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14. Juni 2009, 05:20
Mindcontrol: Making the difference



This guide is about mental strategies helping you to become a better Starcraft player. Since mental training has become standard for almost every sport played on a competitive level (or for players who just want to improve), Starcraft players can greatly benefit from the strategies and tools professional athletes use. In the first part of the guide, I will discuss a variety of topics concerning mental strategies - for example, relaxation, concentration, intention and so on. In the second part of the guide, I asked several top bw players from the present and the past about their own mental strategies. These players include

In order to give the players I asked something in return, I will give one of them the second beta key (that is, if I am able to win). I will let teamliquid.net decide, which contribution is the most helpful one - Vote here [link]. The player with the most votes will be given the second beta key.

I am by no means an expert concerning this topic. My experiences comes from what I have been teached by my trainer when I still played chess competitively and what I have read over the years. If you find only one of the tips and strategies in here useful and apply it to your game, this guide has fulfilled its purpose.

[b]Part I: Mental Strategies for Starcraft


Guaranteeing the win




A few years ago, when Starcraft was still played at LANs (often with tourneys and nice prices), I once observed one of the better German players (back then) playing. In fact, a lot of people did, because it was quite a sight: He was slumped forward in his chair, his head only a few inches away from the monitor; you could see how his shoulders cramped and also hear his shallow breathing. He lost his game. This episode made a huge impact on me, because at that time, I played chess competitively and had a trainer. One of his first lessons was to teach me how to sit properly when playing chess. I found it ridiculous and unnecessary.

It was only at this LAN when I understood how important posture was - not only for your mind, but also for your appearance. In Starcraft, you are already playing against one opponent. You don’t need another one, namely yourself. Many of the strategies and tips in here are aimed towards you concentrating your energy and focus and making the best of it. Thus it is important that you can fully concentrate on the game and are not distracted or limited by a wrong body posture.

Next, there are a few simple rules that will help you to sit relaxed.

1. Place both feets firmly on the ground.

This should be a given, but often it is not. Dont cross your legs when playing - sooner or later, one of it will go numb, especially then when you need 100% focus in order to flank the Terran properly. Also make sure that your knees point in the same direction as your feet, since it will releave much of the stress you put on them. Placing your feets that way will also make it easier for you to

2. Sit straight.

This is very important, and I am not talking about the longtime consequences of playing several years with a slumped upper body (horrible posture and a weak lower back). If you slump your upper body, your chest basically collapses, making it much more difficult for you to breathe. If you don’t get enough oxygen, you will become tired sooner. If you become tired, you will make mistakes. If you make mistakes, you will lose the game. Your shoulders will also (unconsciously) rise if you slump, making your neck stiff over a while and preventing your brain from being properly supplied with blood (which makes you, again, become tired more quickly). Having your shoulders in such an unnatural position will also increase the risk of cramps. Sit straight by using this visualization: With your feets firmly planted on the ground, imagine a cross in your back making your chest expanding to the sides and your head towards the ceiling. Take a deep breath, align your body that way, breath out, relax.

Since you have to focus most of your attention on your game rather than your posture, you will inevitably slump sooner or later. That is not a problem if you constantly remind yourself to re-align your body. It also helps to make sure that you sit _on_ your chair and not _in_ it. It is also very important to get up from time to time during games and stretch/loosen up a bit -especially when sitting in front of the PC for a long time. It will prevent your muscles from going numb or cramping and will thus help you in your game.




Relaxation is probably one of the most important things in almost every competitive sport. If you are tense, you are like a fist -you can strike, but that is your only possibility. If you are relaxed, you are an open hand - you can pull, pinch, grab and, if needed, still make a fist. So the more relaxed you are, the better your brain works and the more possibilites you can choose from.

I experienced that firsthand when I played several blitz tourneys in chess, where you only have five minutes for the entire game. No matter how good your position was, when the time was up you lost. So it became very hectic at the end of each game, because both players often only had mere seconds and played very fast, thus often sacrificing the advantage they had because they ruined their good position and got checkmated even before the time ran out. I always used to start shaking, especially in important games (I still do today when playing a good player in Starcraft) and it’s needless to say that my concentration suffered from this.

