How to Play StarCraft

how to play starcraft

StarCraft : How to Play

The complexities of StarCraft can be a little overwhelming at first but ultimately taking the time to improve your skill is an extremely rewarding activity. The purpose of this guide is to prepare you for competitive one vs one StarCraft matches on Battlenet. The aim of this work is to provide a complete guide to elevate beginner StarCraft players or “noobs” into the realm of seasoned StarCraft veterans.

Always Spend Your Money

The first thing you need to know about StarCraft is that you want to be broke. Floating a large number of minerals or gas is an unforgivable sin. If you do not spend all of your money immediately, then you will become hopelessly behind if your opponent does. Your opponent will have a much larger army or more advanced units, and so he will win battles and hence the game. In order to spend your money quickly, you can do a few things.

#1 : Hotkey your production.

A traditional hotkey layout has units on hotkeys 1, 2, 3 and 4 and production facilities on 5, 6 and 7. Having your facilities accessible by hotkey allows you to produce workers and units even while you are microing an attack. One common problem with beginning players is that when they have to focus on a fight they completely ignore their production and start floating a lot of minerals and gas. You also have to know all of the keys to press to make different units, such as A for marine or S-Z to produce lings.

#2: Don’t get supply blocked.

If you get supply blocked you will often end up floating a lot of minerals or alternatively queueing up a lot of units to be produced, which is also not ideal. The best thing to do is not get supply blocked in the first place, but if you do get supply blocked you can also use this as an opportunity to first build a few supply buildings or overlords, but then expand or build more production facilities or tech up. Make it a priority to check your supply, the less time during a game you spend supply blocked the better off you are going to be.

#3: Plan out your base

This doesn’t really apply to Zerg, but Protoss and Terran players will benefit a lot from having a neat and tidy base. Put all your production facilities in one place and tech buildings in another. Terrans can use their supply depots for walls, but otherwise, have them off to the side where they are not in the way of anything. For Protoss, you also want to ensure there is a level of redundancy in your pylons, lest an enemy attack unpower all of your production facilities by taking out a single pylon.


Scouting is a very important part of playing StarCraft. At the highest level, StarCraft becomes a game of intelligence and counterintelligence. The legendary Protoss player sOs is famed for canceling tech buildings once they are scouted in order to mind game his opponent into choosing the wrong unit composition. If you can figure out exactly what your opponent is planning you are going to be in great shape to counter their strategies and win the game. Early on it is often worthwhile to send out a worker and see exactly what your opponent is building. If they are going for a greedy build, such as a fast expansion, you know that you will be safe from being attacked for a while. On the other hand, if they did not fast expand they are probably going for early aggression, whether that be a mass of basic units or some tricky tech play like an oracle rush.

In StarCraft information is power. Toward the middle game, the options for scouting open up considerably. Terrans can scan their opponent’s base or use reapers to keep tables on expansion locations and troop movements. Zergs can spread overlords with speed everywhere and maintain sight on the entire map. Protoss have observers, which serve as detection but also can provide invaluable information about your opponent’s tech choices, unit composition and troop movements. Protoss can also tag their opponent’s army with revelation and so long as that spell is active they will have complete knowledge of where those units are located.


baneling drop in terran main

One of the ways that you can gain the upper hand in a StarCraft game is by using harass tactics. Usually, the object of harass is to do some damage to your opponent’s mineral line. For example, adepts are great for causing chaos within your opponent’s base, because they have the ability to teleport short distances with their shades. So you can send two adepts into your opponents natural, and at the same time shade into their main. Together the two adepts can one-shot workers and it is very difficult to defend multiple locations at the same time. Terrans can use dropships to attack with marines in several locations at once, and then when the enemy units move to chase them off they can simply pick up and boost out of there. Ling backstabs are a great way for Zergs to harass their opponents. Wait until your opponent moves out toward your base and then do a ling run by. Because Zerglings move so rapidly you can get inside their natural before they are ready and make things difficult for your opponent. Or you can lift some zerglings into your opponent’s main base by morphing a drop overlord.

