The intent of this guide is to be able to take anyone who has little to none competitive experience, and get them to the point where they can confidently look for a team and get that first step into playing competitive Team Fortress 2. The guide on the whole is aimed towards the roaming soldier in 6v6, but even if you want to play another class, or Highlander, you should find some useful information.
Who I Am
I go by the name of Zigzter, and I created this guide with the intent to bring more people into the wonderful little world of competitive TF2. I am by no means amazing at the game, but I think I have enough experience to get new players on the right track (experience being 4 seasons of ESEA-Open and 3 seasons of ESEA-Intermediate. Plus a bunch of other teams that never got to play in a league).
There currently are two popular formats that are played, which are 6v6 (or sixes), and Highlander:
6v6 The oldest format, and the one most people think of when you mention competitive TF2. As the name implies, there are six players on each team, and games are mostly played on 5CP maps, though other formats do occasionally get played, such as A/D (Gravelpit) or KoTH (Viaduct).
Highlander Highlander is a newer format that has gained a lot of popularity quickly, for one reason: it's 9v9, with one of each class one each team. This means that people who enjoy classes such as Pyro or Spy get to play those classes, as opposed to 6v6 where running these classes doesn't happen very often, and when it does it's for specific reasons. Highlander is also played on a variety of game modes, though Payload seems to be the most popular.
Choosing one or the other is just preference. If you want to play serious and you enjoy playing one of the 6v6 classes, then go for 6v6. If you want more of a forgiving environment and you prefer to play a different class, Highlander would be the way to go. If you follow competitive gaming in general and want an analogy: 6v6 to highlander is basically what Dota 2 is to League of Legends, or Starcraft 2 to Company of Heroes.
Class setup in Highlander is pretty straight forward: one of each. In 6v6 it's a little different. Competitive TF2 has gone through many different setups in its birth, trying to find the best format. Eventually people came to the conclusion that 6v6 was the way to go, with the following class setup: 2 soldiers, 2 scouts, 1 demoman, and 1 medic. As far as the limits go, it's 2 scouts, 2 soldiers, 2 pyros, 1 demoman, 1 heavy, 2 engineers, 1 medic, 2 snipers, 2 spies. Players can switch out of the "cookie cutter" setup whenever they wish, as long as their team composition stays within the class limits. For example, a team defending their last point could decide to have one of their soldiers switch to heavy, and one of their scouts to engineer.
Every player has his or her general role in-game, though those roles can be altered to suit the team's needs. The roles are the following: Pocket soldier The pocket soldier's role is to be the spearhead of the team, and to protect the medic. They are always where the main action is, and often will lead ubercharges. Roaming soldier What this guide is about! The roaming soldier's role tends to vary a lot more depending on the player, but generally, it's the roamer's job to play on the flanks, and to go in for uber forces or to get specific kills (such as the medic). They're also great for distracting the other team. Demoman The main damage dealer of the team. Can usually be found with the "combo" (term for pocket soldier and medic). Along with the medic, it's the most important class in 6v6, though the metagame seems to have shifted to the point where he's even more important than the medic. Medic The medic's job is to keep the team healed up. Medics are often the callers for team as well, which means they're the ones calling the shots. Scouts Scouts are mostly found on the flanks, usually working together with the roamer. Their main job is to watch the flank, contain the enemy scouts, and get cleanup kills.
To make following this guide a little easier, and to understand some of the lingo you'll hear thrown around in scrims and PUGs, here are some of the commonly used terms: Pick: A kill on a key player. Drop: Dropping an ubercharge; dying with full ubercharge ready. Comm: Communicate. If plural, it refers to the teams' overall communication. Mid: The middle capture point of a map. Rollout: The initial rush to mid. Airshot: Hitting an enemy in mid air. Juggle: Controlling an enemy's movement with your damage. Ripped/lit/destroyed: Very low health. Back cap: Going around the enemy team to capture their point when they're pushing forward. Advantage: Usually refers to the uber advantage, meaning how much more uber % one medic has than the other. Force: Forcing a medic to use the ubercharge. Offclass: Playing a class other than the standard 4. Crater: Dying from fall damage. PUG: Pick-Up Game. A 6v6/9v9 game with teams made up on the spot by two captains. Sub/backup: A player on the team who's not part of the starting 6/9. Ringer: A player who isn't on the team but is brought in to temporarily fill an empty spot.
Custom HUDs clear up clutter and make HUD elements easier to see. You can find a large collection of custom HUDs here[teamfortress.tv].
