Starbow: New Mod Brings Old StarCraft Flavor

Brood War-era units, strategies, gameplay are revived in popular new mod for StarCraft II
Starbow © Team Liquid
By Andrew Groen

Even though it was released over fifteen years ago, many StarCraft fans still think of Brood War as the ultimate StarCraft experience. Some never adapted to the gameplay of StarCraft 2 and still pine for the old days.

The creators of Starbow, a brand new StarCraft 2 mod that is surging in popularity, are seeking to find a balance between the old ways and the new, to find an equilibrium between the legendary Brood War and the more modern and popular StarCraft 2.

Old Meets New

Starbow is essentially an adapted version of StarCraft 2’s multiplayer system that introduces a few key elements of StarCraft: Brood War that shift gameplay in exciting ways. In addition to including a host of old Brood War units like the Defiler, Science Vessel, and Dragoon, Starbow also tweaks other elements of StarCraft 2.

“It was made because we thought SC2 was getting boring and we wanted something more similar to BW,” Joakim Isaksen, one of the mod’s creators , told Red Bull eSports. Isaksen added that Starbow has been in development for two years by modders Kabel, December and a team of others helping out. "[We wanted to] make SC2 the way we would wanted to have it. More like an expansion to BW."

For example, units now naturally spread themselves apart when idle in order to help prevent the “deathball” phenomenon that has been an issue of debate in the StarCraft community since the game’s beta.

Forcing the units to spread out makes it more difficult to keep all of your units engaged in one massive battle. And if your units aren’t participating in the main battle, then they might as well be off somewhere else, doing something else. This is meant to encourage players to split up their forces and engage in many small conflicts, rather than focusing on one enormous climactic battle as is often the case in StarCraft 2.

It reduces deathball usage, and encourages more bases, which encourages more small skirmishes,” said Isaksen.

They’ve also reinstated the defender’s advantage from Brood War. If attacking units are shooting up onto high-ground then they have a chance to miss their attacks. “The defenders advantage makes it easier for a comeback, and also to get away with stuff even if you have a smaller army than your opponent.”

The game’s economy has been restructured as well. Each base now only has one Vespene Gas location. That results in players forced to expand to more locations and encourages more small skirmishes as players try to strategically deny each others’ base locations.

Terran units in Starbow
Terran units in Starbow

Booming Popularity

The mod has been growing in popularity so much that tournament organizers and popular casters have begun to take notice. The ESL, a popular tournament organizer which coordinates many of the world’s top eSports events, just held the Starbow Cup on January 15. The first tournament of its kind, the open bracket tournament was viewed by thousands of fans as veteran StarCraft 2 player Aleksandar "Beastyqt" Krstić took home the victory. There was no prize for the event, but the ESL says that if interest in Starbow continues rising then prize money may be incorporated in the future.

“We saw the Starbow buzz on Reddit and Team Liquid and some of our employees started playing the game and couldn't stop talking about it. So we thought we wanted to do a tournament series to make the community happy,” said ESL Vice Director of Community Management Julia Hiltscher.

The tournament has been an important part of increasing the buzz for this new game mode. Highly popular StarCraft streamer and personality Greg “Idra” Fields was even playing Starbow on his stream after the event. Several players from Team Axiom, including Ryung, Impact and Crank, have also been seen playing the mod. And John “Total Biscuit” Bain also announced that Starbow will be among the game types included in the upcoming seasons of SHOUTcraft Clan Wars.

Hopes are high among Starbow’s fanbase that this could help bring a small taste of Brood War back to the StarCraft world.

“This has the potential to become bigger than the actual [StarCraft 2 multiplayer] ladder,” said Starbow fan Derick Tom after the Starbow Cup. “With free to play arcade, loads of people could be tempted to download the free version and just play Starbow all day instead of paying for a broken ladder.”

It’s pretty unlikely that Starbow is going to replace traditional multiplayer as the most popular form of competitive StarCraft 2, but at the very least it’s a very fun way to pass the time until the WCS kicks up into high gear.

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