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Hero shooters are the latest gaming trend, team-based competitive multiplayer shooters featuring objective-driven game modes and large casts of colorfully designed characters sporting fantastical weapons and abilities. That s a serviceable but still somewhat shortsighted definition. The hero shooters we have today already cover a range of styles and goals. They re all shooters, so we see a lot of overlap in how they actually play, but each one approaches things differently and has something distinct at its core.

Basically, hero shooters are like the Powerpuff Girls, so let s talk Chemical X.

We ll start with Blizzard s Overwatch, seeing as how it has become the poster child for the genre. Overwatch is popular for many reasons, but primarily because of its heroes and their diverse playstyles and personalities. Game director Jeff Kaplan said it best when we spoke with him at BlizzCon 2015: the heroes are the content of the game.

More than any other hero shooter, Overwatch puts individual heroes first, not overarching classes. This wasn t always the case, though. In an April interview with GameSpot, Kaplan said the Overwatch team started with a class-first perspective. It was lead hero designer Geoff Goodman who eventually proposed making as many classes as we could come up with and simply turning them into highly specialized heroes.

Overwatch heroes are roughly grouped into four classes, but hero-specific strengths are stressed more than in, say, Team Fortress 2. In Overwatch, you pick a hero based on who your team needs and who the situation calls for, whereas in TF2 you have more room to choose a class based solely on how you like to play, illustrating the subtle difference between team-based and class-based gameplay. A skilled Heavy can fill several roles and always be useful, but you can only do so many things with Roadhog or Reinhardt, which brings us to hero switching.

Instead of making individual heroes more flexible, Overwatch made all hero switching available on the fly. You can choose from several suitable heroes in any situation, but you can t take the same approach with all of them, at least not effectively. Reaper and Tracer, for example, are both offense heroes who can make short work of enemies, but they play very differently and have different counters.

This creates the type of rock-paper-scissors meta we see in MOBAs like Heroes of the Storm, which is a noticeable influence on the way Overwatch heroes interact, both as allies and as enemies. There s also a bit of fighting game spirit to Overwatch. The way they use huge casts to segment fundamentally similar gameplay forms an interesting parallel with games like Street Fighter V and Tekken 7, which also live and die by their rosters.

Heroes are obviously central to all hero shooters, but careful character design is of unmatched importance to Overwatch because each of its heroes must not only serve a unique purpose but also mesh well with tightly clustered teams. Everything starts there, and anything that encroaches upon the fun hero gameplay, as Kaplan puts it, is swiftly changed. Furthermore, Kaplan told Kotaku in July, maps and modes are quite deliberately designed to promote hero interaction by bringing teams together. This lines up with what assistant game director Aaron Keller told us in September: "if and when we release a new game mode in the future, it will be about teams pushing on a single objective.

At the opposite end of the spectrum and it is a spectrum, this genre-hopping blur of a genre we have Gearbox Software s Battleborn, which doubles down on MOBA elements while turning Overwatch s character design on its head. Overwatch is about selecting and re-selecting the most suitable hero, but Battleborn is about building a hero that does what you want.

In Battleborn, hero abilities aren t static. Heroes bring the same skills into every round, but through the game s helix system of A/B upgrades, these can be tweaked to fit the play style you prefer. Characters fall into designated classes like healer and skirmisher, but they can still wield a mix of offensive, defensive or supportive abilities, just not all at the same time. So, rather than which hero to play, the question becomes how to play your hero.

You can further customize heroes through gear which augments stats like cooldown reduction and maximum health. Gear functions like the items in Dota and League of Legends: earn currency and buy pieces as the match progresses, with the added kick and progression of collecting gear through loot boxes and, from your collection, building character-specific loadouts. The influence of MOBAs is even more obvious in Battleborn s waves of minions and its base-destroying incursion game mode.

This should also sound familiar to Borderlands fans. Tailoring skill trees to suit different play styles? Boosting your most relevant stats with equipment? Hoarding gear? That s a day in the life of a Vault Hunter if I ve ever heard it. And come to think of it, Alani could pass as a sister siren to Borderlands 2 s Maya. There s plenty of Pandora in Battleborn, that s for sure, just as Overwatch s focus on individual hero characters can be traced back to Warcraft.