Ideally, you should go for a bright colored crosshair that is easy to see no matter what map or team you're on. I use a bright blue cross for my primary, but I know a lot of people like bright green as well. I also play with my rocket launcher's viewmodel off, so I use Broesel's crosshair switcher to enable viewmodels on my shotgun and melee. You can also give different crosshairs to different weapons/classes, but I only use the one HUD crosshair. It can glitch out occasionally, but generally it's very useful to have.
Again, I recommend Broesel's crosshair Switcher for this. I suggest playing without viewmodels, as it gives you a larger view of what's going on. However, for me, I like having viewmodels on for my shotgun. It may just be a placebo, but I feel like I hit more shots with it on. In the end, it comes down to personal preference, so trying playing without viewmodels for a few days (it might seem awkward at first), and see if you like it. Another thing I recommend doing is turning tracers off for your shotgun if you don't want its viewmodel. They're mostly just a distraction. To do this, I recommend installing Broesel's switcher, then going in and changing the shotgun viewmodel_fov to 0. If you don't have the switcher, you'll have to fiddle around with scripting a little, and that isn't my strong suit.. Another FOV thing to change is your overall field of view, which is how many degrees of vision you have, independant of your viewmodels. I believe the default is 75, but you'll want to change this to 90, which is the highest you can go. This will give you a wider and more natural FOV. To do this, just put "fov_desired 90" in your console or config.
Using a custom graphics config generally makes things easier to see, and will increase your FPS (although keep in mind, if you got a 60hz monitor it can only display 60 FPS. There are many theories and arguments related to FPS that I won't get in to, but as far as visuals go, a 60hz monitor can only display 60 FPS.) A popular source of configs is Chris' configs. If you have a good computer, I would download the High Frames config. If it's not so great, go for the Max Frames. The configs have instructions in them, and comments on what certain commands do. You can open the config in Notepad and change things as you see fit (I added facial expressions and eyeballs).
Null-cancelling movement script
There's quite a debate on whether to use this or not, but personally, I like it. It removes the ability to stop movement by holding down the opposite strafe key of the one you are pressing. So if you're holding A, and start holding D as well, you'll start strafing right instead of stopping. Here's the script (put it in your class .cfgs): Code: // Null-cancelling movement script // (prevents you from pressing two opposing directions, which causes you to stop moving) bind w +mfwd bind s +mback bind a +mleft bind d +mright alias +mfwd "-back;+forward;alias checkfwd +forward" alias +mback "-forward;+back;alias checkback +back" alias +mleft "-moveright;+moveleft;alias checkleft +moveleft" alias +mright "-moveleft;+moveright;alias checkright +moveright" alias -mfwd "-forward;checkback;alias checkfwd none" alias -mback "-back;checkfwd;alias checkback none" alias -mleft "-moveleft;checkright;alias checkleft none" alias -mright "-moveright;checkleft;alias checkright none" alias checkfwd none alias checkback none alias checkleft none alias checkright none alias none "" You can either put this in your class config files, or create a new config file and name it something like "nullmovement.cfg", and then put "exec nullmovement.cfg" in your autoexec.cfg to have it enabled for all classes. All credit to Povohat for creating this script.
A few things you want to turn on:
Autoreload: One less thing to worry about.
Damage numbers: Great for calling out to teammates how much damage you've done, and you can quickly add them up in your head to figure out if your target is near death or not.
Hitsounds: Very useful for knowing where enemies are. Fire a rocket around a corner, and if you hear a "ding", you know someone's there. I'm not a huge fan of the default sound, so I use the Quake one, which you can download here. Others can be found here. Place it in your tf/sounds/ui folder.
cl_interp: No one seems to fully understand what the best setting is for this, but the majority of soldiers set it to 0, which (usually, depends on the server) will default to 0.0152.
Fast weapon switch: Fairly straightforward; makes switching weapons quicker. Enabled by going to Options-Keyboard-Advanced, and check the "fast weapon switch" box (..and while you're there, check the developer console box too, if you haven't already).
As long as you have decent hardware, I don't think it's anything to worry about, but I'll cover some of the basics.
Mouse: As long as you're not using a ball mouse, you should be fine. The most important thing is the shape and how comfortable it is; when playing you should forget you're actually using a mouse. Max DPI is just a marketing gimmick and really doesn't matter, but as far as setting your DPI goes, I do the following: multiply the width of your resolution by 4 (reason being is that with a FoV of 90 x 4 = 360), then divide the result by how many inches it takes you to do a full 360, and that will give you the "optimal" DPI for your resolution and sensitivity. This page[www.esreality.com] explains it more in detail.
Mousepad: Just make sure it's big enough to let you to do a 180 without going off it. I prefer cloth mousepads, but I've heard lazer sensors don't like cloth, so I recommend doing some research first if you have a lazer mouse and want a cloth pad.
