Fans Want Blizzard To Fix The StarCraft 2 Ladder. Here's How

The StarCraft community has been debating ways Blizzard could fix the ladder ever since the beginning of the beta for Wings of Liberty. With Legacy of the Void due out on November 10, that talk has ramped up a notch.

Some are even suggesting that Blizzard split the ranked and unranked ladders with separate map pools to help break the ladder anxiety that prevents so many players from playing online StarCraft. But there's a better way.

Playing online ladder can be a daunting task, whether you're new to the game, an existing player or a returning one. I've written about it before; many players have complained about it before.

Blizzard's solution with Legacy of the Void, so far, is to accelerate the pace of play. And there's a lot of merit to it. Ramping up the starting worker count and removing repetitive macro mechanics certainly is making the game more fun than what Heart of the Swarm has evolved into, at least on a rudimentary level.

But it doesn't resolve ladder anxiety. It doesn't get around the fact that the primary way to play StarCraft is the ranked ladder. Blizzard needs something else. The community is calling out for something else.

Fortunately, there's a solution.

It was called Boneyards, the massive server cluster Cavedog Entertainment used as their centralised online service for Total Annihilation. It wasn't initially available for TA but its launch in April 1999 meant it was available for the fantasy follow-up, Total Annihilation: Kingdoms.

It was a plan to provide a more organised, lively multiplayer offering. Players could use the matchmaking service to find 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3 games — not unlike the services offered today, although more rudimentary — or they could compete in the server-wide Galactic War. (Those playing Cavedog's fantasy RTS, which had five playable factions when TA:K's expansion was included, had the Darien Crusades.)

Galactic War had a simple hook. The Arm and Core — TA's two factions — were pitched in a life-or-death battle. So rather than having a simple ladder or rankings for online multiplayer, why not have an entire universe where players can contribute to the success or failure of their race on a galactic scale?

Instead of matches determining a player's ranking, matches would contribute to a faction's dominance of a particular planet. The better the player, the higher their rank in their faction's "army".

"Each day at 1am PST, Boneyards will tally up the wins and losses for both sides with the ultimate goal being the complete control of an enemy's sector and homeworld," GameSpot reported back in 1998. "After a a side conquers a certain percentage of the opposing side's territory or its capitol, the Galactic Map becomes the victor's map. After this Victory Day is declared, a new map is given to players, and the uphill battle begins once more."

It was the kind of service that built a context beyond the individual. Your wins mattered, not because wins or losses mattered to you personally, but because they had meaning in a grander war.

That grand war, that vision of forces battling for their very survival, is at the heart of what makes the StarCraft universe so enticing. It's central to the plot in the original game and its expansion, Brood War, where Tassadar gives up his life to fend off the Swarm and the relentless assault of the Overmind.

It's that kind of vision Blizzard could build into Legacy of the Void; something that could be billed as a separate offering to the standard ranked ladder.

After all, the Battle.net centralised service is more powerful and capable than anything Cavedog had access to over 15 years ago. It manages more players, more regions, more games and infinitely more features, with the rollout of automated tournaments in the beta evidence of the service's robustness.

StarCraft as a whole has come an awfully long way. But Blizzard has never given people a reason to play in some meaningful fashion without having to interact with the intensity of ranked play. Unranked play isn't meaningful. The offerings on the Arcade, varied as they may be, aren't representative of StarCraft.

Introducing a Galactic War-esque mode, something that hooks into the dramatic nature of the storyline without fundamentally changing the way people interact with multiplayer, could close that loophole. I can't imagine it would be easy to code. How many worlds do you let players contest over? Do the different server regions compete as a block or separate universes? Is the fate of a world calculated in real-time or only during weekly server maintenance? And how long should a server-wide battle run for?

Whatever those answers may be, it's a path down a road that's infinitely more interesting than the current model. The world of StarCraft is begging for the ladder to change; a Galactic War might just be the tonic everyone needs.


Comments

    Or you can git gud :P

    More seriously, I only ever reached Platinum in Starcraft II but always had fun regardless of whether I won or lost. I really don't understand ladder anxiety. Click the "search" button and start playing. What's the big deal? Nothing's going to happen to you if you lose. Just treat the loss as a learning experience. Makes the wins feel even more rewarding when they happen.

      I think for a lot of people a big part of it is simply down to some players being poor winners, the 'toxic players' if you will. For some people losing is fine, but having some fuckhead pile on top of that with their trash talk afterwards is the last straw that will make them not want to bother at all.

      You could be having a great few hours winning or losing, only for one such individual to ruin the fun entirely.

      Personally I've noticed it the most in random League of Legends games... Even if I'm on a winning team there's occasionally still idiots on my own team who talk shit afterwards that just make me not want to deal with the game in its entirety.

      I think the best way I ever heard it put by someone was, "I don't play games to feel bad.", and that was specifically in reference to ranked Starcraft. While I've absolutely raged at a game here and there I don't think I've ever felt 'bad' regardless of winning or losing, but I can definitely see how it'd cause a lot of people anxiety with ranked ladders, etc.

      Last edited 30/09/15 11:28 am

        You can always block someone, or block messages entirely, if they are really ruining your experience that badly.

        What I've observed though is that ladder anxiety is more about "I'm afraid to play ladder because I might lose" - and I just don't understand that mentality at all.

    What you're talking about is just an MMORTS. Small RTS matches that impact a larger meta game.

    I don't play SC2 but have a bit in the past and that wouldn't really suit the game as is. You need factions for a start. Sure SC2 has 3 main factions in terms of the races you play but if you split it that way for the meta map people would be limited to only ever playing one race.

    No, the game is fine as it is without turning it into an MMO. Splitting the ladder sounds much better as games and keeping people interested is all about the feeling of accomplishment and a feedback loop. If there's one ladder with everyone on it the vast majority are going to be at the bottom/mid end of the scale. You feel like you're making great progress and accomplishing something at the start as you work your way up but sooner or later that stalls as you find better players. Then your feeling of accomplishment decreases, you begin to like the game less and then drop back down the ladder and quit.

    Splitting the ladder would help the newer players keep that feeling of accomplishment for longer, they could become the "big fish in a small pond" and have a much better feeling of accomplishment. They eventually "graduate" to the higher tier ladder "woohoo, look at me and what I accomplished" and then face stiffer competition and have the accomplishment of climbing this harder ladder. By that point they're already into the game and are aware of most of the strategies etc, where they need to improve and can set their own benchmarks to achieve and gain that feeling of accomplishment.

    Game design 101, reinforce the positive feedback loop.

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