Welcome to An Introduction to Competitive TF2. Since you’re reading this, you undoubtedly have some interest in TF2, whether you’re starting out as a 6v6 player, you play highlander, you crush nerds on public servers, or you’re just downloading the game now to see what all the fuss is about. In this article, you will be introduced to the wonderful world of competitive 6v6 TF2. This guide will focus on North American TF2 — much of the information will be applicable to the game in general, but references to where to play and weapon restrictions are based on NA standards.
To begin, let us ask the question: what is competitive TF2? More specifically, what is the appeal of TF2 in a competitive format with teams of 6 and rules restricting class usage? When you first jump in to a 12v12-16v16 public server and all you can see are walls of sentry guns and sticky traps, you might not understand how this game can work competitively. Indeed, by the no-holds-barred default TF2 settings, the game doesn’t work competitively. With limits on classes and weapons that have been tailored by the competitive community, however, the end product is something far greater. Check out any of the links below to see some of the resulting action:
Now that you’re sufficiently pumped up from that classic frag movie action (or maybe just confused about why there are no sentries), let’s take a look at what the competitive ruleset accomplishes. In North American TF2, a team is limited to a maximum of 1 demoman, heavy, medic, and engineer (engineer limit is 2 in Europe), and 2 of any other class. These limits keep games fast-paced, preventing something like a team of 2 medics and 4 demomen from locking a chokepoint down with an impenetrable wall of health and pipes. The standard class arrangement in 6v6 consists of 2 scouts, 2 soldiers, 1 demoman, and 1 medic to give the best overall mobility and versatility, though other classes are frequently used in place of a scout/soldier for niche purposes. The gameplay that results from this is a fusion between the deathmatch/timing of Quake and the positioning/teamwork of the MOBA genre. On the surface, TF2 may look like a cartoon with a bunch of ridiculous hats, but its gameplay is that of a fast-paced, reaction-driven shooter coupled with a subtle game of positioning and strategy.
h2>Class Overview To provide a clearer picture of how competitive TF2 works, this section outlines the basic roles and responsibilities each of the 4 cookie-cutter classes takes in a standard setting.
Boasting the 2nd highest health value in the game, the ability to rocket jump, and a combination of projectile splash and hitscan damage (side note: hitscan weapons include all shotguns, pistols, sniper rifles, smg — anything that has no delay from when it is fired until it does damage), the soldier is the bread-and-butter deathmatch class in TF2. Though lacking in raw movement speed, the ability to rocket jump allows a soldier to put out bursts of speed to initiate fights, chase frags, or escape from a bad situation. Since this maneuverability comes at the cost of health, a soldier either needs to accompany the medic, or have the freedom to grab health packs. This results in the soldier role being split into two style: the pocket and the roamer.
The pocket soldier tends to stick with the medic and use a constant 300hp stack to outmuscle his opponents. A pocket with his medic is referred to as “the combo”. Pocket soldiers typically initiate fights by jumping into the enemy team and taking ubercharges. When their medic is retreating, the pocket soldier is often the last line of defense, using a combination of rockets and shotgun to lock down chokepoints and finish kills on pursuing enemies. The main attributes that define a good pocket soldier are a strong understanding of when and where they can push, the ability to lead their team through pushes/retreats, and the deathmatching abilities to output enough damage to make their pushes effective. A pocket soldier will generally use the rocket launcher/original, shotgun, and the escape plan.
The roaming soldier typically plays far away from his medic, joining the combo only to receive a buff before a push or suicide play, or if the pocket soldier goes down. Splitting up the soldiers is a necessity to avoid taking heavy splash damage from the enemy soldier/demoman. This also allows the roaming soldier to take advantage of height differences or hiding spots where a medic can’t follow. The main purpose of the roaming soldier is to take pressure off of his combo by providing rocket spam from the flank to damage the enemy combo and deny enemy scouts. Roaming soldiers are typically the go-to player to make a suicidal play (also known as a “bomb”) on the enemy medic, sacrificing their life to try to kill the enemy medic or force them to use uber. To play as a roaming soldier, understanding the positions you can use to your advantage to hide or deny enemy scouts will be very helpful, and knowing when it’s appropriate to make a suicidal play and when you should stay alive and spam is important. A roaming soldier will usually use the rocket launcher/original, shotgun or gunboats (to allow for more rocket jumps without medic support), and the escape plan.
