So you have pubstarred your way to the top of public games, and you want to get into competitive. Perhaps you?ve played on a comp team before, and you want to reform your own team with some friends. Maybe you just want to form the best group of players you can. Whatever reason you?ve decided to take charge, congratulations. You?re the lifeblood of the comp scene and it simply could not function without people like you. A lot of teams come and go in competitive play. Sometimes people lose dedication, or plateau. Too often, poor planning and coordination are the ones to blame. And that onus fall onto you in order to keep your company together.
Who Am I?
For 2 years, I?ve subbed for a lot of different teams, but I only joined a team during UGC Season 9, which was a lot of fun and got me hooked into comp TF2. Unfortunately, the team took a bit of a nosedive after the season ended, and it was clear that if I didn?t step in and take control of the situation, we weren?t going to have a Season 10 team. Scrambling to put together a new team, and get everyone in shape was way more work than I anticipated. We ended up with just an even 4-4 record at the end of the season. But in the end, it was way more rewarding, and I couldn?t be more impressed with the ones who stuck through to the end. I learned a lot along the way, and I hope you can learn from my rookie mistakes.
Pre-Season: What do you need?
You need much much much more than great aim to run a successful team. The amount of extraneous knowledge and materials needed is definitely not-trivial.
If you don?t have your own server to practice on, then it can be hard to ensure everyone has good ping. Having your own server lets you scrim whenever your team feels like it, and it?s a good way to ensure everyone will not experience crippling latency. Otherwise, you have to trust your opponent to provide a decent server, or borrow one from the league. You can use that server to also run some practice. Map-Review, MGEMod, or general smallVsmall DMing between yourselves and trusted others is a really good resource to have. This is why community teams do very well, as they usually have access to a server allready.
Voice Chat Server
Whether it?s mumble, skype, ventrillo or whatever. The latency on in-game chat is just too high. A nice chat client also provided a good home base that everyone can hang out and socialize in.
The technical knowledge to run the previous 2
Did the whitelist of allowed weapons get changed? You gotta know how to update the file. Who owns the rcon password to your server? Is your mumble chat a public server, and people are interrupting your comms? You need to setup a channel with a private access token only you guys know. You need to have you, or someone, know the answers to these kinds of questions in order to keep business flowing smoothly.
The TF2 community is far from insular, but in order to recruit the best you can, and get the best practices, you need to know people. Start forming relationships with server administrators, TF2 personalities, other team leader, your administrators. All of these people will be able to help you out at some point if you need them to.
You need to be able to have your team meet all at the same time to play, so get everyone on the same page all the time. Keep a calendar, and make sure people are following it. Let everyone know well in advance what the schedule is.
If you?re a new team especially, you need someone who has at least a little experience with competitive. It?s an entirely different beast than a public match, and you?ll lose simply for what others would consider to be stupid mistakes. The good news is a lot of these mistakes are easy to prevent early on, and having someone who can recognize them is really good. A strategist should also be watching replays of other games, getting ideas for what your team can be doing differently, and how you can take advantage of your players specific strengths.
So depending on what format you?re playing you?re gonna need more or less people? How do you get them? If you?re totally new to the scene, the forums are the best place to start. Playing on TF2Lobby, and finding someone without a common tag in their name is probably an unaffiliated player and maybe looking. IRC channels of the bigger community servers are also a good place to check. How you get your players are up to you.
How many people do I get?
In my experience, as many as you can. For UGC Highlander, you can have 18 people (2 times the required amount). In the future, I might not even play on a team without 18 people. Consider this: the prospect of having lots of players sit out a match is much better than missing a match because you didn?t have enough. With more players, you have more choices in your roster any given week. And you can do more. More scrims, more reviews. It allows your more active players to get in more practice, while letting your more casual players come in as they want.
Who plays what class?
Last season we ran a completely open role selection. My thinking was that if we lost some players, we could have a few multi-class players who could slot in without any difficulty. This turned out to cause a much bigger problem than it solved: people were unsure on their class, and some people overloaded some classes, while we had only 1 guy on a few others. People ended up not getting the practice they needed on the right class come game time. That time spent off classing, while not worthless, wasn?t as useful as it could have been. In my opinion, it?s much better to have everyone come in which the explicit requirement that they play 1 class. Less headaches for everyone. As an added bonus, if I can get my 18 people, I?ll be able to pair up everyone with their counterparts for comparing strats, and coordinating when they?ll be online.
How do I choose?
It?s hard picking if someone is really going to be a good fit or not. There?s not much I can do to help you, but I have some guidelines. You should generally do a practice scrim or two with the new person, and don?t give him any instruction or advice except the obvious (like what the game plan is this round). You can take that and evaluate things like:
How good are they at putting the mouse where they need to?
How vocal is this player during the game?
How well does he react to his own team?
Does he know anybody else that you want on your team?
