Team Fortress 2 Competitive Beginner’s Guide
Team Fortress 2 Competitive Beginner’s Guide by waar
This guide is designed for and assumes the intended audience is a Team Fortress 2 player who has never played a scrim, or a pub team that has decided to branch out and expand into the competitive scene. Advanced tactics and specific strategies for individual maps won’t be discussed, rather the focus will be on a general understanding of the game. The goal is to lay the groundwork for new teams and players to expand on themselves as they learn together. This can also be taken as a basic F.A.Q. as many of the ideas of what to put in were inspired by the many threads posted from new players asking these very questions.
This sections seems almost unnecessary, but I want to be as comprehensive as possible in introducing new players and don’t want to leave anything out regardless of how obvious it may seem. You’ll want to download Ventrilo for out of game voice communication and get yourself a channel somewhere (if you don’t have any friends and don’t want to pay monthly just yet, then ask someone in IRC maybe somebody will hook you up). Second, you’ll want an IRC client – mIRC is best but any result on Google for ‘IRC client’ works too. Connect to GameSurge (/server irc.gamesurge.net) and join (/join) channel #tf2scrim to find a scrim, channel #tf2.gather.us to play a pick up game, or website ESEA to play a pick up game. The leagues you’ll want to sign up for are CEVO and ESEA. Some people will say to join ‘beginner leagues’ but I disagree with that mentality. CEVO and ESEA are both open leagues where there are plenty of brand new teams, and you really don’t want to stagnate in a league where you never play anybody better than yourself. If you do decide to go for a more casual league then there are TWL, CAL, and STA. Last but certainly not least, watch demos. Look at how other people play, it will help you tremendously both individually as well as on a macro strategy level.
UPDATE: The European TF2 scene operates with the same basic principles, though different programs, IRC servers and channels. In Europe, Mumble is preferred for voice chat while QuakeNet is the main IRC server (/server irc.quakenet.org). The general scene hangout is #etf2l, while scrims work out of #tf.wars and pickups are in #mpuktf2.pickup.
The European scene is a little more robust with both a larger player base and larger field of Leagues to compete in. The top level – in terms of prizes, teams participating, etc. – includes names like the European TF2 League (ETF2L), Enemy Down, the UKeSA and the variety of ESL. TheSGL and WirePlay also offer up leagues and tournaments for play, though much like TWL/STA/CAL, at a lower level of competition. Demos of all of this can be found at such places like Cadred.org and the ETF2L.org site.
Classes & Maps
The basic 6man class format is two Scouts, two Soldiers, a Medic, and a Demoman. Most people identify themselves with one class and practice that one class. The maps that are played are push maps, the two most popular of which are Granary and Badlands. Well, Fastlane, and to a lesser extent Freight are also played in leagues. Gravel Pit is the one attack/defend map being played, with Dustbowl having been effectively phased out. A new map called Broma is emerging, but most people haven’t even played it yet and probably won’t until the week for it comes around in CEVO. Capture The Flag and Payload maps are not played at all.
UPDATE: Except, of course, for ctf_turbine, which has a great deal of playtime in the European TF2 scene.
Depending on your team’s style you may have different classes play slightly different roles than what other teams do. However, there are some basic principles that are generally used for the different classes and their jobs. At least one Soldier’s job is to protect the Medic. There are two different approaches to get this job done. A team could either run a dedicated combo Soldier and a designated roaming Soldier, or a team can keep both Soldiers together and play it by circumstance (I personally prefer the latter as it gives you more options because you know both of your Soldiers can do both jobs). Whatever your team decides, know that the combo of Soldier and Medic is the heart of the team. It’s where the action is focused. The Medic’s job is to keep people alive, but just as important is staying alive. Do what it takes to survive, always pop your uber if you need it to save yourself. Because the Soldier is the only class that can consistently defend you, that is who you are attached to. Good chemistry between Soldier and Medic is vital to the success of a team.
One of the Scout’s jobs is to cover flanks. When your combo is pushing in one direction you need to push in the other direction so as to prevent backcaps (this is especially true on Well). Come into the fight and attack people that are low – it’s not always necessary to gun straight for the medic if you know that somebody else is about to die, or is closer to you and you can make them die. Take advantage of the enemy focusing on your combo, and stay alive to clean up. A Scout that survived the fight by turning the corner and avoiding Soldier aggro can come in and clean up the entire team if the medic died and everyone is low, possibly even winning the game this way. Go for medic picks when the opportunity presents itself (especially when you don’t have uber advantage), but don’t let this be your sole function. Go for back caps when the opportunity presents itself, but again don’t let this be your sole function. You are very much helpful alive helping the combo win the fight, so go for back caps and picks intelligently and when it won’t severely harm your team should you fail. Scouts should also be aware of enemy Scouts at all times. You should avoid letting enemy scouts roam free and pop out on your heavies. This doesn’t mean you have to chase around scouts and try to kill them every time – at the very least keep them in front of you, and call their positions if you can’t kill them. Keep in mind your Demoman’s position as he will attract scouts; keep him protected. Letting scouts roam free will burden your combo tremendously as they will have to fight the other team’s combo as well as trying to keep the medic alive from free-running scouts.
