This guide was created by LoGicA, an expert C&C Generals Zero Hour player who managed to reach the very top of 1v1 competitive gameplay. He won the GameReplays World Series 2019 and is a well-known expert in the 1v1 scene. He also has his own YouTube channel which you can check out here.
I’ve recently been asked to create a guide by a few members of my Discord community and for the interest of making this game more competitive. Therefore, I have created this singular guide to help in that process. Not only to make it competitive but to share the knowledge I have gained throughout my years of play that some people may not have had the opportunities of experiencing, in a hope of progressing this community skill level. Towards the end of this article I have acknowledged some key individuals who have left their mark on my own gameplay and without them I wouldn’t have achieved the heights that I did. This is a long article to cover all the bases required to reach the top level, now let me take you down the rabbit hole that is Zero Hour!
The Pillars of RTS
These would be the 3 pillars of RTS games, each as important as the other; for example, you may have the best strategy but if you don’t have the micro or macro to executive it, it becomes subpar strategy. Ultimately, to become an expert you need to be very proficient in all three.
I will explain each aspect and sure there may be other elements that consist within each pillar, however, I do believe I’ve covered the most important aspects of these pillars.
As defined by the Oxford Dictionary: “The art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle.” There are few things to consider when developing a plan of action to win the war against opponents.
Philosophy of Play
Naturally you hear some delusional opinions of having to be aggressive to win (everyone has their own stylistic way of playing, which I will discuss later). However, I disagree with this point and entice you to think in 3 ways of play: Aggressive, Defensive and Greedy. Just like a game of rock-paper-scissors, one always beats the other.
Being Aggressive is being on the front foot and making things happen by being the aggressor! This would be a more appropriate way of playing against someone who is Greedy. Why? Because the Greedy player has invested in expanding their economy, thus having little-to-no units to defend themselves against incoming attacks. Developing a powerful push to break them down and expand as you continue to push with more units will put you in a good spot to win. If someone is being Aggressive, it’s good to be Defensive! Not only will they be losing units, but you have defender’s advantage by producing units closer to the battle, allowing you to get to the point of having more units than your opponent. Whilst they are replacing their lost units, you can expand and take control of the game. A good example of this would be like how GLA sometimes does Technical spam vs USA, where the USA slowly builds up their Humvee count and getting veterancy for it. Finally, playing Greedy when your opponent is playing Defensive allows you to abuse their defensive stance by expanding and getting more economy, as they will be waiting for your attacks. This will power you up not only to build units, but in the tech tree as well. You can afford to throw away units and take less favourable trades as your eco is stronger. As we just discussed some of the philosophical approaches, that doesn’t mean to say that you can’t match an opponent’s style, i.e. Aggressive vs Aggressive. Interestingly enough these types of games lead to Hall of Fame games and genuinely are more entertaining to play and watch. In these scenarios you would need to make sure you are on point with every aspect of Strategy, Micro and Macro in order to be able to win in these conditions, and usually it’s the better opponent who wins or the game is decided on one bad engagement.
This is the order in which you build your structures and units which is reflected by your approach to the game. Zero Hour only has small number of builds as it’s not a very expansive game with its tech tree. If you choose to go “no eco”, stick to a “no eco” build and don’t try some half-baked cross in-between build. This influences when things can be made i.e. from the very time of units coming out of their production building; for example, sending your 2nd China Dozer out of the Command Center to build the Supply Center will inherently mean you will get War Factory units out quicker compared to building a Barracks with the 2nd Dozer and slowing down the cash collection. Generally speaking, build orders only last for 1-2 minutes as Zero Hour isn’t a game about hard countering opponents with build orders. It’s the decisions you make in-game that dictate the outcome, mixed with a bit of luck. But that’s not to say there aren’t situations where a build order doesn’t hard counter certain builds.
