I have a very positive opinion of the Advanced Strategic Icon mod.
Yet, whenever it gets mentioned anywhere a very vocal group of players immediately accuses the mod of being made by Satan himself, ostensibly completely ruining the gameplay of everyone who uses it.
Normally I'd just ignore them and chalk it up to nostalgia or whatever, but in this case many of the game's best players are some of the mods most vocal critics.
For example, here is what Blackheart, currently ranked number 5 on the 1v1 ladder, has to say about the mod in his UI mod guide:
"Advanced Strategic Icons: Extremely strong NOT recommended. I would go as far as saying that this mod will completely destroy your ability to improve past a certain level."]
I don't get it.
I have played the last year with some version of it installed, and while I'm still far away from the level of e.g. blackheart, as a 1.8k global I imagine myself to have a decent understanding of the games fundamentals.
And I still don't see the major downsides people insist the mod has.
This is what this post is about: I want people to show me proof of how and where I'm just to blind to miss the very obvious detriments of the Advanced Strategic Icons mod.
One of the most common arguments I hear is that the mod clutters the screen and makes it impossible to accurately judge army sizes and unit types. In my experience, the exact opposite is the case.
For example, lets look at the below scene captured at 1080p resolution and at the same level of zoom each time. If you want to follow along, just open the pictures in full screen but do not zoom further in. Not needing to zoom in further is exactly what distinguishes a good icon set from a bad one.
Here is the scene, ye old lategame setons with the default icons:
So what do I see? Well there is a t3 navy battle going on. The two tempests are pretty eye catching and there are obviously lots of frigates everywhere. Purple also has some battleships but without staring at it for a couple seconds I don't know if purple has 4 or 10. The red navy is even worse. I think I see a battleship in there but its really hard to distinguish it from the other ships because the damn pips are so small.
Lets see how this looks with the small icon set from the mod:
If you are unfamiliar with the modded icon set, open both pictures in separate tabs and switch back and forth a bit to see what changed. Again, no zooming in though.
So what did change? Destroyers, cruisers and battleships are a lot more distinctive, especially compared to the literally unchanged frig icon. It's now much easier to see what ships are important and counting the 8 battleships from purple is a lot faster than before.
This is not even mentioning the actual strengths of the mod, like how finding and sniping purples sonar with a couple torps is now a trivial exercise or how you can easily see that teal has a smd due to the purple border added by the mod.
But, as mentioned above, I don't want to look at the upsides of the Advanced Strategic Icons mod, but at its downsides.
So at least for naval combat, the modded icons are, at worst, a neutral change and up to personal preference.
"But the ground armies!", I hear the naysayers typing. "The mod makes it impossible to accurately read the size and composition of dense ground armies.", they say.
Well, lets look at the same picture again, this time at default army icons on the land bridge:
Even at fullscreen resolution, without looking at it for an embarrassing amount of time, the only thing I can really make out is that there are "like 30-40 T1 units".
How does the icon mod fare?
Well look at that: It's now blindingly obvious that the first two rows of units are of a different type then the back rows. So now my observation is "like 30-40 T1 units, half T1 tanks and half T1 arties". As the heretic that I am, I'd say the modded icons are straight up better than the default ones in this case.
So what about the air? Lets look at the canonical "estimate army sizes quickly"-test and see if we can estimate ASF amounts any faster or slower:
So can you estimate ASF counts easier with the default icon set? I would say there is effectively no difference. In both cases all I see is that the ASF numbers are about equal, no clue who actually has more but the difference can't be huge either way.
It seems to me there are no real downsides to the Advanced Strategic Icons mod when looking at armies and lots of upsides regarding the readability of bases, especially in large team games, the latter of which I didn't even get into here.
So what's going on? Why are so many, often very good, players so strongly against using this mod?