Beyond prominent MOBA elements, Battleborn brings some promising ideas to the still-developing hero shooter genre. For starters, it has a story mode. It isn t a particularly spellbinding tale (though the stellar opening cinematic helps) but it does provide welcome context for the game s world and the motivations of its heroes, not to mention a more in-depth tutorial and testing ground. Meltdown, Battleborn s take on payloads, is also noteworthy. In it, teams defend their minions as they march toward the goal and try stop enemy minions from doing the same. This means players have two objectives and can choose to defend or attack in every round, which ties into the game s split hero development.

Overwatch and Battleborn alone illustrate some of the balancing acts hero shooters have to manage. Through the strict limitations it places on game modes and character abilities, Overwatch gains the freedom to create characters like Mercy and Symmetra, who aren t at all suited for offense roles. Battleborn is all about customization, so it s possible for players to consistently play the hero they re most attached to rather than the hero their team needs right now. There are pros and cons to each approach: I can t see incursion working in Overwatch, but Battleborn heroes tend to run together a bit, and there s no doubt as to who s winning the sales race. Somewhere between these two extremes lies Paladins, Hi-Rez Studios free-to-play contender. Lead designer Rory Drybear Newbrough described Paladins as half shooter, half MOBA when we spoke with him last December, and the current state of the game backs him up.

Although still in beta, Paladins foundation is well established, including its much-vaunted deck system. For each hero, you can build equippable decks of five cards which, once acquired mid-match, buff various abilities and help fine-tune your play style. It isn t as open-ended as Battleborn s helix system, but that s not necessarily a bad thing. The goal of decks, Newbrough said in a recent interview with PaladinsWorld, is to give players multiple build options without warping characters to the extent that they are difficult to identify or play around. This preserves the concept of instantly recognizable characters a cornerstone of hero shooters since Team Fortress Classic while creating greater room for player choice.

Paladins also pursues new combinations through its heroes, which, according to Hi-Rez COO Todd Harris, are predominantly rooted in the studio s own Global Agenda despite similarities to Overwatch. Some heroes overlap more than others, but even familiar abilities can be interesting when rearranged. For instance, Androxus wields a defensive deflection ability, generous jumps, a six-shooter revolver and a rocket-powered ultimate. Similar abilities are seen in Overwatch but the combination is novel, and Paladins is not devoid of originality. As Blizzard grapples with Symmetra s place in the meta, Ying offers a good example of how to combine turrets and teleportation in a way that s powerful and satisfying.

Even so, and even for a beta, Paladins has yet to hit its stride. Everything checks out on paper: it takes inspiration from the most successful hero shooter yet, the biggest genre in esports and lessons learned from Global Agenda. It s also free, which is a good thing to be in an increasingly competitive market. The trouble is that it doesn t yet have an identity of its own. Overwatch is a dynamic team-based FPS, and Battleborn, while a bit of a commercial flop, is firmly a first-person MOBA with added objectives. Paladins isn t quite there yet. It seems to know what it s made of but not what it wants to be, and in this it echoes the state of the hero shooter genre as a whole.

The good news is that the concern is not what hero shooters can t do, but what they haven t done so far. Creating new and interesting heroes is great, but they stand the best chance of finding an audience if they do something we haven t seen in hero shooters before. The only guiding principle seems to be to build game modes that intuitively support your heroes abilities, something Overwatch and Battleborn both managed despite being wildly different. There s no limit on what those game modes can be, only on what type of heroes suit them.

Overwatch makes a good argument for hero-driven design, and Battleborn shows that unconventional elements can be folded in without upsetting the core FPS gameplay loop. More importantly, Overwatch s 22 heroes can t do everything, nor can Battleborn s 25. Meanwhile, Paladins is still trying to figure out what its heroes are best at, something its forthcoming new mode, which Newbrough describes as a co-op experience against challenging AI, may answer.

