What Can You Do If Your APM Isn’t The Best?
Maybe you’re new to the RTS genre. Maybe you’re getting a little older, and your reflexes aren’t what they used to be. Maybe you just play for fun and don’t really care about APM all that much. Don’t freak out too much if your micro isn’t the greatest or your hands aren’t the fastest! There are some choices you can make that could help you step up your game.
As a Terran, you may very frequently watch crazy games with Puma, MMA, Boxer or MKP and be floored by their jaw-dropping unit control and APM. No doubt, they’re at the top of their game and quite possibly may be the best in the world. If you find yourself struggling with Marine control and multi-pronged drops, maybe their style simply isn’t for you. One good test you can do is play against Zerg and see how effectively you can dodge Banelings with your bio ball. How many units are you losing in the encounter? Are you able to at least trade armies effectively? Your results may not exactly be indicative of horrible micro or APM, but you will get a feel for how fast you’re able to react and how precise your control is.
If you’re feeling too sluggish to effectively use a bio army, try switching to a more mech-centric army. Day9 has had a couple of tutorials around this idea (see Day9 Daily #378), and has cited Goody as the go-to guy for proper mech play. Mech play revolves around Siege Tanks and air control, along with just the right amount of Hellions and Thors. Generally, the most precision you have to worry about is positioning and not getting your Vikings killed. Once you have that down, you’re good to go. Now as with all things, mech play does have some pitfalls.
The most obvious is that your army is less mobile. If you get caught in the middle of the map, a more mobile and level-headed player will know how to exploit your sluggish, metal army. If you’re being aggressive enough and moving out at the right times, you can offset this weakness by forcing your opponent to stay on the defensive. This is key to mech play, as you can set up brutal contains and go in for a slow kill.
Your economy will be a close second to immobility, as your gas intake needs to be on overdrive. This requires many bases, and can sometimes put you in an awkward position where you have several Command Centers across the map, but lack the speed with which to defend them properly. Scouting and vision need to be on your mind at all times as a mech Terran. Sensor Towers help a ton, and you should be putting them in key positions so that you know where you have to be, and how much force you need to show up with.
In general, I’m on the side of the fence that says Protoss has the easiest time with micro and APM. I am not saying that this makes Protoss the easiest race to play. However, with a huge ball of Zealots, Archons and Colossi, there is a lot less to worry about in regards to unit placement and control. Pair this with the recent reduction in Forge upgrade times, and you have yourself a very basic-yet-effective army on your hands at all times. I’ve been playing a bit of Protoss lately, and I have to say that it’s a nice break from the craziness that is Terran sometimes. The most I find myself worrying about is proper Forcefieldusage. It can be tricky, but I don’t think bad Forcefields will end games for your average player unless you forget to block your ramp. Ghosts can be a pain with EMP and Snipe, so make sure to keep an Observer or two with you at all times or even just a few Ghosts can change the game in a matter of seconds. Infestor-Ling can be troublesome, but to a much lesser extent in my experience. Just make sure your Zealots lead the way, and protect your Colossi at all times.
It’s safe to say that an effective Zerg will have to have a higher APM than his opponent at all times. There are larvae inject cycles to hit, creep to spread, and, especially in ZvZ, Lings to control. Does this mean there aren’t any APM or micro shortcuts you can take? Not necessarily. A basic Ling/Bling/Mutabuild can be a very effective A-move army if executed properly. Engagement positioning can be a big concern, and as you can see with Sheth’s play, sometimes this requires you to have a force at the opposite end of the map for ambush-style attacks. In the end, due to Queen mechanics and certain necessities of simply playing as Zerg, you will always need to work to improve your APM and micro. Watching pro streams should help a lot, especially if you can catch a coaching session from players like Spanishiwa. I suggest watching Idra, Sheth and Nestea for entertaining and educational replays. Pay attention to things like expansion timings, army composition, attack timings and hotkey usage to try to improve your overall play and raise your APM. Some players even stream with a webcam on their hands so you can see what they’re doing.
Ultimately, APM is only a measure of speed. Even functional APM can be misleading, so don’t get too caught up in it. Focus on your unit control, hotkey/control-group usage and overall macro, and your APM will improve. Day9 has said that an APM of 60 or so should be plenty to be competitive, and I’d have to agree. I’ve outright stomped some opponents with stellar APMs, bringing a humble 50-60 to the table. So go out there, do your research, and get comfortable with your hotkeys and control-groups. Your play will improve, and you’ll only want to be better.