Expanding as Zerg – Fast Expansion

The Swarm is the most flexible race out of the three possible choices in Starcraft; the entire Zerg gameplay is based upon unflagging harass with expendable units in conjunction with building a superior economy. And of course, in order to have a superior economy, you need train your “expanding sense” and get a firm grasp of some relatively safe situations when you can secure additional mining locations.

Fast Expansion

For some a natural opening, others do it on a seldom basis – I’m talking about the Fast Expansion, the build where you build another Hatchery before the Spawning Pool. The idea is to give yourself a strong economical advantage from the very beginning, but it is often fascinating how players forget to undertake measures to protect their fast expansion – it’s nothing but a “macro cheese” if you simply rely on your opponent not attacking you.

Let’s have a look at all possible Zerg matchups and say a word or two about the early pressures you might face:

1. ZvZ

As in all mirror matches, the strategy you choose can basically decide the game’s fate. Opening with 15 Hatch against 10 Pool usually equals a certain death (or at least some serious complications) for the more “traditional” player – this reason alone is why I can’t really recommend FE in ZvZ, you’re just flipping a coin and hoping your foe doesn’t engage in some early Pool aggressions. It might work most of the time because early Pools are in turn useless against say 14 Pool, but it’s still one big IF. You may of course shout at your opponent he’s a damn cheeser, but the fact remains you were unable to defend a strategy, not him.

But let’s say there’s a scenario of 15 Hatch vs. 14 Pool. You may think that the player with an expansion has a huge advantage, but that’s certainly not true. First of all, the Pool player will have his Metabolic Boost much quicker and the vast difference between slow and fast Zerglings is self-evident. Not only the expansion can get overrun with literally countless waves of quick Zerglings running by into your main (nope, 2 Spines at the expansion are not really going to help), but you may also face more difficult scenarios, such as early Banelings or 7RR.

If you’re fast expanding in ZvZ, you desperately need as much scouting information as possible; you need to know whether your opponent counts on some mass Zergling all-in or tries to catch up with his Drone count instead. That’s yet another problem – you might expect a heavy attack and you can cripple your economy while preparing for it, but in the meantime your opponent is happily macroing and can get a huge advantage in spite of his later expansion.

Frankly, one of the best openings of FE in ZvZ I’ve ever seen (and which was actually able to defeat my push) was a very quick Roach Warren; a few Roaches can do wonders against Lings / Banelings. Check out this replay to see what I’m talking about.

2. ZvP

The ultimate goal in ZvP is the aptness to produce limits after limits of your broods once the Protoss deathball moves out. Of course, you can try to end the game earlier but balanced players will end up in this scenario. To that end, opening with the FE seems to be a reasonable course of action – right until you realize it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

Say you open with 15 Hatch and the Protoss player goes for Forge => Expansion. It would be folly if he at least didn’t try to build a few Photons here and there, especially if you sacrifice earlier Zerglings for a questionable economical advantage. Not only you need to withdraw a handful of Drones to defend against the Photons (thus entirely losing any upper hand you might have gained by the expansion), but you’re also giving him all the time in the world he needs to do his business.

Even if the Protoss opens with Gateway units, some players (especially from lower leagues) might be caught by surprise by 2Gate Zealots or Stalker Push against slow Zerglings. In addition, if you pull off the expansion with no trouble at all, you won’t have enough Drones to effectively saturate two mining spots and it will still take some time and doing before your economy finally kicks in.

To that end, I’ve figured out opening with 14 Pool has none of the drawbacks described before AND depending on the scouting information, you can easily build 2 Zerglings, begin the expansion (like 20 Hatch), mass Drones and once it’s finished, you can transfer many more workers and be more effective with your expansion after all.

3. ZvT

So I’ve torn down FE in ZvZ and ZvP, what about ZvT? The biggest problem of all is the 2 Rax push, quickly followed by some early Hellion harass. To be honest, I’m in favor of fast expansion in ZvT but I don’t play it myself because I don’t have enough confidence in my micro skills yet, especially after these holidays pauses I’ve been through.

Essentially speaking, if you’re again trying to go 15 Hatch, you ought to position your second Overlord on top of your expansion to greatly increase the chance of spotting the Bunker / proxy Rax etc. Once you realize something funky is going on, you should adhere to these points:

– use 3-4 Drones to intercept incoming Marines
– send 1-2 to kill the building SCV
– get the Queen there to assist as soon as possible
– the quicker you get some Zerglings the better – but you should avoid the most common mistake of spawning 12 Zerglings out of panic where 4-6 would suffice

As for Hellions, there are two basic options – Queen / Zergling or a few Roaches (you don’t necessarily need to go for a Roach oriented style, just make a few in the beginning to defend the Hellions). However, you should somehow block your entrance as much as possible with Evo Chambers, 1-2 Spines and other buildings that won’t give away your tech tree. The feeling of 6 Blue Flame Hellions coming to a roadblock of buildings, Roaches and 1 Queen is… priceless.

Since I can imagine one of my colleagues yelling and screaming that it’s bullshit and you can easily defend Hellions with Zerglings – yes, you can, but it’s much more complicated, you need better micro and you also might need a lot more resources spent – not to mention if you keep defending with Zerglings, the Terran has no reason to give up his harass; but he would be mad if he pumped out more Hellions against Roaches.


Bottom line is fast expansion can be pulled off in all Zerg matchups; but if your foe knows his business, you can die very quickly and screaming it’s a cheese won’t really help anyone. Every time you try to fast expand and fail to defend, another point of view is your “macro cheese” has failed. Imagine you’re in MLG finals – would you really be willing to bet on your opponent playing “normally”?

Players often watch some fascinating VOD and decide that what works for the pros will work for them as well. But professional players often have godlike micro and that’s why it’s safe for them to play fast expansion. Us regular folks should throw away the pink glasses and play what’s safe for us.

Thank you for reading!

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