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"There Can Be Only One" - A Comprehensive History of North American Highlander
By You light the spark
An in-depth look at the history of North America Highlander's scene, from its early testing in 2007, its peak in 2013, and the slow death of the format, including videos, exclusive interviews, and player quotes.
 
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I - Introduction
"History is not a burden on the memory, but an illumination of the soul."

Contained within is an as comprehensive & thorough as possible look into the history of the birth, rise, and fall of North American Highlander and the important events that happened - the good and the bad. This record also contains frag videos, casted games, historical content saved for posterity that you can't find anywhere else, and exclusive player interviews/quotes from both old and current Highlander players.

None of us really know how long Team Fortress 2 is going to last - especially the competitive scene - but I do not want our history to be lost. Instead, I want this record to stand and hope that whether you enjoy Highlander or even competitive Team Fortress 2 itself or not, you will find interest in how a very large group of people came together to provide a fun avenue of playing the game, how Highlander led to some changes in Team Fortress 2, and Highlander's turbulent history.
II - The First Attempt
Our story begins before Team Fortress 2 even released, starting with the pre-order beta on September 17th, 2007. A significant amount of the players at the time had come from the previous Team Fortress games (Quake World Team Fortress & Team Fortress Classic) who were looking to move to the new Team Fortress in hopes of having a thriving scene.

A section of these players spared no time trying to build a competitive scene and during this pre-order beta into shortly after Team Fortress 2's launch on October 10th players were constantly experimenting with what format was best.

Everything from 4v4 to 12v12 to Offense vs Defense rules were rigorously tested, as players tried to come to a concensus on what player count felt best/was the most fun and would help attract sponsors & let Team Fortress 2 become a great competitive game. Leagues erected around each format, including CEVO (6v6) and Stronger Than All or STA (8v8).

One format that came very naturally to people was 9v9 - which very quickly got dubbed Highlander, named after the Highlander movie/TV series whose catchphrase "There can be only one" created the backbone of Highlander's strict class format - all 9 classes, only one of each.

While this format was fun for casual play, at the time this format didn't reach a popular concensus. Things like the original class balance, the limited map selection, the pacing, and the large amount of players required deemed it not ideal for the forefront competitive mode.

However, that didn't stop a group of Team Fortress Classic players who ran a league website called United Gaming Clans - or UGC - from trying to push 5v5 & 7v7 and a player called KHR Moonguardian running the first Highlander tournament for them in North America on Team Fortress 2's launch date.

Season 1 (October 10th, 2007 - January 23rd, 2008) Map List:

Week
Map
1
cp_granary
2
cp_well
3
cp_gravelpit
4
cp_granary
5
cp_granary
6
cp_well
7
cp_well
8
ctf_2fort
9
ctf_2fort
10
cp_yukon_final
11
cp_gullywash_imp3
12
cp_follower
13
cp_science
14
cp_warpath

There isn't really any surviving Highlander footage of this era as YouTube wasn't as big of a deal back then, but much like 6s at the time the meta heavily relied on pocketing Heavy.

Unfortunately, the first season only mananged to attract 14 teams, while other leagues like TWL and CEVO were seeing better success by embracing smaller formats like 7v7 and what would quickly become the chosen competitive format: 6v6.

UGC spent the next 2 years trying to push 7v7 (and later merging with STA for 8v8, running a total of 8 seasons of that), start to embrace 6v6 in 2009 with their first 6s season, and continuing to run TFC events, instead giving up on pushing Highlander due to its poor initial community support.

Highlander still lived on within the North America community through community pubs however! Plenty of community server groups like The Lost Continents, 2fort2furious, eGO, SourceOP and others would host casual Highlander PUGs, as a way to play a more organized and different Team Fortress 2 experience.

Regardless, Highlander as a competitive format contender had fell flat on its face and it would remain that way until 2010.
III - The Second Attempt
While Highlander as a competitive league format was non-existent, leading up into 2010 people continued to play PUGs with their communities on the format, but something awesome was about to happen.

In early July 2009, users at GameFAQs came up with a novel idea: let's settle the debate about whether pub players or pros were better with an exhibition style match...and so the idea of the first 6v9/Pubs vs Pros was born, where pub players would utilize the Highlander format popular in pub communities and the Pros would utilize the 6v6 class format running CEVO gameplay rules (since ESEA wasn't the primary 6s league yet).

In 2009 alone three of these events were held due to their popularity, managed by Cerious from GameFAQs these events grew to be spectacles, and while they were originally designed to just have a fun exhibition setup they did do a solid job of getting pub players interested in trying competitive 6v6.

However, they also provided a stepping stone for Highlander to likewise gain some popularity, and these events helped make even more pub communities do private Highlander PUGs.

While the older casts of these initial 6v9s was lost, one of the later ones in 2010 had a montage made for it:


Leading up into 2010, Valve showed support for competitive Team Fortress 2 by implementing a large number of features at the community's request, all of which also benefited Highlander tremendously alongside balance changes like letting Heavy throw his Sandvich. The standouts of these were:

  • February 28th, 2008: the ability to disable random critical hits & the introduction of an official tournament mode.
  • April 29th, 2008: the introduction of Stopwatch mode to tournament mode.
  • February 2nd, 2009: the ability to disable random damage spread & domination icons & cloaked spies can no longer pick up flags.
  • September 15th, 2009: Whitelist functionality implemented for tournament mode, Tournament Mode Spectator HUD implemented
  • December 17th, 2009: Added damage text functionality.

In talks with Valve for Highlander support, UGC's leadership convinced Valve to add the cvar "mp_highlander" to the game on February 3rd, 2010. This cvar would enforce Highlander's class limits automatically, and to this day remains used on PUG sites like TF2Center.

These talks went well enough that UGC returned to the Highlander format, announcing Season 2 of UGC Highlander led by KHR Moonguardian again.

Season 2 (February 8th, 2010 - May 17th, 2010) Map List:

Week
Map
1
cp_badlands
2
cp_dustbowl
3
cp_granary
4
cp_gullywash_imp3
5
cp_gravelpit
6
dom_canalzone
7
cp_well
8
ctf_turbine
9
cp_indulge
10
cp_yukon_final
11
ctf_chaos
12
cp_follower

Unfortunately, even with Highlander being played in pub communities and the 6v9 events happening and better competitive support, Season 2 of UGC Highlander only managed to attract 10 teams - 4 less than Season 1.

Part way into this season, the 6v9 events culminated into a much bigger event on April 3rd, 2010 when Cerious - now partnered with Nahanni and Meo of Apocalypse Gaming - ran a "Clash of the Steam Titans All Stars" 6v9 event, where the 9 best pubstars from the previous 3 events competed against a significantly better group of competitive players. The event was a huge success, with a full STV & plenty of viewers on stream.


With Season 2 ending shortly there after, UGC decided to shelve Highlander again for almost half a year, the format not going out with a bang, but with a whimper.
IV - Rebirth

Three months after UGC's second season of Highlander ended, the primary European league - ETF2L - announced the ETF2L Highlander Challenge an event where players new to competitive play could compete in the Highlander format and get their feet wet in a low pressure environment.

However, ETF2L had an ace up their sleeve as they managed to gain Valve's support on a brand new cosmetic idea: the medal. Teams who played all their matches in the tournament would receive an exclusive medal to equip on their characters in-game, and those who made it to the very top would receive unique placement medals that looked better.

The concept of medals would go on to be integrated in almost every major league & LAN, and was largely responsible for the event being advertised practically everywhere.

ETF2L Highlander Challenge (September 27th, 2010 - March 6th, 2011) Map List:

Week
Map
1
cp_dustbowl & pl_upward
2
pl_badwater & cp_granary
3
cp_dustbowl & cp_granary
4
pl_badwater & cp_granary / Tiebreaker: pl_upward
5
pl_upward & cp_gravelpit
6
pl_badwater & cp_steel
7
cp_steel & pl_goldrush
8
cp_gravelpit & pl_badwater & koth_viaduct
9
Team Choice by Elimination
10
Team Choice by Elimination
11 - SNSD vs Colony
pl_upward & pl_badwater & cp_dustbowl

The ETF2L Highlander Challenge through a combination of its exclusive cosmetic item, almost entirely unrestricted whitelist, and simple competitive rules flourished with 800 teams and 10,000+ players coming from every major (and even minor) pub community taking part in the event globally (making it the largest tournament Team Fortress 2 has ever had) and spawned the first major Highlander montage made by CUBE.


This event had performed so well that it reinvigorated Highlander as a format, even being responsible for ETF2L's 1st real Highlander season on November 13th, 2011.

Due to the previous middling seasons UGC had combined with how popular the ETF2L Highlander Challenge was in North America, there was some belief that ETF2L would even take over for North American Highlander.

Originally posted by Dunc, Vanilla.TV Article, October 1st, 2010:
Unfortunately it appears that ETF2L are disinterested in supporting the top end of the game. What I suspect has happened, and naturally this will be denied by every member of the admin team, is ETF2L are so worried about losing Valve's support that they've essentially become their virtual lap dogs. Valve release new maps and new updates, ETF2L include them in their ruleset. Part of me doesn't blame them - having a vast organisation like Valve's support is incredible, and seeing huge numbers of public players sign up for Highlander games is even more incredible. On the other hand, what direction do the admin team think that Valve will take them in?

Personally, if they head down that path, I see ETF2L becoming the #1 US Highlander league.

Which actually made sense at the time since the event also gathered a massive amount of North American players, with even North American specific matches being cast by Sheridan & Comedian:

Originally posted by Comedian, Vanilla.TV Article, December 4th, 2010:
TF2TV is pleased to announce our coverage of another second-round match from Round 2 of the ETF2L Highlander Community Challenge Cup Stage. This time we will be bringing you the match-up between Death Marked Soldiers and Inglorious Broadcasters, scheduled for 14:00 EST/20:00 CET on Sunday, December 5th. This event marks our first (and hopefully not last!) all-North American cast from this tournament, and we're excited to be bringing you our coverage of it! Inglorious Broadcasters, led by celebrity pub pyro Don Newman, are representing the ATF community here in this competition. So far they have cruised through the early matches of the tournament, and are looking to add another game to their tally of victories. Their opponents will be Death Marked Soldiers (originating from the community of Team Funcom), who have similarly plowed through all opposition in the opening stages of the competition. It seems like both teams will have their work cut out for them as they duke it out across Badwater and Steel (with Viaduct as a decider).

However ETF2L becoming the main NA Highlander league would not happen, with the ETF2L Highlander Challenge part way in and seeing the absurd amount of teams and players UGC decided to get involved with Highlander again.
V - "Let's Go Play Some Highlanda"
UGC returned to the Highlander format this time headed by Redrum and awarding the first UGC medals for teams that competed and played through most of the season.

Opening to - compared to every other Highlander tournament aside from ETF2L's up until now - a staggering 77 teams, Highlander in North America was finally truly here to stay.

Season 3 (January 10th, 2011 - May 9th, 2011) Map List:

Week
Map
1
cp_freight_final1
2
pl_upward
3
ctf_doublecross
4
cp_badlands
5
koth_viaduct
6
cp_coldfront
7
cp_gravelpit
8
ctf_turbine
9
pl_goldrush
10
cp_steel
11
koth_sawmill
12
ctf_impact2
13
cp_granary
14
pl_badwater
15
cp_pro_dustbowl
16
cp_prolane
17
pl_upward
18
ctf_chaos
19
Final 3 Maps

Season 3's team make up was generally made of 2 kinds of teams, community teams and 6s teams.

The community teams were pub players that were either actively playing in the ETF2L Highlander Challenge or got their competitive start in UGC and originated from pub server communities, including popular teams like Inglorious Broadcasters from ATF (who would soon become team The Wonderbolts), Desolation Angels, and Top Notch Clan from their same named communities! Players that would soon become famous within the community like Stabby Stabby, m4risa, and The Overseer got their start during this season.

One pub team - Death Marked Soldiers - had a history in the previous Team Fortress game, TFC, I talked to their leader about their origin:
Originally posted by Sylon, Death Marked Soldiers Spy:
DMS started in 98-99 in Team Fortress Classic, I played Quake World Team Fortress as well. I tried TF2 for the first time before it was released at the Digitalife expo in NYC - I was still playing TFC at the time.

After I played that I knew it was the way it was meant to be played so I asked my team who wanted to play TF2, we played as DMS in the Roughneck Challenge in 6v6. We hated 6v6 and Highlander wasn't on the table yet so kinda stopped playing.

