Team Fortress 2 isn't entirely about hats. Somewhere within is a game you can be good at. Some people are better than others. TCM Gaming have been sitting at the top of nearly every professional TF2 gaming league for the past few years, and as such they've managed to accumulate a vast sum of knowledge on how to not get yourself stabbed in the back, headshotted, blown up with a cluster of stickybombs, or killed by a sentry gun over, and over, and over again. They explain exactly what to do, and what not to do, below.
It's not called Team Fortress 2 for nothing, and so it's hardly surprising that you're probably going to need to work as a team. But what does 'team' even mean? Matthius 'Zerox' Kühl thinks he's figured it out. “Six individually great players won't make it to the top unless they learn how to play together. It is important to attack and retreat as a group, help each other out or know when to flank the opponent during an attack. You have to learn how each player in your team thinks and reacts to certain situations and use it for your game. Therefore you also need to know how to play the other classes. Only when you understand the pros and cons of the classes your teammates have to deal with can you help them out or time your actions right. But even if you know your mates for years, you will never be able to read thoughts. That's why it is essential to tell everyone what you are doing or what you are gonna do.”
Chums. They're the best. They buy you a round when you are too stingy to buy one yourself, and they ubercharge you that second before you were about to die. Or they don't, and you don't speak to each other for weeks. “There are several ingredients to a successful team,” Says Jim 'XMan' Maguire, “but one of the most important one's is friendship, and actually enjoying each others company. Whenever we have a big game, be it online or LAN, I always tell the guys to go and enjoy their game. If you're having fun you play with passion rather than repetition. All the skill in the world means nothing if you hate what your doing.”
Aww, man, you just died because you couldn't render that crit rocket fast enough. You need to upgrade. Make sure everything is running properly. Maybe even buy a new mouse. It's ok, Zerox can help you out. “You have to have a good system to run TF2. This game is very demanding on CPU power and since it is essential to get the best response and feel from the game, even in the most frantic mid-fights, you need to have good hardware or tune down the graphics to run the game at the desired fps rate. What you will also want to do is turn off any unnecessary graphic effects like HDR. They draw to much power from your PC, but be aware that you don't disable effects which give you additional information, like shadows. Something that takes time to find is your own personal setup; the right mouse, mouse mat and sensitivity can make a lot of difference. There is a great deal of choice on the market so you need to find out what kind of settings you prefer.”
You know what I really hate? I hate it when the only thing I can hear in a game is the excellent voice acting of the TF2 characters. Sure, they're funny, and they usually help communicate what's going on, but they're not people, and people have a larger, more eloquent vocabulary. It's the truth. “Communication is a key element to winning in any clan you join.” Says Ahmed 'Byte' Fansa, communicating to me. “Make no mistake this game, when played at the top level, is very fast, so don't forget it's not just one player. It's six ones. That's six different thought processes which may need to be communicated. So when one player starts transmitting useless information it scrambles other, IMPORTANT messages that may have been transmitted yet not picked up due to other useless comms. My best advice would be to keep it simple, keep it smart. Never repeat your communication more than two or three times.”
Apparently it takes 10,000 hours to truly master something, so my paltry 300 hours of TF2 played means that I probably need to put in some more practice if I want to reach that high watermark. But it's not entirely about how much you play, so much as how you play, says Byte. “The problem that some players feel is that they put in the time, but the fundamental difference is they use the right practice. There is no point in learning something if the method is incorrect, as it will in the long run be worse off for you. So if you are to dedicate time make sure you do it right and find out the proper techniques of achieving what you want to achieve. In the case of Team Fortress 2, if you are trying to master your own class individually then you should be thinking of playing on some death matching servers, watching some demos of the top players in that particular class, and then watch your own style to see how you can adapt and change.”
Don't fall in the trap of talking your way through the community rather than showing your skill. Keep your mouth shut and buckle down. That's the advice Byte gives when it comes to actually breaking through into the ranks of the TF2 professionals. “Reputation is key part of a player's profile being accepted in the community and being well known. My best advice would be to stay quiet, and build up your rank via your skill and own doing. This method is the hardest way to get recognized and have a great reputation, but then again think about it in life since when has getting a reputation ever been easy? No pain no gain."
You know that time you got sniped because you forgot there was a sniper up on the balconies in 2Fort? That was because you didn't have sufficient Game Sense. Same thing when you didn't realise your Buff Banner was charged, and your entire team got slaughtered. Byte let's you know about the importance of Game Sense. “When you execute a certain game sense movement with your class, it can be the difference between winning the round or losing it." So what's the best way to improve your game sense? "There is no clear cut answer to the question as it requires various other elements being learnt properly. This includes dynamic play/awareness/anticipation. The game sense is like the outer bubble of your entire career in Team Fortress 2, sure you can have the aim, sure you can have the position and you can even have the advantage but what is the use if your game sense lets you or your team down?”
Just as important as killing the other guys, is avoiding taking damage, and being in the right place at the right time.“Practice your aim, movement and Rocket/Sticky-jumps," advises Xerox. "A Demoman for example should not arrive late to a mid-fight or half his team will already be down. Just as important as aim is dodging. The less damage you take the bigger your chance of winning your fights. Experience obviously plays a huge role in increasing your skill level. Playing with and against good players will improve your aim, game sense and confidence over time. I like to train on death match servers you can test different settings and its a good way of warming up your aim before matches.”
You're going to have to adapt, and learn how to react to the way your oposition is playing. XMan says you need to be constantly shifting strategies. “You will quickly find that other players and teams watch your every move and try to devise ways in which they can best you. Be prepared for other teams to have done their homework on you and to have prepared an Anti Strat to your winning play. The ability to adapt your tactics mid game and to change things up without losing your stride is the mark of a true professional. This could mean mixing several plays together randomly to achieve the same result, but keeping your opponent guessing is the key.”
No one ever said it would be easy. Part of being a professional means doing actual work, which means you're not just going to be playing games all day. Sometimes you're going to have to watch games. I know, life is tough. “To get the edge over other teams you need to figure them out. Specifically, prepare for the matches you have ahead, study your opponents tactics by watching demos and discuss them within your team. Spending half an hour on your server, going through the map-specific tactics is sometimes more valuable than an evening of pickups. It is easy to check out games from top teams and use their tactics for yourself but without understanding them they wont work for you like they do for others. That's why being up to date is essential. Even on old and well known maps the game play still develops. If your opponent comes up with a strategy that you have not seen before it won't be easy to counter it on the fly during a match.”