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What Is An RTS Game? Take A Deep Dive With Our Comprehensive Guide

Are you a fan of strategy games? If so, you've probably played your fair share of real-time strategy (RTS) games. But what exactly is an RTS game?

In short, an RTS game is a strategy game in which players control units and structures in real-time. Unlike turn-based strategy games (like Civilization), there is no pause button – the action keeps going even when it's not your turn. Stay alert and be ready to make lightning-fast decisions because every second matters in an RTS game. So what is an RTS game? Let's find out! In this beginner's guide, I will go over the basics of an RTS game and share some examples of popular examples.


The term "Real-time Strategy" was coined by game designer Brett Sperry in 1992 to describe a video game genre of strategy games in which the game's action unfolds in real-time. The eponymous strategy genre of game, of course, is a part of real-time strategy games. However, real-time strategy games are not limited to strategy games alone.

Turn-based games have been around for thousands of years. Think of cards, board games, and Chess as games where players take turns to advance to the end. RTS games are much newer, having been around since the 1980s. Maybe we could go back further and call "Hide and Seek" an old-fashioned real-time strategy game, but let's not bother. Somebody perfected the formula in the '90s and early 2000s with games like Dune II: The Battle for Arrakis and StarCraft, two of the most iconic games in the real-time strategy genre. Space RTS games like Stellaris and Dune 2 are some of the most popular games of this genre.

The increasing popularity of competitive gaming has driven the evolution of real-time strategy games as spectator sports. For gamers, real-time strategy has a distinct advantage over turn-based strategy games because it provides more dynamic gameplay and more opportunities to influence the game's outcome.

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Real-time strategy games are a genre of video games that revolves around the gameplay of making strategic decisions and managing resources and units in real time.

Players must be highly skilled and strategic in real-time strategy games and make quick and decisive decisions. The need to be agile has led to the genre being associated with gamers who value meticulousness and precision. The real-time strategy genre is one of the most popular genres of video games. Real-time strategy games are known for their fast-paced gameplay, and they often require gamers to have quick reflexes and a sharp mind.

Players act simultaneously in real-time, emphasizing reaction time and micromanagement. An essential part of real-time strategy games is resource management, where players must create more units and buildings, including the ability to research technology through logical tech trees to gain an edge over opponents. These games require a high level of skill and strategic thinking, which can challenge casual esports fans.

Managing at the micro and macro levels

RTS games require high micromanagement and macro management of resources and units. In RTS games, players must constantly balance the micromanagement of individual units with the macro management of the game-wide economy. Micromanagement involves managing individual units and resources on a fine scale. Macro management involves managing economic expansion and large-scale strategic maneuvering. Players must use flanking, ambushing, and guerrilla warfare to defeat opponents. RTS games are challenging because of the high level of strategy needed to win.

Turn-based vs. real-time strategy

Real-time strategy games require players to make strategic decisions and manage resources and units in real time. RTS games typically involve:

  • Building and managing a base.

  • Gathering resources.

  • Training units.

  • Engaging in battles against other players or AI opponents.

The gameplay of real-time strategy games has surpassed the popularity of turn-based strategy computer games due to their fast-paced nature and smaller learning curve.

Turn-based strategy games require a player to make a series of turn-by-turn decisions, while real-time strategy games allow players to make simultaneous decisions. Due to the fast-paced gameplay of real-time strategy games, they are often more engaging than turn-based strategy games.

Strategy and tactics

Real-time strategy games involve making real-time decisions and managing resources in real-time instead of turn-based strategy games, where gameplay consists of making decisions at intervals. In real-time strategy games, players must decide how to deploy their military units on a battlefield. These units may be conventional or nuclear, human- or machine-controlled, and may include tanks, aircraft, and submarines. Tactics in RTS games typically involve micromanagement of units, such as in battle situations. These games also require a high level of strategy, often requiring long-term resource management planning.

Different RTS games may emphasize either strategy or tactics, depending on the game genre and the gameplay style. For example, real-time strategy games like "Starcraft" may require fast reaction time, while turn-based strategy games like "Civilization" may require a more strategic approach to gameplay.

To rush or not to rush

In real-time strategy games, players often engage in "rushes," where they try to gain an advantage over the opponent as quickly as possible. One of the common strategies for doing so is to produce a large amount of a relatively powerful but inexpensive unit and throw it at the opposition before they have had time to establish defenses or production. While rushing can be a helpful strategy in real-time strategy games, criticism has been that it encourages overwhelming force over strategy and tactics. Some games have been designed with supply and resource management as an integral part of gameplay to combat this issue. For example, the Hegemony series made supply and resource management an essential part of its gameplay to deter rushing strategies.