I played season 1 of UGC Highlander with Knights of the Harsh Realm, then Highlander went on hiatus and when S3 rolled around I brought DMS back, i frequented teamfuncom so I grabbed players from there naturally.

Another pub team that would start this season and be popular in early Highlander times was Gun Runners led by Fixxxer who were one of the first to play their team around the Demoman.

One community team was Exodus Jedi, which was a partial merger between the teams Exodus Society and Digital Jedi, two teams that came from TFC & played STA 8v8, they'd go on to become more and more led by a played called Hein, while another team would later go on to be called Exodus Society and play.

The 6s teams were generally higher level 6s players, including teams like Lonely Hearts and Classic Mixup, who arguably was the first "Highlander super team" with a stacked roster of top level 6s players on every single slot.

Two other popular teams that would go on to become very popular Highlander teams that got their start this season were Unbelievably Brave Sweethearts and Gangsta Gang Highlander.

Unbelievably Brave Sweethearts' history is covered by this interview of Polk by extelevision:


Gangsta Gang Gaming's history I'll leave to its leader: SEABASS.

Originally posted by SEABASS:
GG started as a Counter-Strike:source "clan" in 2006ish around a privileged 14 years old kid from New Hampshire that liked gangsta rap. He hosted a pub server that gradually turned into the first 24/7 cs_crackhouse server with plenty of rap admin sounds that would play to all clients using sourcemod. Haha, I can still hear the admins spamming "I gotta stay fly" by Three 6 Mafia. We dabbled in competitive CS:S with a CAL (cyber amateur leage) team. The clan splintered at some point into two rivaling CS:S clans, Droogs and Gangsta Gang. By 2008 the founder of Gangsta Gang and the clan went into hiatus due to waning server population and other life events. He was spending more time in real life than online, I was running the Ventrilo and acting as admin for the servers anyway by this point. So when he announced the clan would be going into hiatus, I decided to make Gangsta Gang a TF2 clan. Just as it was with our CS:S stint, our first TF2 pub server was our most popular. We had a handful of servers at one point. We ran the first 24/7 cp_orange_x server. The creator of the first orange_x visited the server a couple times and chatted. At one point we recompiled our own custom version of the map called cp_orange_gg (or something like that) with better optimization, something about less light leaking, and a billboard with the GG tag on it. We tried to start a little CS:S community again by adding a new 24/7 cs_crackhouse server but at that point we were the first and only option for players addicted to crack...house. So my main man Unrealomega, like he did with cp_orange remade the map, cs_gangstahouse. It really was better balanced in every way, but it never caught on beyond our small circle. We got into competitive TF2 after Valve made their first blog post mentioning highlander. It was advertising an etf2l tournament. That was our first experience in highlander.

We were very casual at first. Until one day someone named iaresnipar frequented our orange_x server. He was friends with a GG clan member, loved to play sniper, and made youtube tf2 commentary videos under that moniker.. A year or two later he dropped that alias all together and is now known as Ma3la. He joined the team. The short version from there is that we used his influence to bring in other ESEA-IM and -I level talent.

Since 6s strategy at the time was the dominant viewpoint and Highlander was not treated very seriously by people yet to figure out its real metagame, the metagame of S3 & S4 leaned towards heavily pocketing Soldier like 6s had adapted towards away from the early pocket Heavy strats, with a more equal (but lower) heal spread on the Demoman & Heavy. At the time Scout wasn't considered a very dominant class and Sniper wasn't played as well so these classes only saw buffs when necessary, especially with more heals needing to go to the pocket Soldier.

There were occasional exceptions of course, The Wonderbolts had b4nny as their Demoman and their medic - The Overseer - would occasionally tank him over their pocket Soldier enoryt, which was often very successful for them. Plenty of the pub community teams who didn't play 6s would favor their Heavy over the Soldier or Demoman as well.

Eventually this season culminated in a grand final match between Classic Mixup and The Wonderbolts on cp_badlands (1-0) and cp_steel (5-0), leading to a victory for Classic Mixup who only dropped a single match the entire season on Pro Dustbowl due to not having enough players to field for the match.

Overall this was a very successful season for UGC, and they decided to continue pushing Highlander.
VI - Limitations
However, Season 4 would be a weird season. Running during the Summer, there was a belief in the admins that less people would want to play during the Summer or if they do would want to be more relaxed, and so a tradition of a Summer season with no medals, no playoffs, and different restrictions and/or map tests in the pool would be started here.

Unfortunately the lack of medals / playoffs / map pool / timing significantly hurt the amount of teams in Season 4 down to 43.

Season 4 (July 11th, 2011 - August 29th, 2011) Map List:

Week
Map
1
cp_freight_final1
2
cp_warmfront
3
cp_pro_dustbowl
4
koth_lakeside_final
5
pl_swiftwater_frc16
6
pl_upward
7
ctf_haarp_test8/cp_gravelpit
8
ctf_turbine_pro_b1

Little footage of this season remains just like Season 3, however here is a clip between Gangsta Gang Highlander vs Desolation Angel's match during Week 1:


Classic Mixup ended this season on top with a 7-1 record, only dropping one game due to a hurricane which rendered part of their roster unable to play.

With the end of Season 4, UGC was looking to make their next season as successful as Season 3 was, with medals returning, playoffs, a more traditional map pool, and one of their first controversial decisions.

After Season 4 UGC decided to implement an Invite Limit of 3, so no team (even in Platinum) could have more than 3 Invite players. The intention was to heavily limit super teams and try to force talent to spread out so that the overall Highlander community could increase in skill since it was still a newer format. However this was seen as a mistake by the overall competitive community, since if you're trying to actually be competitive then forcing limited rosters at the highest level doesn't make much sense, with the most common argument at the time being "replace Invite with really good", and it becomes silly to have a rule saying you can only have 3 "really good" players on your team at the highest level of play.

Regardless, UGC Season 5 had a decent showing of 66 teams, the Invite limit with little doubt partially responsible for the team drop compared to Season 3.

Season 5 (September 20th, 2011 - November 21st, 2011) Map List:

Week
Map
1
pl_badwater
2
cp_yukon_final
3
koth_lakeside_final
4
cp_freight_final1
5
pl_swiftwater_final_rc
6
cp_gullywash_pro
7
ctf_turbine_pro_b1
8
koth_ashville_rc1
9
cp_gravelpit
10
Playoffs 1 - cp_granary
11
Playoffs 2 - koth_viaduct
12
Playoffs 3 - pl_upward
13
Finals - 3 Maps

Season 5 is notable for being the first real season to gain caster support through eXtine & Duder (eXtelevision) and Salamancer (who would later join eXtelevision), letting tons of people watch and get into Highlander and help the format gain more popularity.

Season 5 would pull in even more community teams, one of the most notable being Free Frag Network, whose Sniper - Jake - was one of the first non-6s Snipers to gain popularity in the Highlander community. He was unique in that he was one of the only Snipers at the time who used the Razorback (as almost everyone else used Jarate instead).


Other important teams that formed this season that would leave their mark on Highlander were The Syndicate (led by Stabby Stabby) and highlander.tf2 (led by m4risa).

Previously returning teams like Desolation Angels and Gangsta Gang would put up strong showings as well.

Unfortunately drama would strike the league, as highlander.tf2's time in the league would be cut short as m4risa was banned for cheating after a demo review from their match against Exodus Jedi on Gullywash on October 24th, 2011.


The punishment given to highlander.tf2 wound up killing the roster, with the players either taking the season off or moving to other rosters.

This ban was seen as a massive faux pas, as the overall competitive community didn't think m4risa hacked as she had been playing fine in Highlander since Season 3 and was legitimately solid in 6s for awhile now, and over time the consensus moved towards this being an erroneous ban as the level of Sniper gameplay improved beyond what m4risa displayed this season pretty quickly. It was generally assumed that the people at UGC who handled cheating reports lacked experience.

Regardless, she was banned for a year and the loss of highlander.tf2 meant that Exodus Jedi would meet up against The Wonderbolts (re-acquiring The Overseer from the dead highlander.tf2 roster) in playoffs in one of the few remaining Season 5 casts.


(Forgive the poor audio quality at the start, it fixes itself)

This match is one of the few remaining that showcases the more heavy Soldier pocketing style, with The Wonderbolts leaning a bit more on b4nny on Demoman when things get rough.

The grand finals culminated in Gangsta Gang Highlander vs Lonely Hearts...


With Gangsta Gang taking the victory and becoming the UGC Season 5 Highlander Champions, Season 5 would go to a close and UGC's population was about to explode.
VII - Highlander was Looking Handsome
With UGC Season 6 on the horizon, team shakeups happened with several of the previous community teams evolving their rosters. Exodus Jedi disbanded, and Hein took several of the players from that team and merged it with strong players like Ruwin (Invite 6s Scout/Medic) to form a new "super team" Looking Handsome. Desolation Angels disbanded with many of the best players moving on to a new long lasting team called Bonus! Points. The Wonderbolts disbanded, with several of the closer knit players from it (alongside the invites b4nny and Cyzer who would only play for a few weeks, replaced to increase team cohesion) moving to a new team called Tangerine.

With Season 6 opening up to 237 teams, it was the first season to run multiple divisions outside of playoffs adding a Steel division for the very first time.

Season 6 (January 23rd, 2012 - April 16th, 2012) Map List:

Week
Map
1
cp_foundry
2
pl_badwater
3
cp_warmfront
4
cp_follower
5
koth_lakeside_final
6
cp_gullywash_final1
7
cp_steel
8
pl_swiftwater_ugc
9
ctf_turbine_pro_b1
10
koth_pro_viaduct_rc3
11
cp_granary
12
Playoffs 1 - pl_upward
13
Playoffs 2 - koth_ashville
14
Playoffs 3 - cp_gravelpit
15
Finals - 3 Maps

Season 6's team explosion also marked a period of metagame exploration as teams started to take Highlander somewhat more seriously and trying to figure out the format's best strategies, with the top teams each having their own distinct playstyle, with Looking Handsome being the first team to really lean on their Scout more heavily due to Ruwin's prowess (even bringing him in on ubers), Tangerine leaning much more heavily on Demoman, strong uber tracking by The Overseer, & strong flank combo, 9cuties utilizing Vhalin as Black Box Soldier to hold flank really passively, Gangsta Gang utilizing their tried and true Season 5 strategy of roaming Soldier & Demoman and utilizing heavy pocketing of ma3la on Heavy and swapping to Blaze on Scout whenever ma3la was dead to create a more relentless push style of play, Unbelievable Brave Sweethearts leveraging strong Heavy + Medic play between Polk & Hildreth, Bonus! Points being a more well rounded team, Free Frag Network playing Sniper heavy with Jake, and so on.

Around this time teams were starting to understand how potent Scout was as a class, even in Highlander, with players like Ruwin & Br0nze (from Baby Punching Marathon) & useoftoaster (from Blunderful) & cyzer/Downpour (from Tangerine) going huge constantly, causing more and more teams to integrate Scout more into the combo and buff them more, leading to a change on the flank where Soldiers would take medkits more often and Scouts would avoid them to go take buffs. This strategy would still take a few seasons to become ubiquitous amongst top teams however, and Scouts at the time were still only a shadow of how dominant the class would become later on.

Originally posted by Skarlett, Tangerine/Ginyu Force Soldier about Ruwin:
People occasionally say things like "oh ruwin was over rated because Highlander was worse back then so he could carry" and I'm like naw, he was that good, it legit felt like he was cheating he was so good. If you missed a single shot, you were dead...and even if you didn't you were probably still dead. I legit used to watch him MGE for hours and he wouldn't even shoot, he would just practice dodging for hours, like goddamn he reached a level I have never seen, like hitting Ruwin was actually impossible and from across the map it felt like he'd get full damage meatshots. I legit have no idea how he did it, it felt better than most aimbots.

The UGC forums around this time were a nice place to hang out, with Power Rankings, actual prediction threads where people debated, Hildreth's popular Hot-Or-Not series existing, and people enjoying the Tangerine meme videos Dashner made such as this:


During this time there was also a lot of heated debate over the Wrangler, mainly with UGC admin Infinite who generally didn't have a good reputation in the community for his hot headed poor logic arguments and the 6s vitrol he liked to post on 6s related sites or just the UGC forums. The community was split on whether to ban the Wrangler or not, but it wound up remaining allowed.