Keyboard: You can get by perfectly fine on any standard keyboard, but a lot of people prefer mechanical keyboards. I use a Filco Majestouch 2 with brown switches and absolutely love it.
Headset: I use the Steelseries V2, but I know a lot of competitive players prefer a standard headset with the Mod Mic.
Monitor: I don't know enough about monitors to give a concrete opinion, but people who use 120hz monitors swear by them, so that's something to keep in mind if you're looking for a new one. The average monitor is 60hz, which means it refreshes what it's displaying 60 times every second. 120hz doubles this, which makes for much smoother gameplay.
Mumble: The standard voice communication program for competitive TF2. It has a voice activation mode which makes playing and communicating much easier, and overlay with the names of the people in your channel so you know who's talking. Website.[mumble.sourceforge.net]
mIRC: A text-based chat program used to join IRC-based PUGs. Alternatively, you can go to ATF2 to connect to the PUG channels. Website.[www.mirc.com]
POV-Record: Usually called P-Rec, this addon for TF2 will auto record any game that is started with tournament mode on, and will automatically record killstreaks and let you mark times in a text file. Website[bitbucket.org]
I'm going to start off with the very basics, and go to more advanced jump mechanics and rollouts further down. I will only be covering jumps that are useful in actual games, so I won't be teaching you jumps like syncs and wall pogos. To learn the jumps that only apply to jump maps, hit up TF2Jump.com or YouTube. To practice the following jumps, load up a map and enable cheats by typing "sv_cheats 1" in console, followed by "hurtme -99999". If you need to refill ammo type "impulse 101".
I find the best way to learn anything is to take it a step at a time, so I'm going to break down learning the basic jump as follows:
1. Start by aiming straight down at your feet. Jump up, then shoot the ground under you. Repeat this with different timings between jumping and shooting until you've got the timing that gives you roughly the most height. 2. Once you're comfortable with jumping and shooting, add crouching to the mix. It goes in front of the original two actions, so now it's crouch-jump-shoot. You should notice a considerable increase in height. Try to keep the delay between crouching and jumping minimal, because if you hold the crouch in for too long, you won't go anywhere. 3. When you can comfortably do the standard rocket jump straight up, it's time to practice actually going somewhere other than straight up. It's as simple as aiming slightly behind you (all the way behind if you're using the Original instead of the default launcher), and then doing everything in step 2. Once you start turning, switch from holding W to A so you keep going in the same direction. As soon as you're airborne, snap your mouse back to see where you're going. 4. Now that you're soaring majestically through the air, it would be a good time to incorporate airstrafing. This is as simple as just holding a strafe key and moving your mouse steadily in the corresponding direction. For example, hold A and move the mouse left. You can switch back and forth to make yourself unpredictable and avoid incoming fire. Experiment with different mouse speeds to see how tight you can turn, but always make the mouse movement smooth and steady. Do not hold W while airstrafing unless you want to do a "helicopter strafe", which is harder to do and extemely situational. 5. After getting this basics down, you'll want to learn how to jump off of a wall in order to get less height and more distance. It's pretty much the same thing as a standard jump, but instead you fire the rocket at a wall/prop that you're brushing up against. The higher up you aim on the wall, the lower you'll go.
This video shows these basics, with the first jumps done next to the cp_granary mid crates so you have a point of reference as far as height goes. Key press are on the center of the screen, with J being jump and C being crouch.
Notes on Jumps
Just a few notes on jumping:
Holding crouch when you're airborne doesn't affect the jump itself in any way, but if you get hit by an airshot you'll catch much more air (provided it hits your leg area), and if you get hit by hitscan you'll lose a lot more momentum. Also, crouching in the air raises your feet, so use it if it'll let you make the landing.
Since crouching in the air raises your feet, you have a tiny bit further to travel before you land, which can make you take more fall damage. The increase is pretty small (from some quick testing I'd say in the 1-5 range), but sometimes that little extra health can be the difference between landing alive and cratering.
The Original is completely viable for jumping, but keep in mind you'll have to aim further back when jumping to compensate for the rocket coming out the center instead of the right. Of course, if you're jumping off something to your left, you don't have to turn as far as with the default launcher.
Pretty much what it sounds like. You do a standard rocket jump, then fire another rocket at about feet level on whatever wall you happen to be flying past. Like with the standard jump, you'll want to place your rocket a little behind you to get the most distance. Reaching a high enough speed to need to aim more forward only really happens in jump maps. Make sure you're holding crouch during the jump.
These are basically wall jumps, but done off the ground. They let you fly over large distances really fast if you nail them right. To do them, start with a horizontal jump (how horizontal depends on what you're skipping off), and as you fly over the ground (or anything really), fire a rocket down at your feet while holding crouch the whole way. This is done without touching the ground. Also, keep in mind that the faster you go, the more you'll have to aim ahead of you to compensate for your speed.
