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TF2: Is Comp killing Clans?

“Is it just me or is it harder now to find servers with good people playing?”

Someone asked me that the other night.

And yes, I’d noticed it too. Community servers seem to be disappearing; communities are getting quieter. Take  WDG.  We’ve gone from being able to fill the server almost every evening to just 2-3 hours on a Friday and our active membership has dropped. You used to be able to guarantee a game on NervousEnergy; now it lies empty.

The larger communities seem to be surviving; ones running 8, 12 or 16 servers with a variety  of maps and settings; 24/7 one-map, instaspawn or payload only and with a substantial pool of players. It’s the small clans that only run one or two servers running a standard map rotation that are suffering most.

I’ve been wondering why:

TF2 is dead

Yes, TF2 is less popular than it was but there are still plenty of people playing and starting up. Just doing a random check on players shows a good number with just a few hours of TF2 and Steam stats show tens of thousands are playing daily.

Clans have moved on

True. In WDG, many have now moved on to other games, League of Legends in particular, DOTA2 as well; other clans have experienced the same (Uberium, No Talent: both dead). Real life events also take their toll. This is natural. The few clans that are managing to keep their servers full seem to have retained a sufficiently large core of TF2 players from the early days who are still keen to spend time seeding the server (Trigger Happy Gamers, Hampshire Heavies, Grumpy Old Gits).

Players are different now.

Could this be a thing? TF2 is now f2p. Perhaps this has led to a more casual player base which is generally less interested in making a commitment to the game or investing in Clans, posting to their forums and getting involved. That’s for the oldies.

Quickplay

Is Quickplay a double-edged sword? In the past players needed to use the in-game browser to find servers. They would select using ping, server settings or name. When a player arrived on a server, they’d made a choice at some level. Finding another server was fiddly, so there they’d stay if it seemed decent.

Now, all a player needs to do is click on the Quickplay button. This takes them straight into a game. They know that’s all they’ll have to do next time as well. There’s no need to to favourite a server; they can leave it up to Quickplay. Easy come, easy go. Good community servers are lost amongst the noise of premium servers, one alone (saigns.de) has 136 servers.

The Competitive Game

TF2 comp seems to be more popular than ever at the moment with new people and teams moving into 6v6 and Highlander. Could this have had  an impact?

There’s always been a tendency to move from pub to comp as players got tired of the frustrations of pub games (lack of class balance and teamwork, annoying weapons, crits). However the path used to tend to be casual pub server (e.g Valve servers), clan server (higher calibre of play, main source of team recruitment), comp.  Now there far more ways in to Comp play. There are newbie mixes and many on-line resources for learning. The growth and promotion of Highlander in particular, means that it’s easier to find a way into that and of course Highlander has no class restrictions so you can carry on playing Pyro or Heavy and using crazy weapons, it has been called a form of idealised pub.

So, is that what’s happening? People who want to commit to TF2 are bypassing the Clan/community stage. They’re going straight from  mucking about on a Valve server to joining a Highlander or 6v6 team/mix group because it’s all now so much easier, and then that’s where their TF2 commitment, time and energy goes. I’ve seen it, the standard response now for someone who says they’re tired of random pubs seems to be to go straight and join a lower level HL team or try a newbie mix.

But does it matter if smaller Clans and their dedicated servers? Maybe not. Personally though, I think it would be a shame.  Clan servers bring a richness and variety to the scene. I play on a number of different ones and each has it’s own ‘personality’ made up from the people that play on them. They provide a sense of ongoing community for those that enjoy that sort of thing and, often as not, also provide accessible good games of higher skill outside the context of competition.

Clans have tried solutions. WDG focusses on getting the server filled on Fridays for our Friday Fragfest. I know one has attempted to sponsor a new HL team. Some have special Server Filler Groups (Hampshire Heavies, Rocketblast for their nocrit server); this seems to work well but I’ve noticed it still doesn’t bring the keen beans onto the forums. Perhaps it would help if there was an official forum or similar where TF2 Clans could recruit/advertise but, strangely, there isn’t, though there is for teams. In the end, it’s all about building community but the challenges of that, I think, is another post.

sad0573fc2

Lurve Clans pleeeeze

TF2; Handbags are flourished, Hive hibernates and no-one listens to Lefty

So what’s been going on in the world of TF2 and WDG lately?

