In my last article – my “review” of Team Fortress 2 – I discussed the phenomenon of Free-to-Play (F2P) and how it managed to infuse new life into an old game. Of course, it also kicked off one of the all-time great debates in the history of Team Fortress 2. Sure, F2P brought in a bunch of brand new players to the game, but it also . . . brought in a bunch of brand new players to the game. This sudden and overwhelming influx of hundreds and hundreds of noobs* into the servers did a lot to keep the game fresh and new, but it also did a lot to make the servers – especially the public servers – extremely chaotic and sometimes very frustrating.
(*For those who’d like a generally accepted definition: a “noob” is that breed of player – most of the time, but not always, a younger player – who does nothing constructive while playing on your team, instead running around like a head with its chicken cut off and ultimately pissing off everyone else in the server who’s been playing the game for years).
But I have a theory about this, and you should bear with me here. See, I don’t actually believe that our problem is simply a bunch of nine-year-olds intentionally causing havoc in a game they’re technically not even supposed to be playing (“M” rating, anyone?). There is that, but there’s always been that. What I believe is that because of the longevity of this game, and because of the sudden change in how the game is acquired, the whole dynamic of participation in the game is one that is completely unique in the gaming world.
Think about it. In the months or even years before it went F2P, Team Fortress 2 was pretty much only available online, through the Steam Store. You might have been able to find a lonely copy of the Orange Box, or even the standalone TF2 game, on some shelf somewhere, wedged between Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Fallout: New Vegas, but who’s out there looking for a seven-year-old game, when there are so many other offerings to be had? No one’s looking for the game, really, which means no one new is actually playing the game.
Then suddenly the game is free. I mean free, completely and utterly without cost to download and play, and because of Valve’s great viral marketing machine, this fact is now all over the Internet: “Team Fortress 2, now FREE TO PLAY!!” So what does that give us? Well, like I said before, we suddenly have a hundred-thousand new players roaming the servers, mixing it up with guys who have been playing the game for years and years. Never before in the history of any game I can think of has this situation existed. Tons of five and six-year veterans actually mixing it up in pub servers with tons of guys who just started playing the game yesterday.
So I said all that to say this: there are always going to be your problem players, your noobs, but assuming that the average player isn’t a butthole, and actually has a desire to get better and participate with all the rest of us in a positive way, shouldn’t we, as those magnanimous experts who’ve been playing the game forever, help them out?
That’s exactly what I want to do. I want to help out those of you reading this who want to get better at the game. Am I the best player who ever played? No, not hardly. But am I one of those “magnanimous experts” I spoke of a minute ago? Well, let me briefly give you my credentials. As of today, I am just five hours shy of 1600 total hours on the game (and for those of you who will wonder, I have never idled, and never will). My “main” class is either Demo (547 hours) or Sniper (407 hours), but I have the most points as a Pyro (300 straight kills on some kind of weird destructive jag) and a lot of my other records are in other classes, as well. I play these days almost exclusively on the No Heroes CTF server, but I have put in lots of hours on every other type of map, too, from KotH to Payload, Dustbowl to Hydro, and many, many others.
In short, I have played lots and lots of Team Fortress 2, and I’m not all that embarrassed to declare that I would rather be playing TF2 than doing just about anything else (not going to go into what that “just about” entails). Maybe I’m not the best player who ever lived, but I do know things, and more than that, I have the desire and the ability to pass along those things to you guys, things you can actually use right away in the game, not just to become a better player, but a better teammate.
Because that’s where it starts, right freaking there, and the one area most lacking in the newer players. You see, as the name of the game implies, teamwork is the absolute key to any success you will ever have in TF2. I don’t know how many times I’ve witnessed the complete and utter destruction of a team because they weren’t working together and the other team was. You can take sixteen completely awesome players who know everything there is to know about everything, but all they wanna do is run around and try to get kills, then pit them against sixteen so-so players who are all talking and working together and have a strategy and a plan . . . the so-so players will kick butt every time.