We already covered the importance of your bodyposture while playing. It is also very important in order to relax - if you play hunched over with your shoulders high and your breathing shallow, it is impossibly to relax. So if you have a good posture, relaxation will be easier for you. The most common method for relaxation is to control your breath. Starcraft players breath differently though - if you watch VODs a lot, you will notice that a lot of players play with their mouth (unconsciously) open. This is normal, since when you are under stress, your body will automatically try to get more oxygen, resulting in the half open "gamer mouth". I don’t want to tell you how you should breath, since you have been doing this all your life. However, I want to offer you a sequence that helped me to relax when the game became hectic and I noticed that I was tense:

Breathe deeply through your nose. Imagine inhaling a certain aroma you really like, like fresh coffee for example. Rather than breathing in your chest, try to get the air inside of your stomach - if it expands outwards, you are doing it right.

Deeply exhale through your mouth and make sure there will be no air left in your lungs. While doing this, combine this action by a certain keyword and image - those will become linked over time to precisely that action. For example, when I exhale I use "Free" as a keyword (which I only think and not speak out loud) and imagine taking a very cold shower, relaxing my whole body. The more often you practice this sequence, the faster your body (and in return your mind too) will relax. Choose your very own keyword and image that relaxes you. You can practice this at first while not playing with your eyes closed, but with further training, your body will instantly react to the keyword.



Concentration is maybe the most important thing you need to learn when you want to play Starcraft at a high level. It is said that the "secret" of Kasparov were not his highly developed chess skills but his ability to concentrate to 100% when the game was at a critical point. I am absolutely convinced that this kind of laserlike concentration (together with dedication) is the main reason that seperates the good from the bad player.

Concentration needs preparation. It is a lot harder to concentrate if you haven’t slept enough, need to take a leak, are hungry, emotionally upset or not even in the mood to play Starcraft. Of course, professional players and athletes still have to play their A-game even when faced with those problems, but they have been doing so for a long time. In the beginning, it is easier to practice concentration under optimal conditions. If you are confident with your basics in such an environment, you will also be able to maintain your focus when the circumstances are not 100% ideal - like when playing at a LAN, maybe with an unfamiliar hardware setup or people close up watching your game and breathing in your ear.

A nice way of coping with the close proximity of smelly old men during chess tournies was something I will call The Bubble. Basically, you visualize a transparent bubble around your body. You can still notice other people and your surroundings, but you decide what thoughts, smells, words or influences of any kind you want to let pass through your bubble and which not. Before a game, I would make it clear to myself, that the only thing allowed inside of my bubble would be the board and the clock - no other thoughts.

Everytime I noticed something trying to enter my private space inside that bubble, I would visualize how it bumped against my shield and then concentrate again on my game. Another way that improved my concentration tremendously was to set an anchor point where I could always return to when I lost concentration.

To understand this, try to accept concentration as follows: You never truly lose concentration, you only concentrate on other things when you lose your focus. The trick is to bring the ever jumping ape in your head back to the point where you want to have it - again and again. Thus, you need a place or ritual you can always return to when you notice that you have lost your focus.

In chess, for example, very young players (~6-10) would be given the advice to count all of their pieces once they noticed that they had lost their focus. When they became older, they would instead perform a blundercheck (checking whether your pieces are attacked and can be taken by your opponent and vice versa), which was more challenging but also more useful for your game - after all, watching out for your opponents threats is a key element. From there, you can concentrate again on your gameplan, decide, what you want to do and what you want to avoid and thus plan your next action.

If you notice while playing Starcraft that you have lost your focus, try to find your own haven that will bring you back on the track. This is for many professional athletes a certain ritual - for example, watch tennis players, how they let the ball bounce off the ground for always the exact amount of times before they serve. If I find my thoughts wander in Starcraft, I always return to my base first and make sure that my macro works, namely that I produce units from all facilities and that I have enough supply. As long as you aren’t a Korean progamer, macro will be often the decisive element when playing other players on your level. So even if you have lost your focus during the game, as long as you notice and macro, you know that you are still in the game and have a decent chance of winning. Like in my previous example, after you have checked upon your macro, your next step can be to remind yourself of your current gameplan - What is important right now? What do you want to achieve, what do you want to prevent? Then you are back on track and have regained your focus.