While usually the goal with harass is to cause economic damage and thus establish more relative production as the game goes on, harass tactics can also be used to slow your opponent down if you need to buy time for an upgrade to finish or for a unit to come out. Drops and warp ins in the enemy’s base are also a great way to get back in the game if you are losing because if your opponent is slow to react they can suffer game-changing damage. Hitting two or three places at once is generally much more effective and can be very hard to defend against. To make this multitasking easier a lot of pro gamers will do something like queuing up a liberator to target one base while keeping their focus on a dropship at another base. You can queue up an attack by holding shift and then making some actions. This tells the unit do a few different things one after another. By setting up the attack in advance you can free your attention to focus on something else, effectively allowing you to do multiple things at the same time.


reaper harass
early reaper harass can cause panic in your opponent’s base

Unit Composition

Choosing the right unit composition is an important part of competitive play. If your opponent is going for Brood Lords, then Immortals probably aren’t going to be very helpful because they don’t shoot up. If you are in tune with the meta you will often have a good idea what your opponent is going to choose. The meta refers to the most popular and generally most powerful strategies in a particular matchup as understood by pro gamers. So for example mass oracle recently became a popular move in Protoss vs Zerg and mass Hydra Ling Bane is a popular strategy for Zerg against Protoss. Please note that meta-knowledge doesn’t mean that you can get lazy in your scouting and often your opponents will choose atypical strategies that you must prepare for. Make sure to continue to scout their production facilities and their army throughout the mid and late game.

In the late game, one player can gain a tremendous advantage by making a massive unit composition switch after a big battle where a lot of the forces on either side were wiped out. Zerg in particular is adept at this because their entire production comes from hatcheries, but Terran and Protoss can make late game tech switches as well. Part of the late game process is constantly refining your unit composition and going for more expensive and more powerful units. As the game goes on Protoss players will want more Archons, High Templars, Carriers, immortals and other higher tech units. Terrans will want to add in Liberators, Siege Tanks and Vikings, whereas Zergs will try to get to Ultralisks, Brood Lords, Infestors, and Vipers. During the early and middle game, basic units are dominant but these don’t have as much utlity in the late game or the extreme late game. Spellcasters become more and more useful as the game wears on and becoming cost efficient is extremely important, especially if the map is close to being mined out.


marines and scvs battle lings
the zerg horde is held off, but at what cost?

There is nothing more exciting in StarCraft than combat, whether it be a minor skirmish where you are trying to establish a tiny advantage, or an all out battle for control over the center of the map when both sides pit everything they have against each other. Making sure that you choose the right engagement is of vital importance. It can be disastrous to attack through a choke point, especially if your opponent’s forces are arced out behind it, because you will receive many times more damage than you give out. If your opponent has seige units like tanks or liberators, then you can benefit by catching him off guard when these units are unseiged.

Sometimes the clock is ticking and you absolutely have to win right now or the game is over, for example if you suffer devastating losses to your economy but have a decent army advantage. In this scenario your opponent will just need to stall you for as long as possible in order to win, so you will often be forced to take a sub-optimal engagement. In StarCraft it can be very dangerous to simply let your opponent survive if you have an advantage and being able to skillfully execute an attack is an important skill to have.

Buildings can be used defensively to create what is known as “sim city” defenses. By building gateways in front of photon cannons and then having some high templars behind that you can create an impressive defensive set up that is difficult to breach.

picture of sim city defense
rudimentary sim city, the gateways force attacking units to funnel in through a dangerous choke point


One powerful tactic is to do a diversion drop or two when you move out. With any luck your opponent will send too many forces to chase off the drop and his army will be caught out of position while you move in on one of his outer most expansions. Ultimately StarCraft is a game for economic dominance and often just crushing one of their bases is enough to establish a winning advantage. It can be prudent at that point to pull back your forces and defend. The defend generally has an advantage in all out battles because they are closer to their production facilities so will have a slightly larger army. If both armies are in position it is generally harder to attack in than it is to fend off the attack.

carriers vs stalkers
this is a bad engagement for the carriers

StarCraft Summary

StarCraft is a game where you will always be learning new skills and strategies. You can never truly master StarCraft but you can improve on a daily basis, both by studying your own replays and by watching pro gamers play. From macro, to micro, to strategic game sense there is always some new skill you can develop or new level of greatness you can reach. As you progress in your StarCraft journey you will find great joy in developing your skills and testing your abilities against other players. Remember, there is always more to learn, and don’t feel bad when you go on a losing streak because it is only through defeat that you can learn to triumph.

StarCraft Reporter
StarCraft Reporter