Part way into the season it looked clear that Looking Handsome was the dominant team, not dropping any matches even ones that others thought would be close were heavily slanted in Looking Handsome's favor, as their Scout & Demoman centric playstyle was proving very dominant.

On March 5th, 2012 Looking Handsome would receive their first and only loss of the season to Tangerine on cp_steel in a surprise loss, the first time in Highlander that a "super team" would receive a loss that wasn't due to a ffw. Cast by Salamancer, it was pretty much the "match of the season".


Originally posted by Hein, thoughts on the cp_steel match:
The cp_steel match, bman asked to put his gun on E in OT. I said no we need it at B. Didn't realize he kept it at E until the round started. so they were held up at A a little bit, but then Tangerine walked through B/C since no gun was there to block. We had an OK hold on E but their push from A through D to E was awesome. It was an epic match though, they deserved it in the end.

When playoffs hit - like previous seasons - Platinum and Steel were split up. Platinum was split between Platinum & Silver, and Steel was split between Steel, Iron, Tin, Copper, Nickel, Aluminum, Lead, Zinc, Palladium, Chromium, and Radium - the largest division split in Highlander history.

Heading up the Season 6 Platinum Grand Finals was dominant team Looking Handsome up against the returning champions Gangsta Gang Highlander.


Season 6 ended with Looking Handsome reigning as the champs, and alongside it came one of the best Highlander frag videos ever made, created by Dashner.


Season 7 was looming on the horizon and being a Summer season it was going to be quite unusual to say the least.
VIII - Summer Season, Having a "Blast"
With the next Summer Season approaching, teams were preparing for how they were gonna set up for Season 7 and their plans for the more Season 8 knowing the next season was not going to be an overly serious one with no medals and no playoffs again.

Prior to Season 7 starting, on June 4th, 2012 eXtelevision announced they were sponsoring Gun Runners, creating the first sponsored North American Highlander team.

Season 7 then began with 260 teams...and the map list was nuts.

Season 7 (June 18th, 2012 - July 30th, 2012) Map List:

Week
Map
1
cp_croissant_rc6
2
pl_barnblitz
3
ctf_vitalism_b2
4
cp_standin_rc1
5
dom_canalzone
6
koth_waste
7
cp_obscure_remake_ugc_rc2
8
pl_borneo_v3

Season 7 also saw the introduction of a Silver division for the whole season, rather than being a playoff split division of Platinum, alongside the Highlander IRC PUG channel tf2.pug.nahl really taking off during this season so that people could form PUGs on normal maps more easily.

Consisting of only maps UGC wanted to test for future Highlander seasons and no serious tried and true maps, teams that opted to play the season out mostly offclassed their way through all of it.

The one positive note is this season saw the ban of the Medic's Vita-saw, which people realized was broken for the same reason it was in 6s: -10 HP doesn't matter much with TF2's damage output especially not for the mass amount of uber generated by the Vita-saw, forcing the other Medic to run it or else their team would have a much harder time being competitive.

There isn't much footage of this season, for obvious reasons, but out of all these maps Vitalism is the one that still haunts me to this day.

Inexplicably people actually started Highlander during this season and didn't quit immediately afterwards.
IX - Syndicated
On July 7th, 2012 ETF2L hosted the first Highlander Nations Cup, where tons of nations across the world competed with teams made of people who only lived in each nation. The United States and Canada both fielded team for this event, although neither of them made it to the top 3.

As the season came to a close teams started building towards the much more serious Season 8, with teams like Tangerine, Bonus!, Blunderful, the eXtelevision sponsored Gun Runners, etc all upping their talent level and seriousness going into this season.

The main thing responsible for this was UGC finally dropping their Invite Limit of 3 in Platinum, allowing teams to build their rosters freely.

The most notable team change came from Season 6 Champions Looking Handsome folding their roster, with leader Hein and Ruwin moving to Stabby's team The Syndicate, who also picked up Vhalin from 9 Cuties, high level 6s Demoman Soup, Jake from Free Frag Network, re-added TMP to their roster, picked up Polk from Unbelievably Brave Sweethearts and Dave+ from the Season 6 Steel team The Spanish Inquisition led by Ubiquitous.

Arriving to Platinum from Steel in Season 6 came another long lasting team: Menace to Society. Featuring Enigma on Scout, Platinum on Soldier, Xalox on Demoman, and Harbleu on Medic for their 6s classes, utilizing 6s player oplaid on Heavy, m4risa returning to the league on Sniper, Geosus on Pyro, Jerro on Spy, and Lightoff on Engineer.

Whereas The Syndicate was a more ruthlessly aggressive team, Menace to Society was a cold calculating team as Harbleu maincalled on Medic, famously micromanaging basically the entire team at the expense of making him much easier to stab due to being so focused on calling.

Season 8 was about to begin, filled with 309 teams as Highlander's population seemed to keep climbing.

Season 8 (September 17th, 2012 - December 3rd, 2012) Map List:

Week
Map
1
pl_upward
2
cp_foundry
3
koth_lakeside_final
4
ctf_turbine_pro_rc12
5
pl_swiftwater_ugc
6
cp_granary
7
koth_pro_viaduct_rc3
8
cp_gravelpit
9
Playoffs 1 - koth_ashville_rc1
10
Playoffs 2 - cp_gullywash_final1
11
Playoffs 3 - pl_badwater
12
Finals - 3 maps

Part way into the season the first inter-continental exhibition match happened, between America's The Syndicate and Europe's SNSD.

Originally posted by Hildreth, Vanilla.TV Article:
...but tonight we're proud to be back to witness the first ever cross continent showmatch between Europe and North America as we celebrate the return of ETF2L Highlander season 3. Current champions SNSD quite literally define the movie on which this gamemode took it's name from, Immortality - unbeaten in 30 Highlander matches in nearly 2 years and 5 separate competitions. Tonight they will face the current top seeded team in North America's UGC Platinum division, The Syndicate who feature some big names in both 6v6 and 9v9 such as Ruwin and spy sensation Stabby Stabby as we welcome some of America's finest in terms of both casters and players. Tonight on VanillaTV we have Salamancer from eXtelevision here to join Europe's best (as voted for by you, the brainwashed viewers) caster Admirable and myself just to keep those bad boys in check, just in case anyone tries to abuse their fame in some way. Last but not least, just to make sure we have a quality setup all across the board, Comedian will take control of the stream and handle the technical side of the production so we have a smooth game all night.


Originally posted by Hein, The Syndicate Medic:
I didn't think we were ready. We had been a team for maybe a month to go up against an undefeated monster. Pings were even (we were mainly west coast except for me/TMP Midwest), super even except the round we were in EU where everyone had♥♥♥♥♥♥ping but SND, should have kept all rounds New York . We focused and worked on teamplay and communication going up. Knew to watch sniper lines because tviq was insane. Stay away from ALX because his Heavy skills were unmatched. So much talent on their team.

The Syndicate managed to deliver a victory over SNSD in a close 2-1 match.

Part way into the season a really popular Highlander video got made by Dashner of Tangerine's Spy Frank West hitting a nutty shot which you can see here:

As the season continued Menace to Society & The Syndicate both proved to be extremely dominant teams and come the season's end they would wind up facing each other in the grand finals.


Originally posted by TMP, The Syndicate Pyro:
Going into the match, we knew we were going to win it. 100%. It was no question in any of our minds. mTs had only recently started going hard with a scrim schedule in playoffs, and we were well prepared all season. We had the tried and tested strat of scout/pyro ubers that was just ripping apart everyone else. I was confident enough to stream the pre-match scrim vs Bonus that we had and talk to mTs members in my chat. We 5-0'd em earlier in the season on granary and had never lost a half in a scrim to them. I don't actually even remember losing any rounds to mTs in scrims before then either. The real only trump card that they had was Platinum on soldier, who we hadn't faced yet.

We kinda thought of mTs at the time as pretty much like facing a 6s team, so we put in swiftwater because we knew there was no way they were gonna win a game on it. Gravelpit was one of our weaker maps, but I mean that's not saying much with ts at the time. The loss on gpit honestly came as a shock to us because of our dominance at the time*, but we shook it off and went into upward just thinking "win it all, that's why we exist". We knew we had it in the bag when they started using scout ubers on enigma, especially a very particular one when they were defending last.

With The Syndicate triumphing over Menace to Society in an extremely close grand finals match, Season 8 would close out on a very high note, however the other high Platinum teams were hungry for victory and out of that hunger would form a new challenger: Ginyu Force.
X - Ginyuforced
With Tangerine breaking apart in pursuit of a league win, they worked towards building a super team, adding players like Duwatna on Demoman, Max! on Sniper, Dill/tm4 on Heavy, Pudding Cup on Pyro, and cusideabelincoln on Engineer while retaining Downpour/Foster on Scout, Skarlett on Soldier, Huey Lewis on backup Pyro, Frank West on Spy, and The Overseer on Medic. Ginyu continued to be a team that played similar to Tangerine - heavy flank power through The Overseer's great uber tracking & calling except now leveraging Max! on Sniper to control the game.

Also with a strong roster came Baby Punching Marathon who had stuck together since Season 6, with Br0nze on Scout, Boink on Soldier, Cygnus on Pyro, Bryan on Demoman, Sharpshot McGee on Heavy, Quartz on Engineer, kam on Medic, Mouse on Sniper, and Pulse on Spy. BPM was a very aggressive roster, who coordinated mass aggressive plays to the benefit of their Spy (considered one of the best spies in the format), Pulse

Season 9 would open up to 329 teams, the largest season yet.

Season 9 (January 21st, 2013 - April 18th, 2013) Map List:

Week
Map
1
pl_waste_v2
2
koth_lakeside_final
3
cp_croissant_rc6
4
pl_badwater
5
ctf_haunt_b2
6
pl_barnblitz_pro
7
cp_steel
8
koth_arctic_b3
9
cp_process_rc2
10
pl_upward
11
Playoffs 1 - koth_pro_viaduct_rc3
12
Playoffs 2 - cp_gullywash_final1
13
Playoffs 3 - pl_swiftwater_ugc
14
Finals - 3 Maps

Season 9 saw the introduction of a Gold division to help provide a division where players could more easily transfer over to Platinum since the skill divide between Platinum and Silver was immense.

Part way into the season you'll notice a map called Haunt. Haunt is a reworked Vitalism with some changes and a significantly worse darker color scheme to fit a Halloween theme, and it was played in a serious season. No match sums up how silly this map was better than Quality Control vs Kimberlite Council from the perspective of QC's Pyro TMP:


Another awesome match took place between Death Marked Soldiers and Kimberlite Council on cp_steel which you can watch the casual cast of here:

Slightly after Haunt week, on March 9th another Highlander exhibition match would happen, this time between Ginyu Force vs SNSD.

Originally posted by Hildreth, Vanilla.TV Article:
As ETF2L Season 3 dawned, I embarked on a little project to organize a showmatch to go with the theme at the time of Europeans playing North Americans and getting dunked on. The European champions of Highlander, SNSD had not lost at all in Europe but when they faced the American super team, The Syndicate they went down to the eventual North American champions 2-1 in maps. Now as we await the beginning of season 4 in ETF2L, SNSD are expected to bring a few changes after a third successive title and will warm up for the season with yet another showmatch against this seasons American flavour of the month, Ginyu Force. This Saturday, March 9th starting at 22 CET (4pm EST) TeamFortress.tv will present this event with crowd favourite Huhy handling the stream and TF2's very own Mr and Mrs casting pair, DJC and Admirable on the mic who will surely bring enough EU v NA banter for everyone to sink their teeth into.

Ginyu Force are currently ranked 1st in UGC Platinum and feature star streamers such as Huey Lewis and Frank West along with the damage dealing Duwatna on Demoman and UGC hottest sniper Max aiming the rifle. For SNSD, the big names like Kaidus, Tviq, ALX won't scare but with Hat stepping down again and unknown Pyro Buttnose trialing along with Colony's SabaSaba plus Zoob ringing will their famous teamwork break down or will we see TheSucker's strong Medic talent shine through as he right clicks at the right time and works his magic?

This match is responsible for one of the most famous Sniper shot's in NA Highlander history:

The full match can be watched here:

Even later into the season new drama would strike UGC Highlander when on Arctic week one of the weapons added to the game over the past year - the Beggar's Bazooka - would turn out to break the game. Players had started to figure out and practice mastering a mechanic with the weapon called Overlod Jumping, where you'd fill up the weapon with the max amount of rockets and then explode off of the self damaging jumps (reduced by Gunboats) and during this time this didn't subtract rockets so you could do it and bomb in with a full barrage.

