Brood War Was Never Balanced
Brood War as a game developed slowly in its 1998-1999 inauguration. Much of the metagame as we know it didn't exist. Players for a long time would still discuss if it was even worth playing with two hands, a laughable idea by today's standards. The access to a sea of information didn't exist as we know it, and the scene within this happy little accident wouldn't even properly acknowledge the term "macro" for years to come.
In the early days, over the turn of the new millennium, Brood War started to see its rise in popularity as a competitive game, particularly in South Korea, predating 'esports' in terminology. In 2001, patch v1.08 would come out as the final balance patch Brood War (or STAR1 as it's often called in Korea) would receive in its entire lifetime, even up to this day.
The game received 5 balance patches in total.
If you look at more modern Brood War -- that is, in the last half decade or so -- there's plenty of successful Terrans. Two of the best players in the world near the end of BW before its recent ASL resurgence were Lee "Flash" Young Ho, a player who is still considered God of the game, and Jung "Fantasy" Myung Hoon, often considered the best player in the world at the "end" of Brood War alongside Heo "JangBi" Yeong Moo.
However, it wasn't always the case that Terran were considered a good, or even a decent race worthy of using competitively. In fact, It wasn't until Lim "SlayerS_`BoxeR`” Yo Hwan came onto the playing field that Terran was seen as equal to the Protoss and Zerg. Not many players knew how to efficiently utilize the full-ranged kit that Terran units had to offer to full capacity before then, and micro outside of basic kiting was not considered a fundamental or even commonly practiced skill at the time. This was especially terrible for Terran because in a sense, every unit in their arsenal has a "spell", or something to press on the unit other than attack-move.
Image - tistory
With that in mind, how could you hold off early Zealots or range-upgraded Dragoons without walling or proper sim-citying? How do you defend early pool with marines when they lose 1v1 and Zerglings are so cost efficient? Even if Zergs aren't aggressive early, how can you possibly keep up with them expanding across the entire map and then overrunning you later, abusing your poor mobility?
Eventually, answers to these questions would become obvious as innovators entered the space. Boxer would show his splendid micro and creativity, even after his prime, as a means to keep even with other competitors. Lee "NaDa" Yoon Yeol would follow up after and be dubbed "The Machine", perfecting mechanical play and focusing on a flawless standard game rather than Boxer's catered strategies towards a player or a specific map's terrain. Choi "iloveoov" Yun Sung, successor to Nada and disciple of Boxer, would follow soon after and develop defense and macro, becoming the greatest influence to the modern meta in Terran matchups. And so on it went.
Don’t get me wrong, there was still a small share of balance whiners, but not to the degree in which you hear of it today. It was often shunned behavior, and players were encouraged to learn a way around it.
In addition, maps would constantly change and shift the balance in favor of one race or the other. Once people learned to pilot the Terran race, they could easily exploit early competitive map advantages, including corridors, tighter spaces, cliffs to drop, and so forth.
Over time, maps would open up, allowing flank opportunities and for macro to prosper when wider centers were made, and allowing mobility to punish the immobile. Fine tuning still occurs to this day, and here we are now.
So what is the purpose of bringing up these various methods of innovation through deep strategical thinking, changes to map pools, and occasionally outright exploitation?
The current climate, socially and for gaming, has shifted drastically. On the gaming level, most popular games are team games now -- Mobas, MMOs and team shooters -- where there’s a myriad of factors in play other than your own performance. Naturally, these other factors are the first to blame for affecting the outcome of the match, a privilege not present in 1v1 games.
While we still experience a small amount of excuses in 1v1 games, like the fighting and RTS genres, the plague of complaining and blame shifting is primarily housed within the other communities. However, it has slowly dispersed unto our own. Suddenly, we are seeing people take a step back, look at Brood War, and state, “there’s imbalance in this game, and it needs to be fixed right now.”
Thing is, it always was this way. Why is it only now being so critically addressed, then?
As was mentioned previously, other communities have sprouted and have become the most popular competitive outlet for most gamers. Within these communities, making excuses and whining over outcomes has proliferated, no thanks to the growing number of lightly or poorly moderated forums of discussion present today. It has essentially been not only standardized, but encouraged. Gone are the days where you’re told to put up or shut up, to adapt or move on.
In a way, this is mirrored in society, too. Growth of safety nets and general anti-failure mechanisms have contributed to a growing acceptance of neglecting self-accountability and responsibility. I do realize this is a controversial belief, but I do stand by it. The cultivation of balance whining and finger pointing is an accumulation of things these climate shifts entail.
WCG 2005. Photo - TeamLiquid
Brood War was never balanced. There was a certain magic about the development of the metagame with minimal developer involvement that cannot be replicated in the current climate. Something is powerful, you shout obscenities at the developers, and two weeks later it’s fixed, only for something else to break.
Now, if they so desire, they will just capitalize on this and force you to spend more resources to purchase or invest in whatever is strong next in an endless cycle that leaves the consumer chasing satisfaction that never comes and the developers’ pockets full.
You could claim modern esports are more balanced than ever before -- you might even be right -- but you’ll never experience the very unique satisfaction those who have journey through Brood War have endured.
Brood War certainly has its faults, but much like how most interactions work, especially with other people, there’s beauty and perfection in one’s flaws and imperfections. Sure, esports has grown to immeasurable levels since games like Brood War were in their prime, but there’s missing pieces of the puzzle.
Esports has birthed many new legends, but only in the universe of old could we shift the tides enough to make something useless seem overpowered. Only then were brilliant minds so influential that not only would tiny tweaks incomprehensible to the average mind and player cause an influx of superior results for a race, but it would shift the metagame entirely, forcing intuitive counters to counter-counters, and constantly push the threshold of strategical development.
Brood War may have been a mess, and may even have been one of the more unbalanced esports that has seen such peaks in success, but greater stories have never been woven in this space.
We may see mechanical prodigies grow and develop, and even strategic masterminds in their own right, but it is unlikely we will see tactics defy the rules and standards of the game and community in the way we did with our happy little accident that is Brood War, and the patient scene behind it that valued innovation and critical thinking over validation and instant gratification.