Concentration and intention are in certain aspects very similiar to each other. You need to be concentrated in order to clarify your intention and then execute it. So first of all, you should be really clear about your intention or what you really want to achieve. This already starts before the game - do you want to play just for fun or do you want to practice? If it’s the latter, what exactly do you want to practice and how do you realize that you have achieved it?

You should really ask yourself those questions if you want to improve, because otherwise, you will just play thousands of games without noticing any changes. It is of course important to play for fun, trying other races, maps or build orders but it is also vital to know what exactly in your game you want to improve. If you dont know what port you are headed for, every wind in any direction is bad. Maybe you have realized that your muta micro hasn’t been up to par lately and you want to change that.

Your first intention would be to train those scenario where you attack marines and medics with a group of mutas of your own. Instead of playing countless games, where this kind if situation maybe never or rarely occurs due to certain factors (like you win the game before you even get to mutas or your opponents on ICC dont want to play terran) you try to get one of the muta micro maps Chill used to practice on shortly before he started to play. You set yourself a somewhat realistic goal like killing a certain amount of marines without losing too much of your own mutas and then you start to practice. If you manage to achieve your set goal, you know for certain that your time was not in vain and well spent. You may raise the bar a bit higher for the next day. If you do only 15 minutes a day consistently for a few weeks, you will become better at your mutalisk control.

The same goes of course for any other aspects you want to improve - got problems with getting the timing down for a specific build on a certain map? Try to find a practice partner where the both of you train certain scenarios in return. Maybe you are bored when it is your partners time do to something, but you will have made more progress than randomly playing on ICC without working on your problems in your game.

The plural of intentions could be gameplan. To have a gameplan or not decides the outcome in a match between two players of even skill, which is especially true for Starcraft. It is a fact that most players at the lower ranks only have a very faint idea of knowing what to do besides the basics. The better the player the more details he knows about the game and the more possible intentions his opponent has. That is why a gameplan is so essential - if you don’t know what to do, your actions are largely ineffective, because they are not orientated towards a certain goal. As a kid, I had great problems dealing with the Kings Indian Defence (a chess opening) as white. Basically, black closes the center and attacks the white king while white counters on the queen side. That summed up everything I knew concerning that opening.

Before I could win in that "matchup" on that "map", I needed a gameplan, a guideline I could follow in order to reach my goal. So with the help of my trainer, I started to analyze countless games where that specific opening was played. I learned, that black in general doesnt want the queens exchanged, because it would diminish his attacking power, that good players would play a7-a5 in order to prevent my b4 at the queen side as long as possible, that the movement of the black knight at the king side always prepares f7-f5 and so on - a lot of many little details. Yet exactly those details helped me to understand, what and especially how my opponent wanted his intentions to be achieved. I no longer had a blurry image in my head, but a map I could follow and that showed me what way my opponent could go. It is the same way with Starcraft. Today we have access to numerous replays, VODs and even FP streams by top players in and outside Korea, so we have the ability to analyze their game and adopt their ideas.

Try at first to state the obvious intentions of a player - like, with zerg to expand early and gain an economical advantage in terms of gas to afford enough mutalisks in order to harass the terran as long as possible so zerg can take even more expansions with gas and use his high level units like defilers and ultralisks. Now, try to break down how players follow and achieve those intentions. If the terran has also expanded early, some players will make some lings and try to sneak inside the terrans main to wreak havoc - on what maps did it work? When and why did it work or not work? What details played a key role? And most importantly: How can you apply the knowledge to your game? Preparing and executing a gameplan seems like a lot of work, but it will give you a definite advantage over players who just mindlessly play their game without any thoughts. Even though fast expanding and macro have become bigger over the years, Starcraft is still a strategy game.



Motivation is paramount when you want to achieve something. If you are motivated enough, you can do almost anything. Unfortunately, we are not always motivated for the "right" things - like studying, analzying replays or games for mistakes or writing guides in time. In this part, I am going to give some pointers on how you can motivate yourself for specific tasks.