Unfortunately, Arctic was a map with practically no skybox and tons of wide open areas, the results were devastating:


This mechanic was so powerful and starting to warp the meta of the game around Beggars Soldier on more open maps so hard that it was immediately banned mid season - the first time a non-new weapon was banned mid season in Highlander. It was simply impossible for Medics to perform their job with the weapon as it was, since the Beggar's fired rockets so fast you couldn't surf away the only real counter play was to either always stay inside (which is forfeiting good positioning or in some cases, like Arctic, not really doable) or dedicate almost your entire team to shooting the extremely fast air strafing Soldier in the second you have to deny him. It no longer mattered if you were one of the best Medics in the format or not: you would die.

Valve would swiftly nerf it shortly after this season ended to remove rockets when you overload, although players such as Terry Crews and blindpyro would still use it:

After the ban the season continued, with Ginyu and bpm cleaning up their competition handily, playoffs arrived and the standout playoff match was Ginyu Force vs Menace to Society who was hungry for a win after only getting 2nd place last season.


Originally posted by Skarlett, Ginyu Force Soldier:
This match wasn't finals, but it felt like it. Foster sounded so happy after this game.

Ginyu's victory over Menace to Society would lead them into the Grand Finals against Baby Punching Marathon in a great Grand Finals match:


Originally posted by Skarlett, Ginyu Force Soldier:
It's actually weird to me that people don't mention bpm much at all for being one of the best teams in Highlander. I think they were one of the best aggressive coordinated teams in the format, which enabled Pulse to do a ton - who was already insane and didn't need the help.

While Season 9 - weird map choices and Beggar's aside - was a strong season, it would end on a sour note of drama as UGC lost their Google Adsense account due to a group of players spamming male nudity on the forums. The loss of the Google Adsense account removed the league's main way of funding, and it wouldn't be the first time they would lose their account.
XI - Sigafoo Save
Season 10 was about to start, another fun summer season with no playoffs, and UGC decided to test some ban list changes allowing the Enforcer, Crit-a-Cola, and Darwin Danger Shield - weapons that were generally considered overpowered.

Season 10 would open to the most Highlander teams in North America history at 408, causing this season to unfortunately be Highlander's peak population wise in North America even though it was a casual season.

Season 10 (June 10th, 2013 - July 29th, 2013) Map List:

Week
Map
1
pl_swiftwater_ugc
2
cp_gullywash_final1
3
koth_pro_viaduct_rc3
4
cp_steel
5
pl_upward
6
cp_granary
7
koth_lakeside_final
8
pl_badwater

On July 1st, ETF2L would host the 2nd Nations Cup, with team USA's normal roster looking like Ruwin (Scout), Skarlett (Soldier), cusiabelincoln/Huey (Pyro), xalox (Demoman), Arthur (Heavy), Sigafoo (Engineer), The Overseer (Medic), Max! (Sniper), and Stabby Stabby (Spy).

Originally posted by beach, Vanilla.TV Article:
The second ETF2L Highlander Nations Cup draws to a close tomorrow (Monday 2nd September...it was Sunday when I wrote this, okay..), when either The United States of America or Team France will be crowned Highlander Champions!

Both teams are star-studded highlander rosters - most of the French team consists of players from SNSD rivals DAROUTOUTOU, who emerged victorious in the latest Highlander Season; the only team to beat the mighty SNSD to a tournament win. With Flippy on Sniper, along with veteran Medic k3 and former Punchline Scout Plapla, along with a host of other high-level 6v6 players, the French are clearly taking this tournament seriously and are prepared to bring in the big guns to secure victory.

The USA's roster boasts several members and former members of another team who have managed to beat SNSD, Ginyu Force. Consistently a dangerous and dominant presence in UGC, Ginyu Force's experienced highlander players and the rest of the USA's lineup will no doubt be prepared to face down even the toughest competition that Team France can throw at them, both tactically and in terms of deathmatching capabilities. Standout players include super Scout Ruwin, who famously destroyed everyone who stood in his way last year at i46 (should've brought him back this year America), streaming legend and pub stomping favourite Stabby Stabby and of course no-one could forget the Sniper who never misses, Max!

These teams have lost 1 point between them in the course of the tournament so far, as Norway took France to a Golden Cap on pl_upward in the Group Stages; both teams are clearly incredibly strong, so this is guaranteed to be an exciting final.

Team USA - even though they were practically always on ping disadvantage from European servers - managed to win 1st place in the Nations Cup, bringing home victory for America.


This series popularized an Engineer maneuver called the "Sigafoo save" which relied on weaving Rescue Ranger & Wrench hits on a Wrangled sentry - something that wasn't really meta or super common at the time. You can see it towards the end of one of the only good Engineer montages ever made:


The season would end on a good note however as all the weapons tested were re-banned for the future, and with the season coming to a close it was time to head towards Season 11.
XII - Slam Dunk
Unfortunately, prior to Season 11 starting Salamancer had announced his partial retirement, doing videos much more casually and moving away from casting plenty of games. I fortunately got the chance to interview him for his thoughts on Highlander and casting it!

Originally posted by Salamancer:
Q: So do you remember when you first started casting TF2 and what got you into it?

A: I do remember what got me into casting and my early casts, I never thought I had a good voice because I'd only ever heard myself on low quality microphones. I had watched starcraft casts from Husky and others for a while and thought it'd be fun, but it took someone saying I had a "radio voice" to realize I could try it out. So I did try it out on a few STV demos, some with another newish caster named Gaamoo, and I also watched eXtv to get tips on how to handle it. I also decided to go hard on getting certain things right for a community caster.

Early on, I wanted to be able to pump out content like Husky did, which meant optimizing time spent per cast as well as getting a minimum level of quality for camerawork plus shoutcasting at the same time. LuckyLuke wasn't going to run camera for all my casting attempts, after all. The dude was already overworked for eXtine. So while I was taking casting tips from eXtv videos, I was developing camerawork. Something that would stand out for newer viewers, like I was to Starcraft when watching Husky, Husky clearly knew his audience and that audience was not the pros, it was the laypeople. So that was the niche I shot for. It was fun.

As far as choosing TF2, I had played in one of the really big TF2 highlander tournaments before [e: ETF2L Highlander Challenge] and was already spending a lot of time on the MSPA public server. We didn't get terribly far but it was fun regardless. In fact, I had as much fun with our MSPA team theme as I did with the actual games

Q: Do you have a favorite Highlander match that you cast?

A: Well I can say every time I got to cast a close game, I enjoyed it, but no particular games really do stand out to me now though, so much time has passed. It's more the players who stand out, and the fact that Highlander is like one step above chaos.

Q: Any names in particular off the top of your head?

A: Yeah a lot of the prolific dudes like Huey Lewis, Stabby Stabby, STAR and his team, Hein, and some of the really scary dudes to play against, especially snipers like m4risa.

Q: What was your overall opinion of Highlander with your time with it? One step above chaos is a good descriptor, did you find it significantly harder to cast compared to 6s due to that? How did the camera work differ from what you'd do on 6s casts?

A: My overall opinion of HL was that it was fun in an exhausting kind of way. I was always a little disappointed because one cameraman meant you were going to miss something. Highlander had too many players on the field, doing too many varied things, to keep track of it, especially just by wildly clicking from player to player.

I tried to make better use of 3rd person camera perches, but that only got me so far. Also the "close" games lasted longer due to the format than 6s. In 6s, your close matches could be about 60 minutes of nonstop talking. Highlander easily 90 to 120. 5-CP maps have time constraints that are just shorter than payload.

Q: Do you have any TF2 shoutouts you'd like me to close it off with?

A: I only have one really: shoutout to my wife, for not leaving me after discovering the shoutcasting hobby after a few dates.

Season 11 would also mark an end of an era for UGC as Redrum stepped down from being the head Highlander admin, with snowblindfrog taking over.

Opening to less teams than Season 10 at 327 teams, Season 11 was here.

Season 11 (September 9th, 2013 - December 12th, 2013) Map List:

Week
Map
0
pl_borneo_rc2
1
cp_granary
2
cp_gravelpit
3
pl_barnblitz_pro4
4
koth_lakeside_final
5
pl_swiftwater_ugc
6
cp_gullywash_final1
7
koth_ashville_rc1
8
pl_badwater
9
Playoffs 1 - cp_process_final
10
Playoffs 2 - koth_pro_viaduct_rc4
11
Playoffs 3 - pl_upward
12
Finals - 3 maps

Season 11 was an intense season with many strong teams in upper Platinum that were competitive with one another.

Kimberlite Council had renamed themselves to the Electric Temptations, but found themselves being sponsored this season by Apocalypse Gaming's Nahanni, changing their name to Apocalypse Gaming Highlander. Ginyu Force and Menace to Society returned with slightly tweaked rosters. 6s Demoman Mustardoverlord formed Dead Ringer Storage during this season as well.

Born out of the Chain Reaction team, a reworked roster changed their name to Street Hoops eSports and would put everyone else to the test featuring Deadbolt (Scout), Ash (Soldier), Huey Lewis (Pyro), Duwatna (Demoman), Skyrolla (Heavy), Spamfest (Engineer), Mang (Medic), Paragon (Sniper), and Colombiangmr (Spy).

Originally posted by Spamfest, Street Hoops Engineer:
Our team atmosphere was pretty good, everyone was dedicated and loved TF2 at the time and wanted to win a ton. Skyrolla was main caller, and we kinda just played like as close to a modern style as teams got those days since Deadbolt and Paragon took heals, Ash/Skyrolla were heal light, and Duwatna heal heavy which seems obvious NOW but wasn't 100% the norm back in those days. That was right as people were realizing sniper was really good too and people started running Razorback. Our favorite matches were probably just any of us vs mts.

While AG, Ginyu, mTs, and Street Hoops battled it out only Menace to Society and Street Hoops could make it to the Grand Finals, where super close and intense matches happened between these two very even teams:


extelevision also had a winner's interview which you could see here:

This forced a rematch between both teams which you can see here:

Season 11 ended with Street Hoops dunking on the competition in an exceptional series, and this season resulted in one of the best Soldier montages in Highlander:

XIII - Invitational
For Season 12 UGC pushed Highlander's first prize pool season in North America, trying to reach a $5,000 prize pool for Platinum through donator bonuses and several fundraiser events such as Reddit vs Tumblr, Platinum mentorship, and the Teamfortress.TV Invitational. Unfortunately, the prize pool only managed to reach $3,120 by the end of the season and didn't prove to be very popular or garner enough support within the overall community.

Regardless, the prize pool did bolster the competitiveness of this season, as Platinum ( which also had reduced roster space this season of only 15 and significantly less teams at only 10) teams changed their rosters and scrimmed extra hard to try to earn the prize money.

Opening to 296 teams, Season 12 was here.

Season 12 (January 20th, 2014 - April 17th, 2014) Maps:

Week
Map
0
pl_barnblitz_pro4
1
koth_lakeside_final
2
cp_gravelpit
3
pl_upward
4
koth_coalplant_b7
5
cp_process_final
6
pl_borneo_rc3
7
cp_steel
8
pl_swiftwater_ugc
9
Playoffs 1 - koth_pro_viaduct_rc4l
10
Playoffs 2 - cp_gullywash_final1
11
Playoffs 3 - pl_badwater
12
Finals - 3 maps

This season was extremely competitive, with Electric Temptations, Menace to Society, new team MURDERFORCE9000, and SYOPS TF2 (formerly BPM) all putting up strong showings alongside an adjusted Dead Ringer Storage roster from Season 11 still led by Mustardoverlord, and a new super team made just for this season: Gentlemen's Club.

While they weren't a top team at the time - ending the season with a 4-6 record - the Gold 1st place team from Season 11 called Dunning-Kruger Effect put up a respectable showing.

Originally posted by Karl, Dunning-Kruger Effect Heavy:
Going into the season we were all really excited to play with the legendary top teams and players and do our best and improve along the way, we were really motivated to win, and weren't nervous as we knew we could play smart and improve rapidly as we had done the seaon before in Gold. We nearly died because our Demo and Scout quit the same week, and had to struggle to get scarab to play every week since he didnt want to and we couldnt find a replacement

On February 9th part way into S12, TF.TV hosted the NA Highlander Invitational to help drum up some support for the UGC prizepool, 8 top North American teams competed but only one could be crowned champion.