This is perhaps the most valuable lesson for budding hero shooters like Gigantic, Lawbreakers, Battlecry, Dirty Bomb and who knows how many games to come. I don t want to see this genre become a race to dethrone Overwatch by way of character design. That s a loser s market, and hero shooters have the potential to revive and improve so many game types. It s all a matter of finding a niche and creating a good-sized roster of heroes who really synergize with it.

For one, objective-based multiplayer goes way beyond 'defend the thing and push the thing', or in Paladins case, 'defend the thing then push the thing'. Where s the fast-paced capture the flag hero shooter that promotes mobility and map awareness using heroes couched in creative movement? Lawbreakers definitely has a shot at filling that slot, but it often feels like more of an arena shooter that happens to have five classes which is fine, by the way. The point is, CTF is another classic game mode that could benefit immensely from a broad cast explicitly engineered with it in mind.

Then there s the big, white elephant that seemingly nobody is talking about: where is the hero shooter that shamelessly apes the original Star Wars: Battlefront? With droidekas, shock troops, engineers and plenty more unique classes, it s already half a hero shooter. Just imagine a modern spiritual successor, divorced from the tapestries of Star Wars but informed by the years of MOBA refinement on display in Battleborn. Sprawling, ever-changing battlegrounds peppered with command posts and crawling with NPC squadrons led by heroes I have a dream!

Future hero shooters should also consider options outside PvP. Players can work as a team without fighting other players, and PvE-focused games like Left 4 Dead are crying out for hero shooter cousins. Overwatch proved this in its recent dalliance with horde mode, the Junkenstein s Revenge brawl. As our own Evan Lahti said, that brawl didn t really work because Overwatch doesn t have the maps or heroes to support it. Where is the hero shooter that does?

For once, the bewildering vagueness of the term hero shooter can be called a positive thing. This cockamamy genre could become a nearly boundless formula for reinvigoration, a way to explore and experience familiar game modes from a refreshing new perspective via dozens of fun characters.

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Team Fortress? More like Scream Fortr oh, I see Valve already did that, as it's the name of TF2's annual Halloween event. Joe brought the slightly disappointing news that there would be no all-new giant spookathon this year; instead, the game is getting a few new titbits, while all the old Scream Fortresses will be returning, as with last year.

The TF blog announces that Scream Fortress VIII has just kicked off, bringing with it "three new Halloween maps! All classic Scream Fortress Maps! All-new contracts! New taunts! And a Creepy Crawly Case with the chance to get our newest unholy Halloween creation: a taunt Unusualifier!" Yeah, that's right, an Unusualifier look it up in your Lexinomicon.

What's more, for the duration of Scream Fortress VIII, "all unusual cosmetics that you unbox from any case or crate will have a Halloween 2016 unusual effect, and the chances of receiving an unusual cosmetic across all cases, even old ones, will be DOUBLED," says Valve. Double-things are almost always good news whoever heard of Single Fine, for example?

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After six years of consecutive harrowing Team Fortress 2 Halloween events, Valve took last year off to work on its then new Invasion update. It seems the same is true this year, as the developer is instead "working on something even better."

Similar to last year, every prior Scream Fortress event will briefly return including 2015's Merasmissions while a new Pyro Pack, improvements to Comp Mode, a new update, a new campaign, community maps, and a new taunt are but a few of the things TF2 is introducing to ensure All Hallows' Eve doesn't pass us by.

In typical Team Fortress fashion, here's some weird words taken from the game's blog:

"And it wouldn t be a Halloween pre-announcement blog post if we didn t scare most of you TO DEATH. For instance: What if just now you heard the rattling moon-lit sound of a SKELETON? No, nothing? Everybody still alive? Okay, but what if that sound was coming from INSIDE YOUR OWN BODY? Because there s a SKELETON in there RIGHT NOW? Oh, you already knew that, did you? Well, what if we were to tell you it s STEVE BUSCEMI S SKELETON?

"How did it get INSIDE you? What did he do with YOUR skeleton? Why don t you ask him, because he s RIGHT BEHIND YOU! No, look down! Farther! Because he s just a puddle of flesh with two BULGING EYEBALLS staring up at you! And a SNAGGLE-TOOTH! That s right, you just BODY-SHAMED STEVE BUSCEMI! Because it was YOU writing this blog post the WHOLE TIME! AWOOOOO!"