Speedshots are a little like skip jumps, except you touch the ground. The timing is so precise that it's really hard to get consistent with, but it can be used occasionally. Setup is the same as a skip jump, but hold your rocket until you land, and fire it a split second after landing, right beneath you. If you just go up a little, you fired too late. If you don't really go anywhere, or just a tiny bit forwards, you fired too early. When done right, you can get much more distance than a skip jump.
Ctaps (also known as ducktaps) are jumps where you tap the crouch button, then jump and shoot as you're traveling up out of the crouch. This will give you more distance than a regular rocket jump. I don't know the technical specifics behind it, but as far as I know, it's the raising up out of a crouch that gives you the extra boost. Type "cl_showpos 1" in the console, and then walk around tapping crouch for different lengths while keeping an eye on your velocity. You want to tap crouch and let go right before you start to lose speed. Then as you're almost completely raised out of the crouch, jump and shoot at the same time. So the two parts to learn are how long you have to hold crouch in, and when you should jump/shoot. As you probably realize, the timing has to be exact, but once you learn it you'll be able to do jumps such as from catwalk to catwalk on Granary mid.
Trash to Spire Useful for quickly getting on spire, but with the spire deck being almost as high as an optimal rocket jump, I would not recommend this jump if there's someone on spire watching you, since it will be incredibly easy to deny the jump. I find this jump to be a little easier when you fire the rocket at the lowest part of the wall.
Patio to Spire The same idea as the previous jump, but for when you're attacking the enemy spire (or if you're behind the other team). To make this jump easier, you'll want to carefully aim your rocket instead of doing a snap turn. It's definitely one of the hardest jumps, and personally I haven't even mastered it myself, since it should be possible to land on the point directly. Alternatively, you can do a jump off the right wall. I don't think it's possible to land on the point/ledge with this one, but it's easier to pull off and you should land on the last little ramp going up to the point.
Gameplay Pt. 1
Aiming and Prediction
The “shoot feet, get kills part” of the guide. For the most part, prediction really comes down to playing against good players and learning their general movement patterns, both when they’re aware of you, and when they’re not. Competent players will do more than alternate mashing A and D. They’ll switch it up and throw in some W and S in their strafing as well. For example, when you jump a Medic, you’ll probably expect him to start backing up, so he might decide to move towards you, resulting in your rocket missing by a mile if you fired it at where he was going to be if he backed up. Of course, if he backed up, he could’ve jumped as your rocket hit and surfed the explosion to safety, so it really comes down to snap/instinct decisions. I recommend watching demos of some high level Medics to see how they move, especially when under fire (If you’re brand new to 6v6 and don’t know any names, look up demos of PYYYOUR, TheFragile, and Harbleu, to name a few. However, since you’re reading this guide you most likely will not be playing against players of their caliber, so watch some lower level games as well). One trick I like to use against medics and scouts is "holding" rockets. I'll split this into the two classes because it's a little different for each one.
Medic When you rocket jump at a medic, they'll have a general idea of when you're going to fire your first rocket, and they'll do their little dodge move designed to evade or surf the rocket. So, what you do is hold the rocket until they've started their dodge, and then you fire once you know what they're doing. This works best when they have uber and you want to force them to use it, because it pretty much guarantees a good 80 damage rocket, which will make the majority of medics pop uber if they know you have more rockets loaded.
Scout For these annoying point-and-click-adventure spacebar-mashing little ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥s, it's the same idea, but you apply it to most/all rockets fired at them. Before Yz50 was the hottest kid on the capture point, scouts generally stayed on the ground a lot more, because it made them less predictable when they can instantly switch directions whenever they want. Now they've figured out predictability matters less when you can't actually hit them with good rockets. To counter this you generally want to wait until they do their double jump, and then figure out where they're going and put a rocket there. However, sometimes you'll run into a DMmod-all-day scout who can jump and hit you with two 100 damage shots before he even lands. In this case, it can be more effective to just go for the airshot. To keep it simple: the further away your target is, the more you will have to take his movement into consideration. Because of this, I do not recommend firing all your rockets at someone across the map who is aware of you. Unless you’re spamming a choke point or trying to spam them back, you’re just wasting ammo. Which, conveniently, brings me to my next point…
This was the main reason I refused to play Soldier back when I mained Scout. It may seem like a small problem, but it can become big quicker than you think. If you’ve been following this guide through, you will already have taken the first step by turning auto-reload on. Next, it’s important to try to always keep at least one rocket loaded. Never arbitrarily spam rockets without a good reason. Learn where the ammo packs are on the map, and how many rockets they give you. Always try to keep your ammo count at 4/20 (hur-hur), so unless necessary, don’t fire rockets when you’ve just taken an ammo pack but are at 4/8. If you’ve just finished an engagement where you used your rocketlauncher and your shotgun, switch back to your rocketlauncher to reload that first, then your shotgun (there are exceptions, but those are up to you to decide).
