Matchmaking is a completely new experience (opens in new tab) for TF2 (opens in new tab). It combines the unfettered and wacky world of public play with some intense competition and small team sizes. From casual pubbers to competitive superstars, everybody will need to be aware of the differences and adapt to reach the top. Climbing the ranks from Fresh Meat to Death Merchant isn’t easy, so here are some do’s and don’ts for both new players and experienced pros trying to excel in matchmaking.
The key to any good team is finding a composition that works. You need a balance of healing, damage, and mobility to win in matchmaking as in all 6v6. While the classic team composition in competitive TF2 has been one Medic, one Demoman, two Soldiers, and two Scouts, this has been turned on its head in matchmaking. Without any class limits or weapon bans, teams are free to run multiple Medics, while classes like Heavy can run amok with items like the Gloves of Running Urgently. The prevalent strategy at the moment in matchmaking is to run two Medics, two heavier classes such as Soldier, Demoman, or Heavy, and two Scouts. This gives your team a great balance, but teams can still succeed with a huge variety of compositions.
The most important thing to remember is that you need a Medic—if nobody else is stepping up, take initiative.
Study the maps
If you’re a diehard casual player dipping your toes into competitive TF2 for the first time, you’ll need to learn the maps. Matchmaking omits maps suited for large teams (like Goldrush, 2fort, or Badwater) even though they are excellent in public play. Instead you’ll find yourself on capture point maps such as the newly official Sunshine and Metalworks, along with Gullywash, Snakewater, Foundry, Granary, and more. Attack/Defend and Payload maps such as Gorge and Swiftwater are also featured, so it’s important to have a good grasp on the maps before playing competitively.
Learning the names for areas as well as discovering all of the flanking routes is a necessity—you should also use your new knowledge to flank your opponents and attack from alternate routes to gain an advantage in games.
Practice new skills
For any newer players, this is the perfect time to learn some advanced techniques. TF2 is a game with a lofty skill ceiling and many techniques that the best players use aren’t obvious when playing casually. Matchmaking has also drawn in a broad spectrum of players with varied experience; if you want to get to the top then you’ll need to know how to rocket jump, airstrafe, dodge, and aim like a pro. This will help you move around faster than your opponents, avoiding their shots and continuing to deal damage. While the game itself doesn’t have tutorials for these skills yet, there are a wealth of guides online—over eight years of them! With practice these techniques can become simple and the advantage they give you is staggering, especially in matchmaking where mobility is so important.
Don’t lose track of ubers
Due to its small team sizes, matchmaking revolves around the use of Ubercharges. Don’t lose track of them, as your positioning and decisions to attack or defend should be based on which team has uber. Medics are the most important class in the game for both their healing and their Ubercharge, which give a huge advantage to the team. They can allow you to push through choke points, attack sentry nests, pull off a clutch defense, or destroy the whole enemy team. Be aware though that the same can happen to you, so it’s important to roughly keep track of the enemy Medic’s percentage as well as your own. Every 40 seconds, a Medigun uber can be built—keep that time in your head and have a healthy respect for the German doctor and his patients.
Tweak your loadouts
All of the weapons that we in the TF2 competitive scene decided to ban are legal in TF2’s new matchmaking mode. If you believe a weapon is unbalanced and needs a nerf, there’s no better way to demonstrate that than to use and abuse it. Using incredible individual weapons such as the Crit-a-Cola can be devastating, but also keep the synergistic weapons in mind such as the Disciplinary Action. Some classes practically require unlocks to be effective: the Reserve Shooter and the GRU spring to mind. Utilizing the right combination of these powerful unlocks can increase your team’s abilities even without altering the composition.
Switch it up
Don’t stick to a single class in matchmaking. While you may have a ‘main’ that you love and adore, matchmaking is the perfect opportunity to test out your skills on a variety of classes. Only a few classes are useful all the time in matchmaking, and one of the core concepts in the game is switching up your classes to keep a good team composition for the situation. This doesn’t mean you should play a different class every life, but like Overwatch, be prepared to switch it up to fit your team. The team needs mobility and damage at a midfight, a tanky defense when on last, and a lot of balance in between. Picking a class that fits those roles is a great way to start thinking about how you can best help your team to win.
Josh “Sideshow” Wilkinson has more than 7,800 hours played in TF2. In the last six years, he's climbed to the top of the competitive scene, placing 2nd in Europe last season with his team Perilous Gaming. Sideshow is also a writer, caster for teamfortress.tv, analyst, and tournament organizer.