Starcraft 2 Zerg Strategies and Concepts
Multiplayer Tips, Rushes, and General Information on the Race
This is a very large article that will be refined and improved with my continually improving skills and understanding of Starcraft 2. Send tips and criticisms my way using the email address provided. If you send a big tip, I'll credit you however you like in a changelog at the bottom of this document.
The Zerg possess the cheapest units in Starcraft 2, and are thus dangerous for their potential numbers. They can be a tricky race to learn for new players as they are vastly different from the Terran and Protoss races. Many newbies would do well to start as a Terran as they'll have experience from playing the Wings of Liberty Campaign. In this guide to the Zerg, I'll enlighten new players to features of the race, and how they can be used to great effect in Multiplayer. You'll also find tips for your Zerg opener and helpful Build Orders to get you started.
Zerg buildings are constructed by the Drone, which is lost in the process of its metamorphosis. They can morph into buildings that unlock units at the Hatchery, and collect minerals and vespene. Zerg buildings are the most restricted in Starcraft 2 and must be built on creep, which can be spread in several ways. The Zerg technological state is largely determined by morphing the Hatchery, unlocked by building a Spawning Pool to create a Lair. An Infestation Pit will allow it to become a Hive. Each stage is harder to destroy, tacking an additional 500 life points onto the building's starting 1500. Hatcheries gradually spawn larvae that are morphed into Zerg units from Drones to the mighty Ultralisk. Zerg supply is given by the Overlord, a slow flying unit that can be upgraded to be faster and transport units.
Creep provides life to Zerg buildings and is the only place they can be built. Opposing Zerg can use creep against you for that. It also grants sight to the player, so expanding it is helpful as a warning system to incoming attack. Zerg units gain a large speed boost on creep, which will help them to better respond to threats. Creative use of it will also allow units to reach the opposing player's base faster, and even provide faster reinforcements for allies.
Creep is spread in any location that has a Hatchery. It does not extend from normal Zerg buildings, so expanding it is crucial in larger games to avoid a crowded base. Since Hatcheries are expensive at 300 minerals, you'll look to two free options to expand your creep. The easiest method to utilize is through the Overlord. With a lair, Overlord can generate creep in a large area under them. Since you'll inevitably have at least a half-dozen of these in the average game, it's a good use for them. There's really no reason not to flip the switch, although some Overlords may be best kept in a safe location in your base for their protection. The second method of spreading creep is to use the Zerg Queen. It's important to note that only Zerg can build on creep and it can be used to prevent enemies from building structures in certain areas.
The Zerg Queen
The Queen is the Zerg's special unit that is a bit of a racial production booster like the Terran's Command Center or Protoss Chrono Boosting. The Queen's primary role is to help the Hatchery to spawn more larvae, which costs them a mere 25 energy. The larvae last indefinitely, but a Hatchery's cap on its own production is a max of three. It's a good idea to use the Queen's spawn larvae ability even you don't need them immediately, as it provides a fast way to replenish your army after a battle, or to spawn a defensive force quickly.
Queens additionally gain the Creep Tumor ability, which will spread creep over a large area. Tumors can reproduce one time each, which allows the Creep to spread vast distances from a single Tumor. Some waiting is in order, as it will take time for the creep to spread. Multiple Creep Tumors in a small area will spread the creep much faster. Tumors that are destroyed will cause the creep to draw in and eventually vanish from the map. Zerg have some of the best visibility over the map because of this, and creep that spreads toward an enemy base can be very dangerous for the opponent. Some have referred to this as a Creep Highway. Creep Tumors are cloaked, so if you are up against a Zerg player and see creep but no overlord making it, you can be sure there's a Tumor in the center. Pop it like a zit as any perceptive player has already seen you on their minimap.
The Queen's final ability is Transfusion, which restores some life to a building or unit but cannot be cast on herself. Two Queens can support each other with this ability. Queens are great as early base defenders and can kill small threats without too much trouble, but their movement speed generally makes them useless outside the base. Click here to see the Zerg Queen's stats
Zerg Base Defense
The Zerg have to static methods of protecting their base, which are well supported by a Queen in the early game. Transfusion is golden. The first is the Spine Crawler, which replaces the Sunken Colony from the original Starcraft. These powerful creations will poke an enemy from long range and often ends in a blood bath when only a few units are attacking. They can uproot and relocate but move slowly. It takes a little time for them to root back into the ground, however, so it's not always helpful in the middle of a battle. However, the area you need to protect most will often change and this gives them a unique versatility.
