Seven years after its release, Valve’s resiliently popular shooter Team Fortress 2 just fundamentally changed the game will be played at the competitive level.
Valve dropped the bombshell on the small but dedicated Team Fortress 2 competitive scene yesterday.
The company snuck in an unexpected balance change into what it’s calling the “Love and War” update. This added fifteen new taunts, the “Bread Box” item that was used in the recently released Expiration Date short film, some new items, and a few surprise weapon changes. That included included this doozy: “All Demoman stickybombs now have damage ramp up. Full damage is reached 2 seconds after firing.”
The demoman is one of the game’s playable characters. The sticky launcher is his secondary weapon, but don’t let that “secondary” tag fool you. It was a versatile weapon capable of putting out huge amounts of area damage extremely quickly in any situation. You could use it to attack enemy positions as a primary damage dealer. You could set up traps with the sticky bombs, locking off a chokepoint from the enemy, or hiding the bombs to secure a free kill. It was the most powerful weapon in the game.
At least, it used to be.
Now, stickys do half their regular damage when they’re launched, and only reach full damage after two seconds. That severely limits its ability to dish out damage in hectic deathmatch situations, where even half a second is the difference between life and death.
The change makes the “secondary” label have more meaning for a Demoman. The Sticky Launcher is no longer the best weapon in all situations, with the Grenade launcher relegated to the a last resort weapon when you’re out of stickies.
The demoman used to be the focal point of most Team Fortress teams, the player dealing the most damage on the team and capable of controlling the flow of the game with his spam and traps. Now, demomen will need to re-learn how to best impact the game.
“When b4nny [five-time ESEA champion Grant Vincent], the best demoman to ever touch this game, starts literally bottom damaging for his team, you know something is wrong,” posted one user on a TeamFortress.TV discussion thread.
The change has a competitive community up in arms, with some embracing it as a welcome adjustment to a stale metagame and some lambasting the move as the death of competition.
It’s certainly an unexpected move from Valve. The company has largely left Team Fortress 2 to its own devices over the past few years, adding fan-made item contributions but mostly leaving the game itself untouched.
And despite Valve’s heavy esports involvement over the past two years with Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, its largely ignored the esports scene in Team Fortress 2, even while pioneering the item systems that help crowd fund tournaments for their other esports title in Team Fortress—and with Team Fortress bringing in more revenue than Dota 2 last year, over $100 million.
Valve likely implemented the balance change with no thought given to its esports impact, a fact more glaring given the timing of the update: two weeks before the Esports Entertainment Association (ESEA) Season 16 finals, a live playoff with nearly $15,000 on the line. That makes the stakes high for players who have precious few days to get used to a major change in the game.
“This is the biggest change to a comp class since gunboats were unbanned and completely changed roamer’s playstyles, and I expect this change to do the same to demo,” said Brandon “Seagull” Larned, the roamer of Classic Mixup and a veteran in the Team Fortress competitive scene.
The gunboats are a Soldier secondary weapon added in the WAR! update back in 2009, and greatly reduce the self-damage taken during rocket jumps. While losing your shotgun heavily impacts your ability to fight in all situations, the increased mobility opened up an alternative play style for Soldier centered around distraction and bombing your enemy from the sky.
The demoman may have viable options outside the typical Sticky Launcher, but most of them have been rarely used thanks to the gun’s prominence.
Alternative demoman play styles, like using the Charge and Targe item, a shield that replaces the Stick Launcher which blocks of explosive damage and allows the user to charge into the enemy team, waslong seen as a gimmick. But now it may become a staple in some teams’ lineups. The same is true with the Scottish Resistance, an alternate Sticky Launcher that can place twice as many sticky bombs but requires the user to aim at them to manually detonate them.
But teams and players will barely have any time to learn what works before the ESEA tournament.
Some players want to implement a “pro mod” to revert the change, but others believe that could cause an irreparable schism in an already niche part of the Team Fortress community at large.
“Lots of soldiers quit over gunboats, and the same will happen for the new demo class,” said Larned. “Attempting a reactionary ‘promod’ is the fastest way to kill the game, and I hope that no league actively implements it,” Larned said. European league ETF2L has already put that idea to bed, and given ESEA’s past history, it’s likely they will do the same.
Opinions are mixed on the change, and it’ll likely take a while for its real impact to be realized.
“The moral of the story is that this update brings demo down to a level similar of importance to a scout or soldier,” said Mike “Platinum” Miles, demoman for Classic Mixup.
The demoman of ESEA invite playoff team Exertus, “bdonski,” added: “Truthfully there hasn’t been enough time to fully evaluate the update,” “but I just don’t see it being good for the game.”