Make of that what you will. No exact date just yet, however you'll be able to revisit your favourite TF2 Halloween events at some stage "next week."

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The Church in the Darkness plays like top down Hitman-lite in a 1970s religious cult. Your character decides to check in on a relative and infiltrates the sect to figure out how they're doing and what's really going on at church camp.

You navigate buildings and avoid the scrutiny of the cultists by staying out of sight, but unlike most stealth games, they won't get suspicious if you're in their line of sight, only if you get too close. By investigating the buildings around camp and searching for supplies, you'll find tools to help out with the denser parts of camp. For instance, I found a worker outfit that decreased the 'suspicion' cone around each camper so I could navigate more freely. I got in without alerting anyone, but you're free to go guns blazing if you like. I have concerns about the stealth feeling a bit too simple, but until I know what kind of challenges and tools the final game has in store, I'll keep checking in.

All the while, the church leader spouts their doctrine over the loudspeakers, but it's never quite the same every time. Voiced by videogame VO power couple Ellen McLain (GLaDOS) and John Patrick Lowrie (TF2's Sniper), the two leaders' teachings change with each playthrough. During one, they might actually be a fairly peaceful, if peculiar, religious group. During the next, they might be getting ready to take the world down with them. It's a creative form of narrative direction that I hope will influence how players choose to go about infiltrating camp. If they're a nice crew, the moral impetus might be to get in and out without harming a fly. If they're bloodthirsty zealots, well, a few flies won't matter.

The Church in the Darkness arrives some time next year.

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Every once in awhile you find a crossover between two different videogames that on paper makes no sense until you see it in action. That's how I feel about Steam user Pancake's "MegaMan 6" collection of TF2 maps. Divided up into eight separate arenas themed after a different boss, you can now wax nostalgic about how much harder videogames used to be while cracking headshots as Sniper.

"It was really a combination of boredom and seeing how people create maps based on other old videogames," Pancakes tells me. "I saw that people loved playing Mario-themed maps and I wanted to test the limitations of how closely a map could resemble the original game it borrows from."

In that pursuit, I'd say Pancakes has done a damn fine job. The project has taken him over five years to complete, and it hasn t been easy. Serious limitations in the Source engine made running a map with eight separate stages quite a challenge, Pancakes tells me, and that's not to mention all the effort it takes to rip the sprites and artwork from Mega Man 6. Each arena is also accompanied by the respective music from that stage, which does wonders for driving home that Mega Man nostalgia.

While this is technically just one map, it's actually divided into randomized arenas that you'll be placed on each round. There's a standard king of the hill version but also a 'VS Saxon Hale' mode to use if you have the required mod. So far, the only caveat is that, unlike other custom maps, this Mega Man 6 bundle doesn't play nice with bots. You're going to need to spend quite a bit of time setting up proper navigation meshes instead of just letting the console do that all for you. There's a few guides to help you get started if you're interested, but you're better off forgetting the bots and wrangling up a group of friends to play with.

What amazes me is that this isn't even the first time someone's had the idea of doing a crossover between Mega Man and Team Fortress 2. DeviantArt user AgentMidnight made some excellent artwork depicting what TF2 would've looked like as a Mega Man game instead of the other way around.

If Mega Man was never really your jam, there's no shortage of Team Fortress 2 custom maps inspired by the games of yesteryear. Steam user Litronom has taken this obsession to a whole new level by creating several dozen inspired by old Nintendo games, including everything from Bomberman 64, Zelda, Banjo Kazooie, and more. Unlike Pancakes' maps, which strike a nice balance between being a homage and also being fun to play on, Litronom's maps are almost exact recreations of their source material not exactly the place to have a competitive match.

Either way, I love that mods continue to be a venue for people to express their passion for other games. They might just be a passing curiosity, but there's something so inherently satisfying about reassembling videogames inside of other videogames. So if you have any particular fondness for that golden age of consoles and are keen on reliving those memories, be sure to download the whole lot from the Steam Workshop.

