Defending Charge Zealot Based All-ins ZvP

Charge zealot based all ins have increasing in popularity lately and are nearly impossible to stop without scouting or somehow figuring out what is coming before it does. Serral vs Classic Game 1 at IEM katowice is a good example of how easily a zerg can die if the Protoss shows up unexpected.

Pro Game Examples

here is another example, game 2 of soO vs stats during the first gsl semifinals:

Even though the strategy is nearly impossible to defend without knowing what is coming, it is possible with some excellent micro and a hint or two that your opponent intends to be aggressive.

Elazer also showcased a fast +1 melee ling bane queen style capable of holding of an archon chargelot version of the attack against classic:

Attack Variability

One reason why these all ins/timing attacks are so powerful is due to the amount of variability they have. What I mean by this is there isn’t one standard build order and there are many types of attacks that can be done that are charge zealot based.

Some variations include:

  • Open stargate, not open stargate or open proxy stargate (although I haven’t seen this much as it hinders the protoss ability to kill overlords and thus deny scouting)
  • They can get oracles and a phoenix or just a phoenix if they go stargate (single void ray is also an option) as well as getting a stargate but no units from it just to try and fake the build to the zerg player.
  • The all in can start with an archon drop and have a follow up with an archon chargelot attack or it can hit faster with just chargelots
    • If the all in starts with an archon drop it could even start with dts and then go into an archon drop, or it could use high templar for the archons
  • It can be a 2 base all in or a 2 base all in with a “fake” third base (a base they don’t saturate, just start to try and hide the all-in), It can also just be a three base timing attack
  • They can also hit with a few immortals along with the chargelots instead of archons

Because of the fact that there are so many different ways to do this style of all-in there is no specific time that it will hit or exact proper reaction.

Defending

It is important in defending these attacks to realized that they are incredibly momentum based and will often snowball for one player or the other based on how the first engage goes (and how much the zerg has when the attack first hits).

This is mainly due to the way the production of both races work. As the zerg player, if the zealots begin to overwhelm,  your reinforcing units won’t be able to group up enough to be able to kill the zealots. Additionally since the Protoss’ reinforce location is so close (warp prism) there will be constant waves on incoming zealots, so if they win the first fight they will begin to pile up  and eventually win. This is true also if neither player wins the fight right away but if the zerg army doesn’t have enough dps to kill a significant portion of zealots by the time the second and third wave arrive. However if as the zerg player you can kill the zealots fast enough and reduce their numbers before the additional waves come in then the defense will snowball similarly in the zergs favor as more and more reinforcing units pop out and waves of zealots can’t group up.

Due to the variability of the attack there is no specific timing to start making units and stop making drones or times to make your tech. However for the most part standard tech timings will be fine (3:40-4:00) for the roach warren/baneling nest. The earliest hitting chargelot allin, the one that pulls of gas (the one classic does above against serral) hits around 5:00 off of 32 probes. In any case, you should be able to drone 4-10 drones more than the protoss has probes. In the case of the 32 probe chargelot all in this would mean going up to about 40 drones and against a 2 base all in which doesnt pull off gas and uses immortals or archons (they would have 44 probes for 2 base saturation) you can go up to ~50 drones and then make units. In general these timings are things that have to come with feeling due to the variability of the attack. There are many things that will change including the map and what style of defense you are going for, what your opening build order was and when you scout the attack that will change these times.

The defender’s advantage that you usually have as a zerg player (your reinforcements arrive much earlier) is nonexistent when you are defending these attacks which means you need to have an army up and ready when their army arrives (unlike for example some hellbat pushes which you can make roaches or banelings re actively while you kite and transfuse with queens).

Important Units for defense

Roaches and/or banelings are the key units for defending. If you are attempting to defend with ling bane (or are forced to) upgrades such as +1 melee are very helpful in defending. Banelings deal a lot of splash damage to clumped up zealots and roaches can tank their damage as well as kite (especially on creep).

Anti-air is also important to have against this attack because killing the warp prism effectively shuts down the attack by stopping the next waves of zealots. Since your primary (and usually only) air target when defending these attacks is the warp prism, ravagers and queens are both effective anti air methods. Keep in mind, exactly 3 corrosive biles will kill a warp prism in warp mode (if they regenerate any shields in-between biles somehow, then you will need 4). Depending on the timing of their attack, you may not have the gas required for ravagers. In this case just make roaches and use queens for anti air.

These attacks aren’t really possible to defend without roaches or banelings so be very careful when going for zergling with fast hydralisk builds.