Motivation for your bad matchup

There was a time when I loathed playing TvZ, mostly because I would lose everytime. Instead of working on my game, asking myself why I lost and how I could deal with it, I just avoided the matchup completely. That was because everytime I was about to see or play a TvZ, my mind was filled with scenes of stacked mutalisks raiding my peonlines, lurkers killing all of my marines, and when I managed to survive that long, swarm would put an end to me anyway. So it is not very surprising that I didn’t want to play TvZ anymore.

A few months later I would see the Starcraft movie Boxer The Emperor for the first time. Boxer was always my favorite player, and I loved how in the movie he displayed his excellent micro, killing tons of zerg units with just a few marines and medics. That was the turning point for me: TvZ no longer only consisted of zerg raping terran but also vice versa. I had a certain set of believes and images in a drawer called TvZ, and I replaced them. TvZ became fun again when I worked on my micro and was able to kill lurkers with a spread of my marines, when I dropped stimmed firebats in drones, or when I used the eraser on drones. TvZ became my bad matchup because I focused on the bad sides of it, so I would often try to avoid that matchup altogether. Once I realized that there was more to the matchup, I started to like it again and had fun when playing. Fun is the best motivation, so I played more and in return improved faster.

What is your weak matchup and why? What makes it fun for you? If you dont know, watch some highlight videos - even in TvT, usually a very boring matchup (though not always) you sometimes have the chance to legitimately use nukes, doing doom drops with a lot of ships or breaking a contain in a spectacular manner. Focus on the good parts of your bad matchup and it will soon become good too.

Motivation when in a slump

From time to time, everyone has a slump and loses a lot of games. It is only natural, because Starcraft is very old and there are a lot of talented players who train harder and are more dedicated. It is sometimes a sign to evolve as a player, because one has reached a certain level where the old strategies and tactics simply are no longer enough to compete.

It can be very hard to motivate yourself to get back on track and pull yourself together. What counters this best is something I would like to call your very own "Trophy room". This trophy room only exists in form of your replays or memories, where you were able to beat players who were stronger than you, managed to pull off impressive micro or were simply just proud of a certain action you did. Create a replayfolder just for this specific purpose; only add replays you deem worthy and only watch those when you are in a slump and have no motivation at all. Those games will remind you of your own skill, that you can do better and your losing streak is only temporary. You can also put those scenes in your mind together, dubbed with music - your very own highlight movie. It is important to have a possibilty to break out of that state of negative emotions that comes naturally when one is in a slump, and by reminding yourself of your own strengths, you do this effectively.


Your Gameface


There is a big difference how professional athlethes act when they compete in a match or tourney and when they are not competing. As a matter of fact, sometimes you would ask yourself how shy and curteous that football player can be in RL when on the field he becomes a seemingly whole new person, radiating with confidence, relaxed and a "dont-fuck-with-me" attitude. Professional athletes often create some kind of alter-ego for themselves, some kind of rolemodel that has become reality. To give an example: If you play football but are not prepared to enforce yourself aggressively, you will most likely not go too far. You can, however, create this kind of attitude for yourself, and assume it when on the field. This is not about becoming schizophrenic but creating some kind of mental tool that will help you to achieve your goals on the field. Your gameface is not necessarily a whole new person, it only contains all the aspects, traits and characteristics you need in order to win the game. Maybe you are too lazy to train or to try a new build order, but your alter ego, your competitive personality has enough discipline to do it.

Again, this is not about becoming someone else but to augment the characteristics of your personality you need for the competition. Confidence or discipline are no traits you can learn or lose; they are attitudes you can assume every time you want. If you rarely assume the trait confidence, it will be of course not that effective as if you do it daily. That is why it is so important to have a specific mindset for competitions, where there is no room for negative emotions or unnecessary thoughts but only the traits you need - for example, a clear and focused mind, discipline, confidence and the desire to give your best. If you always want to play with the most ressources you have, it would be very useful to create such a gameface yourself. Try to analyze what traits you are lacking and what attitudes and believes you want to change. Start with one thing at a time, for example staying calm and mannered for a series of ten games.

