Ah, Team Fortress. I’ve put thousands of hours of play into this game, from its humble beginnings as a lowly Quake mod to its current state: a “newly” emerging shooter whose place in esports is threatened by Blizzard juggernaut Overwatch. While a comparison between the two is certainly interesting, it is best left to another time.
Team Fortress 2 is a class-based, team-based shooter with a variety of game modes. Just recently, the game was updated to begin beta testing competitive matchmaking, almost 8 and a half years after release. The developers, Valve, made TF2 long before they moved into esports with CS:GO and Dota2. Back in the 2000’s, the company was known for being quirky and dedicated to the player experience. TF2 brings to life both of those, with smooth game play on Valve’s powerful Source engine as well as a zany backstory full of wild characters, each crazier than the next. The game features 9 classes (left to right): The Demoman, The Sniper, The Medic, The Scout, The Heavy, The Pyro, The Engineer, The Spy, and The Soldier. Each class interacts with the others in a variety of ways that creates a complex rock-paper-scissors system of counters and play styles. Additionally, weapon “mods” drop in the game that allow classes to change their play style by equipping these weapons, sometimes changing the class’ mechanics drastically.
TF2 is a very balanced game, and patches to fix bugs and balance are delivered fairly quickly. The weapon mods create a variety of game play so that no one class has a set strategy. There is now a competitive matchmaking built into the game and the game has had a third-party competitive scene for years. TF2 runs well on older machines with graphics settings turned down and handles latency issues well server-side. Additionally, the ability to create custom servers allows players to modify their game play however they wish. In addition, the game is entirely free, with all the content being technically acquirable through trading with other players.
TF2 seems to have issues with player participation. Over the years, it’s developed a reputation as a “party” game among the other “serious” shooters, leading many players to find their own fun instead of playing to their full capacity. The large game mode variety inevitably leads to certain game modes being less populated, making it hard to play favorite game modes if they are not popular. It is easy to develop a basic understanding of the game, but mastering aiming, strategy, and bullet physics, especially with more mobile classes can take several thousand hours of practice.
Valve dropped the ball on developing a competitive TF2 scene for more than 8 years and have only now begun to do so in the face of Overwatch. Due to Blizzard’s reputation, it may already be too late to salvage TF2 as a competitor. Third-party leagues are full of egotistical players who refuse to play with players who have not “proved themselves” or who mock any mistakes made, thus making it hard to effectively get into competitive TF2 or to learn how to play at the present moment. Finally, despite Valve’s best efforts, hackers consistently develop new ways to cheat, and the most popular cheating software, LMAOBox, remains at large to this day.
TF2 is an amazing game and draws a large number of players every single day. It’s not hard to learn, but it is hard to master. More than anything, Valve seems to have dropped the ball on what might have been an amazing competitive game, and with the looming threat of Overwatch, it may be too late to change TF2’s fate.