The Art of Zerg?

Wotcha everyone,

Is anyone actually sure of the origin of the term: “Zerg”?

The first time I saw it was in the Real Time Strategy game “Starcraft”, where the Zerg were a race of weird squacky aliens who relied on swarming, and overwhelming odds.  Weak troops, but lots of them.  Is that the origin of the word, or did the term exist before?  The first time I encountered the term in Online Gaming was in Planetside, which is when I also first encountered the term in a derogatory sense.

Since then, it has become the de rigeur term of choice for any fight where one side outnumbers the other.  It’s a noun, it’s a verb, it’s an excuse;  “We would have won, but they zerged us”.  It is rapidly becoming all things to all players.

And, as a game that openly demands mass PvP combat (just as Planetside did) there are currently plenty of opportunities for the term “zerg” to be bandied about.  With the implication that the zerg requires no thought, no planning, no tactics.  That it’s unfair, that it’s a cheat, that it is the first and last resort of the “bad” player.

However…  I may be misremembering, but I’m pretty sure Sun Tzu mentions at some point in “The Art of War” that if you have to attack, attack with the odds in your favour.  He recommends ten to one as a baseline.  Hmm.  Sun Tzerg, anyone?  The First World War was rife with swarm attacks; On the 1st of July, 1916, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, there were 57,470 casualties, with 19,240 of those being deaths.  Over a 12 mile front.  That’s just the casualties, never mind the total number of brave, poor souls who were a part of the battle.  Did King Leonidas see the Persian army arrayed for battle before him, and exclaim “WTF ZERG?”

I gave up all desire for a “fair” fight a long time ago.  Ideally, I’d prefer a fight where the odds are in my favour.  Because the odds will always be stacked in one direction, and cannot be balanced; If both sides are balanced in numbers, then one side will have more higher level characters.  If both sides are balanced for level, then one side will have better equipment.  If both have equal equipment, then one side will have more skilled players…  It’s clunky as examples go, but I’m pretty sure it works.

Let me get back to the Zerg, before I lose focus and start ranting on about balance.  Again.

Does it really show a lack of skill?  Well, the other night I was part of a Tier 3 Keep Run.  A certain Spinks who shall remain nameless organised a group of players from our guild, and our alliance, into a full warband and a bit.  We then trolled around, following her instructions, and did a lot of damage for the cause.  We gathered a number of other players as we went along (open warbands having a gravitational pull), and we still followed instructions.

Now, was that a zerg?  According to the “overwhelming odds in our favour” clause, yes it was.  But we were gathered together and organised.  We weren’t a mob looking for Destruction sized packets of Renown.  We were assigned roles within the warband, and as part of our keep attacks.  Roles which we adhered to.  Some weren’t as sexy as others, but they were done diligently.

Anyone looking from the outside probably looked at us, thought; “Zerg” in a negative fashion, and went off to do scenarios.

Well, I think it’s time to start the campaign to take the term “Zerg” back.  Once, they were a proud race, for which the terms “Squamous” and “Rugose” could have been created.  They extolled the virtues of unity and brotherhood, of equality, and thrift.

They were a force to be reckoned with.

I am sick of it being used as a negative term.  There are enough negative terms, as well as negativity, in Online Gaming.  PvP (and RvR) seems to have a never-ending supply of it.  So let one go.  Let “Zerg” go.  Just see it as a massed attack, acknowledge the amount of cat-herding the leader probably had to do to get all those players in one place, and respect it by either getting out of its way, or assembling your own.

Just because a Zerg has a lot of members, don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re not using strategy and tactics.  The massed attack against smaller forces is just as valid a strategy as any other.

Someone sign me up for a “Zerg Member” t-shirt.



10 Responses

  1. Am fairly sure Starcraft did originate the word, but not the negative aspects of it

  2. ‘Sun Tzerg’ – Classic!

  3. Interesting thoughts.

    Re: the “zerg” having skill…. meh. See, back in starcraft days, zerg rushing your opponents base, and the subsequent defense against the zerg, was all about skill. One player would decide to forego gathering early game resources, and instead create a quick assault team to charge in and take the enemy unawares. If the enemy had established some sort of defense, the zerg player would probably switch to harrassing the other player’s resource gathering to keep the playing field level. A smart defending player would do a little scouting, and build up enough of an early game defense, to weather the zerg, etc etc.