Juggling is another important skill to master, as it lets you control the enemy’s movement until they’re…well…dead. It basically comes down to place rockets in positions that hamper the targets movement, and continue firing rockets where you can keep him bouncing around. If you're having trouble hitting follow-up rockets, pay attention to where your first rocket hits the target, and move your crosshair to where he's most likely going to go (for example, if you hit a rocket to his left, he'll most likely fly to his right). I think the best way to learn this would be to 1v1 someone in MGE mod.
Overrated at lower levels, but still good to learn. From my own experience, and from watching newer soldiers come across airshot opportunities, I think the one major factor of basic airshots is muscle memory. If someone randomly flies up, you want to develop the muscle memory to almost instinctively snap your aim up and fire. Two good maps to practice this are tr_rocket_shooting2[gamebanana.com] and tr_flinger_b2[gamebanana.com].
Successful and beneficial uber forces mostly come down to knowing when to go for the force. Some new roamers are under the impression any force is a good force, and will just "retard-bomb" the medic all day long. While being a massive nuisance to the medic is always a good thing, you want to be careful. Say you're holding forward on yard in badlands, and you're positioned on the patio. If your team calls them pushing in and you jump into them, sure you'll get the force, but you'll instantly be killed and the enemy team will already be in your team's face, ubered and ready to defecate on them. However, a force in this location could be good if your team is holding on the gray bridge and close (80-90%) to uber. Reason being is that if they decide to keep going, your team can retreat back inside for the last few seconds until uber is ready, then come out with the uber (used or not) to contest point, then push back to mid. If they decide to flounder around and retreat back to mid, your team can either force them out with the threat of the uber, or use the uber to take mid. When your team gets wiped at mid and their medic stays up, you pretty much always want to go for the uber force as soon as possible. If you went down early at mid, you can usually catch them coming into yard (map dependant of course), and force the medic to use before they cap your second. However, if they have already capped your second, it would probably be better to stay alive since if you die forcing the uber while they're near your last, your team will have basically traded your life for a few seconds of their uber.
Occasionally you'll find that going for distraction plays can be just as effective as any other sort of play. The purpose of these is not to get frags or force ubers, but to distract the other team in some way, either by jumping around them, backcapping, or any other play that will make you a problem for the other team and relieve some pressure off of your team. For example, if you fail a push onto their last and you're the only one to survive, you can bet they're going to push to take 2nd back. So one thing you could do is go into their last and threaten the backcap, either by actually getting on the point, or letting the other team see you near it. This will cause them to turn around to deal with you, giving your team time to respawn and hold the 2nd point.
Gameplay Pt. 2
Key picks are kills on players that are considered "key" to the game, which is pretty much always the demo and medic. However, in some cases a soldier or scout could be so dominant that taking them down would help you more than killing their sub-par demoman. Killing these types is pretty straight forward, so I'll cover the former two:
Medic This mostly comes down to keeping track of ubers. When your team ubers with a close advantage, you'll usually want to jump over the two front lines fighting it out and kill the medic before he gets uber and pops when your uber runs out. Another example would be when you're ready to push last and their medic has 80%. If I know their medic is close to having uber and I see they're at least one player down, I pretty much always go straight in for the medic. If they have all players up, I'll ask my team first. I do this because even if I completely bungle it and don't get anything done, it will be 5v5 and so the other team will not push out of their last. Then I respawn and we can push in with uber advantage (or not if I messed up).
Demo Demomen are pretty much always good picks, but there are times when this is especially so. For instance, your team won mid decisively and is flowing into their yard to cap 2nd, and you know their demo is somewhere setting a forward trap without much protection since half his team is down. Take this opportunity to flank him and take him out. Doing this will let your team walk into their space between last and 2nd (usually a lobby area) without worrying about a trap, and then straight into last with no stickies on point.
Technically, a roaming soldier can get away with only comming jumps and damage done, but I like to comm where I am and if I'm going to try something I'll tell my team what I intend to do. I'll break these four up and cover them in a little more detail.
Jumps Always tell your team when you're jumping at the other team. Even better, tell them in advance. For instance, "I'm jumping their med in 5." This lets your team know you're jumping in 5 seconds, and that you'll be gunning for the enemy medic. Then the rest of your team has that time to get in position to follow up on your jump. Sometimes, you'll end up in a position where you're suddenly staring at the enemy team and don't have time wait around to make sure you're team is ready. In this case, just tell them you're jumping, and try to include where you're jumping to. Example: "I'm jumping Demo on side-spire."
