The Season 4 lock has already begun and within the next week or so Season 5 will begin and bring with it an updated map pool. Since last season Blizzard has been prioritizing tournament ready maps on the ladder to to give every game the tournament feel, reduce unfair starting positions and to allow the pros to more effectively practice on ladder. Part of creating a more tournament appropriate map pool was removing close position spawns for the larger maps where spawning in close positions almost always led to short games; last season Metalopolis and Shattered Temple had their close positions removed. Abyssal Caverns and Nerazim Crypt were the only two unsuitable maps left in the map pool, but these have now been removed and will be replaced by two new maps. I like Blizzard's move into a more tournament like ladder that is more competitive and takes away some of the starting position bias to help focus on actually playing and having fun. If, like me, you forget which map is which there is a picture of all of the current maps that have made it into Season 5 at the end of the article.
The first new map is called Arid Plateau and like Xel'Naga Caverns only has two starting locations. The entrance to your natural expansion is quite wide so will be harder to keep than in some maps. The choice for third is not immediately obvious as the closer one is more easily accessible whilst the further away one is more vulnerable to attacks through some destructible rocks in the back. The centre of the map is very open with only a few choke points so should allow for run-bys and surround attacks. Taking both Xel'Naga towers looks as though it will give you sight of the width of the map so they will be useful to have. As all the expansions are so open I am concerned that Zergling counter attacks will be overly effective and that Protoss especially will struggle to defend their chosen thirds for fear of run-bys or drops.
The other new Map is called Entombed Valley and is a large four base map. Concerned with recent criticism over rotationally symmetric maps Blizzard have created this map to be horizontally, vertically and diagonally symmetric so that no player has an unfair advantage over the other. The second and third both look relatively easy to secure as both are accessed through small ramps, but after that additional expansions will be harder to secure as they are all quite open. Again the centre of the map is quite open however there are also quite a few choke points to funnel your opponent through. It looks like Terrans will be able to easily turtle, defending their ramps with some siege tanks and bunkers, before moving out with a strong army. Protoss will probably forge fast expand quite a lot on this map as they can completely block off one ramp and then just defend the other. For close positions it looks as though it will be easy to get close to the enemy through the slip paths whilst avoiding the central Xel'Naga tower.
Both of the new maps look interesting to play and there doesn't seem to be any glaring inherent issues with them yet. The other maps returning this season are: Antiga Shipyard, Metalopolis, Shakuras Plateau, The Shattered Temple, Tal'Darim Altar and Xel'Naga Caverns. Antiga Shipyard and Tal'Darim Altar are both rotationally symmetric so may struggle to stay in the map pool for much longer as they are. In some situations a Terran can shell an opponent's third with Siege Tanks on Antiga Shipyard and many Protoss hate Tal'Darim Altar as it almost forces you to go four gate so it wouldn't be surprising if one or both of them was removed for next season. In the future I would like to see more maps taking hiatuses from the map pool for a couple of seasons, like Metalopolis was, to keep them fresh; Xel'Naga Caverns in particular is getting old. I, for one, am totally ready for Season 5 to begin.
|Abyssal Caverns(left) and Nerazim Crypt(right) have been removed from the map pool for Season 5.|
|New map Arid Plateau.|
|New map Entombed Valley.|
|The Shattered Temple.|