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It's no secret that Overwatch takes quite a bit of inspiration from Team Fortress 2, but thanks to the efforts of Serbian modder Srpski eki (which translates to "Serbian Hammer") Team Fortress 2 is now taking a page from Overwatch's playbook. Srpski eki has recreated a version of Overwatch's escort map, Watchpoint: Gibraltar, that can be played in Team Fortress 2 through Steam Workshop and while it's not a perfect imitation, it comes pretty damn close.

As explained by Srpski eki , his version of Watchpoint: Gibraltar is in an alpha stage and is in dire need of some actual art as most of the level is comprised of featureless geometry. Despite its early state, eki 's map is still a fully functioning recreation and is surprisingly good at imitating Overwatch. Just about every mechanic of the escort game mode is carried over thanks to how similar Overwatch's escort mode is to TF2's payload mode. Even though the recreation isn't perfect, you'll hardly notice once the fight starts.

Because I have no friends, I went ahead and loaded a server with bots to play alongside me. They're far from a perfect substitute for humans but still do a great job of illustrating just how similar the DNA between Overwatch and TF2 really is. On offense, we were able to quickly push through to the final objective without much resistance because the enemy bots were too busy getting lost running around the level which was a bit disappointing. On defense, however, the round played surprisingly like Overwatch to the point of even having the same stalemates in certain parts of the map. Even despite the fact that TF2 differs from Overwatch in some fundamental ways, like needing ammo for your weapons, it's pretty amusing to see how the two are similarly structured. I captured a short video of a round against bots so you can judge for yourself. Also check out the gallery below for some close side-by-side comparisons between the Overwatch and TF2 version of the map.

The only real frustration would be the fact that, ultimately, Watchpoint: Gibraltar was built with Overwatch's heroes in mind. As similar as many of them are, I doubt that the map will be as balanced for Team Fortress 2's classes. Also, getting shanked by an enemy spy has made me wonder if there might be room for deceitful shenanigans with a new hero in Overwatch.

Right now there doesn't appear to be anyone hosting the map on the community servers, so if you want to give it a spin you'll need to round up some friends to play with or load up bots like I did. If you're unfamiliar with setting up bots in TF2, you can read this short guide on how to add them in your game. Because this is a custom map, you'll also need to generate a navigation mesh so the bots can move around, which isn't nearly as intimidating as it sounds. After you get the bots loaded, pop open the developer console (default is the '~' key) and type in "sv_cheats 1" and then type in "nav_generate". This will freeze the game for a bit while it does some calculations and then reload the map, allowing the bots to move around just be warned it's not perfect.

Now that I've played Srpski eki 's Watchpoint: Gibraltar, I'm honestly a bit surprised to see that modding Overwatch features into Team Fortress 2 hasn't been more of a thing, what with the two being so similar. The only other Overwatch mod I could find was this highly questionable haircut for TF2's Scout. Who said that people from Brooklyn couldn't be posh?

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Following the rollout of Team Fortress 2's major Meet Your Maker update earlier this month, Valve has issued a patch to address some of the biggest problems with the new matchmaking functionality. The company acknowledged last week a lot of the most pressing concerns, and many of them are now fixed thanks to the new patch.

First of all, match leaving in casual mode will no longer incur a penalty, but to balance that out, Valve will increase the penalty in competitive mode in a forthcoming update. "The current system increases matchmaking ban times based on the number of abandons over a period of time," the notes read. "We are making a change to more quickly move serial abandoners into really long ban times. We will also subtract the maximum number of rank points possible, per abandon. The amount lost will be far higher than what could normally be lost in a completed match."

As for changes that will come into effect with the new patch, queue times should now take less than 90 seconds across the board, and empty player slots in in-progress games will now be filled up more frequently. Vote-kicking functionality has been added, and players can now select their preferred maps (though if they're added to an in-progress game, that won't apply until the next match).

Valve also outlined further plans for future updates, including ways to address griefing and high ping. The full update notes are over here. In the meantime, read Josh Wilkinson's impressions of the new matchmaking update here.