Rally Point Scouting & Vision
Like all RTS games, it’s a game about how well you do with limited information. When you Rally Point scout you’ll be able to see if opponents are doing something sneaky or you can find out what type of builds they are doing. For example, if you Rally Point scout a “no eco”, there would be no 2nd Supply Center. Also, if a China player goes Power & Barracks, you will know that their 2nd Supply Center will be delayed. This way you don’t get caught with your pants down and it allows you to react a lot better before something happens. This allows you to think about what the opponent is doing, e.g. is he going for an oil grab or is he going dual Supply and War Factory?
Another aspect of vision and scouting is having men in buildings. Not only will this provide protection but it gives a massive vision boost allowing you to see incoming attacks. A variation of this is putting units in position, often units that you don’t mind losing such as a single Gatling Tank or a Worker. Cleverly positioned units can also protect you against incoming attacks, such as Humvees vs a group of parked Missile Defenders. Finally, vision allows you to judge when its best to attack or defend by what you see and what is happening. For example, if your opponent pops a Tunnel of units on the right side, you could send your Helix to clear the left side as they cannot pop to kill the Helixes unless they take splash damage i.e. a Fargo pop.
Game analysis is looking at your own replays and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your game and the approach of a match up. I will bullet point some things that you could ask yourself when watching your own replays or replays of others:
- Was my build optimal for this match up?
- Was the build optimal against the opponent I played?
- Are the timings of units coming out the most efficient?
- How should a matchup be played? Are there timings that can be used to break a certain match up? For example, Tank vs USA: As USA it’s about killing the incoming Gatling Tanks, after which you can attack. USA vs GLA: It’s about stopping the Terror Tech and Tech RPG first, then attack once you have a Firebase to stop a counter push.
- Did I over or under commit in an attack?
- Did I make micro or macro mistakes?
- Did I have any unfavourable engagements or were units out of position?
- Did I attack or defend at the wrong time?
- Did I setup traps, i.e. lead him into a false sense of winning engagement?
- What are my weak match ups, do I need to practice them?
- Did all my units attack in a line or were units stuck behind each other?
- Was this the best spot to attack or defend on the map? Or was I caught out of position?
This is probably one of the most important parts of winning. But players at the top do understand that they need to mix up their play to win. Thus, it’s not always an accurate reflection of how an opponent sets up but there are patterns that you can expose of theirs. This is done by watching opponents’ replays and by focussing on:
- Are they usually Greedy, Aggressive or Defensive? How can I expose this and modify my style of play and build orders?
- How do they engage units? Do they over commit or move back? What would be the best solution in that situation?
- What is their weakness? Micro? Macro? Strategy? Should I force situations where they need to micro on 2 fronts and they will struggle to micro? Should I keep them busy on all sides and see them fall apart? Are they strong in those micro and macro, so the only way to win is by a better strategy and decisions?
- What are their favourite armies? Do I need to practice those match ups?
- How do they play certain map pools? Are there repeated patterns on a certain map?
Style of Play
Now this is an interesting section and kind of contradicts all the above and it’s an area that defines a player and how they are remembered. If a player masters a certain style, such as being Aggressive, then he may still find himself capable of winning versus a Defensive style player because he's comfortable and experienced when using that style of play. Also, it’s about fun. Sometimes people put winning before fun. I do believe people should have fun before winning as it will lead to the motivation of becoming an expert. For example, my innate play style is to be Aggressive, I don’t find sitting around camping. I like to be active around the map and take control of the game and force the opponents into mistakes. This wouldn’t be the ideal way of winning as discussed above but it’s fun for me. During my most active years, I noticed a number of players switching over to the Aggressive playing style. Ultimately, though, the important part is to having fun and play in the way you feel is enjoyable for you and try to master it.
Learn all the tutorials about this game, which will help you improve your overall play. These include: Rally Point scouting; moving units correctly to reduce travel distance; learn to block units with your units; learn how to fire Rocket Pods with Comanche; learn how to micro Humvees, Gatling Tanks, Quads.
Zero Hour is arguably a micro-orientated game compared to other RTS games like StarCraft 2. So, it’s important to get a good grasp on how to micro well. I’ve seen games where 2 full Humvees have won a single match.
You can use micro maps, experience of playing games, watching your own replays or other top micro players to figure these things out.
