Iron Sharpens Iron – Adventures in Competitive Team Fortress 2; Part 1

In late 2014, I figured out that I was pretty good at playing Scout, the smart-mouthed speedster of the Team Fortress 2 world. Topping every pub (public game) was swiftly growing stale, and I sought more from my TF2 experience. I found the United Gaming Clans TF2 tournament quickly, and thus began my exploits in top-tier gaming.

From the beginning, I’d sought to play Highlander – a server configuration-enforced mode in which two teams composed of one of each of the nine classes duke it out. In Highlander (there can only be one!), I don’t play a Scout – I play THE Scout. My team relies on me to capture the objective, get behind enemy lines and cause chaos, or secure valuable kills (picks) such as by eliminating the enemy medic in a moment of vulnerability.

Yet, despite the relatively lax accessibility provided by UGC’s system, I’m starting at the bottom. My mechanical skill as a Scout is well above the average competitive player’s level, but I need to train myself out of “pub mentality.” I’m not in Valve servers anymore – each of the nine people I’m facing off against is more than capable of capitalizing on big enough mistakes, and my aim remains less-than-godly. Thus, I join a ragtag team of players in UGC’s Iron league (the progression is Iron > Steel > Silver > Gold > Platinum).

Hopping into the selected voice chat client with eight other people on a regular basis is an interesting experience. I don’t know any of my teammates personally, and the only things I’ve learned about them can be divulged from simply listening to them speak. Our Spy is soft-spoken. Our Engineer has a thick, southern drawl. Our team leader, the Soldier, has a way of sounding as if he’s constantly bored, or simply doesn’t care about whatever’s taking place.

This week’s match took place on koth_viaduct_rc5.  An elevated control point and surrounding cliffs make this a haven for Demos and Snipers.

I know these people better by how they play the game. I see the Sniper stepping out of cover just long enough to scope in and hazard a shot at a valuable target before retreating. I catch the Spy sneaking up behind a flanking enemy on one of the side routes. I smile, pop a few bullets into the bogey’s face, and turn my attention elsewhere as my teammate secures the easy backstab. I watch the Soldier fire tactically into heavily-trafficked areas as I run alongside him, working to secure a valuable part of the map for ourselves.

Playing “carry Scout” and doing “all the team’s work” used to be a staple for me. I still carry games for my team by way of securing the most kills or sneakily capturing the objective, but now, I can’t do it without the help of my team. Inevitably, one mano y mano fights happen. I’ll catch the enemy Scout in a small space and we’ll both be at full health. I’ll patrol a flanking route and run into the opposing Spy. A majority of my worth, however, comes from the callouts my team executes over voice – Medic’s lit at 20 health, Sniper’s up on cliffs, Demo’s down. Everything they say is an extra datum I can incorporate into the decisions I make over the next several seconds, and I have to trust their info. I’ve learned to do the same, usually altering my team as to the location of the enemy sentry, or to the Scattergun-related death of an enemy. I have a tendency to loudly repeat that “THEIR MEDIC IS DOWN!” after a successful pick.

I’d be lying if I said any of the official matches we’ve played were easy. Every fight, regardless of who the enemy is, takes nearly everything I have to offer, and it’s getting more difficult every week.

There’s too much I have to tell you about the experience of competitive TF2. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go brush up on my aim.

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