Some great matches happened during this, but the craziest one has to go to Gentlemen's Club vs Dead Ringer Storage on Upward for the absolutely insane ending:


This tournament culminated in DRS climbing to the top, with their opponent's Electric Temptations (who upset favorite Gentlemen's Club) in the Grand Finals:


Resulting in DRS claiming an underdog victory!

Originally posted by Mustardoverlord, DRS Demoman:
Okay, this was probably the most fun single day of TF2 I’ve ever had, even though it contained some of my less impressive performances as an individual player. I don’t think a team of mine has ever been so on the same page as we were for that entire day. Some specific highlights include:

* KBlair surprisingly nutting vs. GC, including a crazy surf on a grape bomb and a last second cart defense to win us a round by half a second
* Tech outsniping Max harder than maybe anyone else ever in his prime
* During the long break between the upper bracket and grand final, Sneaky went surfing. Not like playing a surf map in tf2, but like actually went outside and surfed. I miss that dude…
* During said break, Johnny filled in for ET in the lower bracket finals, and pudding cup accused him of scripting.
* Us winning cp_steel by the closest margin ever, and the casters missing it because someone changed maps too quickly.
* Getting utterly ♥♥♥♥♥tomped on lakeside, but no one caring because we knew it was our worst map by far.
* Rainy killing phorofor 6 times in a single round of upward and clinching the win for us

Not much more to say, other than I wish that day could’ve lasted forever!
XIV - Gentlemen's Club
The UGC season continued with plenty of great games such as GC vs ET on Ashville which has an absolutely insane ending as well:


Overall, Gentlemen's Club proved to be extremely dominating, and the roster played much stronger than they did during the Teamfortress.TV Invitational.

The season ended with GC vs MtS in a great set of games:


Gentlemen's Club won the 1st - and to date only - Highlander prizepool in North America.

Season 12 would mark the final season of cp_gravelpit played in Highlander, which for the longest time alternated alongside cp_steel for the A/D spot. cp_steel was widely more liked by the community due to it offering more strategic options and not being as congested for 9v9, and so cp_gravelpit was replaced.

It would also mark the decline of IRC PUGs through pug.nahl and most of the Highlander community moving over to regular PUGs on TF2Center, with the occasional exclusive PUGs through private Steam Groups.

While the prize pool did lead to a fantastic Platinum season that is widely considered the peak skill level of the format and plenty of great games were played, it did have a downside: finally having a touch of a prize pool, many of the teams & players that played this season started to lose interest as normal seasons in comparison just weren't as exciting, with plenty of players deciding to play more casually and some of the teams breaking apart or being forced to change roster heavily. This was the last major hype event in North American Highlander that really got people invested in the format, and that gave Highlander a nice bump for Season 13.
XV - Dead Ringer Storage Pt. I
Formed during Season 11 by Mustardoverlord, I managed to secure a detailed interview about the underdog team that didn't rely on hella Invites with the leader himself:

Originally posted by Mustardoverlord, Dead Ringer Storage Demoman:
To tell the story of DRS properly, I have to start a season earlier - Season 10, which was an infamous summer season in UGC. Kimberlite, the team I had played for before that, was on hiatus for the summer (although I would later find out that I was absolutely not welcome back in the Fall), and I decided to stomp gold for funsies. I played on Alpha Tango that season, and despite my utterly ludicrous stats (look ‘em up yourself some time, they’re pretty funny), we only ended up like 3rd or 4th. I thought it would be fun to just farm stats, but I realized that I couldn’t be satisfied if my team was losing, because I am simply too competitive a person. There were a lot of people on the team with whom I bickered frequently, and people that I felt could never hang at a Plat level.

However, there were also gamers on the team who impressed me. Tickzf on Soldier was a super funny guy who was really creative in his approach to the game, and while he could occasionally troll a teensy bit too much, he ultimately made some pretty nice plays. Rainy was a pretty good Spy who could definitely hang with the better players in Platinum. KBlair was a medic who I felt I had good chemistry with, and who started out pretty mediocre in Gold but improved significantly over the course of the season (for one thing, I discovered he had been playing on cl_interp .1 for his entire TF2 career). As an aside, I thought Katsy was pretty good on pyro too, but for whatever reason I didn’t realize she was interested in joining until it was too late and I had already picked someone else up. I decided to make a team with these bright spots and surround them with other up and coming talents. We chose the team name Dead Ringer Storage (which was originally proposed by FreAkweNtcY, to give credit where credit is due), as a subversive nod to a certain scene in Pulp Fiction (look it up if you’re curious).

When it came time to choose players, I knew I needed to bolster these unknown players with some people I could rely on. I got nja on scout, who I had played with in 6s and who I knew could hold his own from a DM perspective as he learned the ropes of hl. DavyC was a former mediocre Soldier (I think?) who had switched to Heavy and had been farming in pug.nahl at the time. L4wnFlamingo was a fairly experienced Pyro, solid but unspectacular. Lastly, I got super fortunate in that my team was the only one that needed an Engineer at the exact time when Sigafoo started looking. I snatched him up early, and his experience and excellent comms definitely helped.

Of course, the only player I have yet to mention is Axiomatic, Rainy’s little brother who had a reputation as a toxic ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥, but who Rainy assured me would be on his best behavior because we were his only shot at Plat. For much of the season, this was true, and he played very well. However, over time he began to resent me, and started trolling in matches and going for insanely over-aggressive picks. I could’ve lived with this, but the culmination of his hatred for me came right before our lower bracket playoff match versus a relatively weakened Ginyu lineup, where Axio told us a half hour before the match that he was going to go watch a movie instead of playing and we could all go ♥♥♥♥ ourselves. Desperate to field 9, we brought in SneakyPolarBear, a former plat soldier (and current Overwatch star LG.Evil Jake!) to Heavy, moved DavyC to Pyro, and L4wnflamingo to Sniper. Despite the issues (and me having 100 ping and playing like garbage), we lost in an extremely tight 4-3, leading me to believe that our original lineup could have won for sure.

The next season, I knew I had something good going, but that we needed to bolster our team with more talent. I brought in Hard♥♥♥♥♥Johnny on Pyro, who I knew would bring more raw DM and playmaking to our squad. I kept Sneaky, who had had a bit of a breakout performance on Heavy and who was slowly proving himself to be pretty nuts at the class. Sadly, Sigafoo was lured away with an offer to join MF9K, Ruwin’s super stacked team, so I picked up Skag, a player with more of a temper and worse comms but with utterly ridiculous DM for an Engineer. He definitely ended up being a valuable member of our squad. Finally, Axio obviously wasn’t coming back after the♥♥♥♥♥♥he pulled, so I picked up the enigmatic tech on Sniper, a really cool guy who had labored in silver out of loyalty to ShM for years. He remains the only player I know who has missed a scrim due to being arrested, and I think he also played with a broken neck once. Let’s just say tech was ♥♥♥♥ing awesome.

The rest is history, we went on to have a pretty great season and win the TFTV Highlander Invitational as well. Unfortunately, a few issues in playoffs kept us from reaching our full potential. First, tech was super busy and could barely practice with our team, leaving him super out of sync with us in a lot of matches (as opposed to the incredibly high level of performance he gave the weeks where he was around more). Second, after the aforementioned choke against Gentleman’s Club on Gullywash, we found out that Sneaky, who was sort of our talisman that season, was going to be away on a college visit the day of our lower bracket knockout match against MF9K. We got Karl to fill in, certainly a competent player (though not yet as good as he is now), but with basically the exact opposite playstyle. The map was Badwater too, which would have been perfect for Sneaky’s crazy flank plays. The first round was extremely close, but with about 1 minute left to push the last point KBlair dropped a crucial uber, leading to a narrow loss and, more importantly, total tilt from the rest of us. The next round, we crumbled so hard that we failed to cap the first point of Badwater. It was a really ignominious end to a great season, and I think we could’ve had a real chance with our full lineup. Eh, c’est la vie I guess.

Overall, DRS had a lot of frustrating moments, most of which were my fault (at least after Axio left anyways), but I also think I did a good job scouting and developing talent, and a lot of players went on to succeed on other Highlander and 6s teams (and other games entirely, in Sneaky’s case). It was a fun ride for sure.
XV - Dead Ringer Storage Pt. II - Playstyle
Originally posted by Mustardoverlord, Dead Ringer Storage Demoman:
Our playstyle changed over the course of the seasons we existed, but I’d say the most notable attribute was us being extremely demo-centric. Because I was the main caller and, let’s be honest, a fan of heals, I would spearhead pretty much every push. This made particular sense in our second and most successful season, because SneakyPolarBear loved to play flank heavy whenever possible, and Johnny liked to make a lot of plays on pyro. Overall, we definitely erred too heavily on the side of not enough people with the combo, rather than too many. I don’t remember if I didn’t insist heavily enough on nja being present in all of our ubers or if he didn’t want to, but back then mega tanking scouts was not nearly as common in Highlander, unless you had like Ruwin and then 8 total scrubs. I also wanted Sneaky to play closer on KOTH and 5CP maps, but I really liked his playstyle for Payload.

On that note, Payload was definitely our best gamemode - tickzf was a savant with the banners and the Beggar's Bazooka, both of which were especially good on Payload defense, and Sneaky’s roaming style caught so many teams off guard - it was pretty staggering how many kills he managed to get. We were infamously bad on Lakeside, but really good on some of the more tactical maps. I definitely wasn’t as much of a Highlander tryhard as, say, Kresnik when it came to map reviews and lots of scrimming, but I like to think our team was more structured than some of the more Invite player-heavy teams of the era. I tried to coordinate suicides, sentry saps (this being in the era of the mega OP wrangler of course), and to dry push aggressively off of sniper picks and the like. I think this approach helped us compete with teams that had better raw DM than ours for sure.

My only regret other than not trying to build more 6s-style ubers into our combo was that we weren’t a very Sniper-centric team, which I think hurt us against guys like Max. Part of this was going through a different sniper every season, many of whom were somewhat inconsistent and didn’t really insist on taking heals, but I definitely should have pushed harder to make more strategies centered around working picks with a buffed sniper.
XV - Dead Ringer Storage Pt. III - Favorite Matches
Originally posted by Mustardoverlord:
Okay I have like a billion different answers for this, so bear with me, this will be a long section. I also won’t mention the TF.TV highlander invitational games because that warrants special treatment.

Games from the first season of DRS (season 11)

DRS vs. bfl, granary, week 1 (http://logs.tf/93706) – The reason this one ranks so highly is that it was our first match as a team, and if you can believe it probably 70% of people predicting matches were giving this one to bfl. At the time, they were more of a high-ish mid plat team than the low plat team they would eventually become, and we were a total unknown quantity, with our 6s players (nja and myself) not exactly being legendary figures that would make people stand up and take notice. After this win, I think people began to see us as a serious squad, not just some random mishmash of mediocre 6s and Gold players.

DRS vs. bpm, gravelpit, week 2 (http://logs.tf/97752) – This game is probably my favorite of the entire first season, for two main reasons. The first is that, while beating bfl was one thing, beating a team as well-known as bpm (who I believe had gotten 2nd place in season 9, the last non-summer season) was another. This win firmly established us as a CONTENDER (and, if I’m being honest, bpm as a team on the decline from their legendary earlier success). The second reason why I love this game is because of a funny story that I’m not sure many people know about, which will probably make a lot of people laugh at my absurd desire to win at any cost. A few seasons before this game, when I had been on the same 6s team as Br0nze and dana_scully (the scout and medic for bpm at the time), I used to sub for their team in HL, and also use their server in TF2Lobby. As a result, I had FTP access to their server. Being the sneaky scumbag that I am, I discovered that bpm had all their scrim STVs uploaded, and I watched their most recent one to figure out how they liked to hold B on Gravelpit and counter it. We started on BLU in the match and utterly wrecked them as a result, and set a time of 2:28 or something like that for all three points. Was this a bit slimy on my part? Sure. Do I regret it? Not in the slightest.
[P.S. my low-key back and forth with bpm will become a theme in these favorite matches]

DRS vs. mTs, gullywash, week 6 (http://logs.tf/113199) – We lost this game 5-0, so it might seem weird for it to be included. Well, this is more of a vanity pick; if previous games had showed me that DRS as a whole could hang with the better teams in hl, this game showed me that I personally could hang with the top demos at the time. All of the other demos running around back then were current or former invite players (duwatna, xalox, Kapowww, .38special, ruwin, deadbolt, sweater, Platinum, etc.), whereas I had peaked on an 8-8 IM team at the time. Still, I was determined to make hl my mode, and I think I was starting to show that I could, at least to an extent.