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Matchmaking is a completely new experience for TF2. 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.

Comp responsibly

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.

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Image by Deviantart user Ragepandademoman, click for link.

After over a year of building excitement, Team Fortress 2 received its official matchmaking update last Friday. It hit alongside a community-focused Pyro vs. Heavy metagame, a large change to quickplay servers, and a patch which rebalanced weapons for 6v6. While the quickplay and balance changes have equally enraged and disappointed, matchmaking mode is a great way for casual players to hop in and try competitive TF2 straight from the main menu. It s a good start, and hopefully it s just the first iteration.

Team Fortress 2 s matchmaking mode bears many similarities to the way its niche competitive scene has played for years. Matchmaking throws players into a 6v6 game, designed as a new challenge for experienced TF2 players. It allows you to rank up, earn medals, and track your stats in every competitive game. You ll need to have a Premium TF2 account and a working phone number tied to your Steam account to play, or for those without phones, a $10 matchmaking pass available. After the crackdown on LMAOBOX earlier this year, Valve are clearly committed to expunging cheaters from TF2 as in CS:GO.

Image by moonyelloweyes, click for link.

Ranking up is exclusively based on your wins and losses, with a hidden ELO deciding who you get matched against. You can track every aspect of your competitive history directly from inside the lobby along with stats for your entire career, something I think is really missing from Overwatch and CS:GO matchmaking. Ranking up will also send you higher up the leaderboards, letting you see where you stack up globally and among your friends.

Although it s a simple system, and lacks features seen in CS:GO such as map picking, it works well. Hopping into a lobby alone or with friends sends you to a 6v6 game that is matched for your rank, and the competitive experience is refreshing after an uncoordinated pub. At three to 10 minutes on average, the games are fast enough that even a total roll isn t disheartening, and games can be highly rewarding when players communicate over voice chat and are motivated to win. Unfortunately the search time is currently quite high, making you wait five to 10 minutes for a game which could last half that. This may be the reason map picks are currently not implemented: anything that splits the player pool extends the waiting time even further.

Australium (gold) weapons are "awarded upon completing a full Advanced or Expert Tour of Duty in Mann vs. Machine mode," according to the TF2 wiki. Image by iKonakona.

Unrewarding rewards

After spending many years involved with TF2 s competitive scene, I m aware that much of the TF2 community doesn t enjoy playing competitively purely for the sake of winning. In this update Valve had an opportunity to make the ranking up process engaging with contracts or achievements, or could have combined ranking up with unique cosmetics as with Australiums in MvM. They chose to do neither, and are relying on hype and the raw enjoyment of leveling up to draw players into competitive. If it works, it will prove the mantra of 6v6 players: if only casual players knew about competitive, they d love it! But to me it seems like a missed opportunity for them to pull more players away from other modes of play, especially when the precedent has been set in MvM. TF2 is a casual game with a casual audience. Just offering them the opportunity rather than enticing them to stick it out and improve may not be enough.

The matchmaking ruleset is where the format starts to diverge from what people have previously thought of as competitive TF2. Valve has gone with an open approach, without limits on classes or weapons. If your team want to run six Pyros with the Phlogistinator, you can. You might not win but you can!Matchmaking has been hailed as the second coming by the passionate competitive community, but they seem unaware that their version of 6v6 is now the old 6v6. The game that they love in all its intricacies has been overshadowed in one swift update, eclipsed in terms of players by a version of 6v6 that is significantly different.

In order to compromise between the competitive, technical gamemode of old 6v6 and the wants and needs of the average TF2 player, Valve have had to tread a middle ground. The lack of class limits is the most important change; the tournament class limits have grown organically after years of testing, and were required to preserve the competitive nature of the game. A good sport needs rules in order to be set the parameters for skill and strategy. A good esport needs strong rules as well to avoid unpredictability and chaos.