Well FNR! had their final 6v6 game in ETF2L, coming 3rd overall and outside the promotion spots. Not bad, but frustrating considering that FNR! lost points gained from two wins due to teams dropping after the matches, a third win was a default win; that team dropped too. This meant that overall, FNR! had 2 draws and 1 loss, none of their wins counting. I’m not sure what can be done about teams dropping. It distorts results; conceivably at least one of the teams that FNR! defeated could have won against one of the higher placed teams, and just messes people around. Four teams eventually didn’t make it through in div 5H and most other divisions lost at least one.

Keep Calm and Listen to Lefty took to the field again in  Highlander S3 and so far we’ve lost one game on pl_Badwater (I didn’t play in that) and won the one on cp_Steel which surprised me. I did get lost but managed to turn my losing direction into unexpected flanking manoeuvres. Apart from that I just focussed on each point as we moved up, using regular sentry guns on both attack and defense. I decided doing any fancy teleport placements was probably a bit risky and asking for confusion. Our next game is on pl_Upward. We were steamrolled last time we played this.

Handbags at Dawn, with a full female roster now, have had two lobbying sessions; we need to get better. It’s the usual thing, working out our comms and timing pushes. The first week we played, the opposing team filled up with players who seemed to know various members. Some seemed to take a particular delight in the concept of playing and beating us. ‘Prepare for the rape, I have condoms’ as one said. Hey ho. Anyway, the plan is to organise a Show-match with our North American equivalents before the tournament itself. This should be fun and be yet another chance for the EU to redeem ourselves after i46 and prove ourselves to the US! I don’t think the game will be cast live, but we’re looking to get Kip, a female US  eXtv caster (the only one) and either Dolphin, an up and coming US female caster or CSaur, one of our EU team members to to do it.

Handbags at Dawn (skins by chemicalalia, I think)

A Hive of Scum and Villainy have lost a member, one of our keenest who started the newbie mix group, he’s since joined another team formed from some of the regulars there. This has been rather a final blow for the newly formed team. It was already proving difficult to get people together to play matches, we were only managing once a week if that and, to improve, a team of our skill level really needed to play far more often. However it is possible that we’ll be able to pick up more members, we’d be looking at two for each class and in the meantime the ones that want to, will carry on playing in the mix group. There are several mixes every evening. I’ve been playing Demo more in these. I’m still very bad but getting less bad I think, certainly on maps I’m more familiar with; cp_gullywash, cp_process and cp_snakewater now. Certainly, when there’s been opportunity for me to play medic I’ve been kept on Demoman which shows touching faith from the other mixers.

6v6 play in TF2: my struggle to find a team

I’ve mentioned 6v6 play in Team Fortress 2 before.  This is the format most commonly used in competitive play (Highlander comes second). A 6-player team comprises a Medic, a Demoman, 2 Soldiers and 2 Scouts, with other classes used as required during play.

Currently there is a debate going on on the ETF2L forum about a perceived decrease in the popularity of 6v6 play. They’re wondering how to attract pub players to the format and to competitive 6v6 TF2.

Well I don’t play though seasoned readers will know that I’ve wanted to try 6v6 play for a while now. What’s the problem?

Is it unlocks? Valve are constantly releasing new weapons; unlocks. In the EU most are banned. The US allows more and 6v6 is seen as being more popular there; is that because of the unlocks? Highlander is seen as being increasingly played and that allows unlocks. Well it could be for some, but I play Demoman and I use the basic loadout, unlocks don’t matter.

Is is the classes? As said 6v6 is normally demo/scout/soldier/medic plus off-classing. This doesn’t favour those who main the other classes. Again, this could account for the popularity of Highlander; but I main Demoman.