Can he help fix technical issues when they appear?
How much time is he willing to put in?
Do I really want to play with this person?
Is this person in my timezone? Does he get good connection to my server?Have a process for deciding who gets on the team and who doesn?t. It doesn?t have to be a public process, but try to be fair. It?s your team, and the better you craft it, the better it will naturally be.
Pre-Season: Dedication, The Un-Binding Contract
At this point, you have players prove some commitment. Whether in writing or spoken meeting. You have to decide when is a good time for scrims. What classes everyone is comfortable with subbing when you need them to. Things like this. Hold your team to this, and hold yourself to these promises as well.
So what?s the best way to practice? There are 4 ways people can practice
The least helpful. No team strategy is involved. It?s simply there to help your aim, get used to the basics of your class.
Some TF2 mods designed to have you shoot at each other as fast and as much as possible. This is great for learning the ins and outs of your class, especially scout and soldier.
An organized match, but usually consists of people not on teams together. Usually. This is a great way to get a feel for competitive. How far up you can push. How much you can extend. Where ambush spots tend to be. Things like that.
Matches against other teams, setup ahead of time. These are the best way to practice, no exceptions. You get used to your team, and you can see what the other teams do that work.
You want to practice as much as your team allows, but you also want to make it useful practice. Before Scrims, you really need to come up with?.
Season: Map Strategy
Before scrimming, everyone needs to do a map review. Make sure they know where all the health/ammo packs are. Make sure you have a name for every important location. It really sucks when someone calls a sniper position as ?The railing by that thing?. Short names are the best, because they can be said quickly and easily convey what you need to know. SPECIAL NOTE: when it comes to Spy, calling out his location to make things easiest. It?s oftentimes habit to just say ?Spy behind you, Heavy?. This takes a long time to process though, and in my experience takes too long to respond, plus if it?s directed at one person, others who might be able to help out will tend to ignore such callouts.
After everyone knows the basic map layout, come up with a basic strategy. If it?s a 5CP/KOTH map, how do you rollout? If it?s a PL map, how do you setup the initial push and defense? What?s everyone?s goal during every stage of the game? If you?re playing 6s when and where do you want to offclass? You have to answer these questions to make sure everyone knows what they?re doing.
Season: Appropriate comms
A common newbie mistake is to flood communications with extra unnecessary information. Yelling expletives, complaining about the flow of the match, and just being disruptive hurts your team more than you can know. Keeping a level head during a match is what separates a total newbie team from an experienced one. The more you can focus comms on what is actually important, and cut out the inefficient stuff, the better your team will react.
What happens when 2 people give conflicting orders? While it might be nice to coordinate a soldier bomb with a spy pick, maybe the medic lost his heavy and is feeling vulnerable. The heavy might want to go forward, but the pyro knows the spy is waiting in ambush close by. You need to come up with a match leader, who is followed over all else. If there?s ever a conflict in team coordination, he must be the one to resolve it as quickly as possible.
Season: STV Review
Whenever the next round is starting, this is not the time to review what went wrong. People will just get mad and this will break comms. You?re not gonna have the amount of time you need to adjust for things you didn?t already account for before the match started, and you risk throwing off one of your own players game in the process. The critical time for review comes during? Replay-Review!
Your server should have an STV client enabled for all of your scrims. Most people know how to work this, but if you don?t, go?here. Once you pull the .dem file off the server, anyone can open the file with a TF2 client to review the match from any perspective they want. On the TF2 menu screen, hit SHIFT-F2 to open up [linktocome]this dialog box[linktocome]. Click load to pick a .dem file. The files usually take a long time to load, and skipping through them is tough. The slider let?s you slow down the game as much as you want, and speed up to 6 times the normal game speed. When doing review, I like to watch them at 60-70% speed. We usually use someone?s twitch account to watch all together, or you could just have everyone sync on a tick number (bottom left in the film dialog box) and go from there. Watching your games back at slower speeds really shows you where things went poorly, and why things worked.
Game-Time! Early Warmup
Try to get some pubbing, or a last minute scrim in before your match. Warming up your hands before the match gets going can really help your instincts kick in, just like anything else.
Game-Time! Final Prep
You?re going to have to coordinate with the enemy team for what exact times you want to play, who?s server you?re going to use, etc. Make sure to know the version of the map you?re playing. Check the server config, make sure it?s up to date. Check the league?s page on any map-specific exploits you are not allowed to use. Its your team?s responsibility to keep yourselves updated on the details.