The Demoman’s job is a little more versatile than the other classes. Depending on the location on the map and your team’s strategy you can either come in with the combo or through a flank. Quite often you will find yourself without the combo but rather with the scouts, so it is important to develop a sort of cohesion between the Demoman and the Scouts. On many pushes the Scouts may be responsible keeping the Demo alive. Your default goal in a combo vs combo fight is to spam the enemy team with grenades and stickies, not always going for direct kills but to supplement Soldier rocket damage. It does often pay to go aggressive as Demo due to his high damage output, but when you do so do it intelligently and when the opportunity presents itself. Because you have sticky bombs, one of the best abilities of a Demoman is the ability to completely shut off a choke point. Get familiar with all chokepoints on push maps and learn the best way to trap it to prevent enemies from free access. Once you have it trapped, you can do all sorts of things with your scouts to bait others inside to blow them up, but for now, just learn the basics of controlling/blocking an area. Normally you’ll be alone on one side with your scouts while the combo guards the other entrance so learn to feel the enemy push.
To be successul, you must know things that you don’t see. For this to happen your teammates must tell you those things. Get into the habit of calling out low targets. If you know you got a few good shots off on somebody then say something. Have other people focus that person and get them down. If you’re about to push in with uber, get the enemy Soldiers to shoot their rockets. See 4 consecutive rockets hit the wall beside you? Call that the Soldier is reloading and that it’s a good time to push in. Call everything you see, where enemy Scouts are going, where the Demoman is jumping, etc. Even if it’s obvious, chances are not all 6 people on your team are watching what you’re watching. Call how many people are down, maybe somebody on your team isn’t aware. Communicate when your combo has pushed into the room, or the yard. When the fighting has started. Your Scouts and (depending on position and map) your Demo need to know when to follow in so that everyone can attack together.
On 5 control point push maps (Granary, Badlands, Well – the most prevalent format) there are two states that your team will be in at any given point – holding, or pushing. If you’re holding a location you’re taking up a position that you don’t want enemies to get passed as you wait for the right time to push. If you’re pushing then you are attempting to take territory, usually either a yard, a control point, or a lobby.
I suggest doing this: take a map you want your team to learn, let’s say Granary. Now take the following locations and states of holding/pushing and go over with your team exactly what you want to do and what everybody’s chokes are going to be: (1) initial mid fight, (2) holding mid, (3) pushing mid->4 yard, (4) holding mid->4 yard, (5) pushing 4, (6) holding 4, (7) pushing 5, (8) defending 2->mid yard, (9) defending 2, and (10) defending 1. For every one of those 10 states (and you can add or remove based on the map) everyone should know what their job is. Of course many of those circumstances can be completely skipped depending on how overwhelming a victory or defeat was, that’s why it’s important to know when to back out and concede territory.
For example, on Granary you just won the initial mid fight, now you’re chillin in the enemy yard but you used uber on mid and enough of the enemy survived and fell back to point 2 that it’s guarded well enough that your surviving mid force can’t take it without either the rest of the team respawning or getting ubercharge. So now let’s say for example you decide to have your combo (Soldier + Medic team) holding right yard, Scout and Demoman holding left garage and Z tunnel, and the other scout watching the dropdown. The idea here is to watch all flanks as your team gets ready to push in. Nobody goes in past these lines (usually) until the combo is ready to push in with uber. You then push in with uber, everyone going in through pre-designated spots. If you succeed in capturing point 4 then you either (1) push straight into 5 (if the victory was overwhelming and your survivors can easily take it), or the more common occurrence: your enemy killed a couple of you and half of them survived, falling back to point 5 having popped your medic’s uber. You’re “reset” and everyone will now take up holding positions at point 4 defending every choke and flank until your team is ready to push in (usually as a result of getting uber, but sometimes getting key picks present an opportunity to push in without uber).
If you’re defending – that is, you are in the holding state at your point 1 or 2 – then it’s usually a good idea to get your ubercharge and then simply wait for the enemy team to push you (unless special circumstances prevail, such as a key pick or you getting uber before the enemy medic) since you have more to lose as you control less points. Everyone covers their positions and reacts to the enemy push accordingly.
Initial Mid Fight
The mid fight is a match within a match. The battle at mid sometimes determines the outcome of the round. It is one of the few locations on the map where a team can use different strategies in attacking it. Each map has its own unique standard pushes, but there are a few basic tenets that teams should work on. The first is speed. Many times the battle at mid is over before the first shot is fired because when you come out to mid, you find that the other team is there a year before you. Once you start progressing as a team, it is important for your Soldiers/Demo to know how to jump to mid from spawn. The best way to do this is to watch demos, and observe how they get to mid. Once you find out what they do, practice it yourself. Figure out a heal order/healthpack order so that both Soldiers and the Demo don’t get to mid with 50 hp each.