What about skill and knowledge required? 6v6 play is perceived as being high-skill. It’s not the same as pub. Players need to know how to sticky  jump and rocket jump, they need to know various map strategies, learn rollouts and have a clear understanding of class roles.  I’ve had some mentoring and watched casts etc. but theory is very different from practice and practice is hard to find for a Demoman; there’s only one of him and he plays a crucial role. This is daunting.

What about finding people to play with? A 6-player team needs 6 players. Bingo, that’s my biggest problem, and I don’t think I’m the only one judging from what I hear from others. Finding people and starting  is tough.

Forming a team is not just a matter of throwing 6 people together. Teamplay is crucial in TF2 6v6 and the goal is to find a team with compatible members, similar experience and with a good dynamic. A beginner team would learn the game together.

I’m working on this, but since my clan/community only play on our server on Fridays these days, there’s not a lot of opportunity to build a pool of possible 6v6 recruits from there. Often a team forms  from a group of people who regularly play together on a pub server, get on with each other and then decide to try 6v6. Others have expressed interest, but it’s difficult getting everyone together.

There is also a Newbie mix group for new players which is a suggested recruiting ground, but I don’t feel confident enough to try it on my own as a first time 6v6er. And I feel uncomfortable being female. There are relatively few females playing TF2 so when one appears, it’s noted. I’d stand out however much I tried to be just another player as soon as I used the mic. When I’d inevitably crash and burn, I wouldn’t just be a bad player, I’d be a bad female player which would sort of make it worse bearing in mind the stuff that’s said about female gamers.

There are other possibilities. UKCS have held some mixes all of which I missed but there may be more. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of carrying on. I could decide to give up, 6v6 play is only one part of TF2, but the ‘team’ part attracts me and makes me want to at least try it. That’s what I enjoyed about Raiding in LoTRO; working as a team to get through demanding content or just playing, and the great feeling when everything came together. For me that’s one thing that makes gaming.

(And, there is always Highlander)

Keep Calm and Listen to Lefty

Not sure what’s happened but I’ve found myself taking part in Season 2 of the ETF2L (European Team Fortress 2 League) Highlander Community Challenge. Keep Calm and Listen to Lefty; that’s the team. Lefty; that’s Lefty, he’s the Leader, the one who had the idea (of the team, not the Challenge).

The team is a mix of WDG clan members and regulars on the Server.

I’m not sure what class I’ll be; since I can’t play any of them it’s academic so I can probably be quite flexible. I could be a very effective back-up too.

And of course I have no competitive experience at all. I’ve no idea what it might be like. We did have our 3v3 Clan KOTH League a while ago, I played one match, but then it fizzled out the way these things do sometimes, a mix of people being busy in real life and, as I’ve mentioned before, losing a bit of interest in TF2. Highlander is supposed to be quite a good way for a pubber (someone who plays on public servers e.g. Berath) to start competitive play, in that it involves all 9 classes, one of each, 9v9,  with more weapons allowed. Therefore, it is immediately more familiar to the general player. Standard comp is 6v6, all classes are used but Spy, Heavy, Sniper, Pyro and Engie only situationally with a narrower range of weapons permitted…for any of the readership unfamiliar with TF2, Valve provides TF2 with a more-or-less constant stream of updates, some including new weapons, most including hats.

Finally I don’t know what division we’ll be in. I’m hoping Division 6 (the bottom one). Unfortunately a fair few of those signing up I know have played in Division 5. Lefty plays in Division 3. But I have a feeling that with the number of newbies in the team and with the team aim to focus on fun, Division 6 will be where we end up.

Through teamworks, tactics and skill...Yes that'll be us that will

Seeding a Server

Filling up your server; one of the biggest issues with Servers running on-line, multiplayer fps games.  When I  played just MMORPGs, it wasn’t something I thought of. I was in my kinship, and alright there had to be a certain number of players to run an instance or a Raid, but apart from that, you could happily play/quest on your own or just with a couple of people. A small kinship could happily function by itself.