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RTS Gameplay Management

Real-time strategy games require players to manage resources, units, and structures in real time. The gameplay of RTS games comprises a series of gameplay phases, such as resource gathering, unit production, unit movement, structure building, and game-ending attacks.

In real-time strategy games, players must balance the economic output of resource gathering with the military build-up of unit production. Players must also balance the time spent on non-gameplay-related activities like building structures and researching technologies. Players must use flanking, ambushing, and guerrilla warfare tactics to win a real-time strategy game.

The game's objective varies from game to game, but the general goal of real-time strategy games is to build a robust base and army while disrupting the enemy's resources and army. Players must micromanage their resources, military units, building construction, new technology investigation, and diplomacy to accomplish this.

Resource Management

RTS games often require players to manage many units simultaneously in real-time, requiring a focus on reaction time and micromanagement. To effectively manage these units, players must ensure they use the suitable unit for the right job and efficiently use their resources. Resources in RTS games can often be found in the game world or produced by buildings, and they are used as currency to train units and purchase upgrades.

Resource management is a vital part of RTS gameplay, and it involves locating, extracting, and allocating resources to support gameplay. Players must constantly balance between spending available resources on training new units and purchasing upgrades to strengthen their defenses or improve their offense. It is critical to keep an eye on the resources available in the game world and the resource production of buildings to ensure that you can engage in resource-intensive gameplay without running out of resources or becoming over-extended.

Building Management

Building management is a crucial gameplay element of real-time strategy games. In RTS games, building management involves constructing and upgrading military and civilian facilities. Different types of buildings are used for various purposes, such as the production of units and defensive structures. Buildings that produce units are usually automatically assigned to a particular unit type. Automation allows the player to focus on commanding and controlling a single unit type rather than managing various building types.

Resource management is also crucial in RTS games. Resources can be distributed around the game world or produced by certain buildings. The amount of resources a player has at a given time is critical, as it determines how many units and structures they can command and build. Real-time strategy games require macroscopic management of large groups of units, and players must make split-second decisions to outmaneuver opponents.

Unit Management

RTS games require players to manage and control units in real time. The game of RTS consists of four main elements: units, buildings, technologies, and resources. Units are the moveable actors that can be assigned tasks such as gathering resources or attacking enemies. Buildings research technologies and train units while technologies improve economic or military stats to give an advantage over another. The goal of an RTS game is to outmaneuver and outsmart opponents to achieve victory. To achieve this goal, a player must carefully consider unit types, building placement, and gameplay strategy.

Technology Research

RTS games typically involve:

  • Gathering resources such as units and buildings.

  • Training them.

  • Engaging in battles against other players or AI.

In an RTS game, there are four key elements-units, buildings, technologies, and resources, that somebody must carefully balance to succeed.

RTS games have a range of gameplay mechanics and strategies, with different players seeking out different play styles. The most popular RTS game series include StarCraft, Company of Heroes, and World of Tanks. The best performers in these games have earned millions of dollars through tournaments and professional competitions.

Top RTS Games

Real-time Strategy games, also called RTS games, are games where the gameplay is centered around strategy and planning. These games involve many classic gameplay elements of real-time strategy games, such as resource management, base building, and unit command. Typically, players carry out these tasks in a multiplayer environment via interconnected game servers.

Popular RTS games for esports require players to make quick decisions and utilize resources efficiently. The genre has attracted a large following of gamers, especially in the esports and gaming communities. Popular eSports games include StarCraft II, League of Legends (LoL), Dota 2, and World of WarCraft (WoW). Professional gamers have earned millions of dollars in prize money from tournaments alone. Turtling is a degenerate strategy used in RTS games that can slow down gameplay. Turtling involves hiding behind a fortified base or structure and only engaging with the game if periodically issuing commands to units on the screen.

The gameplay of real-time strategy games makes them fun for casual gamers and professional gamers alike. The gameplay of RTS games is often highly strategic and intricate, requiring players to balance carefully-crafted strategies with constant attention to resource management and unit production. The genre also has a rich history of multiplayer gameplay dating back to video game classics such as Command & Conquer and StarCraft II.

