Do early workers really have an exponential effect?

Commentators such as HD sometimes mention that a worker advantage in the early game is of extreme importance since it has an “exponential effect” (here’s an example video which mentions that at the start).

While I agree workers have a large impact in the early game, it seems to me that

  1. Worker production rate is usually capped by building/larva limits rather than mineral balance, so losing an early worker or two doesn’t necessarily mean the next workers will be produced slower.
  2. I always thought that in the late game it doesn’t really matter if one player have a couple of workers more, when the workers already count in the dozens.

So it seems to me the impact of having an early worker disadvantage doesn’t have an increasing effect – just losing a more-or-less fixed amount of money for the lost mining time. If anything, it has the most effect on the early game, where every single unit matters.

Could somehow explain what is the true impact of early worker disadvantage, and why do people say it’s exponential?


The effect is mostly that you earn less resources, which means that you can not expand at the same time as the enemy and you can only produce workers at a slower pace unless you accept falling behind in unit numbers.

You can recover from an early worker disadvantage by either killing a lot of his units and then expanding and getting a lot of workers while he rebuilds his army (especially true for zerg) or by killing enemy workers with drops while you have a similar sized army.

If you fail to do either then you will slowly fall behind because you always have less resources and less units than the enemy while the enemy economy is increasing faster than yours, just because he can afford to spend more resources on it instead of on unit production.

Simplified Math:
1 Worker gathers 0.7 minerals per second (according to this Teamliquid Thread).
This means a single worker gathers the resources required for 1 Marine every 70 seconds.
So being one worker behind doesn’t have an effect immedatly, but after those 70 seconds you will be one marine behind unless you skip a worker and instead produce an additional marine, which would put you another worker behind, resulting in being behind a marine every 35 seconds unless you skip another worker. Continue until you are dead.

Source : Link , Question Author : Oak , Answer Author : Morfildur

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