Starcraft 2: From Worse to Bad — Control Groups
September 7th, 2010 by Pinback

SC2! This installment is called:

Putting Your Buildings In Control Groups

That sounds like a terribly dry, boring title, so it may surprise you when I tell you that this is the most important installment that you could ever read, if you want to be a not-quite-as-terrible SC2 player. Stick with me.

If you’ve ever watched a replay of a professional (or even half-decent) SC2 match, you will notice two things:

1. Something has gone horribly, horribly wrong in your life, because you’re sitting there watching replays of other people playing video games.

2. Somehow they’re able to move their armies, attack with precision, AND build new units and buildings and upgrades at the same time!

I could never figure out how that was possible. I’d either be base-building, getting a bunch of guys together, while the guys I’d already built just sat around waiting, or I’d be taking my big group of units and attacking, while my base just sat there doing nothing. There are names for these things! You may have heard them, and if you watch a replay, you will definitely hear them:

TERM: "Micro"

DEFINITION: "Micro"-management of military units. Moving them around, having them scout or attack enemies.

USE IT IN A SENTENCE: "He’s micro-ing really well, see how he sent those marines around to the other side of the (whatever, etc, etc.)"

TERM: "Macro"

DEFINITION: Economy building, Base building, Unit building, etc.

USE IT IN A SENTENCE: "That one guy micros better, but he just got overwhelmed because the other guy out-macroed him lolz gg omfg"

To restate my problems above, I could micro or macro, but not both at the same time. And that amazing thing the pros do? Microing and macroing at the same time. That is the number one key to becoming a only-a-fraction-as-awful SC2 player. And the number one key to microing and macroing at the same time is:

Putting Your Buildings In Control Groups

To review, a "control group" is when you assign a clump of units to one of the number keys on the top row of the keyboard. If you got ten zerglings, and you want to attack, you’d put them in, say, the "1" control group. Then whenever you wanted to select all of them, you’d just hit "1". If you wanted to center the camera on them, you’d just double-tap "1".

That’s fine. But the key thing here is, you can put your buildings in control groups too!

Before I explain how to do this, I will give you an example of what it looks like:

1. Hurm, durm, here I am with my little army on control group 1, I’m gettin’ close to the enemy, this’ll be fun!

2. Oh, I should probably build some more guys back at the base, in case this doesn’t go well, cuz I suck at micro.

OLD WAY: Leave your army sittin’ there, scroll back to the base, select the production building, click on the little Marine picture (or whatever), then double-tap 1 and go back to moving your army around.

NEW WAY: Let’s say you’ve grouped all of your production buildings on the "5" key. You hit "5". You hit (hotkey for Marine). You hit 1 to go back to controlling the army.

Holy crap, right? You just started building a guy, and it took two keystrokes, and you never had to move the camera. You were looking at your army the whole time, confident that back at your base, a new guy was being built. If you had two production buildings, you’d go 5, q, q, 1, and it would automatically make one building start building one guy, and the other the other. You made TWO GUYS in less than a second, without having to take your eye of your army. Oh man.

This gives you the idea of why this is so important.

I will just tell you how I do it. You can play around with it and configure it more to your liking.


I put "town hall" buildings (Command Center, Nexus) on 4. All of them. Any time I need a new worker, "4, q". Boom. Need a few? "4, q, q, q". BAM. BUILDIN’ WORKERS. Also each of the town hall buildings has its own little special abilities which you’d also activate this way. As Terran, want to scan the opponent’s base? "4, x, (click on where you want to scan". KAPOW. (Note, all of these examples assumed the "Grid" hotkey system, see last installment.)

I put production buildings (any building that makes units) on 5. I already gave you an example of this. This also, though, makes rallying easy. Want to rally ALL your newly created units to one spot? "5, (right-click on rally point)". Holy Jesus, you just rallied like twelve production buildings to one spot with one key press and one mouse click! HOLY CHRISTING LORD!!

I put "upgrade" buildings (those that you don’t actively interact with except when you wish to do research to do upgrades) on 6. Want to research Warp Gates but are too busy to click around to find the Cybernetics Core? "6, z". KERSPOWW!! JOB’S DUN!

That’s it. I use 4, 5, and 6 because 1, 2, 3 I reserve for groups of military units. Note how awesome this is, though. Using the Grid hotkeys, with these control groupings, I literally never have to move my left hand to do ANYTHING IN THE GAME that you’d ever need to do.


Zerg is slightly different because the "town hall" building is also the only unit production building. So they stay on 4, but 5 is instead used for grouping all the "queen" units, which have special abilities you need to be constantly using — particularly "spawn larvae". Need to spawn larvae at two of your hatcheries with your two queens? "5, x, (click on minimap hatchery), x, (click on other one)". BOWFF!!! Now that’s some fine larvae-spawnin’!

Alright. That’s about it for today’s installment, see you nex—

"HEY WAIT A MINUTE, PINNER! There’s ALL SORTS of production and upgrade buildings! If you have them all grouped together, how do you select a Barracks to build a Marine, vs. a Factory to build a Siege Tank, vs. a Starport to build a Banshee? And if all my upgrade buildings are on one key, how do I research Zergling speed at the Spawning Pool vs. Air attack +1 at the Spire? Etc., etc.?"

That’s the question, isn’t it. And there’s a very special key on the keyboard that has the answer. I will give you a hint as to which key it is:

Did you figure it out? It’s the "Tab" key. And the reason it’s the Tab key is because SC2 has something called "subgroups". You may group a bunch of different types of buildings together, or types of military units together, but SC2 will secretly distribute them into "subgroups", based on their type.

So when you select "5" to select your production buildings, can you guess which key will select the next "subgroup" in your main group? Can you?

I’ll give you that hint again:

Here’s the real life example, which will BLOW YOUR FRIGGIN’ MIND:

You have two barracks and two starports, all on group 5. You’re fightin’ a battle, but quickly want to get two marauders and two medivacs building back at your base. Check it:

"5, w, w, TAB, w, w".

Your mind? FRIGGIN’ BLOWN. First you selected the whole group (which defaulted to the barracks), built two marauders with the "w" hotkey, tabbed over to the starport sub-group, and built two medivacs, with the same hotkey. And since SC2 distributes your requests to all available buildings, each of your four buildings is building one of those units.

And it took you one second, and you never had to look at your base.

I guess, to sum up, I’d say that the most important thing to learn to do as you climb the ranks of the eternally mediocre, is:

Putting Your Buildings In Control Groups

5 Responses  
  • Mark Musante writes:
    September 8th, 20106:21 amat

    Man, this is great stuff. More! I need more!

  • Ice Cream Jonsey writes:
    September 8th, 201012:14 pmat

    Thanks, Mark. I told Ben that, and he said it means a great deal to hear that. He also said he sucks at the game now, but I’m gonna try to coax a new post from him anyway.

  • Kossak writes:
    September 22nd, 20101:17 pmat

    wow, great, thank you :)

  • Oren writes:
    November 20th, 20105:28 pmat

    I am currently listing and reviewing hot key strategies. Check out my web site by clicking on my name.

  • Starcraft 2 Betting writes:
    June 4th, 201111:06 amat

    You could write a whole book on control groups, or lack of. Micro only gets more important as the skill level increases. WAtching MLG tournaments is insane.

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