Despite gaming being my primary hobby, gaming with strangers online has never been a significant interest of mine. There are only a few games where I will ever venture away from the friends list onto the wilds of the untamed internet.
Team Fortress 2 is one of the rare games that has successfully coaxed me into those lands back in distant 2007 with the release of the beta. I still regularly play with friends on public servers where I tend to do fairly well playing primarily as a soldier.
Team Fortress 2 has an active competitive side which I find fascinatingly different from the standard play.
In normal Team Fortress 2 there are 9 classes and the game is built around the expectation that the teams are likely to have between 10 and 12 players. It is geared primarily towards more casual play and includes a variety of random elements to help mitigate skill differences. Weapon damage is slightly randomised, scatter also is random and players have a random chance of critical hits. There are hundreds of items in the game which all need to be accounted for with their various advantages and disadvantages and they have been mostly balanced around this standard kind of play.
Competitive TF2 strips out almost all of these random elements, weapons fire scatters in precise and uniform patterns, damages are not randomised and crits are only generated in specific circumstances based upon items. When I first heard about this it felt incredibly wrong, the randomness is part of the game, I can understand why it isn't desired in a competitive system but some of the most memorable moments in TF2 have come from these random chances.
Team sizes are also changed, the two most popular formats are 6v6 and highlander which is 9v9. Highlander's restrictions are based upon the name, there can be only one... of each class. 6v6 limits teams to two of any class, but only one medic and only one demoman.
6v6 is easily the more popular of the two forms in Australia, it really only sees use of 4 of the classes with the other 5 used sparingly and situationally. This makes the game a lot smaller and more predictable, this mode has been around long enough that there are standard rollouts for each class and fairly stable team structures. It makes spectating easier in that you know the general team composition, but also a little more predictable.
The different team structure combined with players that are more highly skilled in those classes and who coordinate and communicate constantly makes the games feel very different. When I normally play I will try to stick with my friends but I certainly don't feel bound by this, I will take risks and be a little move aggressive than is sensible. I will talk to my friends about what is happening but often in a private mumble channel rather than on the server itself to the rest of the team.
My girlfriend tracks the Australian competitive TF2 scene and as a result we have watched various matches with dinner. Normally just the big matches, the semis, the finals, the state of origin that kind of thing. The atmosphere is very much akin to watching a game of football except that I know more about what is happening.
The key similarity is the commentary. We get our streams via a kiwi named Greaver; he and a few others talk about what the various teams are doing, speculate about their strategies and do post-game interviews. I really love having that, it adds a lot to the game and helps consolidate the relative chaos and distributed nature of the game. It was not built for spectating and there is no overhead map that can be used to see where all players are, nor is there the same focusing that comes from say a ball being passed around. There are some focusing elements, but they are a lot more static and conflicts away from those elements remain important. Good commentary helps tie everything together.
There are also other competitions that the ozfortress community runs and we played in one last month. It was an elimination tournament of Ultiduo.
In Ultiduo each team consists of a medic (a relatively fragile guy who regenerates and is able to heal other players) and a soldier (an all rounder who fights using a rocket launcher and a shotgun). The goal of each team is to hold a central point for a total of 5 minutes.
There were servers available for practice and we managed to rope a few friends into helping us try out the map and try to come up with some strategies. It was a lot of fun getting ready and when Sunday night came we signed up. We weren't exactly hopeful of winning but we wanted to see how well we could do and how far we could get.
Not very far as it turns out, we lost the first game we played fairly convincingly, we were able to take down their medic about three times and their soldier twice. We held the point for 30 seconds, they held it for 5 minutes and we were eliminated.
We had our dinner and returned to watch the rest of the competition. It turns out, even if we had won our first match, the next game would have been against a soldier and medic from the top comp team in Australia iM Intel. It was gratifying to see the pair that had so handily crushed us be taken down. They did worse against Yuki and Bonobo than we did against them.
It was fun to take part of the competition, to then watch the later games and know that you had taken part and to see how the better players did. The key differences in their strategies and skill levels and to simply marvel at the amount of effort that went into it all.
To be honest, at this point I am pretty happy to sit in the sidelines, these matches all take place at night or on the weekends and my week nights are pretty occupied right now, but maybe once the uni year is finished I might try to get a bit more into the competitive scene myself.
As long as I can still find the time to work on the lists.
Sorry for the silence on the site, uni kind of got ahead of me but classes are now over and once my exam next week is done I have a longer holiday ahead of me than I have had since I finished my undergrad.