The Mindset; The role of psychology in competitive Starcraft
Introduction Let me start by saying that I do not study philosophy so one should take my beliefs as nothing more than that. I do not presume to be telling you the truth in this thread, nor do I want to. Read this thread and think about what I say (or try to say ^_^) and maybe you will be able to improve your strategic play. If such is not the case, you might still have enjoyed reading this post.
The Mindset, a definition I believe that the human mind is only capable of taking the initiative to one new action and that the number of actions one can take initiative to is limited by your state of mind. To be able to take initiative to a certain action, one must be in a certain mindset and switching between mindsets is something the human mind prefers not to do as it takes effort. In a game of Starcraft, I consider there to be three different mindsets;
Certain actions can not be taken when into a certain mindset. Microing actions for instance are only possible when in the defending or attacking mindset. This does not mean that it is impossible to macro and micro at the same time (see multitasking below), but it does mean that when you are focussing on your macro it is impossible to micro to the fullest of your abilities.
Some thoughts about Multitasking Multitasking makes this theory more complex as it allows the human mind to take initiative to two or more actions at the same time, or so it seems. For instance, good Zerg players are able to continue production while harassing with mutalisks. So while they are in the attacking mindset they are able to continue basic macroing actions, which seems to contradict my whole mindset theory. However, it doesnt. I believe multitasking skills to be learned through experience and training and what in fact happens is that you learn your mind a specific multitasking skill. You dont learn general multitasking abilities, but you learn to multitask mutalisk harassing and unit production.
I believe this to be true because whenever I learn to multitask two separate tasks, I only learn to multitask those two specific tasks. While I can harass with mutalisks and macro at the same time, I can not multitask two separate conversations or multitask a double mutalisk harass or a speedling harass and certain macro actions.
So when you multitask two different tasks you have taken the initiative to only one action, that being the multitasking X + Y action you have programmed into your mind.
The three different mindsets and their inner workings Before I tell you how I think you can exploit the existence of mindsets to improve your play, Ill first take the time to tell you how I think the three different mindsets work and what actions one might take initiative to while in a certain mindset. Because each mindset has a different set of actions, completely separated from the set of actions for the other mindsets, one would need to learn certain multitasking skills for the mindset it would need to be activated in.
The Macro Mindset In this mindset you are able to take all actions necessary to improve your production and economy. Think of building structures, training units/workers, securing expansions, scouting, taking all sorts of strategic decisions, etc, etc. Without training, one is not able to micro while in the macro mindset. Through specific multitasking training, one will be able to combine certain macroing actions with certain specific microing actions. For instance, most players will be able to multitask one group of units while performing basic macroing actions. The intensive micro actions (think of controlling a big m&m/tank/vessel force or a lurker/scourge/ling flank) however, will require so much attention of the mind that a player will never be able to initiate them while in the macro mindset.
The Defending Mindset In this mindset you are able to take all necessary actions in order to hold a specific piece of ground. Think of an expansion, a contain, the area your army is currently taking a well deserved rest on, etc, etc. The defending mindset in other words allows you to take all actions needed to defend whatever your opponent decides to attack. The defending mindset is a micro focussed mindset and as such fully allows you to perform all the micro activities you deem necessary. In this mindset you are however unable to perform macro activities other than those you have absorbed into a multitasking action for the defending mindset. Also, attacking micro is exclusive for the attacking mindset described below.
The Attacking Mindset In this mindset you are able to focus on the actions needed to effectively roll over the opponents defence with your army. Any micro intensive action with the goal to being the aggressor, to dealing damage to the opponents economy or his base is executed in the attacking mindset. Think of executing a tank/vulture push, an harass, an expansion raid, a containment break, a full front assault, etc, etc. Like the defending mindset the attacking mindset is a micro focussed mindset and as such contains no macro actions other than those the player himself planted in the mindset through the means of a multitasking skill.
Changing between mindsets and the inherent problems that arise while doing so Changing between mindsets takes energy and if you do it too much youll grow tired very quickly which of course wouldnt be good for you in general. This means that your body has throughout your life put certain restrictions on changing between the several mindsets that exist (while a game of starcraft only has three, life has an indefinite amount of mindsets). You will find that there is a certain transition time when switching between two mindsets. People are physically able to play much faster than they do, but their lack of experience forces them to use time to think about the actions they take.
Natural thinking time minus experience equals time lost when taking initiative to actions without needing to change to another mindset The more experience one has the less one has to think about certain actions which makes you lose less time. The natural thinking time is the time it takes one specific players mind to take initiative to one specific action if that specific player had no experience. The more experience that player has in taking initiative to that specific action the less time that players mind will take to take initiative to that action.
Time lost plus transitions time equals time lost when taking initiative to actions that force you to change to another mindset If you need to change to anther mindset you will lose even more time. Cliffing with a two tank drop will take you more time to do when you were macroing than if you were attacking his expansion with your m&m/tank/vessel force. Dodging a storm with your hydralisks will take more time if you were macroing than if you were attacking. Moving out with your m&m/tank/vessel force will take more time if you were defending against a muta harass than if you were attacking his lurker contain and forced him to retreat. Etc, etc.
