Opinion on 28 April 2020 Balance Update

Blizzard just released a balance update. This is my opinion.

Before I say my piece, I want to highlight the three stages in constructing good balance changes:

  1. Summarise and describe the current state
  2. Identify and evaluate the key themes
  3. Construct balance changes

Having separate steps helps us to identify where we agree and disagree. People often disagree with the changes, but they are not clear whether they agree with the earlier steps. A good summary of the current state demonstrates basic understanding. Being able to identify and evaluate the key themes requires insight and advance understanding. These two usually go hand in hand. Then, you reach the step of “what now?”, whereby you propose improvement.

These three steps of proposing changes are generally accepted in the scientific community when reviewing papers. These steps do not only help the person writing it to think through the issues systematically, but they also allow others to point out the precise arguments they disagree with.

General

Going back to the balance update, I believe the team did an excellent job in summarising the current state and identifying the key issues. If I got to give a score to their summary of the current state, I probably would give a full mark.

The difference in quality between this and some of the recent updates is obvious. For example, early last year, Blizzard increased Thor’s High Impact Payload weapon range from 10 to 11. The change aimed to address the TvP late game issue, which was considered Protoss favored. The long standing issue that the community highlighted was the economy difference heading from the early to mid game. The late game issue was secondary, as it could be the result of the economy issue earlier on. This shows that Blizzard did not have a good grasp of the balance state and did not identify the key issues appropriately. The recent updates and patches had since acknowledged this underlying issue in TvP. Specifically, in this latest update, Blizzard stated that:

“Terran players often talk about feeling economically behind, especially in the TvP matchup. While we are open to making changes to Terran economy, a blanket buff is not something we’re currently looking at considering the state of TvZ, as well as planned changes for Zerg. Though TvP economy is a complicated issue, we believe the primary reasons for Terrans feeling behind in this matchup are changes made in the transition from HotS to LotV.”

They acknowledged what was discussed in the community and explained why they chose a certain path. Their direction of not making “a blanket buff” is clearly different to my suggestion, which is to allow Scvs to be built while the Command Centre is upgrading. That is okay, and I’m not going to say they are bad simply because they don’t align with my thinking. The key point is that we can disagree on the solution, but it would be problematic if Blizzard and the community identify different key problems to begin with. This is a big improvement from the example I mentioned earlier.

Specific changes

Terran

  • Widow Mine
    • Drilling Claws upgrade no longer grants Widow Mines invisibility. Instead, the existence of an Armory will grant Widow Mines invisibility.

The Widow Mine change is a big surprise to me. Protoss players obviously don’t like the change, Terran players seem divided about it. The impact of Widow Mine drop (especially in TvP) should be discussed in two different categories. The first is its ability to kill workers, and the second is the ease to clear burrowed Widow Mines on cool down. Separating these two aspects is extremely important, because even Blizzard had mixed these two up! In late 2017, Blizzard made the change that would reveal Widow Mines when they are on cool down. Their rationale was very strange:

“In an effort to reduce certain game ending moments, we want to try making Widow Mines easier to clean up.”

The game ending moments happen when Widow Mines kill many Probes. The situation occurs when the Widow Mines are burrowed for the first time at the mineral line, so making them easier to clean up is not going to resolve the stated concern. You can even nerf Widow Mines to fire only once and reveal themselves after use, and you would still have the same game ending moments. With this in mind, it is strange to see some people suggesting the new proposed change is going to be too good at killing workers.

The requirement of detection to clear the Widow Mines is in fact a big deal in TvP. When the Widow Mine nerf in patch 4.0 was first announced, I said that it would change the build dynamics of TvP. Not needing detection at home allows Protoss to cut corner in their builds and play more offensively. Thus, I like this change as it could make the early game interaction more interesting and dynamic. However, I’m skeptical about Blizzard’s projected outcome that this change would encourage players to shift from using Siege Tank push to Widow Mine drop. Both are popular now.

Zerg

  • Queen
    • Anti-air weapon range decreased from 8 to 7.

Finally. Many have been asking for this change for years. Queen is too all rounded in the early game. If you are not sure what the opponent is doing, make Queens. If you think opponent is going to attack, make Queens. It is seen as the culprit to the lack of effective attacking options against Zerg. I like how Blizzard justify the change by restating the reason Queen’s anti-air range was buff in the first place. Their concern about Battlecruiser makes sense. In fact, the nerf makes every Terran timing attack option in that time frame stronger, because the attacks are usually “triggered” by the completion of a Starport unit.

  • Baneling
    • Centrifugal Hooks no longer grants Banelings +5 HP.
    • Centrifugal Hooks cost decreased from 150/150 to 100/100.

I thought +10 HP to Baneling in patch 3.8 was a big deal when it was first announced. It was later dialed back to +5 HP in patch 3.9.1. Overall, the additional health didn’t seem as impactful as I initially thought. Removing the bonus HP might be too much. The trade off of decreasing its cost does not seem to balance the nerf much. I’m not optimistic of this change.

  • Infestor
    • Microbial Shroud no longer requires an upgrade.

A good choice for an ability that is not used much.

  • Creep Tumor
    • “Armored” tag removed.
    • “Light” tag added.

This is a very interesting change. Creep spread counter play is always a controversial topic. If Zerg cannot spread creep well, they are pretty dead. Making a change to Creep Tumor is risky. However, I think the idea of changing the tag from armored to light is worth testing. It mainly affects the early to mid game transition period, whereby Adepts, Oracles, and Hellions are more active against Zerg. The change is likely to result in players entering the mid game with creep being less developed. What I like about the change is that it is not a flat nerf to spread distance or speed, as it targets the counter play. The change mainly makes it easier for the opponent to clear the creep, but it makes no difference if the opponent does not do it. Together with the Queen nerf, Zerg need to be more careful with their decision making in the early to mid game transition.

Protoss

  • Nexus
    • New ability: “Battery Overcharge”
      • Effect: Overcharges a target Shield Battery, increasing its shield restoration rate by 100% and causing it to regenerate 100 energy over 21 seconds.
      • Cost: 75 Energy.
      • Cooldown: 0 seconds.
      • Range: 8.

PvP definitely needs a change. The argument for this new ability sounds good, as the change does not seem to have negative byproduct. If the ability is too good, we may see Protoss favoring defensive choices in PvP. But that means the number can be adjusted. Overall, it seems like a fruitful path to resolve the stated problem.

  • Oracle
    • Revelation energy cost decreased from 50 to 25.
    • Revelation cooldown increased from 2 seconds to 10 seconds.
    • Revelation duration decreased from 30 seconds to 15 seconds.

Again, the argument sounds good. But it is a change that requires testing to get a real good gauge of the results.

  • High Templar
    • Feedback range increased from 9 to 10.

Don’t know much about late game PvZ. The consideration of EMP and Enhanced Shockwave is good. The TvP mid game is going to be more interesting with Ghost (with upgrade) versus High Templar (with this change).

Overall, I am very positive of the proposed changes. When you identify the key issues well, it is generally easier to get people on board with the proposed changes.


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