If you managed to do that, focus on another quality. Consciously go into that state of mindset before every game (or every time you need it) by doing some kind of ritual - a lot of professional athletes do seemingly strange things like always putting on the right shoe first for exactly that reason. When I still played chess, my mindset was that of a samurai and by making the first move on the board, I would draw my (imaginary) sword. That was the trigger for me: now its on, and I will not stop giving my best until I won or have been checkmated. There was no room for other thoughts than those concerning the game and no other emotions than the joy for the challenge.

Creating and putting on a gameface is an extremely powerful tool which will also help you greatly in Starcraft. There is no reason to pretend, that you have the same mutamicro like July, because you dont have invested the same amount of practice like him - but you can be as confident, or disciplined (or fat) as him. It is in moments where you feel too lazy or too tired or too anything that you have to put on your gameface and do the job - if you can’t do it, your competitive personality can. Our minds are cluttered with unnecessary thoughts and emotions, which will hinder and restrict us to give our best when in a match. That is why many pros are seemingly so extremely different when on the field and that is why it could give you an edge when playing Starcraft.



This is pretty selfexplanatory. Without confidence in your own abilities, you won’t achieve much. I think it is no coincidence that a lot of the high tier players are a bit arrogant (sometimes even bad mannered), because they know how good they are. They proved themselves in tournies, leagues or matches and played with the best in top clans. You can separate the really confident from the arrogant ones by claiming, that they are in fact very bad at Starcraft and their recent wins were a mixture of luck and imbalance. A lot of arrogant players with no real confidence will immediately try to defend themselves by giving an account of their latest wins or by verbally counterattacking. They do this because in secret, they fear that the person is right because they had the same thoughts about their game. People who are truly confident in their game and skills won’t even bother to answer. This has a lot to do with the image we have of ourselves and how we deal with it when other people try to change said image, or, in other words, how self-conscious you are.

It has a lot to do with confidence, for example: Assume that you have been challenged by someone who said that you couldn’t win vs a C player for your life. It would be confident to accept the challenge and believing in yourself. It would show a lot of self-consciousness if you instead just think "Well, I have played a lot of C-players and I won against a lot of them too, so what’s the point?" In the latter case, you have a certain image of yourself in which you believe therefore you find it unnecessary to prove yourself - because you know for certain, that you can do it.

It therefore adds to your confidence, because you have the strong belief that you can do something. To know ones strengths and weaknesses is very important, because only then can you - and only you - judge yourself. You don’t have to accept or believe how other people judge you because you already made your mind up concerning yourself and know what you can do and can’t do. When I started to play Starcraft, a lot of people would tell me that my wins were mere luck and I only have a bit of a talent in 2on2. Unfortunately, I believed them and adopted their opinion about me and thought it true. Don’t let that happen to you - a realistic opinion of and by yourself is very important if you want to become more confident.

So analyze yourself: What are your strengths, what are your weaknesses? If you know that you are good with little units and aggressive builds in the early game, you should try to play out exactly those scenarios, even if the trend nowadays is more about fast expanding. On the other hand, if you know that you are weak with fast expansion builds, you can work on that and overcome it - and become more confident, because now you have another build order in your repertoire and thus a wider range of tools you can use against your opponent. True confidence comes from knowing with certainty that you can do something. If you have practiced a specific opening with all its details and varieties over and over again, you know what will happen and that you will be able to deal with it. What are your strong points you can use against your opponent? What other "weapons" can you develop to be less transparent for your opponent?

Confidence is also about having the right attitude, though. If you go into the game with thoughts like "oh god this guy plays for mTw, he must be really strong" you probably will be intimidated and not be able to play your A-game. Vice versa, if you are too (unrealistically) confident like "that guy is dead anyway ez" you are likely to take too many risks and lose. Either state to "just give my best" and then really play to the best of your abilities or don't occupy yourself at all with those thoughts and solely focus on your game and the problems at hand.


Guaranteeing the win

Kasparov, the former chess world champion, was known for one thing above all: his preparation. He was one of the first professional players to use PCs. He demanded a list of participants for tournaments months in advance. He studied hundreds of games of his opponents in order to find weaknesses. It is said that he won a lot of tournaments "at home" because of his huge amount of work. What Kasparov and other professional athletes from other sports have in common is that they do prepare a lot, or, in other words, they stack their advantages - they accumulate as many as possible in order to increase their chances for victory as much as possible. It is something that I have noticed is common to a lot of very good players. When I played in leagues, I often would come online some minutes before the game and then play, often without even knowing the maps. I had no advantage I could rely on.