What good is this knowledge to me? The key question is of course how this knowledge will help you in game. How will knowing about the various mindsets, the actions they can take and the way they work make you play stronger? The key to answering this question is found in the time it takes to change between the various mindsets as well as the reason players switch between the various mindsets.
Expected play of opponent plus the way the player thinks is the best to counter said play equals mindset of the player The mindset of the player is formed by both his opponent and the player. This means that depending on the way you act, your opponent will change his mindset. If you for instance would 5 pool, your opponent would put himself in the defending mindset. If you turtled heavily without any offensive units, your opponent would put himself in the macro mindset. If you powered heavily without an adequate defence, your opponent would put himself in the attacking mindset.
Taking advantage of the way of the mindsets In order to be able to take advantage of the mindsets one would do good to understand the way certain matchups work. If you do not know when to force a fight and when to avoid one and if you do not understand why you need to force or avoid a fight at any given time you would never understand when and how to take advantage of the mindsets. In order to learn more about the workings of the game Im going to redirect you (shameless promoting -_-) to my recent thread about the flow of the game.
In any given game that hasnt already been decided there are two possible scenarios. Either you have the army advantage and the economic disadvantage or you have the army disadvantage and the economic advantage.
Taking advantage of the mindsets when you have the army advantage and the economic disadvantage Your task in a game when you have the army advantage is to force a fight to make your army advantage count. Your opponent however wants to stay in the macro mindset to keep production as high as his resources allow him to so he can soon overpower your army. If you however force him to stay in the defensive mindset by constantly applying pressure you keep him out of the macro mindset making him unable to take advantage of his economic advantage while you take advantage of your army advantage.
This holds especially true for inexperienced Zerg players like myself. Properly managing several bases takes all my attention and I will not be able to macro like I want to if I have to constantly micro my hydra/lurk against my opponent Protoss speedzeal/templar army.
Such a situation will also generally arise in a TvsZ and TvsP matchup and it might arise in the mirror matches. The player with the expansions and the economic advantage will be hard-pressed to keep his macro in tact when he has to constantly micro his troops. Every time he has to switch to the defending mindset he not only loses the time he is in the defending mindset, but also the transition time when he wants to get back to the macro mindset.
The inherent beauty of the mindsets is that you dont need to actually do what your opponent expects to force him to change his mindset. Simply threatening to attack (Taking a couple of shots at your opponent sunkens with your goons for instance, without actually attacking the expansion) could be enough to force your opponent in the defensive mindset making him lose valuable time due to a double transition (from macro mindset to defending mindset and from the defending mindset to the macro mindset).
When you figure it is time to attack, try to attack your opponent when he is in the macro mindset so that for the first few vital seconds he will not be focussed on microing his defensive force, giving you what could be a significant edge.
Taking advantage of the mindsets when you have the army disadvantage and the economic advantage The key to winning when you have the economic advantage and the army disadvantage is to avoid a head-on fight. One of the oldest methods of achieving this goal is to constantly delay your opponents force while you harass his base. Every time you harass you force the opponent into the defensive mindset which means his attack/push/breakout/whatever will significantly slowed down. I remember a recent ZvsT (12vs9) I played versus Koit where I double expanded to 3 (main and natural) before I got lurkers. When his m&m/tank force moved out I constantly hovered my mutalisks around his force which sent him running around trying to kill my mutalisks. The mere fact that five mutalisks where in the vicinity of his base kept him in the defensive mindset, trying to secure his expansion. All the while he could have thoroughly trashed both my expansions with his army if he kept a couple of m&m at home. But because he was in the defensive mindset he did not think about attacking for quite some time and when he did I had lurkers in place (which I then all lost with little kills in return due to Koits huge micro advantage over me ^_^).
If you constantly threaten to attack his attacking force you can constantly keep him in the defensive mindset. This is often seen in TvsP games where the T has to constantly mine/turret/siege his way to the Protoss base for fear of a good flanking attack. Because the Terran player is constantly switching between the attacking mindset and the defending mindset he is unable to attack as fast as his army advantage should allow him to.
Whenever you have the economic advantage and the army disadvantage, you can use everything that would force your opponent to go into a macro or defending mindset. Moving a bunch of empty, speedy overlords could force your opponent to move a bug chunk of his m&m force into his base, in fear of a drop. A late game tank drop on a cliff could throw your opponent of his macro mindset into a defensive mindset, which can give you an advantage worthy of the sacrifice of those two tanks.
There are endless variations possible that are all build on the principle that forcing your opponent to take actions that are not available in his current mindset gives you an advantage. The more game knowledge you have the more variations you will find and as most of the posters here will have more game knowledge than I have you will find there to be a multitude of possible variations than the ones I sketched.
There are three different mindsets in a Starcraft game, namely: macro, attacking, defending.
The mindset a player is in defines the actions that player can currently take
Changing between mindsets takes time
Forcing your opponent to take actions that are not available in your opponents current mindset give you an advantage
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