Why Team Fortress 2 is Fun to Watch and Play

I watched two videos recently that blended nicely together on the topic of competitive or professional video game play. The first was a Rev3Games Casual Friday where the primary trio of hosts chatted about the president of ESPN saying esports weren’t “real sports” and whether that actually mattered. The second was the Top 10 TF2 Plays of July(1)It takes a month to compile/edit the content., showcasing the best moments in Team Fortress 2 competitive play.

TF2 was my primary game while I was involved with Couch Athletics from 2008-2012. I played in and ran multiple weekly events for years and logged over 3,000 hours in the game. I haven’t played TF2 much since then, but I still regularly follow eXtelevision, a YouTube channel dedicated to casting and highlighting great competitive TF2. This video in particular had several great clips from many of the nine classes in the game that inspired me to collect examples for each one and talk about what makes Team Fortress 2 a game of great depth and excitement for both player and viewer. Consider it a primer for an important game and its diverse gameplay, as well as a defense of its value as an esport, even if you won’t ever play it!

First, some general overview about the game. Team Fortress 2 was released in 2007 by Valve, the company that made the gaming platform Steam and the series Half-Life, Portal, and Left 4 Dead. TF2 is a departure from its older predecessors most notably for its non-realistic art style. In the videos and images in this post, you’ll see the Norman Rockwell-inspired palette and the cartoonish characters that stand in stark contrast to the gritty realism of the Call of Duty and Battlefield series and the sci-fi of Halo.

Like many other modern multiplayer first-person shooters, TF2 has no notable single-player mode or story. If differs, however, in that the world does have a fanciful, comical history mostly told through major game updates, comics, videos(2)This 15-minute episode is one of my favorite videos ever. It’s brilliant., class intros, and in-game environments.

Speaking of comical, ever since the game began allowing cosmetic hats for players to put on their characters, that has been an ongoing joke about the focus, nigh obsession of the playerbase and developers on headgear. I’ll be continuing that legacy by suggesting my favorite hats.

Now onto what gives TF2 its long-lasting appeal: the diverse gameplay. TF2 has nine classes. They are the Scout, Soldier, Pyro, Demoman, Heavy, Engineer, Medic, Sniper, and Spy. I’ll include short GIFs of each class’s gameplay, all coming from eXtelevision Top 10 Plays videos.

Scout

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Scout is the fast class. He is able to dodge and jump incredibly well to compensate for his low health. He can pick and choose his battles, often flanking the enemy or peppering with damage and retreating before dying. He can capture objectives very quickly.

The most exciting part about watching a great Scout play is seeing one nail “meatshots(3)8) ”, or close-up, full-damage Scattergun shots, while rapidly changing distances between enemies. This is why flanking is so essential to the playing Scout: he’s a glass cannon.

My favorite hat for the Scout is the Bonk Helm.

Soldier

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Soldier is often considered the most well-rounded class. He is slower than average, with above average health. He deals good damage with his Rocket Launcher, and advanced players can rocket jump with the weapon. He is capable of killing enemies both close and far and often makes a great Medic buddy. New and advanced players alike can do well with him.

The class is exciting to watch because good players rocket jump regularly and shoot each other out of the sky! Despite being slow, and the health cost of jumping, Soldiers can be quite mobile when needed, using height advantage to great effect with the splash damage from rockets above.

My favorite hat for the Soldier is the Brain Bucket(4)Dear God….

Pyro

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The Pyro is deadly up-close with the Flamethrower, but if you’re suffering from afterburn, you can slowly die across the map from the Pyro that lit you. The class is powerful on the flank and best inside the firefight. Pyro can also reflect projectiles, like rockets and grenades. She’s also the best Spy detector.

It is extremely exciting to see a Pyro turn an enemy’s weapon against them with a killer reflection. It’s an undeniable marker that the Pyro was one step ahead of the opponent. The class also causes chaos when he(5)It’s also an ongoing joke that the gender of the Pyro is a mystery. surprises and lights up several players at once, causing people to scramble to put themselves out.

My favorite hat for the Pyro is the Brigade Helm(6)Irony at its most stylish..

Demoman

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While perhaps designed originally as defensive, the Demoman is an offensive powerhouse. Often said to have two primary weapons, both the Grenade Launcher and Sticky Bomb Launcher deal massive damage very quickly. Aiming is different, though: his weapons benefit from direct hits but must be lobbed where the Demoman thinks the enemy will be. The class can jump similarly to the Soldier, as well, though less likely in combat.

The Demoman is one of the most important classes in a competitive match. One can set up traps or block players from progressing one minute while fronting an explosive skirmish the next. He is also the best class for taking down a guarded Engineer’s buildings. He is often the target of Medic Ubercharge.

My favorite hat for the Demoman is the Sober Stuntman.