Dealing With Drama
Playing on a team where people don?t know what each other?s faces look like doesn?t mean they can?t get on each other?s nerves. In fact, it probably makes people more on edge. At some point, somebody is going to ???? off someone else, sparking debate over the whole team about the right response. Allegations of leaving, or refusal to play, might start becoming commonplace. As a team leader, it?s your job not to get involved in petty disputes until it threatens the team. You can?t risk alienating anyone on your team until an obvious decision presents itself. Whatever action you take, whether it?s to demote a player to a permanent sub status, or some scheduling compromise, or even a team member ban, you have to have a big majority?s consent. Until your team can decide for themselves what they want to do about internal issues, you can?t make any authoritative changes. Ultimately, this comes down to the maturity of your team, and the longer your team exists, the less likely these things come up.
Post-Season: What Now
So after the season plays out, you have to reassess. You probably lost at least 1 player along the way. Some people might want to call it quits right there. Some people want to move up to a higher bracket, even if the team didn?t. Some people might be done with TF2, deciding they plateaued or it?s not fun anymore. Maybe one of these people are you. If you built a successful team, somebody will want to keep the team alive, with the same name. If you do want to move on, you have to ensure that you?re leaving the team in capable hands. If you?re sticking on, it?s time to repeat the whole process. Recruitment should be easier, since you now know a few active teams. And maybe a few other teams that disbanded. Now that you have at least 1 season of experience, new players will be more happy to join up. Whatever people decide to do, it?s important to not antagonize them over it; it?s their decision.
Outro: Some basic HL meta
To finish out, I thought I might leave some basic guidelines for Highlander. A lot of players come in with incorrect notions about what each class is capable of in Highlander, so I thought I would write a few sentences to try and outline the meta.
This was a picture I made for my team this season, showing 3 different designations: Core, Support, and Pick. Cores are the main damage dealers and pushers on your team. You want to spend a lot of time ensuring they stay alive and pumping out damage, and when they all stick together there isn?t any way to fight it head on except with your own cores. Pick classes are specifically designed to take out 1 other players quickly. So the Picks tend to focus on someone who is a core. Supports are classes who don?t have the damage to prioritize as a core, but they have a lot of utility and can counter pick classes in a lot of situations.
His presence increases as more people are dead. He?s an excellent chaser, and can finish off. During the big mid fights, he can watch the flank while still getting out. He can run medic picks, but it?s usually very risky if the entire enemy team is up. You want to stay alive until you can find that opportunity to turn on the aggression.
Gunboats makes soldier. Jumping into a combo and quickly putting out 2 direct rockets makes the soldier a great diver. His spam isn?t great because it?s very weak at long range, but his rocket jump mobility, when he can get it, is unmatched.
The team bouncer. Spy stopper extrodinare. Also great at managing an uber, and clearing choke points from spamming situations. Can roam, but really, just great at watch the whole team and keeping them off fire, and keeping the combo safe. If he dies it?s not the end of the world, but he?s great to have as counter-aggresion when the enemy wants to push.
Does the most damage every game if played right. Great at denying area, and punishing the enemy team for group up. Amazing with crits, you can throw a crit sticky any distance you want, and it?ll instagib anyone who isn?t an overhealed heavy. Killing the demoman means that your entire team can push from one area, and won?t get punished for it.
Really good at clean up, and forcing the enemy out of an area. Very weak on his own though, he loses in numbers very quickly. If he gets overwhelmed, there?s almost nothing he can do. He?s an amazing pocket because he can right click with his sandwhich, and drop it for medics to heal 75 hp. He is of course, really susceptible to stabs and snipes, so make sure he?s actively looking around and knows where to point the minigun.
All utility. Level 3 sentries basically make up another core of your team. Minis are good for establishing areas and shooing away soldiers and scouts. A dispenser or teleporter in the right place at the right time makes all the difference in the world. Awful at fighting on his own unfortunately, but good shotgun work means he can come in and clear an already weaken core. But really, he?s the best at stopping aggressive plays, but the worst at starting them.
The most important tool is the ubercharge. Not having a medic means that the window you can fight without being behind in hp is rapidly shrinking. That?s why the medic is always priority number 1. He should stick with the other cores asap, and should never leave his team ever. Popping uber is an art: you don?t want to go too soon, but you never want to drop either.
Totally aim dependent, but a huge pick class in HL. Can immediately take out anyone so long as he can see them. Giving the sniper the protection and space he needs is a big part of winning the match. He?ll often times be focused by the scout and soldier, so placing the sniper way away from the team can often hurt him more than it helps.
Gets worse the higher up you get. Depends entirely on being where your team is not. Getting a backstab on a key target can be important, but getting a backstab on a key target AT THE RIGHT TIME is invaluable. Coordination with your other picks is invaluble. Don?t ever underestimate the communication you can give your team as well. The enemy has no idea where you are most the time, so they don?t even know if their position is being called out.
Conclusion: If you?re new, do what works
If you?re just starting, watch some games. Figure out what they do and emulate it. It?s not necessary to understand why they do what they do yet, just to try and mimic it until you understand. With the new update, new and exciting strategies have just now started coming out. Keeping up with the strat scene and trying new things can work, but only if you understand why things work as they do now.