Macromanagement by definition is doing multiple things at the same time and is referred to Actions Per Minute (APM). Although you see many examples of people floating cash or focusing on one area and still winning, the reason they won was probably dictated from previous running events which allowed them to take shortcuts.
These are the things to consider when looking at macro:
- Did I float too much money?
- Am I only controlling one thing at one time?
- Am I building units, scrolling at the same time or micro and building units at the same time?
- Map awareness, did I miss unit getting into my base?
- Optimisation of mechanics?
LoGicA's 2-5 Second Rule
A way of improving your map awareness macro is with a system I created whereby you only look at a point for 1 to 2 seconds, and if there is nothing of importance, you keep scrolling. While scrolling around, continue doing actions such as queuing units using your keyboard, build structures or moving your units. When you need to micro intense big battles, spend up to 5 seconds microing, and then going back to the original rule for macro. This should get you faster and more accustomed with the game situations and better reaction. Overall, I think this timeframe is the standard of experts. I generally have control over all units in a group across two to three groups. I’m constantly flicking between each of them unless I’m busy microing in a particular location. There are times when you don’t need to put units in control groups and can just use scroll and manual selection but these circumstances are very uncommon, such as Nuke Battlemaster spam vs a GLA where you have both War Factory Rally Points set in the supply line of the GLA. You can control these by selecting them manually or pressing Q instead of numbering them.
I label production buildings depending on the match up, for example, if I’m USA, then I will use control groups for my War Factory and Barracks, whereas if I’m China, I will control group the dual War Factories. I even expand my numbering system to all 10 digits in a Free For All game, such that I can spam from 10 War Factories without having to scroll back to my base.
Whenever possible, make sure you are not floating money! Not only does it delay your follow-up pushes but it slows down your transition of plays such as teching up or going for secondary eco spam. The only exception to this is if you need to save eco for a specific upgrade or building within a certain time frame. Otherwise, floating money is useless. It’s dead eco which has no net return. An opponent might have a larger army because he wasn’t floating any money or was ahead in late game GLA eco as they weren’t floating money, but instead, used it to build markets.
Taking macro time away from your opponent, as it suggests, is making sure you’re doing so many actions that your opponent get flustered and can’t keep up. It leads to them making mistakes and you taking the advantage. Examples of this are attacking in 2 locations, or attacking and building up your second army follow.
Optimisation of mechanics relates to your keyboard usage. Setting up a system that is clean and efficient will help a lot. For example, I usually have my production on control groups 1 and 2, and I use 3 to 5 for units. I use E to select all other similar units on the screen. I use this for all major units such as Humvees, Missile Defenders, and so on. So, all I need to do is press 1 + E or 2 + E to have all selected. The distance between those keys on the keyboard is small, greatly reducing the time wasted moving my hand. Another example would be my Laser-Lock being on R; I don’t need to move my hand to L as how the original game hotkeys have it. I just press 3 + R which equates to instant laser locking. Generally speaking, my fingers are resting on numbers 3 and 4 but constant switch regularly between 1 to 5. This can also be done for the old school numbering of 8, 9, and 0, where you could effectively use the letter U for all major units. Although I don’t like this setup and it’s not very efficient for Attack Move (hotkey A), Evacuate (hotkey V) or Stop (hotkey S). I would recommend playing at least 50 games with edited hotkeys. You might lose the first bunch of games due to getting used to the new system, but in the long run you will be better off.
People learn at different rates, but ultimately hard work is required. I don’t care how talented you are, if you are not spamming games vs the best players you won’t improve. You need to refine each stage until you ultimately become an expert, which takes time. I would say for a truly gifted player it will take a minimum of 2 years of consistent play, if not longer. Taking breaks won’t help. Keep going and automate those refinements so it becomes 2nd nature or until it becomes muscle memory.
|0 Years||2+ Years|
|Noob||Semi Pro||Pro||Last 5%||Expert|
I know people may fear failure when spamming the best players, but you could actually stagger this. For example, play someone who is slightly better than you, until you consistently beat them. Then move up again against someone who is slightly better and repeat the process. Mix in playing the very best to get an objective feel of how far away you are from that level. I played vs the best and didn’t care about the losses, until I reached their level or surpassed them. That’s a more “all in approach” than a “staggered approach”.
