“This is ground control to Major Tom.”
Map control is one of the unsung heroes of StarCraft 2. Killing an opponent's units feels great; parking outside of his base doesn't. But which one is more likely to win you the game? Map control refers to the amount of space in a given territory your units contest. In the early game, your natural may be contested if your opponent has done any of a myriad array of all-ins. Once the natural is secure, the area outside of it will need to be controlled next. Creep, a spine crawler, even just parked units can be enough to secure this. Behind that bit of map control taking a third should not be hard. Everything in your base is probably fairly secure by the mid-game, but the middle of the map will be hotly contested, especially the xel'naga towers. The person with the most map control should inevitably end up with the most bases, so it's important to seize your advantage early and snowball it from there. Many new players ask the question "When should I expand?" The answer, of course, is when you have map control. Many times in low-level games players will win a major battle, gaining them map control which they then throw away on Spine Crawlers, Cannons or a fortified position at the nearest enemy outpost. When a player begins playing against better opponents, you get immediately punished for this. The tendency is to say "I'm not macroing enough" or "I need to improve my micro" when in reality the flaw is a lack of understanding in the realm of map control.
Map control can come in many forms, and these forms vary from race to race and even matchup to matchup. Scouting is one of these forms. If a player doesn't have map control, it is very hard to get any decent scouting in. Terran have scans, so this is somewhat mitigated, but map control can definitely save some scan energy every now and again. Attacks can be affected by map control as well! Nobody wants their 3-base timing scouted by an overlord as they march out of their front door.This episode of Crash Course will introduce you to the wide world of Map Control!
Counter-attacks, too, stem from map control: players with fast, annoying units park them at an uncontested part of the map near their opponent and wait for said opponent to emerge on the map (aka take map control using their main force). Any time that an army is moved it simultaneously gains map control in the area it moves into and loses it in the area it moves away from. Therefore, as an army pushes out, a counter-attack force is able to take that territory without much resistance. Most players are familiar with all of this information, yet it is important to recognize it as a side effect of map control.
In the example video to the right, Lilbow uses gateway aggression after a 1-Gate Expand before Cybernetics Core to take map control and establish a third. To do this, he sets up a contain early on to force TargA, his Zerg opponent, to make a gaggle of units before taking a third. Sometimes, as TargA demonstrates, delaying map control now can mean far more map control later; by getting an early +1 Melee attack instead of the expected third base, he is able to make far fewer units (meaning far more larvae for drones!) to deal with Lilbow's attack.
“I remember long ago how enlightening, how wonderful it was to learn about map control in it's most fundamental ideas. Everyone knows Terran need vessels to move out against a lot of lurkers. Everyone knows mutas can keep Terran pinned into his base for a little while. But those are such specific situations, when the idea of map control is so much more general than that. Map control is a constantly present factor in BroodWar. If you have it, you need to know you have it so you can take advantage of it and expand. If you don't have it, you need to know that so you don't move out and lose all your ||||. Make drones to make money. It's that fundamental to the game. It will raise your understanding of matches so much higher if you haven't grasped it yet... ”
Map control has checks and balances however. If there were no counter-force, then whoever got map control would inevitably win the vast majority of games. The main counter-force here involves technological paths the opponent can take. For a concrete example, let's talk about expanding in ZvP. If a Zerg wins a major battle, like that which occurs in the Lilbow vs TargA game, why can't the Zerg go crazy expanding without fear for repercussion? The answer is viable tech: in this case, Dark Templar. To make a hatchery requires 300 minerals; it is a large investment. To lose that immediately to DTs is troublesome at best. Therefore, each Hatchery must be defended by Spore Crawlers, but wait -- they can't be made without creep! Did the Zerg think ahead and position an overlord to just throw some of that down? Tech balances map control. Almost every Starcraft game ever follows a similar pattern, with each player vying for ultimate map control. Try viewing your next professional level game through this lens of Tug-o-Map Control and see what lessons are revealed.
ZERG - Ling speed is great for map control, as it enables easy run-bys. Run-bys should be thought of as exploiting holes in your opponent's map control. - Creep spread, because it provides vision, counts as map control (and is probably the best visual representation of all!) - Overlord speed is great for map control, as well as overlords, because this allows scouting of the map, of expansions, and of opponent's tech. The map control provided by an overlord varies, based almost solely on what information it is able to retrieve before its death. For that reason, more speed on overlords equates to more map control, even if that map control happens to be fleetingly brief. - Overseers, due to increased movement speed and the ability to drop changelings, also are great map control units. - Nydus networks increase a Zerg's ability to reinforce his own units, and penetrate holes in the opponent's map control. - Mutalisks are great map control units in the mid-game, as they can hunt down opponent's overlords in ZvZ, clear hellions off the map in ZvT, and punish premature attacks in ZvP. - Swarm Hosts are a great way to take map control as well. They allow a player to park in a central location and defend the center of his bases. This region must be approached by a large force, escorted by some form of detection, to contest map control.
TERRAN - Hellions are very fast units that are great for taking Xel'Naga towers and containing an opponent on two bases. - Widow Mines can be set up before a big battle, with a small contingency of other units forward. The forward units, upon encountering the enemy, retreat back into a position on the map controlled by Widow Mines... map control. Need I say more? *BOOM* - Tanks are great for setting up outside an opponent's natural or third. This will make it extremely hard for the contained player to take further bases. - Scan, while it costs the same as a MULE and thus is to be avoided if possible, is great at grabbing map control. - Planetary Fortress in the late game are great set up en masse to control a given position or create a chokepoint. Combined with missile turrets and there is very little other races can do to contest these points. - Drops (marine, marine-marauder, hellion, hellbat, etc) are great forms of map control that punish an opponent for controlling the wrong part of the map at the wrong time. - Banshees punish an opponent for not having the right type of map control. If map control is the amount of the map under ones vision and influence, then banshees exploit holes in a player's map detection. - The ability of Terran buildings to fly can exploit map control, as well. The occassional TvZ is won by this alone: ground forces taking out a Terran main in a desperate counter attack which would have worked but then... FLOAT. Control of the ground is one form of map control; control of the air another.
PROTOSS - Cannons are a staple of Protoss map control. Many Protoss won't dare move out of their base with at least one cannon at their front wall. - Sentries are great for map control. Hallucinate allows a guilt-free scout with little cost and no risk, for temporary control of any part of the map desired. - Observers are good for map control, with many Protoss getting up to 3 or more in the late game. One for their own army, to detect any kind of invisible units. One outside their bases, scouting for expansions. And a third with the main army if possible, parked outside their production facilities if not. - Dark Templar are a form of map control much like the Banshee -- exploiting any holes in detection, a subset of map control. - Blink upgrades are actually a great form of map control, allowing Stalkers to get into a myriad of unexpected places, and increasing the defense requirements at any given point in the opponent's infrastructure. - Phoenix are great for map control, scaring most players into their bases until sufficient static defense can be built in their mineral lines and between their bases to feel comfortable moving out. In the meantime, bases can be taken, tech can be started, and the Protoss is sitting pretty. - Mothership Core with recall is amazing for map control. The ability to attack an opponent at virtually no risk is not to be underestimated. Couple that with near-instant response to counter-attacks, and there is no reason not to abuse this form of map control.
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