Also able to move about is the Spore Crawler, which is one of the Zerg's detectors and a powerful anti-air structure. They fire quite quickly in a decent range and should be used near your Hatchery and mineral line to help protect against fliers and reveal anything cloaked in the area. when they are expected to be used. A Queen can extend the life of a single Spore Crawler, giving it a longer life-span in combat with Transfusion. This will give them a chance against pairs of Banshees, for example. In long games, it's not a bad idea to spread at least a few of these about your base to ensure coverage as the enemy can quickly pull a tech switch once the money is rolling in.
Nydus Worms are rarely seen in early league play, but they are a powerful asset that should be used by any self-respecting Zerg player. Once a Nydus Network has been built in your base, you can use it to rapidly move your units across the map. An exit point must first be built for 100 minerals and vespene, which provides the other player a little time to react to the threat. Doing this just outside their line of sight can be devastating. They can only come out on creep, and are a perfect example of one reason it's good to scout your own base and perhaps provide permanent sight to the area you control. An Overlord can be used to generate creep in a spot, and the Worm can come out soon after. At that point, you simply select your units and order them into the entrance, and clicking unload on the exit will allow them to come out. The area around a Nydus Worm exit will get clogged, so it's important you move your units out of the way. I generally move them without revealing my location if possible, to allow all units to be there when starting the attack.
The Nydus Worm will only hold so many units at once, but they will rapidly re-enter the network as soon as you start telling them to unload. The air capability of the Overlord will let you unload these virtually anywhere on the map, so get creative. A speed upgrade for your Overlord may be in order, to allow it to circumvent dangers and reach the destination faster. If the other player doesn't notice the worm right away, you can even send reinforcements mid-combat. Given the Zerg's ability to produce a whole army quickly, this can cause a match to be over in just a couple fast waves.
All Zerg units on the ground can burrow with the ability researched from a Lair. Burrowing is great for saving your units from death, but a scan or detector will often leave them dead under the dirt. The units regenerate life while burrowed, so it's not a bad idea to use this ability on an injured unit. Roaches and Infestors can move while burrowed and make an excellent team with Infested Terrans providing air support, although Roaches' movement while burrowed must be researched from a Roach Warren. Fungal Growth will let the Roaches strike melee units from range without fear of retaliation, although any ranged units can still fire back. If your burrowed Roaches or Infestor are revealed by a scan, simply leave the area until the graphical indicator goes away. Un-burrow can be right clicked and set to auto cast to allow units like the Baneling or any other to attack enemies that approach. This can be great for surprise attacks, and you may even catch your opponent using a regular move order and slaughter them before they can react. A couple of burrowed Zerglings at an expansion point can slaughter an enemy worker when it comes to claim it.
The Zerg have three detection options in Starcraft 2. The first was already mentioned, the Spore Crawler, which is a largely static defense (they're quite slow to relocate in the heat of an attack, although it's not impossible). Second, after the Hatchery has morphed into a Lair, Overlords can be changed into an Overseer which is a flying detector with a few useful abilities. They can't generate creep, but it's good to keep them near your mineral line. Keep one hotkeyed to respond quickly to cloaked units and give your defense a fighting chance. Lastly, the Infestor can cast the Fungal Growth spell which can detect cloaked units and even damage and immobilize them. Infestors are very handy to have around the base for this ability, Infested Terrans aside.
The Zerg have some sturdy if not excellent defenses against air attack. Their AA specialist unit is the Corruptor. It possess the Corruption spell, which will increase the damage taken by any unit it is cast upon. Otherwise, they deal decent damage against all air units but work best in packs. Mutalisks deal decent anti-air damage but only if there are multiple targets. They're highly maneuverable and can generally escape losing battles without too many losses. The Hydralisk is their only ground unit capable of dealing damage to air directly, and it does a great job against nearly everything when massed, especially with range and damage upgrades. The final unit can attack air indirectly, the Infestor's Infested Terran ability will spawn a warped Marine that can shoot both air and ground targets, but they're extremely slow to the point that anything can outrun them. Still, it'll get the enemy's attention and fools will not save their units and instead watch them die.
