Tuesday, January 12, 2016

[Video Game] A TF2 Pub-Newb Speaks: What I Learned After 500 Hours Playtime In Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 is my latest obsession nowadays. Yes, this first-person shooter with cartoonish graphics may have been released in 2007, but this game still gives me fresh laughs and plenty of enjoyment today. I love the wacky lines, the teamwork you can foster, the griefers, the hats, the taunts, and all the other lovely (and not-so-lovely) chaps you can play with in order to win a round.

Parties at spawn are also da bomb.

In truth, I’ve spent the last 6 months or so accumulating around 500 hours of playtime in this game. 500 hours may sound like a lot of time spent on one game, but in TF2, that’s a fraction of what it takes to be called “adept”. (1,000+ hours is the standard, or so I’ve heard.)

My most played Steam games as of Jan. 12, 2016. No, 545 hours is NOT ENOUGH.

Still, I have learned some stuff that helped me survive in-game longer than I did starting out. These things have also helped me be a better player to help my team win more rounds and, in the process, have lots more fun with random people online. Here are just a few of the things I’ve learned so far at my 500-hour gametime mark.

You're A Total Newb When You Start Out (And That's OK)

I got into TF2 when my younger sisters invited me to play with them. We three were newbies to the game then. One picked pyro, another picked medic, and I picked being the heavy weapons guy (since I usually love playing as the tank/meat shield). I kept dying the first few times, and someone soon voted to kick me for being “idle”. I got really frustrated at that point (especially since I was playing and not idle at all!), and got off the game while my sisters laughed in the background. After simmering down, I found this comic that made me feel better and helped me keep playing:

This is a screenshot I took at that time. The "its okay ate :)))))" message was from my sister, who wrote it after I showed this comic to her. ("Ate" is what they call me here.) Comic from Nerfnow.com.

And you know what I've learned from that? It's OK to not know how to play at the beginning. It's OK that you got dominated by almost everyone on the server. It's OK that you keep dying every time you leave spawn. It's OK, since you're still learning to play the game. And guess what- I'm 500 hours in, and I still have lots to learn. I haven't gotten all the achievement items yet, and I don't even have an unusual hat at this point.

If you find yourself getting frustrated at being a newbie, just take a deep, calming breath. Know that you can get better – in time, and with practice. Some of the things I did to improve on my gameplay were to read plenty of guides, watch lots of YouTube vids, and to spend, well, lots more time in-game. You'll probably suck at first, but as a wise dog once said:

Sucking at something is the first step to becoming sorta good at something.

And, I assure you, it WILL get better. YOU will get better. :)

It's Best To Play With Real Players, Not Bots

Somewhere between 200 and 300 hours, I discovered that I could create my own servers and populate them with bots – and unlock the achievement items per class without having to play with random strangers. As so, I started to spend a lot of time playing with Expert level bots on the Upward map. I got a few achievements, learned to crouch-jump, and got a sense of how to expect players to move.

One day, I decided to test what I’ve learned on an Upward map at a public server, and it was really hard for me to play properly against real players. Bots have set patterns, and do the same things over and over again. So, it became second nature for me to expect a sentry in a typical sentry spot for a bot. Real players, on the other hand, have diverse skills, and the randomness of the gameplay meant that you never quite know how the other team is set up, unless you have good communication with your team. (Also, a bot medic could pocket you all the time, whereas, well, it’s hard to find a medic in pubs.) Since then, I’ve only ever played with real players.

Another reason I didn't like playing with bots: My ego always went for a nosedive when I saw how I always scored last on servers full of them.

Bots are great to practice with, but I believe that playing with them should only be done in moderation. Nothing beats learning from experience, even if it means getting backstabbed by the same spy in the same spot over and over again, or never getting out of the gates due to spawncampers. Just relish the fact that someone in the server may be better than you, and they may just give you the chance to improve on your game, instead of giving you a bot's cold, blank stare. Check out the brilliant documentary below to see just how unfeeling those bots can be:

Don't Overextend

I have played plenty of hours as a scout that got repeatedly killed by a minisentry that was right around the corner. There have also been several times when, as a medic, I did not deploy my Ubercharge at the right time, and killed both me and my patient instead. As fun as it is to be reckless, it may have actually helped my team more if I didn’t die repeatedly, and if I knew how to exit a bad situation when needed.

The Danes of everyone's existence.

One of the reasons new players die almost immediately in this game is probably because they are overextending themselves. This means that they may have overestimated their abilities, and went ahead without doing proper threat assessment beforehand. This can be deadly in-game, since almost anything could be lurking in that corner: a disguised spy, an ubered heavy, or a level 3 sentry gun.

Keeping yourself from overextending relies heavily on learning game sense, which you only really develop by playing the game more. It’s also about learning when to back out, even if you’re confident that you could kill that mini-sentry at 1 health. There’s no shame in leaving a situation you can’t handle by yourself, and you could just be credit to team if you could actually stay alive a little bit longer instead of spending more time respawning.

Except when you're a pro huntsman. Then overextend all you like.

Learn To Be Flexible With Classes (AKA Don't Be The 4th Sniper, Please)

My favorite class is the medic, and it’s the class I’ve so far spent the most hours on. (A third or so of my game time has been devoted to healing pub players, whether gibus or pro.) However, I am also trying to rack up hours in other classes, so I could help my team in more appropriate ways when we need a better defense or offensive push.

But medic is always best for offense, defense...

... and general objective completion.