Age of Empires IV

The game Age of Empires IV was developed by Relic Entertainment in collaboration with World's Edge and published by Xbox Game Studios. This is the fourth installment of the Age of Empires series. There are eight civilizations players can choose from in AoE 4, each with its bonuses. While Age of Empires III moved into colonial times, Age of Empires IV goes back to medieval Europe. Age of Empires 4 builds on the series' reputation as one of the best RTS games. If you're a fan of world history or enjoy playing RTS games, then this is a title you'll want to check out.

screenshot of age of empires iv gameplay
Age of Empires IV Gameplay

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II

The original game in the Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War series, Dawn of War, was notable for bringing the grim and dark universe of Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 universe to life. The game is known for its unique twists on the RTS genre that are thematically suited to this science-fiction universe. For instance, instead of focusing primarily on building and managing a base, it features powerful heroes with unique abilities and combat styles that must be deployed strategically in battles against other players. It also features a cover-based gameplay mechanic that allows players to effectively hide behind obstacles during battle and turn the tables on their enemies.

The sequel to Dawn of War, Dawn of War II, improved upon many of the game's gameplay mechanics while introducing new elements to explore the dark and gritty setting of Warhammer 40,000. It further capitalized on the game's well-loved cast of heroes and villains from the Warhammer 40K universe. It added a multiplayer mode that allows gamers to play against each other online. The game is popular for gamers looking for a gritty strategy game set in a compelling science-fiction universe.

screenshot of warhammer 40,000 dawn of war 2 gameplay
Warhammer 40K Dawn of War 2 Gameplay

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is a classic real-time strategy game developed by Blizzard Entertainment. The game was released in 2010. StarCraft II is a space-punk game featuring three primary races, the Terrans, the Protoss, and the Zerg. The game is well-known for its 'Zerg Rush' strategy, where players use a large amount of Zerg combat units to overwhelm their opponent. Popular real-time strategy games for esports include Age of Empires, Company of Heroes, Command & Conquer, and Dawn of War. These games require fast reflexes and strategic thinking to succeed. Check out StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty if you want a game that will challenge your gameplay skills.

screenshot of starcraft 2 wings of liberty gameplay
StarCraft 2 Gameplay


Dota 2 is a real-time strategy game that fuses the real-time strategy genre with elements of other popular game genres, including a solid multiplayer component. In Dota 2, players must work together to destroy the enemy's base. As a real-time strategy game, players must make quick decisions to use resources and time their attacks. The game's gameplay is fast-paced and action-packed and features a variety of game modes and a large community of players from all over the world. RTS games have a long history of success, with titles such as Starcraft, Warcraft, Command & Conquer, Warhammer, and Age of Empires all released during the 1990s and 2000s. As a genre that continues to evolve and improve, RTS games have a bright future ahead of them and will continue captivating gamers for years to come.

screenshot of dota 2 gameplay
Gameplay of Dota 2

Dune II

Dune II, released by Westwood Studios in 1992, is widely recognized as the game that first defined real-time strategy games as a genre. It was the first game to feature gameplay of this type and set a lasting standard for the genre. Dune II featured gameplay that harkened back to turn-based strategy games of old but with real-time battle mechanics and a focus on strategy and resource management. It allowed gamers to play as one of three unique factions: the Atreides, the Harkonnen, or the Ordos. The game also allowed players to explore the planet of Arrakis and decide which villages to conquer and which enemies to befriend.

screenshot of dune 2 gameplay
Dune II Gameplay

Halo Wars 2

Halo Wars 2 is a real-time strategy game set in the Halo universe. Microsoft released the game on February 21, 2017, for PC and Xbox One. At its release, it was considered a friendly RTS game as it featured a casual gameplay style and all its downloadable content (DLC) in its Definitive Edition. It's best to play Halo Wars 2 with a mouse and keyboard, but it still has an excellent controller system for console players. The game has evolved and offers a more detailed gameplay experience than its predecessor. Players can command army units to conquer enemy bases, construct buildings, and explore the game world via a top-down camera perspective.

Halo Wars 2 features modernized visuals and all of the DLC in its Definitive Edition, making it a must-play for strategy gamers.

screenshot of halo wars 2 gameplay
Halo Wars 2 Gameplay

Are there any RTS games on Xbox?

RTS games have long been a staple of PC gaming, but several real-time strategy (RTS) games are now available for Xbox gamers. Popular real-time strategy games on Xbox include Age of Empires II Definitive Edition and Halo Wars 2.

What's the difference between turn-based and real-time strategy?

Turn-based strategy (TBS) games involve a turn-based gameplay style in which players take turns to make decisions. This method of gameplay gives players time to consider their strategy and plan their next move. However, real-time strategy (RTS) games differ from turn-based strategy games requiring players to react quickly to events.


Real-time strategy games are undoubtedly here to stay. They have evolved, and they will continue growing with time. From the multiplayer gameplay format of Dune II to the story-driven gameplay of Age of Empires IV, real-time strategy games have become a craze among gamers of all age groups. As you can see in this article, many games deserve your attention. Be sure to take advantage of them!

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