So in the rest of this article, and in the coming articles, I want to focus on that aspect, teamwork and what it means to you, how you can accept it, refine it, and perfect it in your own gameplay. In the process, I will try to explain the game, all the classes, all the game modes, all the maps, and also explain how it all works together, how you fit in as a player, and as a teammate. In the end, I hope it helps all of us have a better and more productive time playing this game we all love.
Talk, Talk, Talk
So here we go. The first thing you should understand is that teamwork starts with communication. One of the greatest features of Team Fortress 2 when I first started playing – as compared to other games I had been playing all those years ago, like Star Wars Battlefront or Diablo 2 – was the built-in, trouble free, automatic voice chat. I know it sounds kind of ho-hum now, but back then, it was a big deal. No more third-party downloads if you wanted to voice chat, no more fighting with the lag and frustration that all entailed. TF2 included Teamchat right in the game. As long as you had a microphone, you were all set. No more trying to speed-type while you’re playing: “There’s someone sneaking up behind . . . ! Oh, never mind, you’re already dead.” Communication with your teammates was now just a click away.
So it kind of boggles my mind these days when I go through an entire gaming session and never hear anyone else’s voice (other than the Administrator, telling me I failed when my team loses). Or when we’re trying to push the point or defend our Intel, and someone’s blabbering on about how their cat just pooped in the toilet or something.
Teamchat is aptly named. Your team chats with each other, not about their day, not about what they’re going to do after they’re done playing, but about what’s going on in the game. Warnings and strategies and directions and shouts of triumph, all of that should be normal stuff for anyone who wants to be a part of a team, and if you’re not talking to your teammates about anything and everything that’s going on right freaking now, then you should just shut your mouth and go play Scrabble.
Where Do I Fit In?
Okay, so you’re not gonna go play Scrabble. You really want to play this exciting game, and you want to play it well, participate as a team, communicate with everyone so you can win. How exactly does that happen? What do you do specifically, as a player and a teammate, to help your team dominate?
Well, the first and most important thing is understanding what your objective is and coming up with a plan to achieve it. That sounds incredibly simple, but unless everyone is on the same page, it can be frustrating and self-defeating, even if you’re all trying to work together. Knowing what you’re up against and developing ways to overcome it is absolutely crucial to getting anything done.
So as a player, how can you help? First of all, gathering intelligence is vital (actual intelligence, not the briefcase in CTF – but that, too, eventually). Seeing what the other team is up to, where their defenses are, where they’re attacking from, and then letting your team know about it is one of the most important jobs of anyone, playing any class, not just Scouts or Spies. If you walk around a corner and get blasted by a sentry gun, let your team know: “Hey, there’s a sentry gun around that corner.” I mean, why wouldn’t you do that? If you were walking down the sidewalk and noticed a giant bear walking across the street in front of you, wouldn’t you warn everyone around you what was going on?
Or what about if you saw that same bear sneak out of the trees beside the road and come up behind the person in front of you? Would you shout a warning to them, or just let the bear surprise them and eat their face off? Probably the warning, right? So in the game, when one of your unsuspecting teammates encounters danger that they’re not aware of, let them know. If you’re playing Sniper, zoomed in across the map with your rifle, and you see your Heavy and his Medic charging towards the enemy, then suddenly a Spy decloaks behind them, knife raised high in the air, Good God, man, scream a warning to them! Nobody likes getting stabbed in the back! And if you’re the Spy, and the Heavy manages to turn around and mow you down before you get a chance to murder him from behind, let your teammates know that he’s on the way, and more pissed off than ever.
Talk to each other. Let each other know. Knowing what’s going on all over the map is absolutely crucial to achieving your objective, because achieving your objective, no matter what it is, completely depends on what the other team is doing to stop it. It’s how you come up with your plan, that great and detailed plan that lets you stomp all over the other team and make them wish they’d never joined your server.