Unfortunately, I sometimes find that being a medic is my usual go-to class in public servers, since medics in pubs are rare to see, as mentioned previously. (If there are any, they might just be playing with their friends and refusing to heal anyone other than their pocket, or they could be new players battle medic-ing their way in the battlefield.) So even though there are times I would rather play the sneaky spy man in a server, I begrudgingly change to medic if that’s just what my team needs to win. (What is tryhard?)

This is TF2, so please remember that your teammates are usually trying their best to win, and they can’t do it alone.  They need your help, and that may just mean being flexible enough to switch classes if necessary. That also means that you should really stop being the 4th scout, spy, or sniper in a team. For the love of GabeN, please don’t be that 4th scout/spy/sniper. Instead, try to be the class your team is missing in the line up. (Unless you’re that troll of course, then we should totally conga kick do Mannrobics do whatever new dance taunt they have out together some time.)

So be the 6th sniper instead.

Teamwork and Communication Wins Games

I’ve seen teams with players that have 2,000+ hours gametime, but, as amazing as their gameplay is, their team usually fails if the other players of that team are not working together. Alternatively, I have seen teams that, in the last few minutes, rallied together and actually won the round, even though they were steamrolled beforehand. In essence then, you can’t win if you don’t have teamwork.  That’s (almost) literally the name of the game. 

Sometimes you need a little more gun.
(For the love of GabeN though, please don't cluster your sentries together, engis.)

Note that one big factor of teamwork is communication, since that will help expand one player's view of the battlefield, especially since maps can be diverse and huge. However, as I've experienced in pubs, it can be hard to have teawork when nobody's using the comms available- text or voice. (Properly, anyway, since yes, some players just use the chat to spam lenny binds or say terrific nonsense.) But still, communication actually plays a big part in winning. Personally, I have yet to use my own mic while playing TF2, but at least on the chat, I can call out things like where the enemy’s sentry is located, or if an enemy Uber has been popped. (When I do, I've noticed that it encourages other people to use their comms, too.)

So if you're in the position to give helpful information to your team, please do so. If you don't want to use the chat, try the ready-made yet helpful voice lines your character can voice out at any time. (Some of my favorites are X+2 and C+7/8.) This communication leads to teamwork, and people will appreciate anything that will help expand their view of the map. It could lead you to getting more friends, too.

Teamwork: Winning by Kazotsky kicking on the point with level 3 sentries protecting you. 

Just Have Fun

The truth is, while I'm most of the time trying to be a helpful member of my team by switching classes when needed, or being vocal on chat on what strategies we can use to win the game, there are times I just want to be a derpy nobody trying out my own thing. I've experienced being part of pootis parties (X+5 + sandvich heavy, anyone?), conga-ing the entire round, running around with the idea of only getting taunt-kills, and all kinds of random shenanigans.

Ain't no party like a pootis party.

That's the beauty of TF2 (and the Valve servers). In terms of gameplay, you can have so many different playstyles – from being the charging swordsman to the bow-and-arrows man to the guy who hits people from above with a shovel to the fire expert who likes airblasting people off cliffs.

Or be the deadly newb-killing pan-sniper.

Also, thanks to the many different people in the world who play this game, you encounter all sorts of interesting people who have interesting views on how to play this interesting game. With a few voice lines and dance taunts, I was able to help out an enemy engineer set up a secret teleporter behind my own team's base. After Ubering a spy who was High-Fiving the entire round, two medics and I decided to go Uberchaining (and failing miserably). Dance-taunting while capturing a point with teammates (then either winning or have everyone dying a few seconds later) is not unheard of in my book. I've had all sorts of fun and crazy times with the random people playing TF2, even though my team and I ended up losing (or winning) the game.

You can also go into (almost) infinite overtime due to doing Mannrobics with the enemy team at the point. THIS IS PUB!

So even though I mentioned lots of team-centric things so far, don't let any of that change the way you want to play this game. If you want to be the 5th spy in your team, go ahead! If you'd rather be a strong, independent player who don’t need no team to win, that's fine too. At the end of the day, Team Fortress 2 is a game, and you're supposed to play it to enjoy yourself. So go and have fun!

To 1,000 Hours And Beyond

At this point, while I've picked up some things in my 500 hours, I honestly still have a lot to learn. For one thing, I've just recently done some trading to get a few hats and taunts. There's also competitive TF2, which sounds pretty interesting. (I'll probably wait for Valve to implement matchmaking first, though. But Valve time...) And, of course, there are events that happen every few months, like Scream Fortress and Smissmas. I haven't even touched MvM at this point, and there's all sorts of cool things I haven't mastered, like wrangle jumps and market gardening.

Someday, I'll be mann enough to make teletraps for newbs like you guys do. Someday.

Nevertheless, I HAVE learned this: TF2 is a fun game, and I've spent many, many enjoyable hours in it. I look forward to spending more time in it in the future, too. See you in 1,000 hours!

I love playing as the Vacc medic nowadays, next to being a luckhuntsman or sentry-destroying pyro.

PS: Screenshots used here are my own, taken from the many, many games I have personally played.

PPS: Yes, I either use generic newb cosmetics, or go hatless. I feel like I don't deserve to wear other hats until I believe that I can play each class decently.

PPPS: I've spent 500+ hours in-game according to Steam, but my actual play stats are quite different. I guess the 200 extra in-game hours I have was spent in loading screens and respawn times. Red team on Upward has such long respawn times. :(

At this point, I find it ironic that my least played classes have the most points and kills.

PPPPS: Why yes, I do change my name often. I'm favoring being called indigo at the moment, but that could change any time. :)

- Published on The Daily SPUF -


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