The term metagame literally means 'beyond the game' and refers to any planning, preparation, or maneuvering that a player does outside of actual gameplay to gain an advantage. The metagame has three major branches, which contain some overlap:
- Preparation done before a match to exploit current trends in StarCraft.
- Preparation done specifically to exploit an opponent's or map's style of play.
- Strategic decisions designed specifically to exploit a player's reaction or weakened mental state in the future. These are also known as 'mind games' or 'psychological warfare'.
A big difference between SC1 and SC2 are patches provided by Blizzard. "Balance test maps" or articles (BLOG) like "Call to Action: January 29 Balance Testing" are for more often nowadays.
Exploiting StarCraft trends
This technique involves preparation based on assumptions made from observing the current state of the game. Although tracking the development of a game as complex as StarCraft is difficult, it is possible to understand the general development of StarCraft gameplay and prepare and adapt your game accordingly. An example of this is how Triple-Hatch-Before-Pool was (almost) never seen in 2010 on maps like Scrap Station (ZvP). On maps like Deadwing or Merry Go Round this build is becoming more and more popular and is now part of the current Metagame.
The following builds or patches are examples of a great strategic shift that forever changed the match-up and forced the opposing race to devise counter strategies or lose.
- TvZ: In WOL a Tech Lab was necessary to build a Reaper. In HOTS this necessity was changed and it made openings like Reaper FE more popular.
- ZvP: Maps like Scrap Station and the very common FFE prevented openings like Hatchery First.
- TvP: 111 into pressure or even All-In was popular in 2011/2012, but 1Rax FE could be seen even more in tournaments. 111 is rarely played in competitive play in TvP.
Smaller impact is done by players. E.g. Life vs San (ZvP): San had a very good win-ratio in ZvP, until he encountered Life in WCS. While other Zerg played "Pool First" instead of Hatchery First, Life knew the Metagame and his opponent so well, he opened with Triple-Hatch-Before-Pool in every game.
He [San] hadn't lost a single game vs Zerg in WCS that year. The whole year he didn't lose any of it.Day, Daily #735 ()
Exploiting map or player styles
Build preparation, when done for a specific opponent or map, is another form of metagaming. In analyzing an opponent's past gameplay strategies, a player may be able to prepare strategies that will allow him or her to later out maneuver and outplay his or her counterpart. For example, if a certain player is known to have an affinity for using a certain strategy, or is known to strongly favor a certain style of play, his or her opponent may sometimes choose to execute a build that will completely counter it. This style of play too is often considered to be psychological in nature as well, especially since the preparation for the game clearly takes into account an opponent's tactical strengths and weaknesses.
This refers to the psychological struggle which occurs between players at the highest level, a tussle that takes place parallel to the tactical, in-game battle itself. A very fluid idea, this term encompasses decisions made by players that are not taken solely for in-game tactical or strategic reasons but rather to alter the mental status of his or her opponent.
It is most clearly seen in best of series games between players who know each other well, since in such a situation, the players' past records and games no doubt affect them heavily as they prepare for the said series, and it is at this level of play that carefully prepared builds are often most effective.
Psychological warfare can also be utilized in the course of a game. A player could choose, for example, to show an opponent's scout fake technology - buildings or units he or she does not plan on using, and then use another line of technology entirely, or mass a completely different type of unit. If his or her opponent takes the bait and prepares for the non-existent build, the player could end up quite far ahead tactically.