Get It Together
So you’re talking to each other, you’re figuring stuff out together, and you come up with your plan. Now it’s time to put the plan into effect. Make it happen. But of course, don’t stop talking just because you’ve got your plan figured out. As you move around the map with your plan and purpose in mind, the only way to stay coordinated and to make sure that all parts of the plan are going like you want is to let each other know. Even more than that, lots of the different parts of your plan are going to require particular timing, and you can’t just count on luck to bring that about.
Say for instance you need to take out a nest of sentry guns. Your Medic and Demoman are speeding up to the nest, building up an Übercharge to take them out. Seconds before they pop the Über, your Spy suddenly runs in and saps everything, deactivating the sentries and completely removing need for the Über. If you’re not communicating with each other, chances are the Medic is going to pop his Über on the Demo anyways, and if everything’s already sapped, that Über is wasted, because the Demo could have just destroyed everything without even being shot at by the sapped sentries. Or if the Medic and Demo wait too long, the enemy Engineer will just hammer off all the sappers before they get there, and the Spy just wasted his time.
On the other hand, if the Spy is communicating with his team, letting them know that he’s getting ready to sap, the Medic and Demo can wait for it, then run in and finish mopping everything up, saving the Übercharge for the next obstacle.
You have to talk to your teammates, letting them know what you’re doing, what you’ve already done, and what you are going to be doing next. Only then can whatever plan you’ve come up with have any chance at all of succeeding.
Who’s In Charge Here?
Okay, so assuming that everyone is talking and communicating about the game and the plan and what your team is doing, you should also understand that the development and execution of a plan may still get a little tricky at times, especially in a public server, because the teams are always formed more or less at random. For the most part in those types of situations, there’s never going to be one person universally designated as a leader or a spokesman, and a lot of players tend to get butthurt when someone they don’t know is telling them what to do.
Playing in a pub server isn’t like playing in a so-called “pro” server. There are actually people who play this game in a serious way, joining teams and competing in real tournaments for actual prizes or even money. That’s a whole other series of articles. For the purposes of my articles, I’m going to assume that you’re playing like I do, just dropping into a regular server filled with a bunch of strangers, joining one side or the other, and maybe there are a few friends in there, but you’re not really organized, not taking it all that seriously. What I’m trying to tell you is that it is still possible to play as a team, even with a bunch of strangers. Yes, you’re just looking to have some fun, but how much fun is it, really, if you’re losing all the time? Not much at all, right?
So it’s important to recognize that in a combat situation, someone always ends up barking orders, telling everyone what they should be doing, and as long as that person knows what they’re talking about, it’s okay. It will be pretty obvious if they’re just blowing smoke up your butt, but if you don’t have any better ideas, it’s best to sort of just go along until you do. And when you do, don’t be afraid to let everyone know.
In either case, the most important thing is that you all work together, because if you don’t, you will lose. Regardless of anything else, the important thing is that your team understands together what you’re all trying to accomplish, and that you come up with a plan together that lets you accomplish it. It doesn’t matter at all if one person comes up with it and tells everyone else, or you take out a secret ballot and everyone votes. The only thing that matters is that you are all on the same page, doing the same thing, going in the same direction, at the same time. And you will know if you are, simply by the fact that you’re completely rolling over your opposition.
So by this time I’m sure you’re asking yourself just what kind of plan you should come up with. What are your objectives? What are your obstacles, and how do you overcome them? Well, all of that that completely depends on what type of game you’re playing, what map you’re on, and how the teams are set up. With at least twelve different game modes, over sixty “official” maps and many more “unofficial” maps, and with literally hundreds of combinations of weapon and item loadout for the nine classes, it may all seem daunting and confusing. But over the course of this series of articles, I’m going to try and simplify things for you, giving you some basic and some specific guidelines to help you succeed as a team in all the different game modes, maps, and classes. That’s where the real help begins, the actual class-by-class, map-by-map guide to helping you become a better player.
All of that is coming soon, so keep checking back here. In the meantime, have fun, put what you’ve already learned to good use, and I will see you out there!