For more information on starting out as a competitive soldier, check out the Pway a Weal Cwass video series by pandapoops. Some of the information here is dated, but most of it is quite useful:
The scout is the fastest and most evasive class in the game. By using a map’s terrain and their double jump effectively, a scout can dance through a rain of pipes and rockets to chip down their opponents with mid-range scattergun fire, or close in to deliver deadly 100 damage shots from point-blank range (aka meatshots). Since scouts have the lowest health value in the game at 125, direct confrontation against a soldier in a chokepoint is often fatal. Hence, scouts typically watch the flank and avoid closing in on a soldier or demoman until they are distracted. With good aim and a good sense for when they are able to make plays, a scout can dominate the enemy team, crushing a reloading combo without taking a single point of damage. The scout is the class most suited to finishing off weak opponents thanks to their speed and pure hitscan arsenal, hence, staying alive until the end of a teamfight is of critical importance. At the same time, since a scout does not need to use any health to get back into a fight from the spawn, they are also well suited to attempting low probability/high reward plays while their team retreats and spawning into the next exchange. Strong hitscan aim is a necessity for any scout player, along with a good sense of whether they should play passive or whether they should all-in on a fight. The standard scout loadout is currently the scattergun, the pistol, and the boston basher.
The class limit on demoman is 1, and with good reason. The amount of damage that a demo can dish out is absolutely absurd with 12 splash projectiles loaded. If the enemy demoman is down, your team can often push freely since there is no threat of a sticky trap vaporizing your combo players or long-range pipes landing on your head as you turn a corner. However, alongside this extreme damage potential comes a great weakness: no hitscan weapons. As a result of this, demomen can often deal a lot of damage but have no way to finish the target, and if he gets caught at close range by a scout or soldier, a demoman is at a significant disadvantage. The demoman generally stays with the combo to overcome these difficulties — if he gets attacked in close quarters, the pocket soldier will be able to defend him, and if he is unable to finish a frag, the pocket can take care of it. A demoman must have good positioning and decision making to maximize his damage while staying alive. Item selection for a demoman typically consists of the pipe launcher, sticky launcher, and either the bottle or pain train.
More so than any other class, medics control the flow of the game. Which team has more health, which medic has an ubercharge, whose medic is up or down — these are the primary factors in determining which team is able to push and which team must either retreat or sacrifice players to dive on the enemy medic. A medic’s weapons are so weak as to be almost completely useless in team fights, but the ability to buff players to 150% of their regular health and give invincibility is so strong that the medic is generally regarded as the most important class in the game. A medic cannot heal himself (aside from the slow natural regeneration), so playing medic is essentially a game of positioning yourself well and dodging damage while moving forward to heal players engaged in combat. For any other class, taking spam damage or dying at a bad time can be compensated for by your medic surviving and backing up until you spawn, but as a medic, a bad death often means that you will lose the round. By the nature of the class, the medic has the most information about the current health of each team, hence medics often take an active role in calling for pushes and retreats. Weapon selection for medics is more varied than it is for other classes: the common melee choice is the ubersaw, but primary choices include the crossbow, overdose, syringe gun, and (rarely) the blutsauger (though in this writer’s opinion, the crossbow or overdose are superior choices). The secondary slot is generally given to the regular medigun, though the kritzkrieg is frequently switched in and out mid game to take advantage of certain timings and positions.
For more detail on medic mechanics and gameplay, this guide is a good place to start.
h2>Playing the Game Setup
Before you dive headfirst into some 6v6 matches, it’s important to check your physical setup and configs. Though TF2 was released in 2007, updates have added many features which have increased the system requirements to run the game smoothly. If you have an older machine and the game is choppy, don’t fret — you can reduce the load on your system by removing some of the visual bells and whistles. Take a look at Chris’s TF2 configs for some well-optimized settings. Even if you have fairly new hardware and the game runs well, it’s a good idea to use some kind of FPS config to take advantage of the visual simplicity; not seeing player ragdolls, random props that don’t have clipping, etc. is advantageous.