Damage Like with jumps, calling damage lets your team follow up and pick off weak players. Some damage shouldn't be called though, which is usually the damage done when both teams are holding. If you hit a scout for 60 and none of your team mates can get to him before he retreats, you'll just be cluttering up the comms by calling that damage. However, if this scout is the only one holding their flank, you could tell your team that and get your flank to quickly push up and take over their flank. Generally though, you'll want to be calling damage at mid fights and during bombs. Alternatively, instead of calling out specific damage after damaging a player, you can also tell your team to focus that specific player. For example, if you hit the demo for 120 in a last point fight, instead of saying "demo took 120", you could say "focus demo". One advantage of this is that it's more of an order than a random piece of information, so your team could be more inclined to act on it.
Location I'll usually call my location and the location of nearby friendly scouts whenever there's a slight lull in the comms. This lets our combo know how our flank is, and lets them make better decisions on what to do next. The last thing you want is the combo and the flank having no idea where the other is or what they're doing. You can also call the location of players on the other team, but try to keep it to calling locations that aren't obvious. For instance, if your team is building uber on mid, there's no point in saying the other team is in yard, because it's obvious that they'd be there. However, if they're not there, you should call it. Basically, call all abnormal enemy positions, and call any flanking manuevers.
Intent The same idea as calling jumps. If you're going to try something, let your team know. Bonus points for telling your team what to do and when. One good example of this is when you're holding your 2nd point on granary and you and your scouts take down their flank. When this happens, you can let your team know their flank is wiped, and that you'll be coming into left yard from right yard with your scouts, and tell your combo to push forwards. This means you'll be pinning the enemy combo between your combo pushing forwards, and your flank wrapping around behind them. This will usually wipe their entire team, and also happens to be very satisfying to pull off.
The loadout nearly everyone uses all of the time is the standard rocket launcher or the Original, shotgun or gunboats, and the Escape Plan. I'll cover these and some lesser used ones here. If an unlock isn't listed here, it's either banned in the main leagues, or not worth using.
Rocket Launcher The most commonly used primary for several good reasons: it has splash damage, has four rockets loaded, and the rocket travel speeds is optimal for rocket jumping. The Original Basically the same as the above, except rockets fire from the center. Neither is better than the other, so try both and see which you like. However, keep in mind that with the Original you'll have to aim further right when rocket jumping, and not as far to the left. Direct Hit This doesn't get much playtime (unless you're Seanbud), but if the other team has two extremely aggressive soldiers, it can be whipped out occasionally. Black Box Never really gets used in 6v6, mostly due to one less rocket loaded, but I believe it's gaining popularity in Highlander. Generally, it's better to have that extra rocket than it is to gain a little bit of health. Shotgun One of the two "primary secondaries", the other being the Gunboats. Very effective for finishing off enemies, or just killing them outright. One good habit to pick up is hitting an opponent with one good rocket, then switching to your shotgun to finish the job. Gunboats A very handy unlock, letting you rocket jump all over the place with minimal self-damage. However, in my experience its most valuable for surprise med picks. If you run into a pocket and he hits you for 160 damage, he's most likely not going to be expecting you to jump over his head at his medic. With the gunboats, this is exactly what you'll be able to do. Shotgun VS Gunboats Generally, a good rule to follow is Gunboats on offence, Shotgun on defence. However, that is if you like using the Gunboats. Running full-time Shotgun is perfectly viable as well. For me, it depends on the map. On a map that has tons of different ways to jump around, such as Badlands, I'll mostly run Gunboats. On a map like Gullywash, I tend to run full-time Shotgun, because from my experience there isn't a whole lot of jump chains to be done. The Escape Plan Great for rollouts, or getting to a health pack faster. Contrary to popular belief, it's not very useful for getting away. Unless the other team is awful, you're probably not going to get away with 10 HP. The Pain Train I've come to really like this unlock, though it's a little like the Gunboats: works best on jump-friendly maps. When you wipe the flank or just find an opening, backcapping will put much more pressure on the other team because of the 2x capture speed, and occassionally you'll be able to sneak a round win in the middle of a last point fight.
I'm going to divide positioning up into two sections: micro and macro. This is taken from RTS games where micro is how you control your units and macro is how you control your economy. To transfer this to TF2 positioning, I'll cover things such as movement and height advantage in micro, and overall map positioning in macro.