It’s not quite the same with an online multiplayer fps. For starters, games often only take off once a critical number of people have joined. Before that number is reached, players are basically hanging around, entertaining themselves. But they need to stay as just by being there, they increase the likelihood of others joining to make up that critical mass.

So, for a clan or community server, you need that core of players who are willing to do that.

TF2 has something called Quickplay, BF3 has something similar. I’ve written about Quickplay before, but essentially it’s the insta-join facility that you can use as a new player when you start up the game, directing you to Valve-approved servers where you can start playing. The WDG server has now been running the Valve-approved configuration for a few weeks now. Previous to this, we were finding that the server wasn’t filling. People would join briefly, see the server was more-or-less empty and leave, understandable, they wanted to play a good game of TF2 straight off, they didn’t have time to wait. Now we are getting players through. It still needs that core, but maybe after a couple of maps, people start to feed in, though the rate does vary, and the server fills, and stays full. We’ve checked the server status and currently it rates at

Standing: Good

Trending: Upward Fast.

Basically this means, that new people are joining and staying. Apparently, when anyone joins, the server score is deducted 15 points, then for every minute they stay, the score gets incremented by 1 up to a maximum of 1 hour. The whole system intends to weight itself towards busy, well-run community servers to try and ensure that new players experience the best of TF2. So from that alone, our Server should do well. We have our seeding core of Clan and community players and, as well as new players, when the server is full, we have our more experienced regulars dropping in and out to give them a proper flavour of the game. And we’re seeing regulars who haven’t played for a while, stopping by for a couple of maps, easier now the server is staying full which is a great outcome.

ETF2L Season 10 draws to a close

Season 10 in the European TF2 League is just drawing to a close. We’ve seen some good games at the top, a bit of drama; teams folding with other teams being unexpectedly promoted as a result and interesting line-up changes, along with the usual amount of low-level inter-player abuse and mild (or sometimes not so mild) homoerotic innuendo that goes to make up our happy little Tf2 world.

My clan has a team in Division 5. And it has been exciting to watch them, as they attempt to arrange games and get everyone together at the same time to play bearing in mind work commitments, life commitments and time zones. Sometimes they’ve made up to three or four arrangements in the same week. It’s kept me on the edge of my seat.

I think some matches have been played, though these seem a small, insignificant part of it all. We seem to have done well, though regarding actually winning games, perhaps less so.

But to be honest, in my opinion, any team that has made it through the Season, as a team, has done good.

The TF2 WDG community

Whilst I was about it I thought I’d link a Youtube video. A Youtube video produced by Tommy the Cat (of the WDG community). It gives a glimpse of what the WDG community gets up to on the Public Server, this includes Berath. That is, me. I can be glimpsed turning blue and flying part way through.

I suspect it may have a niche appeal, but not to worry, there is some more poetry coming soon!

At i43

So now, finally. I43? Did I enjoy it, would I recommend it, and would I go again?

Well I might as well go through it, bit by bit. First:

The Venue

This was the first year at Telford International Centre for the LAN series, so was a bit of a learning experience for all concerned. On the first day, the council decided to insist on a 2m gap between tents which came as a bit of a surprise to all. Bringing food in, Security seemed to be operating to an unknown Security Guard hot food code: chicken korma in, fish and chips out; sometimes. No-one could crack it. It turned out they were just confused, it should’ve only been pizza: out; always, because there was a pizza concession on-site.  The halls were too hot, people complained about the heat. However they were also too cold, people talked about cold legs.

Facilities were okay though by Sunday evening none of the drinks machines seemed to be working. At the start, with the number of women there, I’d worked out I more-or-less had my own toilet cubicle. But then they switched some of the ladies’s loos to men’s. This made me a bit sad, but it was fair. I did hear that further unannounced toilet gender switching took place over the weekend causing a few unexpected encounters.