Special Units and Casters
The Zerg have some interesting abilities through a couple of units that are powerful when used correctly. First up is the Overseer, which provides free scouts. It's important to look around the map late into the game to see expansions, and the Spawn Changeling ability they possess will allow you to do that without increasing your supply. They can often go undetected by the opposing player for quite some time and they'll have to force their troops to attack it. The Contaminate ability is pretty ho-hum but has application in some instances when the enemy is pushing for upgrades, or you see them chrono boosting a building while you're in their base. It will stop production completely. It's particularly frustrating to Zerg players when cast on a Hatchery. Look at your enemy's buildings and see which are active and stop them. Whatever they wanted, it's delayed for 30 seconds. Many don't use them, but it can be helpful at times.
Their primary caster is the Infestor, requring a Lair and Infestation Pit. Having one or two of these at your base can allow them to generate energy for their very helpful abilities. Really, this unit has nothing that's useless. They come with Infested Terrans and Fungal Growth by default. Fungal Growth will paralyze enemy units in its small area and deal damage to them, whilst revealing cloaked or burrowed units. It's incredibly helpful and the cheap Infested Terran will allow them to capitalize on the situation and deal some nice damage. Fully charged, an Infestor can deliver 8 Infested Terrans quickly to the battlefield and wreak havoc on enemy units. They're quite tough, dealing a bit more damage than a Marine and having 50 hp. The eggs have 100 life and 2 armor, which makes them hard to kill before the Terran hatches. Infestors are great for supporting your army and can be massed for devastation if used properly. Their final ability is Neural Parasite which will allow them to mind control an enemy unit for a brief time. Usually quite long enough to cause some chaos. Infestors can move while burrowed if the ability has been researched, and a patch gave them the ability to cast Infested Terran while underground, although the other abilities require the unit to reveal itself.
The Zerg Opener
It is common to build Drones until you reach 9 supply, then create an Overlord, followed by your 10th drone. At that point, the supply limit will be relaxed. I tend to make my Spawning Pool at around 13/18 supply, which gives you access to Zerglings, the Queen, and Lair upgrade without sacrificing much in the way of economy. You can easily push out 10 drones, then produce the Overlord without much loss of economy at all, so it's mostly a matter of personal preference. I find with the overlord at 9, the pacing leads to being able to make two more drones the moment the Overlord is done. I often make a queen at 16/18 and she takes up the last two supply, making another Overlord necessary.
The timing of your first extractor depends on how soon you'll need vespene, but it usually fits nicely at around 13 or 14 supply. In my opinion, in most cases, the Queen should come before the Lair upgrade which will give you time to collect the required gas. If gas is needed in large quantities, like for massing Mutalisks early in a fight, the extractors should probably come sooner.
Many Zerg will expand fairly quickly, to get access to the extra Larvae another Hatchery will provide. Even if you're going for a one base build, you may consider making another at your main. It'll extend your creep and double the unit production capacity. I would only really do this with mass Zerglings or something to that effect as gas is the big limiting factor in Starcraft 2.
Basic Zerg Opening Build Order
This is an adaptible build order that can suit many needs without sacrificing economy. It's weak to really early pushes by the enemy, but so are many builds that focus on having a strong mid-game economy. The Lair upgrade could be skipped to shoot for a second Hatchery at the natural, or even a stealth expansion in a place far from the opponent's base. The metabolic boost upgrade can be taken fairly early to give you more map control with your Zerglings, and they're almost always handy as meat to protect your more valuable units.
13/18: Spawning Pool
18/18: 2nd Extractor, Zergling when supply is freed up (split them up and scout), followed by Overlord
Adapt based on scouting info.
In the match in which I recorded this build, I was facing a Terran and ended up building a Baneling Nest and researched Centrifugal Hooks right after the Lair was done to give them a speed boost. He attempted to expand with a second Command Center early but even if he had fielded one or two Siege Tanks it might not have made much of a difference thanks to the speed. It wasn't as nasty as a build order that starts with Banelings in mind. If I were facing a Protoss, I would not have bothered with the speed upgrade however players quick on the trigger will stop them at the ramp with a force field as they should have at least a single Sentry out by that time in a battle.
More Build Orders will be added as I continue to experiment in Starcraft 2