Height Advantage Pretty much what it sounds like. Get up higher than your enemy and rain rockets down on him. It seems like a very straight forward and simple thing to do, but a lot of soldiers will give it up for no reason. One good method of fixing this is going over your own demos, see where you give up height advantage, and make sure not to do it in the future. For instance, on Badlands mid fights I would often jump on to the enemy train, then drop off to chase a kill. One of my mentors pointed out that I did that a lot, so in future scrims I made sure to stay on top of the train (unless I had good reason to get off). There are some exceptions where height advantage loses the "advantage" part. For instance, if you're considerably higher than your target, it's harder to hit since the rocket has to travel further. This can be bad if your target is an important pick and unaware of you. In this case, it might be better to just drop on him and get the guaranteed two rocket hits. The demoman is also very good at taking away the advantage. Both of his weapons arc, and therefore nearly completely nullify your height advantage. Again, in this case, it might better to either drop on him, or just retreat if you don't think you're able to do anything.
Movement This isn't as important as it is for other classes, outside of ammomod, but it can still help a little bit. You often see lower level or pub players either mash A and D rhythmically, or just strafe in one constant direction. Both of these make them incredibly predictable. Instead, you want to mix up your strafes with random length movements. Also, don't fall into the trap of thinking strafing and dodging only involves the A and D keys. If you use W and S as well, there's an entire new axis the opponent has to consider when predicting your movement.
Generally, you want sort of weave between the combo and the flank. To explain a little better, you want to be holding the flank with your scouts during downtime, and converge with your combo when you're pushing. When you're holding the flank, it's usually best to play it safe and try not to overextend by chasing people. If you're in control of mid or their second, you don't have to play as safe as you do when you're holding your 2nd or last, but I would still advise against chasing kills unless you're absolutely sure you can get it. Pushes are usually done on picks, so once it's time to push you should be able to bully their flank back and meet up with your combo to take whatever point you're attacking, and then move back to the (new) flank.
Knowing when to jump and when not to is just as important as being able to jump in the first place. You're of no use to your team if you only jump in at the wrong times and get focused down in a heartbeat. Knowing the right time mostly comes down to being aware of both teams' positions, the uber situation (who has it, or has advantage), and listening to your team's communication. Depending on how your team plays and the situation, you might opt to be more of a player who just jumps in and comms it, or someone who tends to ask for permission first. If you're just starting out, I recommend doing both. Meaning, jump in without asking (but let your team know) occasionally, but also ask sometimes. Then you can review the demo later on and check to see which jumps were successful, and why. Once your gamesense starts improving, it's time to become more independent with your jumps. Personally, I tend to only ask permission to jump if it's a stalemate or uber-building situation, and I want to force/kill their medic, but I want to make sure that doesn't interfere with what my caller is planning. For example, if the caller wants to go in as soon as our medic gets uber and I go jump in without asking, my team will either have to go in one player down, or delay the push, which could mean the other team builds up their uber as well and pushes us back before I get back to my team. However, sometimes you'll be in a situation where you see an opportunity in a stalemate and need to go for it right away without having the time to ask. In this case, it's usually best to just go for it.
A word of warning: all servers listed are located in North America. If you're located elsewhere, you can put in the following into the map filter to find local servers: mge_ jump_ and ctf_ball. DM servers are a little harder to find, because they use standard maps.
Deathmatch (DM mod) is a pub server with 10 slots, with limits of 2 scouts, 2 soldiers, 2 demos, and 1 sniper. Everyone spawns near one point (mid for 5cp maps), and whenever you die, you instantly respawn. This is for improving your raw DM capabilities, which is just your aim, reaction time, movement and all that good stuff. It's also good for learning how to fight multiple enemies at once (this will happen a lot in DM), or for surveying a fight and quickly determining who is weak and targeting them first. Keep in mind, this is NOT about points or your KDR. It's about improving. Don't worry about a terrible KDR, because that really does not matter at all in DM. Here are two DM servers: 126.96.36.199:27015 188.8.131.52:27015
Same idea as the DM servers, but now you're 1v1 in a small arena, most of which are based on actual map points (badlands mid, granary last, gullywash mid, etc). As in DM, you'll instantly respawn when killed, but you spawn with a full buff. First to 20 kills "wins" the round. Again, this is for improvement. You'll run into plenty of "MGE heroes" who do stupid things to win which they would never (I hope) do in a match or scrim, but if you're reading this, I assume you're not one of those fools. To join an arena, type !add in chat once you're in the server, and a menu will pop up with the different arenas, along with the number of players that are in each arena put between brackets at the end. Press the corresponding number of the arena you want to join, and you'll be put in it. You can also add to arenas directly by typing !add followed by the arena name, or its number, such as !add 9 or !add bball. Few servers: mgeit.game.nfoservers.com:27015 184.108.40.206:27015 220.127.116.11:27015 18.104.22.168:27015
Last but not least, there's bball. It's the same idea as basketball: two hoops on either side with the goal of the game being getting the neutral intel briefcase into the other team's basket. It's definitely my favourite practice method, because it improves your DM, rocketjumping, and precise airstrafing. MGE Mod has a 1v1 arena for bball, but the following IP is for a dedicated bball server with 4 slots: bballit.game.nfoservers.com:27015
Finding a Team
Now that you have the basic knowledge and ways to practice on your own, it's time to put it all together and find a team! I'll be covering several aspects of finding a team, and will also be going over PUGs.
