The importance of being idle: the weird world of TF2 idle servers

Valve's recent Team Fortress 2 update took a specific shot at a section of the community known as idlers. Idlers play the game to not play it: they join servers and just stand there, hoping to grab an item via the game's item drop system. After years of this, Valve have decided you must click on the item to have it deposited in your backpack, meaning that people who have to be at their PC to benefit*. That's fair enough; Valve really don't want people not playing their game for profit. But I am worried that it'll mean that Idle servers become a thing of the past, because they can be amazing maps to visit and even play on.

An idle map needs only these things: a spawn point for each team, and a room in the middle with a game element. These maps are designed to kill players over and over again. Some say it's to make sure player stats aren't skewed with ultra-long lives, others claim it's to stop servers from kicking players. Beyond that, anything goes. Balance and lines of sight are no concern. Instead the designers fill the space with ingenious traps and strange assault courses designed to make achievement farming easier.

One of my guilty pleasures is to server hop through all non-standard maps and peek into what people have made. I just alphabetise the server browser and pick the maps that don't come with the recognisable TF2 suffixes. The fickle nature of TF2 hosting means these servers aren't always running, but if you're scouring the server browser for an interesting experience, then here are a few to look out for.

Map: achievement_idle

"The perfect space to hone your Heavy boxing skills."

This is the granddaddy of idle servers, and the most basic setup. It consists of three rooms: two spawn rooms facing into a central, uncappable point. The spawn points are kill rooms, with the player's health dropping as soon as they land on the server, and the only place both teams can meet is the centre room, with the smallest loop of a corridor protecting the players from a line-of-sight death. It's basically like sharing a bedroom with a little brother. Everyone is crammed together, giving each other the stink-eye through the spawn room windows. Petty little fights will eventually break out, with each person flipping between multiple classes to attempt to get the upper hand. The perfect space to hone your Heavy boxing skills.

Map: achievement_idle_inferno

"The conveyor belt tips the players into a fiery pit."

On the Red team, it's business as usual: you spawn in a room and you die, or you can have a fun little battle in the central space. But if you only spawn on the Red side you'll miss out on the hat party on the other end of the map. The Blu team spawns on a conveyor belt in a forced conga line beneath a glowing sign that points you to "Free Hats". Never trust a glowing sign. As in life, they always end up in disappointment and murder. The conveyor belt tips the players into a fiery pit before launching their corpses into the air like a diseased cow.

Map: achievement_idle_awesomebox8

"To see the best this map has to offer, you'll have to take a leap of faith."

Awesomebox8 makes a few additions to the stock idle server. Instead of dying in situ, the players are funnelled off onto a conveyor belt. The rooms it drags you through allows other players to kill you, which can help with achievement farming. You can fight anywhere on the map, and there's a boxing ring on top for players to go melee mano-a-mano. To see the best this map has to offer, you'll have to take a leap of faith. Those willing to jump over a certain side will be rewarded with an invisible staircase that takes you to a party in the skybox. As seen above, the engi is the best class to use to get there.

Map: achievement_proud_to_idle

"there's a tennis court for Pyros to practice rocket reflecting."

This is a multipurpose map, designed for dying, achievement mining, and just having fun. The spawn room faces a room with several elevators. Each leads to different area. The achievement area will let you easily fill any gaps in your achievement list, the arena is where you can settle differences with violence, and there's a tennis court for Pyros to practice rocket reflecting. But the memorial hall - filled with portraits of TF2's legendary cast - hides the greatest secret. If you take a running leap at the Spy's portrait, you'll pass through it into a secret Spy room. That's not the only hidden area, either. The looped rope in the Fail room, part of the Memorial Hall, holds its own secrets. But you can find that out for yourself.

Map: achievement_all_v4

"The fighting hides a massive, server-destroying secret."

Achievement maps are the flashier brothers to idle servers. Here you're idling so others might pad their stats by killing you. At first look, achievement_all_v4 has everything you need to grind out achievements: short runs where you can cap points quickly, easy briefcases to capture, even self-building dispensers to sap. You'll join and see an unbalanced fight between teams, where some Blus have given up their existence to Red kill-counts, but the fighting hides a massive, server-destroying secret.

In the corner of each team's spawn area, beside the restock cabinets at the striped walls, is a secret, invisible button. First you need to attack the area around the corner. A pyro is the best choice for this, then you need to hit 'use' on the area. What follows defies belief. A scream fills the server, the ground shakes, then at the back wall of the level a cat rises. The feline fires bees and has laser beams from its eyes. It is unkillable, and everything it fights will die. It's difficult to find: the cat also kills the server, requiring a restart, so not many people are willing to host LAZER DEATH CAT, or if they do they might disable it. The above video shows it looks like when Valve's gimmicked rocket launcher comes up against a kitty death machine.

Map: achievement_turbov14

"There's an entirely new map, filled with games and the Pyro's house."

This map is huge, with separate rooms for different types of achievement farming. It has the feeling of a modern church, built to let attendees worship at the altar of achievements. Both Red and Blu teams spawn in the same area, so it can be tough to figure out the space without getting into impromptu fights, but there are teleports behind the spawn that'll take you away from the madness. The construction of this space is a marvel in itself, but there's a ridiculous added bonus to uncover. Head through the mail hall and the door labelled "achievement boxes". read the instructions on the wall about binding the "use" key, then head around the wall and through the double doors. Don't scream at the Pyro, and run and jump at the Spy portrait. Hit "Use" twice and you'll be through into a secret area. From here it's a few more easy steps to an entirely new map, filled with games and the Pyro's house. There's more, as you'll see in the video above.

*Four items were dropped in the writing of this article