The Accommodation

Nice comfy hotels, 3 mins walk away. Camping; not on your life

The Gaming

Yes, there was gaming. The whole event was really pretty hardcore here. I’d only bought a spectator ticket and it became pretty clear that unless you had specific plans to socialise only, there was not much to do unless you had a computer. Fortunately my clan mates improvised and so I managed to get on a pc and get a few gaming sessions in.

Hall 1; or maybe 2 (photo courtesy of Multiplay)

I did badly at L4D2; we played some versus matches; not so easy when you’d only played a map once, didn’t look too cool spawning as a Charger and charging straight into a wall you didn’t realise was there. Not scary zombie. Not effective zombie.

I also played a little TF2.

They premiered BF3 which created quite a crowd waiting to have a go. It seemed to be a last minute decision to show it, I wonder if that means the increased size of i43 has suddenly brought it more attention. That can only be good surely.

The Tournaments

I was a bit disappointed here. I’d hoped to see a lot of the games played live, mainly TF2. This didn’t seem to be possible unless I missed something. You were fine if you had a pc; VanillaTF2 were streaming and live casting a lot of the matches. Otherwise less so. Generally there was a rather irritating lack of information about what was going on when and where apart from the really big matches on the main screen and the tannoy system was incomprehensible.

TF2 Final

One word; MANIC. It was my first live TF2 final and it was awesome, physically and emotionally draining; the crowd lived every single moment; every headshot, meatshot, point cap.

I’d watched the CoD4 final beforehand. The chairs were about half full, the audience clapped a little at the end of each round but more-or-less watched in silence. I thought they were asleep through most of it. Or dead.

For the TF2 final, the chairs were full and people were standing.

The match itself was exciting and went to three maps (it was BO3; Best of 3). Two of the most epic teams in TF2 had made it Epsilon eSports and Infused Tt. Epsilon eSports won the first map; Badland, Infused pulled it back in Gullywash and then Epsilon took Infused in the final map Granary. And the crowd went wild. Again. And again. And again. All the way through.

The TF2 crowd in a subdued moment (photo courtesy of Multiplay)

The casters were well-known figures in the TF2 world; Byte and Admirable, both comp players themselves.

Halfway through one of Epsilon’s computers packed up. Byte, with Admirable, did a brilliant job during the downtime, entertaining the crowd with ‘cheerfuls’, an idea devised by another caster, Comedian. Blank pieces of paper were distributed and the crowd wrote or drew TF2 related stuff on them and then Byte chose his favourite. There are examples in the outdoor community photo in the previous post. So Byte roamed, reading out peoples’ cheerfuls and interviewing any TF2 comp players that he happened to find in the audience. It worked well.

By the way there is no such thing as ‘a cheerful’. I suspected as much even though Byte/Comedian/Admiral spoke about ‘a cheerful’ as if it was a truth word. I googled it. It is made-up. So don’t use the term amongst normal people because they won’t understand and may laugh at you. More than usual.

'Cheerfuls' (photo courtesy of Multiplay)

People I met

Meeting people at LAN = good

WDG Clanmates:  nice to meet them face-to-face. None of them seemed to move much, away from the PC, all weekend. Saw them eating pizza from time to time but that could be ordered on-line and delivered to the desk, so it didn’t really count. They did manage to make it to the pub quiz (we came second rawr; the quiz was a definite weekend highlight). And of course the TF2 final.

UKCS Community: mostly known via the UKCS forum. They had a clanbox and a live stream. I met Trell (UKCS stalwart) who I’ve chatted to from time to time whilst watching comp games on VanillaTF2. Was given stickers by Xerxes (UKCS stalwart) which is really what it’s all about.

TF2 community: saw various comp players previously only; seen photographs of, read articles about and read responses by on various forum threads (often slightly abusive at best, frequently argumentative).

So that was i43. And would I recommend it? Yes, but only really to people who are seriously into gaming unless they’ve specific plans. Would I go again? Definitely, but next time for the entire thing with a BYOC ticket. I46, here I come.