Whether you're starting out brand new, or if you have experience, building up a team with friends is the ideal way to build or join a team. Going this route means you will already know the people on your team, which means it will be much easier to work as a team. If you're part of a community or clan, look for potential teammates there. If people are unsure, try to organize some PUGs to give people a taste of comp TF2, and try to build a team with the people who seem interested.
Community sites are great for finding teams, since they have recruiting sections where you can post a thread with your info when you're looking for a team. Although you can post whatever you want in your looking thread, I do have some recommendations of what to include: 1. What class you're looking to play in the thread title. 2. When you can or cannot play. Most teams will scrim Mon-Thurs starting at around 10 EST. 3. What league(s) you want to play in. 4. Whether you just want to goof around or want to focus on improving.
I only know enough about the North American leagues to describe them, so if you're located elsewhere, do some digging on your respective community website.
ESEA The main league in North America, currently only supporting 6v6, and consisting of three divisions: Open, Intermediate, and Invite. It's pay-to-play, and therefore has more serious competition, since most people (not all though) would rather not spend that money on goofing off. It has it's own client that you need to download in order to play matches, and an impressive unlock ban list. The unlock bans are decided by Invite team captains, and all items that are released during a season are automatically banned until the season is over and people have had the chance to test them out in a 6v6 setting.
UGC A lower tier leauge with the following divisions: Steel and Platinum for 6v6, and Iron, Steel, Silver an Platinum for Highlander. It's free to play in, and is a good choice for people wetting their feet in competitive TF2.
Personally, I would recommend starting off in UGC, since it's free and not as serious as ESEA. Having a season of UGC experience will make finding an ESEA team later on a little easier as well. However, don't let that stop you from playing in ESEA if you're invited to an ESEA team.
PUGs are a great way to get your name out there, and will increase your chances of being picked up for a team. However, this is dependant on not being an ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ to everyone in every PUG, of course. Just stay friendly and be open to criticism and you'll most likely gain a decent amount of friends in the community.
Last but not least, random afterthoughts and musings that don't fit anywhere else!
In my opinion, a very important thing to control and improve. Your attitude can do anything from influencing how you play, to determining whether you pass tryouts and get on a team. Getting six people to work together without attitudes or emotions clashing can be a pretty daunting task. It's so focused on working on a team that it's easy to flip out when things go wrong and blame it on everyone but yourself. Even if you think you did everything right and your team still lost the round, consider that what you were doing might not have been best for your team on the whole. For example, I've had times where I was pyro on last, and when the enemy team ubered in I used the pyro to its fullest potential by mashing mouse2 repeatedly in the general direction of the combo, completely neutralizing their uber and combo firepower, yet my team would be getting demolished behind my back and we'd lose the round. In a case like that, you might tend to think "I did my job and my team failed therefore it's not my fault we lost." However, there are so many ways you could play this situation differently (such as airblasting only a few times, then assisting the rest of your team when the combo is reloading) that you need to consider before blaming anyone else. In terms of confidence, you do want to be confident in your own abilities, but not to the point where you come off as cocky and get to urge to inform people you're going to defecate on their front lawn. Keep it nice and balanced. If you suddenly run into a scout, don't think "Oh god he's going to mash spacebar and I'll miss all my rockets and die." Think "I'm gonna get this guy."
Skill labels have always striked me as silly. When I started out, all skill rankings were done from "Low" to "High", with Low being brand new and High being top of Invite. The problem with this one was that so many people of different skill levels would brand themselves as Low/Mid, that it became such a generic term that basically covered 70% of competitive players. When teams/players started claiming they were "Mid", they'd generally get laughed at and called Low/Mid. This system seems to have died off, and now people tend to use where they would be in a division, such as "Mid Open" or "Low IM". Personally, I think this is basically the old system with new names, with mid-Open being the new Low/Mid. In my opinion, it's better to just state how many seasons experience you have.
Another problem with these labels is that occasionally you'll get someone who's played in UGC but never in ESEA making a looking thread claiming to be ready for Intermediate, because they played in the highest UGC division. It's an honest mistake, but people tend to jump on these threads and flame the living daylights out of the person, which is unfortunate.