I will now explain each level and what their major focus should be. I will however merge semi-pro/pro level together. This article is long enough!
At this level, you basically picked up the game and setting off on your journey. You understand most of the functions of the popular units and are looking to grow your skill. You should be looking to these areas:
- Have fun experimenting with different formats of the game such as 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 and just getting use to everything.
- Find out who the best players are, watch their replays and try to see how they build things and what units are built and why.
- Expand your knowledge of the game by learning most of the units, what they do, and how you would use them.
- Learn what the building are and which order they are built.
- Get the feel for each faction and how they play.
- Find and learn from all the tutorials of the game that are out there. Try out the tips given, such as Rally Point scouting, etc.
- Get an understanding how each match up is played and their different approaches.
Your main focus in this area is about having fun, making friends and playing all formats, getting used to everything and finding your strengths and weakness. Make sure to learn the hotkeys for everything (building and units). I don’t think this stage should last to longer than 1 month. You should find yourself reaching semi-pro stage quite quickly.
Pro & Semi-Pro Level
You have a good grasp of the units, buildings, and how match ups are played. Things to consider at this stage:
- Refinement of play.
- Watching your own replays to learn from your mistakes.
- Watching your opponents replays for opponent analysis.
- Constant competitive 1v1 games (either staggered approach or all in approach).
- Consistent with the LoGicA 2-5 Second Rule.
Here you are refining your play, trying to make as things clean and smooth as possible in terms of build timing, build orders, micro and macro. You are constantly watching your replays to see where the mistakes are and comparing it with pro replays and still watching pro replays to analyse why they do things. The concept of understanding why is important now. Combined with constant 1v1 top level spam, you should see the biggest growth in this department in terms of skill for example going from 10% to 95%. Its where most players get stuck to take the next 5% step. Generally speaking, most players probably believe they are at this 95% mark within this classification. However, they probably still require improvements in certain aspects of this stage, it requires objective measure of your own skill and not an egotistical assessment.
The land of the gods in Zero Hour! This is usually about experience and mentality of being a winner as everything else is almost perfected. I will create a separate article for mentality. The last 5% is usually the most difficult part and takes the longest time to achieve. Things to consider here:
- Have all the basics been flawlessly consistent.
- Spending most of your time analysing your mistakes.
- Opponent analysis.
- More directed practice.
- Only playing the best players.
- Experimental builds.
- Practice partners.
Here you are basically flawless in each of the departments discussed earlier in this article and everything is 2nd nature to you. You will now spend most of your time analysing your own mistakes and performing opponent analysis. This is usually done during the game or immediately after each game. It should be relatively easy to spot where the mistakes were made and how to fix them for the next game. It’s a method of switching up play midway through a series. When you know your opponent has a set style against you, you switch your style to counter the style they have prepared for you. This could be done per game basis or length of a series if the opponent fails to adapt. In terms of opponent analysis, you are spending time here mostly to come up with counter styles and builds, this is paired with directed practice to test these scenarios out. Only play the best players as you seek to beat those all around you and be the expert. Playing anyone below is just to help the community to increase their skill level but major focus is beating those in your skill bracket as they are the ones giving you the most challenge. Winning tournaments and challenges, demonstrating your ability in terms of skill and mental pressure. Finally, the experimental builds, this is the realm of ultra-instinct that very few achieve, only Rage, myself and Size have achieved this on a consistent basis. Where they do things so unlikely and win. The purpose here is to open your mind to different possibilities and get away with things you didn’t think was possible, but this is a very volatile approach with high entertainment value, the wow factor.
Now I do understand that some people cannot afford to obtain the best equipment, so try to make do with what you have—but a gaming mouse is a must!