I know a (very good) player who would do a lot of work before a BWCL game - like, getting to know the maps, creating and discussing strategies and cheese builds on those, finding replays of the team he was supposed to play and analyzing them, getting warmed up an hour before the game with a friend, devising a plan what maps he will chose when he wins/loses, what map he will play first, what he is doing when his opponent lags and so on. It seems rather excessive, but his preparations almost always pay off. He knows a lot more than his opponents and he abuses that advantage to no end.

If you want to win, you should collect as many advantages as you can. For league games, you can do your "homework" like mentioned above, but there also things you can do when playing in a ladder like ICC, where you have absolutely no idea whom you will be playing against:

Your mindset

This is something I have already covered under Gameface. In general, try to be as relaxed and happy as you can be. Hear some good music to get yourself ready. Pump yourself up a bit, trash talk with friends and strengthen your confidence. Expect to win, simply because you are you.

Your allies

You need allies in order to train specific builds and strategies - and, of course, to have fun. Having someone to test the new maps is a great help, since you can freely discuss strategies and builds.

Your homework

See above - try to gain as much information as possible concerning maps and the most popular (cheese) strategies on them. This will pay off greatly especially on the lower levels of ICC, where cheesing is a lot more common than on the higher levels.

Your timing

Play when you are fit and have the desire to play - there is no use to force you to play when you are sick or feeling ill. If you rather want to do something else, your mind will wander anyway, so play some other time. Of course, if you are really serious about your progress, you should train even if you don’t feel 100% fit - you have to decide for yourself. Korean progamers sacrifice the better part of the day in order to become (and stay) good, so if they can do +12h Starcraft a day, maybe you can do at least 1h even if you dont feel too good.

Your gear

Are your keyboard, mouse and monitor working properly? Do you have the plugin to de-activate the windows keys? There is no need for you to pull a Boxer and remove all the keys you dont need, but maybe you could do something about the "1" and "2" keys which kind of jam because you spam 1a2a3a4a every game .



When I started out Starcraft, I would try many different things like trying to cannon my opponent, build an evolution chamber after pool for early grades or go pure vulture vs Protoss. Soon I would realize that some strategies were more effective than others - I had reached a certain level and had to adapt.

So I discarded some strategies and kept playing the other ones. For some time, I would win more games - up to a certain point, again. Though at that time, I didn't change my game. I realised that when I did that the first time, I was still a newbie who didn't know much about the game. When I hit the "next level", I was simply too lazy to change my strategies again. Why should I anyway? I still won more than I lost (that was on bnet, of course), and those few weren’t too important.

What I didnt realize was, that I stopped to evolve as a player. I had a certain set of strategies I would use every game. Those would sometimes work out, and sometimes not. I didnt bother to check why, I was just happy to win. But I would never get past a certain stage, because more experienced players would simply abuse the holes in my builds.

I know that good players often see a build in a VOD and then start to copy it. I know a lot of players who dont do it at all, because they might lose a few games until they get used to it. The game is still developing though, and new maps and gamestyles are emerging at least every new ICC season.

Therefore, it is really important to have a faint idea what build orders are en vogue so you at least know what your opponents might play against you. A new build or style will challenge your skills and your previosusly existing understanding of the game - you will grow as a player. You may have to break a few old habits, but you will gain new insights and possibilities. In the end, you will be able to understand more of the game and its facets.

So try something new. Get rid of that super safe expansion build and try something more aggressive. Try to cheese, just to see how your opponent reacts to it. When they are able to hold it off, you learnt something new. If it works, you win the game. Either way - you win. Start a new account and play to explore the game and not to win. It really brings the fun back when you are offracing and are again somewhat of a newbie. Also, you will gain a lot of insights for your own race when playing with a different one.


Part II: Learn from the masters

I asked several gamers about their innergame and improving in general:

20. Juli 2009, 01:40


18. Oktober 2009, 18:07
Stop spam that forum asshole!