This is i43 and community TF2. WDG goes Huge. With added hats (courtesy of Ripsaw)

Going to i43

Tomorrow I’m off to i43, now set to be the biggest LAN ever to take place in the UK (at time of writing 2223)

I’ll be meeting up with people from my Clan who’ve managed to make it and dropping by to say hello to various people who play on the set of Community servers I most frequently play on, UKCS. All TF2 of course.

Apart from that, I’ll just be hanging out, soaking up the atmosphere. I haven’t bought a BYOC (Bring your own computer) ticket which would give me the use of an internet connection and a neat little table to put my pc on, because I’m going up on the Saturday; it starts officially on Friday with an early arrival service on Thursday allowing entry from 6pm. I felt that I couldn’t justify the cost, UK LANs seem to be more expensive comparatively, than mainland EU LANs. There was an early bird offer which knocked 30% off but I missed that because I was still fiffing and faffing about going.

I’m not 100% sure what to expect. There will be a TF2 tournament which I’ll be watching. There’ll be two teams from UKCS playing and my Clan is putting up a team too. A lot of the main comp players/teams will be playing as well so it will be interesting to see that live.

Apart from that, there is an Exhibition Hall to look around and other games to spectate (including CoD, Starcraft 2, CS:S, L4D2). There is wireless/Internet in my hotel, so I can retreat there to do some gaming if I want, plus I’ve checked and the games I’ve got all play in off-line mode. It sounds, as well, as if all the usual boozing and cavorting associated with any Convention will be going on; there’s a pub quiz and a Boat Race.

Anyhow, it all should be pretty entertaining and certainly interesting. I’ll report back.

WDG KOTH League: Zero Gravitas vs Sit Tommy Down

So the first match has taken place and it was my team, Zero Gravitas (Berath, Greg, Teh Fluff) vs Sit Tommy Down (Tommy the Cat, Cruelcow, Power).

It was good.

After a bit of debate, we managed to settle on a date and a time, we only needed to decide on the map. We reckoned it was easier to rule out the ones we didn’t want first. I didn’t want Koth_nucleus. This is a very dangerous map. It has walkways that are very easy to fall from. You’re also a sitting duck on the point.

koth_nucleus: too dangerous. Sitting duck

Koth_sawmill is another bad map. It has two enormous saw blades on either side of the point going backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards. This is disturbing, and dangerous as well.

koth_sawmill: too disturbing

Tommy the Cat rejected koth_lakeside. This map was, we felt, too weird and too big. There was a risk that, playing 3vs 3, teams could get lost and end up never meeting one another.

koth_lakeside: too big, too weird

This left us with koth_viaduct, koth_harvest and koth_badlands.

We decided on koth_harvest which we all knew and is a compact map.

Koth_Harvest_Farmhouse: the selected map. The point is in the hut to the right

We started with a Pyro (me), Demoman and Soldier (no Medics or Engineers allowed).
STD started with a Soldier, Demoman and Scout. Although Demoman is probably my
stronger class now, I’m still really poor at close range. I guessed that the other team
would run a Scout which would mean I’d end up dead most of the time, Scouts are fast,
they dodge and can get in close quick. With the Pyro I could help defend our Demo, countering any Scouts to an extent.

And the three of us put up a reasonable fight I think.

We seized the cap, they seized it back, we took it again. They brought out Power’s Heavy to mow us down, the sods, we counted with our own; I think it was Teh Fluff, team captain, saving us all. Then Cruel went Sniper so my Pyro nipped behind him and took him out, and yes, indulged in a dash of Tommy scout singeing too. There was a bit of Soldier vs Soldier roof-top action, Greg and Teh Fluff scored some tasty direct hits. No-one fell off from either team.

Yes, it was good.

We ended up losing 3-0. But after the third game we kept on going with no talk of stopping. Fortunately there was a time limit on the map so it came to an end; I’ve seen the Duelists, I know what can happen.

But whatever, well played everyone and onto the next.

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