I play on dpi ranging from 800-1200 DPI, I find this most accurate range for me, but depending on your screen size and what you are comfortable with, have a play around with these setting. Also, set your Windows mouse setting to notch 6, that is a true 1-to-1 ratio of movement.
The decision is yours to pick between an optical and a laser mouse. You will be looking for the most accuracy that the sensor can pick up. DPI isn’t as important and depends on the screen size, larger the screen size the more DPI you will need, but usually most pro gamers are working around the range of 800-1000 DPI.
You are looking for 1ms response time and 144Hz refresh rate. If you have a monitor that is 5ms there is an additional delay of 4ms between what is actually going on and what you see happening on your screen. That delay could be the difference between laser locking a Chinook and shooting it down compared to not. Refresh rate is how quickly an image is drawn. The game speed is set at 30Hz (FPS), but when playing multiplayer your scroll speed and camera movement will work with the high refresh rates.
Low Actuation Point Keyboard
Mechanical keyboards with a low actuation point are preferred. This allows for the unit to build instantly compared to a keyboards with a bigger actuation point.
I would suggest doing your own research before buying your hardware!
So overall as you can see there is a lot to take on-board in such a simple game of building units, a base and the ultimate goal of annihilating your opponent. I don’t see the value in trying to explain each match up and “what to do” when this is achieved by watching replays. Also, its fundamental for you to figure this part out instead of an expert telling you do “this and that” without you knowing how to do this yourself, as they won’t be there all the time to do this.
In order to become an expert, you must master the pillars of RTS: Strategy, Micro and Macro. Learn to master the build orders and using methods such as Rally Point scouting to outplay your opponent.
Remember to focus on vision in order to see incoming attacks and react accordingly, and in case you can’t hold or survive, spend some time analysing the game to fix your mistakes.
Make use of the philosophies of play—try to play Defensive when your enemy goes Aggressive. If you are one step ahead of your opponent, you will have a much easier time dictating the game. Also work on your micro and macro and try to apply the 2-5 Second Rule actively during your matches.
This guide is the ultimate anthology into making you a master of this game if followed correctly, it’s been drawn from years of experience and conversations with elite players such Spalding, Rage and Size.
Depending on the feedback I get on this, I will create a 2nd article into mentality of Zero Hour. I also hope to see more players making the jump into the expert level. There are players like ViViD who are coming close and maybe this article can help him and players like him take the final leap into becoming an expert. Hopefully this article will help generate more competitive players as they now have an easy-to-follow guide on becoming top players.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the players who have influenced my own game throughout my time of playing. If not for them, I wouldn’t be here writing this article or reached the skill level I did.
I’m proud to say I come from the school of Spalding. In my opinion he is the greatest player ever. Although he might not have the titles to go along with that, his understanding of the game is the best I’ve ever seen. We have a similar philosophy on the game, which helped me understand things about my own game and how to approach things. It wasn’t the build orders he gave but the conceptualisation of the game. I owe him a great deal taking my game to the next level, if not for you I don’t think I would have won the GameReplays World Series. So that title is as much yours as it’s mine. <3
What can I say… the hardest opponent that I’ve ever faced. He’s intelligent and fast! He gave me tips on how to deal with some individual situations and high-quality level games. So, I appreciated the tips and level of games.
Size didn’t really give any tips and I understand why he didn’t, which is fine, but the number of games we played helped shape my craft, and you have been one funny dude!
Although Dackel had no influence in terms of games or speaking about the game, it was his videos that came as a stepping stone to making my improvements and they influenced how I play to this day. Very much an action-packed player with great micro! It was something I tried to emulate for a very long time.
If not for his conviction of me maphacking in a friendly game, I wouldn’t have learnt about the competitive play of ZH and everything that came with it. It was the pebble that started the avalanche.
Herby stopped me from quitting Zero Hour. I thought I reached my max level back in 2014 after starting my competitive play back in 2012. I didn’t think I could make the next jump and of course the rest is history. Also, all the games we played in Clan Wars together, and winning 2x 2v2 tournaments was always fun.
Best of luck to all the competing players, hope this article helps!