Games from the second season of DRS (season 12)

DRS vs. SYOPS, barnblitz, preseason (http://logs.tf/167438) – Some games are on here because I am an extremely petty person, and this is definitely one of them. One of the snipers we had tried out before we landed on tech was corsa, but cygnus convinced him not to join us because I was a mediocre leader who choked in playoff matches, and bpm would massively outperform us. In our first bout after that, corsa had probably the worst game of his entire tf2 career. Guess it just shows you don’t ♥♥♥♥ with the Overlord…

DRS vs. bfl, process, week 5 (http://logs.tf/195745) – I literally only included this game because I got a hilarious spawncamp in it that got me to #1 in the top 10 plays of the month haha.

DRS vs. mTs, borneo, week 6 (http://logs.tf/201710) – This may have just been a relatively unimportant regular season match, on a map that was still fairly new and not very well understood by every team, but I included it because it was a game where everything felt right on our team, and our playstyle really shone through. Sneaky and I both played extremely good games, and we came through with the 2-1 win in a pretty lengthy and epic match.

DRS vs. SYOPS, swiftwater, week 8 (http://logs.tf/213847) – Example #500 of both a) how petty I am and b) my long-standing rivalry with bpm. Right before this match, Lydi (bpm’s medic), had been talkin♥♥♥♥♥♥on r/truetf2, saying that my HL team gave me way too many heals and our Heavy way too few, and that we had no idea how to play the game mode. I like to think I shut her up this game ;^{D~

DRS vs. GC, gullywash, playoffs (http://logs.tf/229859) – This is one of the only losses I put on the list, but I definitely think it belongs, for two main reasons. The first is that it was an extremely hard-fought 5-4 against the team that would end up winning the season, and who had a much more stacked lineup than ours. The other is how the match played out. We were actually up 4-2 with about 10 minutes left in the game, with control of mid and a full uber advantage. I knew that if we let ubers even out and parked the bus, we would almost certainly win the game, but that just wasn’t my steez. We tried to push with the uber ad, Max hit an insane quick scope to drop our medic before we could use it, and they pushed us all the way back to last and won the round. They hit the gas right afterwards and won 2 more rounds super quick, winning 5-4 with like 20 seconds left. Was it the right decision to push? No. But would I do it again if I had the chance? Also no. Still, that moment defined what our team was, for better and for worse.

DRS vs. SYOPS, gullywash, playoffs (http://logs.tf/232356) – As usual, the same principles of me being petty and my rivalry with bpm being intense apply. In this game, we found out that cygnus, desperate to win, had brought xalox out of retirement. On top of that, tickzf wasn’t available to play, so we asked cygnus if we could use a merc. He turned down ♥♥♥♥ing AcesGamer, a pretty big downgrade at the time, because he was a scaredy cat. I realized that tri had been roster riding for us all this time, asked him to play, and tri surprised me by agreeing. He ♥♥♥♥ing farmed them. Guess you should’ve allowed the merc bruh!

Games from the “third” season of DRS (season 13)

DRS vs. dK, gullywash, week 2 (http://logs.tf/301596) – It’s pretty well established that DRS’ truncated 3rd season was a complete disaster, so it might seem weird to include anything from that tire fire. Well, I had to include this game, because it represents something as important to my hl career as anything else- drama (on the forums and otherwise). After we won this game, stones (dK’s probably-hacking-in-hindsight sniper) told me he wanted to leave his team and join ours, because our sniper was quitting at the time. This led to a giant ♥♥♥♥♥torm, as both Karl and my previous colleagues on kLite desperately tried to convince stones to stay by telling him about what a giant ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ I was as a teammate (which they probably only had to exaggerate slightly). Fortunately for us, stones was not dissuaded, and he did eventually join our team. Unfortunately, he immediately got outsniped in our next game by bowswer5 of all people. This game is weird sometimes.

Bonus non-DRS games

DMS vs. mTs, borneo, way earlier (http://logs.tf/57445) – Just including this because this game was insane and harbleu got over 150 kills lol.

Ginyu vs. knd, gullywash, grand finals (http://logs.tf/582607) – Ironically, my best placing ever in hl was actually on a team where I filled in as soldier for playoffs only (and by the way, I never got a medal for it because the UGC admins blow). I wasn’t even that good at hl soldier, but the black box was ridiculous back then and I farmed on this map. Let’s pretend logs of the next 2 maps don’t exist for now :<
XVI - All Downhill From Here
Coming off of the hype train from the monetary prize pool, Season 13 saw a burst of teams climbing back up to 377 teams. While this normally would be a Summer season, UGC made the decision to stop making the Summer seasons "joke" seasons by giving them medals & playoffs like a normal season.

Season 13 (May 19th, 2014 - August 11th, 2014) Maps:

Week
Map
0
cp_granary
1
pl_upward
2
cp_gullywash_final1
3
koth_lakeside_final
4
cp_steel
5
pl_badwater
6
koth_pro_viaduct_rc4
7
cp_snakewater_final1
8
koth_ashville_rc1
9
Playoffs 1 - cp_steel
10
Playoffs 2 - pl_upward
11
Playoffs 3 - koth_pro_viaduct_rc4
12
Finals - 3 maps

Featuring another stacked season of Platinum - albeit consisting of many reworked rosters and plenty of new to Platinum players - the top teams this season were Electric Temptations, Menace to Society, Dunning-Kruger Effect, and Street Hoops e-Sports.

The Highlander meta by this point had evolved into something pretty close to the modern one, Scouts weren't being healed quite as much & weren't taken in on ubers quite as much, Demo was the main pocket, Sniper was heavily buffed but didn't quite integrate into the combo as heavily, etc.

On July 8th, 2014 the 3rd ETF2L Highlander Nations Cup happened, with the American team representing a mixture of top NA teams, but just like the 1st one no American teams placed in the top 3.

The grand finals of this season were Electric Temptations versus Menace to Society, which unfortunately would also be Kip's (a caster for HL who took over in Salamancer's stead at extelevision) last cast with the Highlander casters sort of rotating in and out in the future with people like Getawhale, Sigafoo, Mustardoverlord, Atwas, etc.


Meance to Society would come out on top as 1st place champions, and alongside that came a great Sniper frag video by m4risa:


Season 13 would mark the last season where Highlander experienced a significant team count boost, and every season after this either gets significantly smaller or barely holds on to a similar amount of teams. The format started bleeding players, bleeding teams, and the hype was starting to wane.

That said, with Season 13 ending it was time for everyone in Highlander to really meet The Kids Next Door.
XVII - The Kids Next Door
Things at UGC were starting to slow down as Season 14 would open up to only 279 teams (98 less than the previous season), with Highlander's population decline in full swing.

Season 14 (September 22nd, 2014 - December 4th, 2014) Maps:

Week
Map
1
koth_pro_viaduct_rc4
2
pl_badwater
3
koth_lakeside_final
4
cp_steel
5
cp_gullywash_final1
6
koth_ramjam_b8b
7
cp_process_final
8
pl_upward
9
Playoffs 1 - cp_steel
10
Playoffs 2 - koth_pro_viaduct_rc4
11
Playoffs 3 - pl_badwater
12
Finals - 3 maps

While they had played in Season 13, the Kids Next Door were finally ready to elevate themselves into a powerful high Platinum team. Speaking about their history & their team one of their leaders had the following to say:

Originally posted by Kresnik, Kids Next Door Heavy:
We started back in Season 9, me and Storm Erion were on an Iron team called Egyptian Zodiac along with some other OG S9 members, like Demoli, Sauceee, and Omniscient. We were all into the game, but getting kinda fed up with the leadership. The leading duo was a couple who'd basically leave IMMEDIATELY after scrims to go have skype sex or something. I thought we'd have to stay in Iron, but our mentor (dudeer from Bit Trippers) said that a few of us could do Steel, so we decided to move up for S9. We picked up the remaining parts of the roster (Atidere and Lemon) from UGC forums, and LsRainbows was someone I met in my college cafeteria.

During Season 14 we were a new team that didn't really have a huge amount of experience in Platinum, so we spent a lot of time looking over maps, and trying to figure out the mode. We always had a plan for every map and tried to play methodically. Everyone had their role, and we made sure they managed to fill it while trying to move tight. Jarrett was our maincaller and his word was law. He called pushes and Nursey would call advantages.

If I had to describe our style, I'd say it was scout and demo heavy. Me and Katsy played defensively, while Jarrett was the main heal pocket with Auzzie for ubers. etney was one of the few soldiers that season playing soldier mostly defensively, only really suicide bombing on big team forces. Sciz was a sniper who kinda did his own thing, he liked peeking aggressively, so Jarrett would move up to make pressure for dumb angles for him and Storm played two roles, map dependent. He'd either just constantly feign in the backline till we pushed, or cnd'd to feed Jarrett info.

Regardless, our advantage that season was how hungry we were. We definitely put in more time than any other team (3am map talks) and went out of our way to utilize our players strengths: Etney's beggars, sciz's aggression, jarrett's calls, katsy being used to hard defensive play thanks to what mTs used to make their pyros do.

With the time we put in + having 9 players who really cared, it led to our team oriented playstyle, which faded over the seasons as players grew complacent and the rosters changed.

Gameplay with comms of KND during this season can be watched here from KND Medic Nursey's perspective:


Season 14 was also when Chill Penguins moved up into Platinum, a team that would remain a solid mid-Plat team for the seasons to come. On their move up & history their leader IssGonRain had this to say:

Originally posted by IssGonRain, Chill Penguins Sniper:
So after placing 3rd in Gold most people continuing to the next season were pretty excited to start playing Platinum. Our playstyle was probably labelled as passive, it's pretty hard to remember.

The team just randomly was created when Bala/Boxes decided to make a team in Iron in Season 8. I was one of the last trying out then, and I got the spot after an impressive Dustbowl pub debut.

Throughout Platinum the team usually had a good group of people going into it, with the core being in mumble quite often. We were good friends who would just try and have fun, and for most that was good enough of a reason to keep playing.

Week 2 of this season would be the last time a popular map - pl_badwater - would see play without a pro version as the meta of the map at a high level had evolved into a very unfun experience. Over the course of the past year Badwater slowly became a map where people forfeited 1st & 2nd as much as possible to hold 3rd (especially 3rd) and last more, rendering half the map relatively pointless. As time went on teams managed to evolve 3rd holds better and it didn't look like 3rd holds were ever going to stop becoming better.

The top teams this season were Ginyu Force, Kids Next Door, Evil Society of Evil (an mts spin off), Dunning-Kruger Effect, and Electric Temptations.

The playoffs were tight and still very competitive, as Grand Finals came down to Ginyu Force vs Kids Next Door:


With Kids Next Door securing victory and having a Winner's Interview with extelevision:


This season would end on a somewhat sad note as it would be the last season for both Electric Temptations and Ginyu Force, more teams and players that were leaving the scene.
XVIII - Rivalry
While some of the more legendary teams had quit, quite a few still remained and rivalries would heat up as Season 15 opened to 288 teams.

Season 15 (January 26th, 2015 - April 20th, 2015) Maps:

Week
Map
1
pl_upward
2
cp_process_final
3
pl_borneo_rc4
4
koth_viaduct_pro5
5
cp_steel
6
cp_sunshine_rc5
7
koth_ashville_rc1
8
pl_swiftwater_ugc
9
Playoffs 1 - cp_process_final
10
Playoffs 2 - koth_viaduct_pro5
11
Playoffs 3 - pl_upward
12
Finals - 3 maps

The top teams during this season in order were Kids Next Door, Menace to Society, Hateful Eight + Decimate, bote team, and Just Kidding.

The top three had incredibly close games, with Kids Next Door and Menace to Society sparking a temporary rivalry over how close in strength both teams were, with great matches just coming from these teams.


Kids Next Door would close out Season 15 with a win, and with Season 16 looming Menace to Society wasn't going to let this stand.

Season 16 experienced another player loss, opening up to 264 teams.

