinforcement ability
I find the debate about pick up range interesting. From Protoss’ perspective, Warp Prism pick up micro is very difficult to execute well, why should they get punished for doing it well? From Zerg’s perspective, the micro potential of Warp Prism (specially with Immortal) is too strong that Zerg do not have good counter measures against the different Warp Prism-oriented timing build. Assuming both statements are true in their own ways, the two points imply a design issue with Warp Prism. The two arguments suggest that the effectiveness of Warp Prism hinges on Protoss’ execution, and Zerg have a relatively small influence on the outcome. It makes sense that, Protoss feel Warp Prism is meritocratic, while Zerg feel helpless about Warp Prism. Good design should involve both sides having a say in the result.
Many suggest nerfing the pick up range of Warp Prism by one. The obvious downside is that this change nerfs Archon drop, which is an important tool in PvZ. Well, how about we nerf Queen’s anti-air range by one then? Blizzard had actually proposed these two changes before! Neither change went live. I believe the corresponding changes to compensate the Warp Prism pick up range nerf are risky for a “mid year” proposal. I hope Blizzard share their opinion on this in the yearly redesign discussion later this year.
My issue with Warp Prism is the reinforcement ability, and I’m really glad that Blizzard share my sentiment. Defender advantage is at the core of RTS design. One main source of defender advantage comes from the reinforcement distance. Being able to reinforce the way Warp Prism does partially eviscerates defender advantage. This is also a key reason for the nerf to Pylon warp-in when Legacy of the Void was first launched. For those who aren’t aware, Protoss in the past could warp-in at a Pylon that is not near to a Gateway or a Nexus without the current delay. However, the way Protoss is designed, almost everything flows through the Warp Prism. If you nerf the warp-in ability of Warp Prism too much, it is detrimental to Protoss as a whole. The current nerf to eleven seconds from four maybe too much. But I believe nerfing the reinforcement ability is the positive path to address the Warp Prism concerns.
It is nice to see Blizzard indirectly acknowledge Protoss’ reason to utilise the different Warp Prism-oriented timing builds is their perceptions of late game disadvantage. The various changes to the Protoss and Zerg late game units make sense.
I like the Nexus Strategic Recall cooldown nerf. The ability often feels like a free get-out-jail-card for poor positioning (for reference). I would make fun of them if they increased the cooldown to their favourite 100 seconds lol.
Overall, I believe the changes weaken Protoss too much, especially in PvZ. I hope the Warp Prism nerf goes through with a less drastic change, as I believe increasing the warp-in time from four to eleven seconds is overdoing it.
I’m skeptical of the Stim upgrade buff. The combination of Stim research buff and Warp Prism warp-in nerf may result in Protoss choosing only defensive play style in TvP.
Lastly, I want to say I really appreciate Blizzard’s willingness to propose big changes in July, and it is excellent that they admit the risk behind the proposed changes.
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