Saving Team Fortress: VALVE confirms competitive Match-Making headed to beloved title.

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Today, the good folks over at TeamFortress.TV are shouting from the rooftops, exchanging bro hugs (much different than regular hugs in that there are bros), and coming dangerously close to fist-bumping through their computer screens. The cause of this outburst of sentiment and emotion owes itself to bombshell news released early Wednesday morning concerning the future implementation of competitive matchmaking, and stream inclusion directly into the Tf2 client. While that sort of support might seem business as usual to Counter-Strike players, the announcement serves as the first victory in a long string of battles to stabilize the longevity and relevance of competitive Team Fortress 2.

On Tuesday, April 28th, purveyor of TFTV, Carl “Enigma” Yangsheng, alongside 4 other West Coast community members, formed the envoy that sat down with VALVE employees Robin Walker, Eric Smith, and Dave Riller for talks concerning the future of comp TF2. The meet-up, a response to a community collaborated letter sent to VALVE headquarters and signed by an amassment of players, personalities, and community contributors, was both an olive branch and pow-wow aiming to bring the community up to date with VALVE’s future plans for the beloved first person shooter.

During the meeting, confirmation was given that Team Fortress 2 will finally be receiving the TLC many have suggested could help reinvigorate the competitive base — namely a competitive-matchmaking system akin to the one Counter-Strike players have been enjoying. The news is being heralded as the long awaited first step toward revitalizing the competitive community after 8 long years of it functioning near autonomously: building its own spectator plug-ins, hyping its own events, and promoting its own existence.

Although often considered to be VALVES “other” or less popular FPS, Team Fortress 2 continues to pull a large player base, maintaining the fourth largest title on all of Steam. In the post Quake era, surviving in the death of arena-style games, Team Fortress 2 has served as the last fast-paced and dynamic weapon class shooter. Despite such popular success, the competitive community has suffered, finding it difficult to convert the larger part of the player base into serious contenders. The apparent difference in play-style between how the game functions at the public setting, versus how it plays at the competitive level has been blamed for the division.

By design, casual Team Fortress 2 plays as a sandbox of wild characters and wacky weapons, where 9 “hero” like classes smash into the opposing team in an almost vain attempt to control territory. At the competitive level, strict item and class limits promote a more refined, tug-o-war clash of teamwork and individual skill. On almost all accounts, the two are vastly different animals—like comparing competitive CS:GO with the casual servers accessible through the browser.

In TF2’s case, the split is even more pronounced, as current competitive formats ban a majority of the game’s numerous weapons. Hopes are high that a global system for matchmaking integrated directly into the client will unify a competitive standard and surge interest toward the competitive format. Of course, exactly how that is to be done, will be the dev team’s great challenge.

Grant

Grant “b4nny” Vincent, one of TF2’s most popular streaming personalities, was among the ambassadors who chatted with the developers on Tuesday. Said the 9 time LAN champion,

Valve will use matchmaking to collect precious data for balancing as well as getting direct feedback from the competitive community through the newly established channels of communication.

Indeed, it’s the opening of such a direct line of communication that is part of the excitement. For years, the community has been trudging along in the dark, completely unaware of where VALVE stood on major issues such as balance and format. With hearsay the only guide, and more whispers than a Game of Thrones episode, popular sentiment among the competitors was that VALVE simply did not care—or could not. After all, the title is fast approaching its 10th birthday, and smash successes Dota 2 and CS:GO justifiably deserve more of the available resources. Yet in what is perhaps the most uplifting of all the news, the developers openly expressed their desire to see TF2 grow as big as these other titles. Although an uphill battle, this is not beyond the realm of reason. Now a dialogue has been opened for both comp players and devs to try and make it a reality.

Simply put, matchmaking will make competitive TF2 better because it will introduce more people to the format, and bring much more awareness and prestige to the scene. At the moment there are thousands of people out there tired of grinding it out in TF2 pubs that have no idea the competitive scene exists at all and are just waiting for something else to put their efforts in to. Once it’s as simple as pressing one button to play a (semi) organized game, those people will be hooked, along with thousands of other curious players. Matchmaking inherently creates an interest in competitive TF2 because it gives players a goal to work towards (winning), a long term commitment to improving (ranking up). Add in the stream promotion and those players will have the perfect avenue for studying more competitive TF2 and getting involved in the community. – b4nny

That involvement is something TF2 has sorely lacked, with a relatively small percentage of players venturing into the rockier waters of competitive game-play.

While no one can guarantee a match-making system will make more casual players suddenly fall in love with competitive, it will, as b4nny says, introduce them to the format—something the communities best minds have been struggling to crack for years. A fully integrated MM system will act as the digital handshake and bridge between two worlds that have lived side by side without ever truly comingling. That is something wonderful to look forward to, and especially exciting to all those who’ve tried so hard to grow TF2 over the years. As someone who had the opportunity and privilege to help edit and sign the aforementioned community letter, this is very rewarding news.

The good tidings, however, come amidst a worrying time for competitive TF2 players, with speculation surrounding ESEA’s announcement of a partnership with ESL being interpreted as an end to major TF2 LAN events in North America. Such worries were confirmed by E-Sports Entertainment’s co-founder Eric “lpkane” Thunberg who Thursday evening said as much in a post on the league website. Despite suffering such a blow, the recent VALVE news has softened the hit for the NA competitive scene and—at least for now—warded off cries of doomsday.

ESEA

Thunberg went on to credit the recent VALVE announcement as the deciding factor not to drop TF2 from the premier league entirely, saying, “After speaking with a number of TF2 players at ESEA LAN . . . seeing again how passionate they are for their game, and seeing that first hand through their successful plea for support and visit to Valve, I changed my mind.”

Having Team Fortress 2 maintain a competitive foothold in North America’s most prestigious league will prove incredibly important during the interim between now and when VALVES support package finally arrives, and it’s hoped that should the integration prove a success, Team Fortress 2 will find itself a live playoff finals once more. For now, competitive players in North America will play their finals online: something that is much less desirable, but will leave a bit more cash in the finalist’s pocket when you factor in removing travel costs.

[It’s] pretty unfortunate. It will make the competitive scene suffer in the short term, luckily the league is staying and leaving open the possibility for LAN to return. I think now is the time for the community to step up with more LAN arrangements. Like me running Socal LANS. Basically, we just need to prepare for big things. Definitely not time to give up. -b4nny

For a community that has risen nearly $150,000 for children dealing with illness, scrounged together $20,000 to send its two best teams to Europe for the I-series LANS, continually organized its own events, forged its own partnerships, and created industry comparable plug-ins and broadcasting tools; the words, “give up” just aren’t in the vocabulary . . .

Currently, there is no timetable for when we can expect the game changing updates to land but predictions are being made in the 3-4 month range as the earliest, with more conservative guesses placing it within the year. People need to remember, this is VALVE time we are dealing with.

Tune in to Fully Charged at 8:30 PM EDT for a live broadcast featuring 4 of the returning ambassadors from the holy-land, as well as E-sports Journalist Samuel “oPlaid” Lingle. More details and information will be revealed.


 

Image credit: CC by bdgamers

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by justinmdanford, on May 1, 2015