    But when used in the context of a game like WAR, the same situation doesn’t apply. There’s no careful decision saying “hey team, let’s forego gathering resources in favour of a quick alpha strike before the other team is ready”. There’s no “hey team, the other team are foregoing resource gathering to make an alpha strike on us, let’s defend”.

    Instead it’s “Hey get that guy! Rotfl pwnt.” So although I’m sure you guys weren’t running around acting like lemmings, it doesn’t really matter since you outnumbered the enemy so much, and there was no downside to you forming a massive army (you didn’t miss out on gathering resources of some kind).

  4. This is exactly what he his talking about. You didn’t play the game “correctly” (meaning you didnt play it the way I am playing it) and that means its wrong. A single warband (plus some extras) is hardly a zerg. Especially when taking a keep.

    It sucks to be on the other end of a unbalanced fight, but there are so many options, which includes gathering up your own force. So many people would love to attack/defend keeps if they knew there were just someone willing to start a warband and send some messages.

    And as a side note, a good way to win with Zerg (Starcraft) is to constantly pressure the opponent. Sometimes you win early, sometimes you don’t. But as long as you are pressuring the opponent, weakening them with valid in-game mechanics (attacking resources/weak points) you have a chance.

  5. I’m pretty sure if Sun Tzu were still around, he’d also be accused of zerging, wall-hacking, and being an aimbotter.

  6. I’ve already been in a few keep fights where it’s me and two to three other order peeps defending against a full warband and we’ve succeeded. Using surprise tactics and trickery and – really – the keep lord as a team member makes all the difference…but frankly my most favorite and memorable fights were those were we were completely overwhelmed and we won.

    Bring on the zergs.

    …I really liked playing zerg in SC, but I never rushed. (Well, I did once, just to try it.) I liked to see how quickly I could mass-produce units and send them into the fight. It’s such a stark contrast to the protoss, where you would produce easily under a hundred units and if you lost more than ten it was a bad match. With zero, my losses could easily equal my kill count.

  7. I agree completely. Play to win.

  8. I love being on the losing side. The side with more to gain from the win.

    Zergs can still be negative. Even then, in RTS’ being on the receiving end, I have to admire the skill and coordination it took for them to attack me so early and carry the day.

    WAR though… zerging shouldnt be a term used. I’m sorry, if your side doesnt respond to an overwhelming incursion with overwhelming force, they aren’t quite getting into the spirit of Warhammer.
    Show me one army that fights fair 😛 (Granted few fight as dirty as the Skaven)

    Mass away.

  9. I thought Zerg referred to masses of “expendable” troops which are barely organized.

    So, if you attack with overwhelming force, that’s not a Zerg. It’s a larger force. But still you are organized.

    For a real life example: China in the Korean war, sending in massive waves of poorly armed troops, the first armed, the second only half are armed, and the third not even armed – they pick the weapons up off their dead comrades – that’s a zerg.

  10. Zerg originated in starcraft, and the tactic of zerging started with the (fairly cheesy) tactic of building a swarm of cheap zerglings and rushing the enemy base. Because the other two sides units cost a lot more, it generally took them longer to start producing any meaningful defense, leaving an opening in the early game for rushes by the side with the cheapest units.

    The term zerg gained popularity in MMOs with the advent of DAoC and the unbalanced populations of the three sides. A zerg was a side that simply used mass numbers instead of tactics to roll over the enemy and win. Generally used to refer to Albion, which was usually the most populated but also the most casual (leading to large armies of poorly organized people).

    From there it’s grown to refer to any incident in which one side significantly outnumbers the other. If 40 people crush 20 people in PvP, they ‘zerged’ them. The lack of organization is no longer a significant connotation, just the pure numbers. If you were beaten by superior numbers, you were zerged.

    Zerg is still considered a negative term by those it’s applied to because the implication is that they won due only to numbers, not skill. Zerg therefore implies a lack of skill, even though technically in its common usage (more = zerg) it does no such thing. A highly coordinated guild group of 40 people crushing an opposing group of 10 would still be considering a zerg by the losers, no matter how skilled the team of 40 really was.

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