Heavy

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Playing Heavy is all about being in the right place at the right time. He has the most health but is the slowest class in every way, from movement speed to rev-up time on his primary weapon. Once prepared, however, the class can deal great damage at a wide range and survive a lot of hits. He is a prime candidate for Medic buddy and Ubercharge.

Heavy is sometimes criticized for being a slow or dull class to watch or play, but moments like the ones shown above demonstrate his power. He is excellent on defense and can guard a Medic well. Once spun up and in the fray, one can dispatch enemies extremely quickly.

My favorite hat for the Heavy is the Tough Guy’s Toque.

Engineer

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Engineer is the primary defensive class. He builds Sentry Guns, Dispensers, and Teleporters to protect areas, supply teammates, and transport them to the battle faster. These often take significant time to construct, upgrade, and repair, so he must either be heavily supported or build far back. The Wrangler is a weapon that allows the Engineer to take control of the normally-automated Sentry Gun. Constructed sentries often deal more damage than any of the Engineer’s other weapons.

When constructing and whacking buildings with a wrench, Engineer isn’t very exciting. But with proper backup, an Engineer’s buildings become a home base or retreat point for the entire team. While he rarely takes to the front lines to fight, his sentries often require the enemy to build an Ubercharge to destroy and proceed.

My favorite hat for the Engineer is the Engineer’s Cap.

Medic

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The Medic is often called the most important class. He heals everyone on his team using his Medigun, one at a time, to prevent them from dying. One can “overheal” teammates to give them temporary extra health, as well. After healing for a while, the Medic can use an Ubercharge, which makes both him and his heal target invincible(7)And shiny! for a short time. The class is underappreciated and unglamorous despite how central its role is.

The Medic rarely gets amazing kills or fights at all, but serves an extremely important role in competitive and regular matches. Players being healed keeps them in the battle, and teams without a Medic, or just a temporarily dead one, rarely perform as well. Deploying an Ubercharge is also a high point in any match, signifying a moment of strong attack on one side and frantic retreat (or counter-Uber) by the other.

My favorite hat for the Medic is the Ze Goggles(8)Obvious Ghostbusters vibe is obvious..

Sniper

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The Sniper is the most self-explanatory class: one sits back at medium-to-long range and aims for the head with the Sniper Rifle. The class is constantly looking for good angles on the map based on where the enemy is and where he will be safe. Snipers usually have a priority list of the other classes, where Medics, Heavies, and other Snipers are at the top. Slower classes are often easier to hit, as well.

Snipers in competitive matches are often amazingly skilled, and the shots they pull off are impressive already. Often positioning, stealth, and restraint are untold skills at employ, as well, because a surprise first shot has the best chance to take down the target before enemy players respond. This class can turn the tide of a battle from a great distance or instantly take down many players in rapid succession, if the Sniper is skilled enough.

My favorite hat for the Sniper is the Master’s Yellow Belt(9)A common secondary weapon for the Sniper is a jar of urine, making the yellow belt quite suspicious..

Spy

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Spy is the most complex class to learn. He can turn invisible and disguise as the enemy team to fool them into allowing him behind battle lines. The Spy’s signature kill is the backstab, where with a short Knife one instantly kills any class if directly behind them. If a Spy is not sneaky, they are effectively useless, and the class often dies before or immediately after killing a high-priority target. “Spy checks” are common among teams, testing if any players among them are actually enemies. Spies can also “sap” an enemy Engineer’s buildings, slowly draining their health if the Engineer is not there to repair them.

A class dedicated to stealth, sneaking, and flanking is immensely fun to watch and play. Spies can dramatically influence the flow of a match by killing during a low phase or during battle. Nothing is guaranteed until the final tense moments resolve with either the death of the target or an unlucky turn causes the Spy to be discovered.

My favorite “hat” for the Spy is the Camera Beard.

Final thoughts

I believe that the opinions of people like the president of ESPN on esports is common. If it’s not apathy, it’s saying games are “a competition, not a sport.” I view that as a distraction, however. While games like Team Fortress 2 are not physically demanding, they are complex, exciting, balanced, and fun. The rise of other games with massive prize pools, like Dota 2, serve as an example of the great number of people excited to watch and enjoy these games with others.

This dilemma about acceptance of competitive gaming as “legitimate” seems the natural next step from getting parents to simply appreciate our hobbies a decade ago. It’s also on par with the similar “milestone” of games being considered art. These aren’t mandatory tests to check off on, but as the perception changes around video games, so will attitudes on these questions. I hope I can do a small part in sharing my enthusiasm for a game that has meant so much to me!

eXtelevision, and specifically Jeff eXtine and Lucky Luke deserve great praise for collecting, selecting, editing, and casting the clips I used here and other Team Fortress 2 content. Thanks, guys!

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