To communicate with your team in TF2, a microphone is a must; you simply do not have the time to type while playing. The VOIP client of choice among TF2 players is Mumble. Aside from that, you just need to be sure you have enough space for your mouse and have reasonable sensitivity settings. Most players disable mouse acceleration to increase the consistency of their aim, though some players (including some of the best) leave it on by preference. Players set their mouse sensitivity by preference; most players use a middle-ground sensitivity ranging from 8 to 16 inch movements required for a full 360 turn in game, though some players tend more to the extremes with sensitivities ranging from 3 to 30 inches for a 360.
What to Expect
Before you jump into a game, you should know the basic flow of the game as to not be completely lost. This section describes how a typical round plays out on a push map (5 linear control points) — while attack/defend, king of the hill, and (rarely) capture the flag maps are played competitively, push maps are the most common and best for starting out on.
At the start of the round, the game is a race to take a good position on the mid point, also known as the rollout. The general approach to accomplish this is for the medic to buff the demo and one soldier while the other soldier self-damages to < 80hp to run with The Escape Plan. The medic buffs both scouts before they are out of range, the demo jumps ahead of the medic to mid, and the jumping soldier keeps pace with the medic while the Escape Plan soldier and scouts run. The Escape Plan soldier meets up with the medic before entering mid to take a buff to 300hp. On almost every map, this results in the demo arriving first to mid with the scouts close behind, followed up by the soldiers and medic. The team that wins the midfight takes a large advantage in the round, and the midfight can be decided by one demoman being a second late on the rollout and getting locked out by stickies.
An entire article could be written about the difference approaches applied to the midfight of just one map, so in the interest of brevity, this won’t be discussed in detail here. The general idea of a midfight is that the demo/scouts vie for position to pave the way for their soldiers to get in. If your scouts are hurt or dead before your soldiers arrive, it’s likely not even worth fighting for the point. Assuming the exchange in the scout/demo fight is fairly even, one or both soldiers typically jump aggressively once they arrive to avoid clustering up and taking extra damage from rockets/stickies, then the scouts/demo/medic push forward to clean up kills from the soldier damage. The team that does more damage to either kill or force the other team to back up takes the mid point and has an advantage in the round.
After the mid fight, the game settles down into a push/hold style. What happens now is determined by who has the advantage — this can be of the form of better health, more players alive, having uber while the other team doesn’t, or simply having faster/closer spawns by holding more points. This can play out in a variety of ways — the team that won mid can have an advantage and roll through to the last point quickly, the team that lost may have kept their medic up and can use their uber to retake the mid point, trading it back and forth, or the game can be roughly even after the mid fight and the winning team will have to approach the next point with caution. At this point, the team with advantage tries to capitalize on their advantage and take points, while the team with the disadvantage attempts to wrest control away from their opponents.
Getting Your Feet Wet
Now that you know what competitive TF2 is, what role you might want to try, and you have the tools necessary to play, let’s start finding some games! To start experiencing the basic flow of 6v6, join the NA 6v6 Newbie Mix Group for pick-up games aimed at low-level/completely new players. You can also play some games at http://www.tf2lobby.com, which facilitates getting 12 people in a server and letting them go at it. Unfortunately, the level of play in lobbies is generally quite low, and you will have to deal with players not showing up/not communicating in game, but due to the quantity of games available, it is a decent place to get started. Another place to check out is #tf2mix or #tf2.pug on irc.gamesurge.net, which host games for newer players. The parent channel of #tf2.pug, #tf2.pug.na, is another option once you have some experience under your belt.
After playing a few pugs and lobbies to get a taste of competitive TF2, the next step is to start experiencing team play. Head over to #tf2scrim on gamesurge and offer to ring for low-level teams. Prime time for TF2 scrims is from 6:00pm to 9:00pm PST, Sunday-Thursday (though some teams will start earlier/play later/play Fri+Sat). Note that most teams will play with their set 6 or find ringers from their backup players or people they already know, so you may not be able to ring every night. Check out the recruitment forum here to get your name out there!