The lack of weapon bans will also create a new feel for the game. There are a ton of unbalanced weapons still in TF2, despite the recent balance patch. These weapons are not fit to be used in tournaments, as they let solo players become killing machines or create defences that are impossible to break through. A core concept of a competitive game is that your impact should be proportional to your ability, but many of these weapons were designed so a casual player could have an impact in a 32-person server. Valve have indicated that they aim to rebalance those weapons based on statistical feedback from matchmaking, and I hope that happens soon.

There are a ton of unbalanced weapons still in TF2, despite the recent balance patch.

Other changes were pushed to TF2 along with the matchmaking update. These included a revolutionary optimization update which makes the game far smoother for players, and a major change to the quickplay system. Rather than being thrown into a pub gamemode of your choice, quickplay (now Casual) sends you into a 12v12 game where teams are encouraged to play to win. If you want to hop into a laidback pub, you have to find a community server. When our community met with him last year, former TF2 lead Robin Walker promised to revolutionize the way casual players think about the game; that s Valve s aim with this change, but at the moment players feel robbed of their classic, laid-back pub experience. Valve are banking on community servers to flourish once again and fill that gap.

The most important change I d like to see are some perks for players to play matchmaking. Valve have a long history of creating gorgeous cosmetics (or sourcing them from the community) for MvM which entice people to spend money and time grinding that mode out. Rare drops of unusual weapons when ranking up would make matchmaking more exciting and take the focus slightly off of advancing one s rank. Even implementing contracts or achievements that are specific to matchmaking would make each experience fresh and encourage players to return.

This is not the end for the struggle of competitive TF2, it s actually the beginning. If matchmaking is a success and even a tiny proportion of TF2 s active players become competitive regulars, they will associate competitive with the experience they get in matchmaking. Their numbers will outweigh the classic idea of competitive TF2 and they may find it impossible to identify with the professional players and the tournaments they play in. It would be a disaster for TF2 if another schism within the competitive scene to opened up after the split between competitive and casual had been healed.

The arguments have yet to brew about whether tournaments such as the upcoming world championship, insomnia58, should remove class limits or weapon limits but for anybody keeping up with Overwatch s nascent competitive scene the similarities give a queasy feeling. Is it possible for TF2 tournaments to keep some basic class limits and weapon bans without alienating their audience of matchmaking players? I think so, but it will require careful navigation around the rocks.

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.

PC Gamer

As you may recall, Valve announced matchmaking in Team Fortress 2 as a high priority feature back in April last year. It may have taken a touch longer to arrive than expected, however it was finally added to the multiplayer first-person shooter on Thursday.

Which is good news, right? Except certain decisions regarding how it s been added have ruffled more than a few players feathers, and have caused Valve to spend the last few days announcing and implementing changes in order to get them back on side.

Part of the Meet Your Match update, 6v6 ranked matchmaking was introduced to TF2, alongside a new Competitive Mode. The old Quickplay mode was also scrapped, with 12v12 unranked matchmaking Casual Mode taking its place the latter of which, alongside some pretty gross queue times and players being punished for leaving casual games, seems to have upset certain facets of the game s players.

We hear you, said Valve in an official blog post in response to the backlash. The queue times you are currently experiencing are a bug, not a feature. It is something we are actively working to correct. Several backend issues appeared post-launch that culminated in long wait times. Removing this issue is our highest priority right now.

Second, abandonment penalties. We had put in a ten-minute cooldown period to encourage players to complete matches. Your feedback has convinced us that it is more important for players to be able to come and go as they please. Today's patch will remove abandonment cooldown penalties from Casual Mode.

Map selection in Casual Mode is another tweak users should expect in the not-too-distant future. The post also mentions that Casual Mode levels can t be lost, nor do they affect matchmaking. We did a poor job of communicating that Casual Mode Levels are in no way similar to Competitive Mode Ranks (which do affect matchmaking, and can be lost), the post adds, before reiterating that, although not as vocal as it could be at times, Valve is listening to all player feedback across all forums.

A Casual Mode patch was rolled out on Friday with another "more comprehensive" one due in the "very near future." It s also worth noting that the TF2 community still appears to have issues with kicking cheaters and the apparent lack of autobalancing within the now absent substitute system. Fingers crossed that too gets sorted in time.


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