I think it’s because it’s the only matchup that comes down to hard counters. It’s weird, because you’d think Starcraft would be a game of hard counters. Ranged beats melee, armored beats range, air beats armor, etc. But it actually doesn’t work that way in practice. Starcraft counters are soft counters. Compare to Warcraft III, where the units are almost completely ineffective against their counters. In Starcraft, a zergling beats a marine, at least until there are more marines and they are upgraded. Then the zerglings are in big trouble. And these relationships evolve throughout the game, players switching from counter to counter.
What’s weird about the Terran vs. Zerg matchup is that this doesn’t hold true. There’s a lot of great interplay in the early and mid game. The zergling and mutalisk harass, the terran drops, the lurker hides. All require great skill and tactics. But the game inevitably goes to 2 units. The Zerg is going for Defilers with Dark Swarm and Consume and the Terran player is going for Science Vessels with Irradiate to counter. Marines and Medics with stim pack are just so strong against Zerg troops, that you need the Defiler’s Dark Swarm to succeed in numbers. But Defilers are easily countered by Science Vessels with Irradiate, and even Burrow is no defense. To top it off, Science Vessels destroy all the other high end Zerg units, even Lurkers and Ultralisks.
The lesson here is to not have super units that dominate the game or have easily covered weaknesses. The Terran vs. Zerg late game is completely obsessed with these 2 units. The matchup becomes about micro-control: the Science Vessels try to catch the Defilers in the open while they hide as long as possible. It’s not soft counter focused at all, and it feels wrong.
What I especially find interesting is this doesn’t seem to have been the intention of the designers at all. Guardians are supposed to be very good in this matchup, but in practice are rarely effective. Queens and Ghosts are entirely unused. Air is rarely seen in the late game. The lack of usable alternatives traps the matchup between these 2 units.
People often ask me what I would change to improve Starcraft. I think the game is very balanced, and the metagame is healthy. But in the spirit of mixing things up, in the other matchups I’d still only try changing the costs of the underused units. This particular matchup, however, needs more then diversification. For you Starcraft lovers, here’s my current list of overall balance changes I’d be interested in trying incrementally:
- Decrease the duration of Dark Swarm from 45 seconds to 12 seconds.
- Decrease the range of Dark Swarm and Plague from 9 to 8.
- Decrease the cost of Spawn Broodling from 150 to 100.
- Decrease the range of Spawn Broodling from 9 to 7.
- Increase the cooldown effect of Ensnare to a true 25%.
- Decrease the cost of the Guardian upgrade from 50 minerals, 100 gas to 0 minerals, 50 gas.
- Decrease the cost of the Devourer upgrade from 150 minerals, 50 gas to 75 minerals, 25 gas.
- Increase the HP of Infested Terran from 60 to 200 HP. (for fun!)
- Increase the cost of Irradiate from 75 to 125.
- Decrease the range of Irradiate from 9 to 8.
- Increase the damage of Firebats from 16cs to 17cs.
- Decrease the cooldown of Ghosts from 22 to 11.
- Decrease the cost of Lockdown from 100 to 75.
- Increase the damage of Wraiths from 8/20e to 20e/20e.
- Decrease Medic armor from 1 to 0 and decrease their hitpoints from 50 to 40.
- Increase the cost of Heal from 1 to 2.
- Decrease the cost of Valkyries from 250 minerals, 125 gas to 175 minerals, 100 gas.
- Decrease the cost of Hallucination from 100 to 75. (again, for fun! Psi Storm is so popular already)
- Decrease the cost of Scouts from 250 minerals, 125 gas to 175 minerals, 100 gas.
- (Edit) Decrease the cooldown of Reavers from 60 to 30.
- Increase the shields of Dark Archons from 200 to 300.
- Increase the build time of Carrier’s Interceptors from 10 seconds to 20 seconds.
It speaks volumes how minor these changes are – few significant changes, with the biggest to the endgame counter units. Crazier possibilities might be giving Queens Restoration to add a viable Irradiate counter for Zerg and giving Ghosts EMP instead of Science Vessels, swapping in Lockdown.
Maybe I’ll map edit these changes to try them out. Would be fun!