The fact that Valve has been working on a competitive matchmaking system for Team Fortress 2 is nothing new.
The guys over at TeamFortressTV talked to the TF2 team way back when in early 2015, and even then it looked like matchmaking had been on the radar for some time.
Recently however there has been some progress towards seeing official matchmaking actually in the game; Valve News Network (fantastic channel by the by, check it out) summarised it beautifully. But why should you care? Allow me to explain…
What is Competitive TF2?
Let’s start with the basics. Although some are far more popular than others, there are three game modes in competitive TF2.
Highlander is by far the most popular, and is a 9v9 setup. The name here is key, as a team consists of one member of each class. Weapon restrictions are also more lenient, making it the most flexible (and most accessible) to newer players.
6v6 (or 6s) is the most popular setup for tournaments. Although any class can played, by far the most standard setup is 2 Scouts, 2 Soldiers, 1 Demoman and a Medic; the other five classes are only used situationally. 6s is considered the more serious of the two main competitive modes (Highlander and 6s), and is the place for you if you really want to test your skills.
4v4 (4s) is relatively new, and tends to be more deathmatch-focused than the previous modes. The four members of each are allowed to pick any class, with a limit of one of each class (e.g.: no double Soldiers) and either a Heavy or a Medic. You can have neither or one, but not both.
Why Play Competitive TF2?
Honestly, the answer is simple. Teamwork and pure skill.
Have you ever been playing in a public server (pub) and simply been unable to do anything? Ever tried to capture the point whilst supported by nothing but Hoovies? Or how about getting killed by a random crocket when you’re about to land the killing blow? Johns aside, sometimes you genuinely can’t win because your team don’t support you, or pure blind luck is on the other side.
Now imagine always having a well-balanced team, all communicating with each other over comms. Imagine beating your opponents and actually earning the celebration crits. Imagine being pushed into overtime before snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
That is what competitive TF2 is about. Pubs are all well and good to mess around and kill some time; after all, the Fat Scout Rush wouldn’t quite work in a more serious setting.
However, the memorable games are when you do your best and, win or lose, feel like everyone gave it their all.
Steam-rolling or getting decimated is boring and frustrating, and although they can be hilarious random crits are the work of Merasmus himself.
Competitive TF2 does away with most anything that gives one player a straight upgrade over another. Random crits are off and certain weapons are banned to level the field (to be honest the stock weapons are usually better anyway). Don’t worry about not being the best, or even being that good at all; if you’re interested in the competitive scene the best way to improve is to just jump in. Sure, you might have to enter at the lower end of the scale, but that’ll make it all the sweeter to work your way up the ladder.
Why play competitive TF2? The adrenaline, satisfaction and sheer childish joy of true skill and teamwork.
What’s New about the Matchmaking?
Valve has been rather sneaky about slowly putting competitive matchmaking in the game; the first sign of this was back in 2014’s Scream Fortress Halloween update, where several pieces of code referencing things like “playerskill” and “competitiveskillrankingupdate” were added.
After that nothing was done with the files, or heard from Valve on the topic until the TeamFortressTV scoop mentioned earlier. Shortly after this in July the Gun Mettle update was released, once again containing some hidden clues (it’s all very Sherlock Holmes).
More code and an item called the “Competitive Matchmaking Beta Pass” was added, along with some super sleuths discovering that punching “openmatchmakinglobby ladder” (no speech marks) into the developer’s console took them to a brand new matchmaking lobby screen. The only problem was that you needed a Beta Pass to search for a game, and no-one knew how to get one.
Fast forward to the most recent Scream Fortress update in October and yet more was added to allow matchmaking for competitive TF2.
Yet more code about separate player ranks for different competitive modes was now present, along with official support for Highlander and 6s. The lobby reached with the console command from Gun Mettle was upgraded to include stat trackers for games, kills, damage, healing and support, along with a slider to change gamemode, a general player rank (starting at Recruit), class portraits and the option to invite friends to a party. It’s not yet known whether the class portrait is random, or shows either a selected or most played class.
Then, on 5th November 2015 something changed. A few players found listing for 12 official competitive TF2 servers, and were also able to queue up for these servers without the need for a Beta Pass. Sadly there appears to be some very finicky and specific criteria to be able to access the queueing system, and that criteria is not fully known.
What Does This Mean?
But seriously, all of these additions point towards at the very least a Beta release of an official competitive TF2 matchmaking service in the works, and since the majority was added in the recent updates, it could be arriving very soon.
Keep an eye out in the coming months TF2 fans; something fantastic could be on the way!