Note: Spine crawlers can be good in emergency situations when you scout late.

Defense Micro

Ling/bane/queen with (hopefully) +1 melee: with this set of defense it is best to control your banelings on a separate hotkey to guide them towards the largest clump of zealots. Additionally you will need to target the warp prism with your queens (depending on the attack and how many units you have pulling injecting queens could be very important).

Roach/Ravager/Queen: Being able to snipe the prism with either biles or queens again is a primary goal. Kiting with your roach ravager is incredibly important as it greatly reduces the damage taken. If you are able to take out a wave of zealots, it is ok to push out closer to their warp prism to engage early, as you will have roaches reinforcing and can trigger their charge ability early and the kite backwards toward creep and reinforcements (this is also the perfect time to bile down the prism).

Drone hold position: in emergency cases, you can put your roaches, ravagers and queens in your mineral line and put your drones in front on hold position. This makes it difficult for the protoss to damage your army while your army is able to kill many zealots. It is difficult to explain, however in the Dark vs Nice vod above Dark showcases this micro trick brilliantly.

Scouting

The only way to definitively scout this build is to see the gateway explosion (lots of gateways going down, usually around 8 total), and seeing multiple zealots in the wall or somewhere else in the base. Without seeing zealots, it could be some other gateway unit rush like blink stalkers or glaive adepts. (Mostly seeing the gateway explosion just means you need to make units). Keep in mind though, that once a Protoss player has a third base and is saturating it, they will usually add on a bunch of gateways as they have the resources. This is standard, so only note the large gateway explosions if the Protoss is still on 2 bases or if you they aren’t producing probes.

Gas

If the Protoss player hasn’t taken their natural gases by around 3:30 pay close attention as it is likely an early mass chargelot all-in (be careful as some Protoss will build assimilators at their natural but not mine from them to hide the all in).

Also scouting main base gases when possible is a good indicator of a fast pure chargelot all in as the Protoss can pull off of their main gases once they have their tech (charge started and robo) as warp prisms and chargelots only cost minerals. In this case they will stop at 32 probes for full mineral saturation and not be mining gas in the main.

Star gate Production

Often times the Protoss will build a stargate to try and hide their real intention. They will do this because star-gate is very common currently and a phoenix or voidray is very useful for getting rid of overlords to hide the gateways. However the Protoss will likely not want to commit too many resources to oracles if they are going to all in meaning if you scout stargate and they dont get an oracle and they only get 1 phoenix (not mass phoenix) or 1 voidray then it is likely that they want to do an all-in follow-up.

Gateway Unit

If the Protoss goes stalker first instead of adept, there is a reasonable chance they did so to deny overlord scouting to hide their all-in. Adepts are important to get scouting information for the protoss as well as do some light harassment and are much better than stalkers in the early game most of the time. However one of the few times to go stalker first is to deny overlord scouting to hide something. Seeing stalker first doesn’t guarantee that they are going to all in, however it is a sign that you should really try to scout as much as possible.

Additionally, if you see many zealots early on in the wall (more than 1 basically) this can also be an indicator that the Protoss wants to do a charge zealot based attack.

Third base Timing

If the Protoss hasn’t started their third base by ~4:45 (ideally close to 50 drones) you want to start making units. If they start their third base soon after this time (5:00-5:15) it may be safe to go back to drones, however if a third base isn’t started in this time frame, just continue making units until they have started a third base.

You should start your tech of choice (baneling nest or roach warren) around the 4:00 mark to ensure that you can make these key units in time.

Probe Production

Lastly, paying attention to if they are producing probes (nexus lights flashing or not) can be a tell that the Protoss is doing an all in. While this is not a specific indicator for a charge zealot all in, it is relevant for many Protoss all ins. This is especially important to look for if they have taken a fake third base (third they don’t saturate, just make to hide the all in and help transition if needed).

Credits

Big thanks to Pig for reviewing/editing this article. Pig is a Random GM Streamer and former professional gamer who creates YouTube content and streams on Twitch. You can follow Pig on twitter.

I highly recommend checking out Pigs content for all levels of players, many of the older pig dailies are still extremely relevant for the game today.

TL;DR

There are many kinds of zealot based all-ins so they are difficult to scout and react to.
Roaches and banelings are the key units for defense, but queens and ravagers are also important for sniping the warp prism. The attack is momentum based and will snowball in either players favor because both players reinforce so quickly. To scout look for gateway explosions as well as pay attention to their third base timing, their stargate production, their gas timings and their initial gate way production. Thanks to Pig for helping with this article.

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