Season 16 (June 1st, 2015 - August 20th, 2015) Maps:

Week
Map
1
pl_upward
2
cp_gullywash_final1
3
koth_viaduct_pro7
4
cp_steel
5
pl_badwater_pro7
6
koth_ashville_rc1
7
cp_glassworks_rc6a
8
koth_lakeside_final
9
Playoffs 1 - pl_upward
10
Playoffs 2 - koth_viaduct_pro7
11
Playoffs 3 - cp_gullywash_final1
12
Finals - 3 maps

Season 16 was the first season to attempt a Round Robin setup in Platinum, with only 9 teams in Platinum this time around.

The top teams this season were Menace to Society, Kids Next Door, Dunning-Kruger Effect, and Ginyu Hoops (a combination of Ginyu Force & Street Hoops).

One of the best matches of the normal season was on Week 3: bote vs mts.


On July 30th, ETF2L hosted the 4th Nations Cup, however the United States failed to place in the top 3 again.

MTS and KND came to blows again in the Grand Finals, with Menace to Society hungry to win the season after losing to KND in the prior one.



Menace to Society beat Kids Next Door in an insanely close Grand Finals, achieving their last 1st place victory as the team decided to quit after this win.

I asked both teams for thoughts on each other:
Originally posted by Kresnik, Kids Next Door Heavy:
mTs was a team thats biggest problem was its complacency. They always had some of the best players in every role, but would lose games because they would get 1) fed up with Highlander mechanics (e.g. Soda Popper Ibby) or 2) 6s players who didn't really care about Highlander, so they put in the baseline effort (even if their baseline skill was enough to compete at the top plat level).

Our games against them were almost always close, especially once they started playing with more Highlander-focused players (e.g. Giraffe, Yosh) and they would usually be decided by maincalling more than anything else, since the skill level was so close.

We had a bit of a grudge between both of us in Season 16, since mTs denied ringers to bote after bote's demoman had to rush to the hospital for a family member, leading to us denying a pyro ringer in Grand Finals as a bit of karma. (Note: One of 3(?) times in my UGC career I've ever denied a ringer, one of those being a Plat sniper in Gold. I didn't do that lightly, ever.)

When they showed up to a season hungry and stayed hungry, they could win it, but that was when the players harbleu wanted to play with could match that same drive through all of playoffs.

Originally posted by Spamfest, Menace to Society Engineer:
KND is obviously a terrific team, and they did have a very different style, I would say both of us played somewhat differently versus each other just because we had been playing against each other for forever and knew how everyone on the team plays and what not.

Season 16 ended with Snowblindfrog stepping down as Head Highlander Admin, replaced by Kumori
XIX - Memento Mori
Taking another team dip, Season 17 would open up to 238 teams.

Season 17 (September 28th, 2015 - November 16th, 2015) Maps:

Week
Map
1
pl_borneo
2
cp_process_final
3
koth_product_rc8
4
pl_upward
5
cp_steel
6
koth_warmtic_b6
7
pl_badwater_pro_v8
8
cp_vanguard_rc3

Season 17 was a short test season with no playoffs, used to test some maps and let Kumori & teams discuss Round Robin among other things.

Like fun summer seasons in the past, plenty of teams offclassed or screwed around, although some of the teams did use this as a way to build team cohesion like Memento Mori.

One of the best matches this season was Sheen and the Ultralords vs 92 Dream Team:


The season ended with Acoomuma (a sort of Menace to Society offshoot from a few of its players) winning 1st place.

Looking to run another very serious season, Season 18 opened up to 239 teams.

Season 18 (January 18th, 2016 - April 11th, 2016) Maps:

Week
Map
1
pl_upward
2
koth_ashville_rc1
3
cp_gullywash_final1
4
koth_product_rc8
5
cp_steel
6
pl_swiftwater_ugc
7
koth_lakeside_final
8
pl_badwater_pro_v9
9
Playoffs 1 - cp_steel
10
Playoffs 2 - koth_product_rc8
11
Playoffs 3 - cp_gullywash_final1
12
Finals - 3 Maps

Season 18 marked a return of Season 16's Round Robin alongside the Short Circuit being allowed - a decision that would prove frustrating as it radically changed how Payload offense was played on maps like Upward where previous points that were harder to take like 3rd's rollercoaster spot became easy with Short Circuit spam.

This season was also the season when Memento Mori - a low/mid Platinum team from S17 - would be the dark horse of the season, catching surprise wins and proving to be much more of a dominant team. Their team leader had this to say:

Originally posted by Eerie Person, Memento Mori Heavy:
I was the original founder of the team, along with a Spy main named Triton. We formed in the S17 off season so we could hone ourselves and potentially plant the seeds of a new team.

Every season of m|M was just an amalgamation of decent to very good players, but unfortunately we never were much of a circlejerk and never really hung out outside of scrims. We kinda treated it like a obligation and a job I guess in the sense that we were strictly teammates and rarely talked or played other games with each other outside of scrims. In S18 we were definitely the underdogs and nobody predicted us to even make playoffs, since a lot of ouf players were still new to Platinum and I feel like our playstyles never truly meshed too well, I kinda blame that on the fact once again that we never really friends and therefore we didn't really trust one another.

Our playstyle was very combo centric since our Demoman, Giraffe, was miles ahead of any of us, so I say we would slowly build ourselves around him and his damage, and we would push mostly off of our scout cleaning up off of him.

Don't get me wrong i think we all still enjoyed playing with each other, but when it's not really with a good friend group it would kinda get stale near the end of the season, and it felt really tedious as a leader to wrangle 8 other people who essentially didn't want to play, plus I think a lot of us played for the competition and gameplay more than anything, especially in playoffs.


Clawing their way into grand finals against Dunning-Kruger, a controversial match happened:


With Dunning-Kruger Effect winning decisively.

18 days after the Grand Finals happened, on April 29th popular hack LMAOBox Premium was detected by VAC, and Dunning-Kruger Effect's Sniper - vlad - was VAC banned.

On vlad & the Grand Finals, dK's opponents had this to say:

Originally posted by Eerie Person, Memento Mori Heavy:
Honestly none of us expected vlad to be a hacker at all, he just seemed like a really good move up sniper like so many others that broke out that season (barycenter, boar). He would frequent Platinum pugs often and was a genuinely nice individual, it was a big shock when he got banned for all of us. In finals we got rekt so hard it wasnt even evident he was hacking lol.

We played on tilt super bad that finals, it was a lot of pressure going into it as an essentially new plat team and it didn't help that at this point nobody on the team wanted to scrim.

I'll forever be thankful for that season as my true intro to plat and I learnt a lot from that season thanks to Giraffe's guidance mostly and through playing playoffs at a top level.

Dunning-Kruger Effect's win was overturned and their 1st place victory revoked, with Memento Mori becoming the 1st place champions of the season.

The mass wave of VAC bans hit quite a few players within UGC, but the community overall was glad that LMAOBox had finally been detected, even if only for a short time.
XX - Dunning
Season 19 experienced another sizable team drop as it opened to only 199 teams.

Season 19 (June 6th, 2016 - September 1st, 2016) Maps:

Week
Map
1
pl_borneo
2
koth_product_rc8
3
pl_upward
4
cp_vanguard
5
cp_steel
6
koth_ramjam_rc1
7
pl_swiftwater_ugc
8
koth_ashville_rc1
9
Playoffs 1 - cp_steel
10
Playoffs 2 - koth_product_rc8
11
Playoffs 3 - pl_upward
12
Finals - 3 Maps

Season 19 didn't utilize the round robin this time, instead running a normal season of Platinum.

The top teams this season were Kids Next Door, Dunning-Kruger Effect, and bote team.

One of the better matches this season was Man Crush Monday vs bote, which you can watch from the perspective of MCM's Pyro American:

The season ultimately culminated in Dunning-Kruger Effect vs Kids Next Door, marking the last eXtelevision/EVL cast in Highlander - and boy did they end on a fantastic game:


Dunning-Kruger Effect beat Kids Next Door, marking their 2nd 1st place victory.

With extelevision & EVL stopping their Highlander casts, North American Highlander was now left without a casting organization dedicated behind it, meaning every season after this is going to be much more limited in footage, but also meaning there was less new content to hype players up and get them invested in Highlander.

Season 20 opened up to a 60 team drop: only 139 teams.

Season 20 (September 26th, 2016 - December 5th, 2016) Maps:

Week
Map
1
pl_swiftwater_final1
2
koth_lakeside_final
3
pl_upward
4
koth_ashville_rc1
5
cp_steel
6
pl_borneo
7
pl_millstone_ugc_4
8
koth_product_rc8/Best of 3 Maps in Platinum
9
Playoffs 1 - pl_upward/Best of 3 Maps in Platinum
10
Playoffs 2 - koth_ashville_rc1/Best of 3 Maps in Platinum
11
Finals - Best of 3 Maps for non-Platinum teams

Season 20 was the final round robin season, running only 6 Platinum teams. It also marked the ban of the Razorback, which significantly affected the meta.

The Razorback was banned because in high level play for several years now, Snipers were integrating into the combo to take advantage of the backstab protection, making a Sniper extremely hard to kill due to being immune to backstabs, constantly receiving buffs, and being surrounded by 4+ people at all times. Removing the Razorback would at least force those people to really pay attention for Spy or make the Sniper have to check more and not be hard scoped in as much.

The top teams this season were Dunning-Kruger Effect and The Kids (a slightly different Kids Next Door roster), who unsurprisingly met in the grand finals, with Dunning-Kruger Effect once again winning for 3 1st place wins in a row.

The season would end on a low point as the Kids Next Door would quit, leaving Dunning-Kruger Effect with little in the way of competition.
XXI - Kruger
Season 21 launched with a drop to 120 teams.

Season 21 (January 23rd, 2017 - April 10th, 2017) Maps:

Week
Map
1
pl_upward
2
koth_product_rc8
3
pl_swiftwater_final1
4
koth_lakeside_final
5
cp_steel
6
cp_process_final
7
pl_badwater_pro_v9
8
koth_ashville_rc1
9
Playoffs 1 - Best of 3 Maps
10
Playoffs 2 - Best of 3 Maps
11
Playoffs 3 - Best of 3 Maps
12
Finals - 3 Maps

Season 21 marked the removal of Gold as a division due to a combination of a declining amount of teams and teams refusing to move up to more challenging divisions out of fear which over the past many seasons had helped create bigger and bigger skill gaps between Silver/Gold/Platinum.

Dunning-Kruger Effect would nab their fourth victory in a row, with team Memento Mori putting up a strong 2nd place showing and Chill Penguins coming in 3rd.

Season 22 would open up with 113 teams.

Season 22 (May 15th, 2017 - August 10th, 2017) Maps:

Week
Map
1
pl_upward
2
koth_lakeside_final
3
cp_gullywash_final1
4
koth_product_rc8
5
cp_steel
6
pl_millstone_ugc_7
7
koth_ashville_rc1
8
pl_vigil_b5
9
Playoffs 1 - Best of 3 Maps
10
Playoffs 2 - Best of 3 Maps
11
Playoffs 3 - Best of 3 Maps
12
Finals - 3 Maps

Part way into the season on June 11th, 2017, ETF2L hosted the 5th Nations Cup and this time the United States team (a heavily edited Dunning-Kruger roster) brought victory for the United States with a 1st place win, the first time since the 2nd Nations Cup.

During Week 5 team Fast Forward managed to win a round over Dunning-Kruger during the normal season, the first time this has happened outside of Kids Next Door since Season 18's $ilver $avages beat them on Product.

Fast Forward's team leader had this to say about their team:

Originally posted by Waxx:
After a rather uneventful Season 21 I decided rather spontaneously in the preseason to remake Fast Forward, which in Season 20 placed fourth in Platinum. I quickly assembled a group of players that was a mix of older TF2 players, past Fast Forward teammates, and a few new friendly faces that were eager to prove themselves in the high plat scene (myself included). We all still have a passion for Highlander and TF2 in general, so that was mainly what motivated us to get better and play well, despite the game's rapidly thinning player count.

As far as our team's playstyle goes, it's been obvious that since the team's conception that exile, our Demoman, has been the main carry for FF, along with whoever sniped for us at the time (sullyy, watterson, cinder, and andrew all sniped for Fast Forward at one point). Because of this most of our performance revolved around how well we could support exile since we were always considered to be a team with somewhat weak DM aside from him. When he briefly left the team due to internal conflicts we were put to the test to playing without our normal star player. Against insurmountable odds, we managed to defeat our rival team in S22 playoffs, East Jabib, with Yipyapper on demo, who did a very good job of filling exile's shoes during his absence. However, normally, if exile was having an off day or wasn't there, the team would more often than not fall apart since he put in so much work for the team. Which is why overall I considered us to be a rather mediocre team.

