On Starcraft and Jiu-Jitsu

I’ve been playing Starcraft again. A few games a day, short and aggressive study breaks to keep my mind active before I dive back into powerpoints and flashcards. I feel more engaged than scrolling through Facebook, passively consuming clickbait content.

For those that don’t know, Starcraft is a real-time strategy game where the bug-like Zerg (my race of choice) battles the telepathic Protoss and the human Terrans. Think Chess, for the 21st century. Gather resources, build armies, scout your opponent, feint and jab all while they do the same.

Before med school, I played quite a bit with friends and for online ranking. According to my profile stats, I’ve played around 2.5k games over the past five years. It’s part of my ethnic identity: Koreans have dominated competitive Starcraft since the first game came out in 1998, and a major reason for the current popularity of professional gaming (or e-sports).

Getting back into my Zerg groove, I’ve found interesting parallels with Jiu-Jitsu and this game. A fluid battle between opponents that seems straightforward from a distance, but when you’re in the mix it’s a very different story. Managing your current position while planning your next move. Determining where your opponent’s force currently stands so you can extrapolate their future movements.

The better you get, the finer details you must manage. APM, or actions per minute, are a rough estimate of how many meaningful inputs you put into the game of Starcraft. A new player might have 50 to 100 APM while they are learning the rhythm and necessary movements for their armies. I average about 175 to 200 APM, depending on the game and its intensity. Professional gamers will maintain a blistering 400 to 500 APM, or almost ten clicks or keyboard presses every second for a whole 20min match.

White belt spaz is a function of this low APM in the BJJ context: because we don’t have the techniques or tools on the mat to defend an uncomfortable and defensive position, we tend to Hulk-Smash our way out. A purple or brown belt has a larger repertoire of skills and can utilize them with judgment and timing.

I’m in the process of learning how much spazzing and strength I’m relying upon. Coming back to Starcraft at this early stage in my Jiu-Jitsu practice works out quite well. My grappling APM is pretty low and it’ll take a few thousand games to bring the average up.

With this long view on the process, I might be able to enjoy my white-belt-ness and crush some noobs between study sessions.


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