Playing Stable in ZvZ

By Michael “Moosegills” Wolff of Complexity Gaming


Many zerg players and spectators alike often despise the ZvZ matchup due to the perceived simplicity of playing roach vs roach. With the early game of ZvZ being so build order dependent, it seems like one player heads into the midgame with a clear advantage. This early game advantage then allows them to get an economic advantage and then simply make more roaches in the 3 base vs 3 base scenario and take the victory. While sometimes in ZvZ the matches end in this way, the combination of defenders advantage, queen transfuse, and spine crawlers actually make it very difficult to end the game in a straight up 3 base vs 3 base roach attack. With this in mind, it is very possible to come back even from an early economic deficit through proper positioning and decision making.

The Plan

A key mistake that many players make when playing this match-up is they do not have a plan for the post 3 base pure roach vs pure roach engagements. The first item that needs to be decided is which opening build you would like to play. While opinions are split amongst pro players on which type of builds are better as far as gas or gasless, gasless builds will more reliably get you into the midgame in a nice roach vs roach set up, which is why I am recommending in this guide to play 15 pool into gasless roach. The build can be seen here in a Acer Team Story Cup performed by Axiom’s Impact.

This build allows you to safely get into the mid game with 2 evolution chambers upgrading your roaches.

Assuming you are able to scout and survive anything that may happen in the mid-game, the next part of your plan is you need to decide what tech path that you are going to be going for. There are 4 possible tech paths following your roach tech including: infestors, hydralisks, banelings with baneling speed, and roach burrow move. Under normal circumstances, to go for roach burrow move you will want to be on 3 base full mineral saturation and on 5 gas, while for the other tech choices you will want to be on 6 gases.

The reason that roach burrow movement is the most stable tech choice is because every other tech path forfeits map control for a period of time or as a clear counter. Roach burrow movement allows you to outplay and out multitask your opponent without giving up map control.

Using roach burrow to sneak into the enemies drone line.

Using roach burrow to sneak into the enemies drone line.

Scouting and Decision Making

In standard 3 base roach vs roach you should be making an overseer as soon as your lair is done to get a good idea of what your opponent is planning on doing. The only anti air at this point in the game are queens (which need to be injecting) so it should be pretty easy to get the information you want to without losing your overseer(s).

The first thing you will want to be scouting is your opponents drone count at his third as well taking a peak at what his army looks like. There are approximately 3 levels of saturation that you will see at the third base.

  • 8-12 drones mineral only. This is a common setup if your opponent goes a fast third base vs your gasless build and is attempting to push his economic advantage to a quick victory with a plus 1 attack timing off of 3 or 4 gases. You should try to mimic his saturation at your third base and delay your +2 upgrades if deemed necessary and use defenders advantage and transfuse to survive the attack.
  • 16 drones with 1 gas. This means that your opponent is probably on 5 gas and it is safe for you to move onto your roach burrow tech and get a macro hatch for the post 3 base game.
  • 16 drones with 2 gas. It is likely that your opponent has moved up to 6 gas and is moving towards a different tech rather than roach burrow. Confirm gas count by scouting other bases and look for tech structures.

Properly Using Defenders Advantage vs Roach Attacks

The second thing that you will want to keep an eye on is the opponent’s evolution chamber count. While sometimes this can be hard to spot, players more often than not will put their evolution chambers right next to each other (if they have more than 1). If your opponent seems to be to be sticking on 1 evolution chamber in order to squeeze out more roaches you will want to cut your 2nd carapace upgrade because it is an expensive upgrade that doesn’t do that much in the grand scheme of things. Keep in mind even if you cut this upgrade for a while, you will still be an upgrade ahead once they finish fighting your +2/+1 roaches vs his +2/0 roaches.

The last thing you will want to be scouting and reacting to is your opponent’s tech path, which you will want to look for once he is on 5-6 gases.

  • Hydralisks – if your opponent attempts to go hydras before any other tech it is usually easy to scout and you simply just get baneling speed and destroy his army with 20 supply of speed banelings to accompany your maxed out roach army. Just make sure to attack before he has a chance to add infestors to his army as well.
  • Infestors – if your opponent is going infestors before any other tech you can take a quicker 4th base than you would usually be comfortable taking, and then tech to infestors yourself. It is difficult to straight up attack a player going infestors, the infestor player cannot move out on the map himself and you can use that to your advantage.
  • Roach burrow- this tech path is scoutable by checking for the roach warren upgrading after your opponent already as roach speed. To counteract burrow movement you will want to get overlord speed for fast overseers as well as begin to add static defense at edge bases.
  • Baneling speed- though some players prefer this as their standard tech path compared to roach burrow movement, it can be difficult for the baneling speed player to find the time in the game to make enough banelings to be effective vs roaches while not taking damage from the other player. There is a lot of time and supply that needs to be invested in the banelings to allow them to be effective vs roaches, so this strategy often becomes an all-in attack.

I hope this mini-guide has provided some insight into the ZvZ match up and will allow you to have more clear decision making and scouting in roach vs roach.

Follow Michael on twitter @coL_Moosegills (ed’s note: Moose don’t have gills. I googled it.)