The Scout battle at mid is also a crucial battle that can go a long way in determining who caps mid. Get in the habit of calling out your target with your Scout partner so you can immediately pick one off. If you can’t take out a scout quickly, don’t hang around to fight to the death. Retreat and plan your next move whether it’s picking off their demo, or just protecting your combo from opposing scouts. The longer you stay alive the better. This doesn’t mean that you should be totally passive and hang around your Medic leeching off heals from your Soldiers. Run around and shoot stuff.
Mid is basically who lands the better spam, and who takes less damage. If you feel that you have the advantage, try and push out to the cap and establish position. Positioning is everything at mid. Whether it’s losing control of the crates at Granary, or getting pushed back to the back of the trains at Badlands, if you lose your ground, you’re most likely going to lose mid. Spam well, take less damage, and be aware of enemy positions, and you’ll greatly increase your chances at mid.
Territory & Spam
Individual players on your team shouldn’t be so much concerned with getting kills but with simply damaging the enemy. The goal is to obtain territory and, if the enemy team doesn’t give you the opportunity to kill them when they’re low, this can theoretically be accomplished without anybody even dying. At most mid points, and sometimes 2nd points, the geometry of the map often favors a spam approach to winning the territory in question. As a new player your first thought on getting to mid may be to push the enemy and fight them at the optimal range of your weapon. However if you do so you will usually just die to their fully healed and defensively positioned force. Therefore, the idea on mid fights such as Granary and Badlands is often to spam the enemy with rockets and grenades, as well as scattergun potshots and opportune flank meatshots. You spam the enemy and slowly dispense with their health points, causing the medic to spread heals around. The goal is to force the enemy team to either fall back, or to make a mistake and give you the opportunity to go aggressive and take advantage of your… advantage. There are different ways of going about this – the classic method of setting up defensive positions immediately, or perhaps you can opt for a strategy that throws one of your Soldiers or your Demo close to the enemy off the start, then having them fall back after their initial close-range spam is done (however this is for your team to decide themselves). There are two outcomes of a mid fight that rely on how well you spammed the enemy versus how well the enemy spammed you: strategic retreat and aggression.
Once you start taking lots of damage, it’s clear your combo is at a health disadvantage, and if you hold your position any longer you’re screwed, then it’s a good idea to back out in order to survive and hopefully win the fight under more favorable circumstances. Basically, you concede territory in favor of being able to win the fight. This takes an amount of patience as well as general awareness, things that everyone hopefully learns over time.
A good example of what I’m talking about here is if it’s clear you’re not going to win mid then it’s a good idea to back out into yard and survive. This gives your team the chance to come back at point 2 or point 2 yard, while if everyone on your team dies the opposite happens and you effectively lose both mid and point 2 as a result of the initial mid fight. On the flip-side of this, if you completely annihilate the enemy team at mid, killing 5 without popping ubercharge and only sustaining 2 deaths, then it’s a very good idea to leave 1 person on the mid point to cap it while the combo and everyone else alive pushes straight into point 4.
With all this talk of playing it smart and staying alive one can get the impression that you should not be aggressive, when this is from from the case. A team needs to be aggressive to win. It needs to be intelligently aggressive however, know when to aggress and when to retreat.
An important component of situational awareness is the ability to recognize when your team has the health advantage in the middle of a spam fight (such as the initial mid fight). Your team good healthwise? Nobody falling back as a result of getting damaged? The enemy team playing extremely conservatively and slowly retreating? This is an opportunity that many teams and players fail to consistently take advantage of. Taking advantage here and going aggressive (such as Soldier rocketjumping onto the enemy crates on Granary mid, or onto the enemy train cart on Badlands mid, or Demoman sticky jumping onto the medic) is key. It’s an important aspect of the retreat/push dynamic. If the enemy is at an extreme health disadvantage, is being spammed back, but your team doesn’t further aggress but rather holds on to the newly captured territory then you are basically forgiving them. Don’t forgive them – punish them. Keep up the pressure and damage for as long as you conceivably can without overextending yourself. Again, this doesn’t mean recklessness, it means a strong sense of situational awareness and the ability to recognize when these moments open themselves.
While this is all good stuff for a new team and player to know, it can’t replace the value of watching the best people doing it. So watch them. Go to the demos section on GotFrag and first watch a few demos of somebody playing your class. Then watch demos of every other class so you get an idea of what other people are doing. Then watch a SourceTV demo in free-look mode to get an idea of what a good team does together. Another important way to improve is to watch your own demos. Good players make things look easy in their demos. Watch your own demos and compare/contrast on what you’re doing well and what you need to improve on. This guide is the foundation, watching demos is the next step, and developing on both of these tools as a team is the final goal. I hope this helped and good luck!