As far as our victory over dK goes, I personally couldn't tell you what the team atmosphere was like as I was in NYC during that particular match. However, earlier that day I was hanging out with oblivion, our pyro, who lived not far from where I was staying, and we briefly talked about it and I could tell he did not seem optimistic. Later that night in the hotel room a little after 9:30 I got a phone call from him and he was ecstatic, he was claiming that they took a half off dK on steel and over the phone I could faintly hear a lot of commotion coming from mumble on his computer.

At that point all I could do was wait patiently for another phone call or text the next morning figuring out the results. I had faith in my boys since they seemed more pumped than ever. Then, around 20-30 minutes later I received another phone call and oblivion was practically shouting that they beat dK. I opened up logs.tf on my phone and sure enough he was telling the truth, I couldn't have been more happy as a leader, but I've always known that it was a fluke.

The season ended with Dunning-Kruger Effect securing their 5th 1st place win in a row, with team Where's Etney? managing a solid 2nd place slot and Fast Forward in 3rd.

Dunning-Kruger's chain of victories was starting to lead to some boredom, as it seemed like no one could really compete with them even though Dunning-Kruger wasn't even really scrimming or investing very hard anymore.
XXII - Effect
While the wait for Season 23 is about to end, Highlander continues to face several problems unfortunately. The amount of teams playing is continuously dwindling, players aren't joining up faster than Highlander is losing them, teams at the top of Silver are continuing the problems of top Gold and not moving up into Platinum readily which is increasing the skill divides even further.

There's no prize pools, no LANs, no great casting organizations, and no sponsors to entice players to keep playing and "git gud", which means once players have reached a level they are comfortable with, they usually get bored and quit.

I started playing in Season 5 and the amount of teams is slowly heading towards the amount we had back then.

With all that said, North American Highlander starts again with Season 23 on September 11th, 2017 and there is some excitement in the community as favorites Kids Next Door return in an attempt to challenge Dunning-Kruger Effect. Will the Kids come out on top, or will Dunning-Kruger's dynasty of victories continue?
XXIII - Conclusion
I'd also like to end this on some thoughts from people then from me, so without further ado:

Originally posted by extine, caster/owner of eXtelevision:
I don't know if there's a favorite Highlander match I can really pinpoint, I definately had some fun ones, and enjoyed casting UGC stuff, but nothing really stands out at the moment. Casting with Duder, Sigafoo, Kip, and Salamancer were amazing. Probably the worst Highlander match I casted was the i46 HL finals, particularly Barnblitz. I was super tired and it was like 13 min push time or something with the action going nowhere. It was hard.

I love Highlander, I think it really captures the spirit of Team Fortress. That's a really subjective thing, the spirit of Team Fortress, but having all nine classes present all the time and playing Payload stopwatch matches really just feels like Team Fortress to me. Snipers, Spies, Engineers, Pyros, everyone working together. It's great.

9v9 however comes with one eXplicit drawback, that maybe isn't too big of a deal, but has always hampered it's development. Prize pay outs and accommodating travel and hotel for 9 people is just eXtremely tough. Sponsors aren't interested in it, the prizes needed are almost double the requirement of a 5v5 game, and 50% more than a 6v6 game. This argument has been very effective in dampering the capability of the Highlander community to eXpand into more serious leagues and tournaments.

UGC has been great for getting Highlander players together and it clearly shows the passion for Highlander and TF2. The player counts have been eXtraodinary over the years, surpassing the 6s community. UGC however is primarily focused on providing an amateur league eXperience across multiple e-sports. Attempts to upgrade UGC Highlander to a paid league with large prizes clashed with the philosophy of UGC itself. Maybe sponsors could have gotten on board with supplying gear for 9-18 players if there was a proven paid league, but no one else could make it happen in NA.

The 6s communities opinion of Highlander still is very diverse, and it's hard to accurately weigh how popular each of those opinions are. Some people wish that Highlander didn't eXist and that the community could instead focus on 6s. Some appreciate Highlander and view it as a springboard into 6s. The Highlander community also has a diverse range of opinions regarding 6s.

I enjoy Highlander because it feels more like TF2, but it's still a little cluttered sometimes. You have to have really tight team cohesion to feel like you're having an individual impact, but after all it is Team Fortress.

I definitely understand there are obstacles in the way of it becoming a big money esport, regardless of all that players keep on playing.

I think Pro-Lander is a very nice eXtension of the Highlander game type, and I hope that with the smaller player count it can be a compromise format between the 6s and Highlander community. 7s could unify the player base and present a game mode that pub players can draw more eXperience from.

Originally posted by Hildreth, caster/former Medic for Unbelievably Brave Sweethearts/ETF2L Admin:
In NAHL my most memorable moments were uBs in UGC Season 3 and Season 6, I think one that sticks out in my mind is playing a scrim and Polk dropping off the high ground on Gullywash and saying "The map shifted" as our Medic raged at him. In terms of gameplay, I enjoyed spawncamping this Medic as Engineer in Pre-season on Barnblitz, ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR_RUU9_hbk&t=1879s at 31:19 ) where Duder was angry at me for doing it which I found amusing cos all I wanted to do was entertain and that sums me up as a player when I played UGC NA HL, I just wanted to entertain.

Thoughts in general on Highlander? It was a wild ride, It isn't what it was and its existence is owed to UGC and a select few admins and people keeping the scene going. Highlander offers what 6v6 can't, more TF2 that isn't necessarily balanced or exciting to watch, but allows all types of players who prefer varying classes and game modes with varying ideologies to compete in a competitive environment and as a result we've seen skillful people master Spy / Pyro / Heavy / Engineer to levels far more advanced than any normal 6v6 player could think of.

The impact of Highlander is that it's become the backbone of the scene whether people want to see it or not and its enormous contribution to TF2 is unfounded. When TF2 dies out as a game some may wonder why it was never an eSport, the smart ones will know the game was never meant to be one, the idiots will look at the division in our community over game modes and philosophies and those who enjoyed the HL scene in it's prime will know they got the best experience in TF2 you can get and will be remembered as legends.

Also HL has enabled me to meet many great friends and even lover(s) so I can't complain.

Originally posted by Mustardoverlord, DRS Demoman:
I’ve never shied away from saying that Highlander is a pretty flawed competitive game. Even if you accept the premise that you’ll be playing 9v9, no team would voluntarily choose to build a team composed of one of each class; some classes are just inherently weaker than others, and a lot of classes are really defensive and slow the game down. Sure, it’s nice to give Pyro and Spy mains a place to go, but they’ll still almost always impact the game less than the best Demos, Scouts and Snipers. 9v9 is also pretty untenable for LANs (although it’s not like 6s is getting a ton of those anyways), and the admins made things worse by allowing ridiculous unlocks and changing the map pool every season to test custom garbage.

All that being said, I still found Highlander extremely enjoyable. The concept of top invite players slumming it with Engineer mains is kind of charming, and the competitive advantage that one could gain by trying to organize a team of 9 people was always an interesting challenge. I have a lot of pride in the fact that most of the top teams had 3-5 invite players each in DRS’ heyday, but we had none and were still able to compete. If dK and knd perfected the combination of dedicated players and up-and-comers who made it in Highlander before 6s, I like to think we served as a solid model for them to emulate. I can’t say the end of DRS was a happy one, but I still look back on the whole thing fondly. Thanks to all of my ex-teammates (other than Axio of course), whether we got along perfectly or not.

P.S. DEMO NERF KILLED TF2

Writing this up has been quite the journey over the past couple months, between trying to get into contact with old and new players alike, going through matches from each season, trying to get interviews and quotes, and just talking to people about our Highlander experiences it has been one hell of a nostalgia trip for me.

Thank you to everyone who reads this for going on this journey with me, I hope you enjoyed the content within.
XXIV - Acknowledgments
Contributors

* American - Platinum Pyro [Man Crush Monday, Chill Penguins]
* Eerie Person - Platinum Heavy [Memento Mori]
* Extine - Caster, Owner of eXtelevision
* Fornaught - UGC Owner
* GentlemanJon - ETF2L Admin, TF2 Statistian
* Hein - Platinum Medic [Exodus Jedi, Looking Handsome, The Syndicate]
* Hildreth - ETF2L Admin, Caster, Platinum Medic [Unbelievably Brave Sweethearts]
* IssGonRain - Platinum Sniper [Chill Penguins]
* Karl - Platinum Heavy [Dunning-Kruger Effect]
* Kresnik - Platinum Heavy [Kids Next Door]
* Mustardoverlord - Platinum Demoman [Dead Ringer Storage]
* Salamancer - Caster
* SEABASS - Platinum Medic [Gangsta Gang]
* Sigafoo - Platinum Engineer [The Syndicate, Dead Ringer Storage, Ginyu Force]
* Skarlett - Platinum Soldier [Tangerine, Ginyu Force]
* Snowblindfrog - UGC Admin, Highlander Head Admin S11-S16.
* Spamfest - Platinum Engineer [Menace to Society, Electric Temptations, Dunning-Kruger Effect]
* Sylon - Platinum Spy [Death Marked Soldiers]
* TMP - Platinum Pyro [Gun Runners, The Syndicate]
* Waxx - Platinum Engineer [Fast Forward]

Credits
* UGC - www.ugcleague.com
* ETF2L - www.etf2l.org
* Teamfortress.tv & casters - www.teamfortress.tv
* TF2Center - www.tf2center.com
* Vanilla.tv & casters
* EVL casters
* eXtelevision casters
* blindpyro
* Cerious
* Comedian
* Conebone
* CUBE
* Dashner
* DJC
* Dunc
* Jake
* m4risa
* Nursey
* scarred_steak
* Sneakypolarbear

Special Thanks
I'd also like to thank all the cool people I've met over the years for making my time with Highlander and Team Fortress 2 in general fun, you hopefully know who you are, but I would have quit this game a long time ago without all of you.
XXV - Version History & Disclaimer
v1.0 - September 10th, 2017
* Released.

Disclaimer
Interviews & Quotes used in this guide are edited for spelling/punctuation/grammar but the intent behind each sentence remains untouched.

All video content within this guide has been saved for posterity, and should the content be removed by the original owner(s) I will re-upload it on an unlisted not monetized video with full credit given to the original owner(s) with the intention of to maintain historical preservation.

Please don't re-upload this anywhere else publicly (even with the intent to translate it into any other languages on Steam).
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53 Comments
cas :3 Sep 17 @ 11:34pm 
very cool
Sgtwiskus Sep 17 @ 3:09pm 
Woah
Imperfection Sep 16 @ 7:03pm 
I know right? Very helpful too xd
Insane_Rooster Sep 16 @ 6:31pm 
holy jesus that a lot of writing
Knusperfrosch (on holiday) Sep 16 @ 6:00pm 
Video games and movies are part of our global pop culture (heck, there are now academics who make careers of and sell books about the 'gamer' subculture), just as folk ballads and storytelling used to be in centuries past. Aand Team Fortress 2 with its vast and active community is a part of this culture. So preserving TF2 history is a worthy cause.
Knusperfrosch (on holiday) Sep 16 @ 5:50pm 
TF2 Highlander will hopefully make a comeback into the public's eye.

Highlander tournaments are being streamed again. September 2017 has seen both the ETF2L Premiership Highlander Season 13 finals and the start to UGC EU Platinum Highlander Season 23 been streamed live on Twitch.tv, Facebook and YouTube. Thanks to Agro from Kritzkast for the stream via twitch.tv/kritzkast , CeeJaey and Zamparonie for casting, and Withoofd for virtual camera work.
Knusperfrosch (on holiday) Sep 16 @ 5:48pm 
Monumental guide, thumbs up for all the effort writing in in-depth guide. Highlander will always have a special place in my heart as the only true "canon lore compatible" way to play TF2.
You light the spark  [author] Sep 16 @ 2:13pm 
Thanks Wall/baocn/oblivion/magi/ubi/etc. <3
Wall! Bv Sep 16 @ 11:50am 
oh shit wat up necrid

Awesome article btw, very good read
Necesită Citare Sep 16 @ 9:26am 
wat