On July 7th 2016 Valve released an update titled, “Meet Your Match”. This update included a complete overhaul of the casual pub experience of TF2 and introduced a now completely forgotten competitive mode that lacks any real sense of competition. Many users find both the casual and competitive modes to be inadequate and a step backwards in development. While I will not be discussing competitive mode for various reasons I do aim to identify core problems within the casual mode that can be changed.
It’s Dangerous To Go Alone!
The first step in fixing these problems is to identify both what they are and what caused them, much akin to how a mortician preforms an autopsy. For this essay we will be traveling through the mode with Bob, a casual TF2 player who is OK at the game but really just wants to play with his friends, aka your run of the mill TF2 player.
So lets start at the beginning, Bob has just booted up the game and is placed at the main menu. In front of him he sees various buttons and there may or may not be some tool tips popping up to help guide him, for the sake of this essay we will assume Bob chooses casual mode. He is now placed within the queue screen, he might be taken on a tour of the screen if he is new. Bob chooses to create his party and invites some friends, his buddies Tommy and Samantha join the lobby. So far things are looking pretty good, they each have their favorite maps, so they make sure to all look at what Bob has selected to make sure they are all checked. It is actually quite the inclusive match setup screen save for ping options, but Bob can change those at his discretion and its not like he knows what any of it means anyways. Now that they have their favorite maps selected Bob hits search, while the game is searching for a match Bob sees his stats at the top of his screen and brags about how much damage he’s done to his friends. Samantha then tells Bob how much healing she’s got and how it blows his out of the water. This is good, when players feel like showing their stats off it means they are proud of them and want to better them. These stats tell the player they should be killing, shooting, and healing; pretty basic concepts for most players, but it always good to reinforce this in any subtle way possible.
The queue finally pops and throws them into a game, payload upward. It is pre-round and players are joining up. Bob and the crew are placed on RED team and roll out. Bob likes playing soldier, Samantha medic, and Tommy sniper so they pick these classes to play. 5 more players join, 3 of these pick sniper as well. There is now a team of 4 snipers, 3 pyros, 2 soldiers, and a medic. This is the first problem, class selection is a total free for all with no guidance whatsoever. If you are to believe the game then its lack of direction may lead you to believe this team composition is perfectly fine, but unbeknownst to RED team BLU has a team of 3 soldiers, 2 heavies, 2 snipers, a pyro, a spy, and a medic. RED is about to be destroyed, but at no point were the RED snipers forbidden to pick the class or even encouraged to stop. They were also never told what classes they were lacking either. Looking to a similar game, Overwatch, this situation has been handled pretty well. When players pick too many of one class type a tooltip pops up saying, “Too many snipers!” or “No support!”. TF could benefit greatly from this as it would act as a very basic education tool showing players a very basic guide to a solid team. Experienced players could stray away from this guide if they wanted to make something else work, but at that point we can’t stop them unless we implement class limits and experienced players are much more likely to have the knowledge and skills to make these class compositions work.
Make Levels Great
Back to reality for a moment, the gates open and RED has been slaughtered at first point. They had no sentry watching tracks and flank was left wide open. Bob and Samantha tried to cover the initial set of stairs, but all the snipers were milling about playground trying to snipe down main. It also doesn’t help that their pyros didn’t know they could air blast projectiles. Anyways, it seems 3 snipers and one pyro on Bob’s team didn’t like the result of this first point and decide to leave, must have been bad luck to get matched on this shitty team right? Well now it is a 6 vs 10, and auto balance asks BLU for volunteers. All the top players understandably hit no because they earned their progress, but two bad players who don’t even know what the pop up said hit yes. They are switched and pick the classes they were before, a sniper and a pyro. Nothing has changed for the better, RED now has less potential damage than they did before and BLU lost players who weren’t doing anything anyways. So the balance discrepancy between teams remains greater than before the people left, RED gets flattened at the second point as well. Tommy switched to engi and tried to build a gun to cover the point, but the enemy soldiers had faced no hitscan to stop them jumping ahead and into Tommy’s gun. By this point, the other sniper and soldier leave. Its now a 6 vs 8 where RED still has bad team composition. Another bad player is switched from BLU to RED, BLU probably has a party of their own who rightfully doesn’t want to break up, the game has lost 6 people total and the situation is still the same. This brings up an important question, should we even try to move players from BLU? Think of this, what if the old auto balance was still a thing and the top players were switched over to RED. All of their work has equated to nothing and they much actively push against their accomplishments, sure they combined with Bob and his friends could probably beat what’s left of BLU, but is that fun for either the players still on BLU or the ones who were forced to switch (the majority of players on the server)? I’d argue if that if a system hurts the majority of players in a match then we should not strive to implement this, so a solution that preserves BLU team and buffs RED team must be achieved. What if we just used ringers that come in via the queue? That would indeed allow us to pull from players who are not actually in the match and therefore not mess with the current BLU team. I’d say this would be pretty good, but the problem now is getting the game coordinator to direct players into this lobby in particular as well as these players probably won’t like being forced to fight with a losing team who has just been steamrolled back to third point on upward. These players need another incentive to encourage them to fight this uphill battle, and they need to know what they are getting themselves into. Previous to Meet Your Match there wasn’t really any kind of incentive to do well in games, as that kind of thing wasn’t tracked. However, now it is tracked with the current level system. In its current state all the level system doesn’t provide you with anything, but lets say it drops a random non-tradeable weapon every 5 levels (effectively a tradable one via opportunity cost for regular players) or possibly have set hats given every 10 levels (People tend not to care about badges, but we could try that if we’d like). Now, lets also have a check box in the queue screen with the text “Join a game in progress? (x2 experience)”. Rather than the auto balance xp boost we have currently (which is a marginal increase) this system both adds incentive to get xp in the first place as well as to join these difficult games.
Advancing In Another Direction
Once again, let’s snap back to reality. Seeing this match is a total lost cause Bob and his friends leave the match pretty tilted (remember this is their first game of the night), but let’s keep our heads in the lobby just a little bit longer. The teams are as follows before auto balance;
It is possible that the match dies here before autobalance can kick in. RED might all leave, BLU might be annoyed with the roll and leave, hell both might even happen. If auto balance does kick in then you have a bunch of new RED players who are pretty much on last now with no way of stopping the BLU momentum and if they do somehow stop it then they need to hold them off for an outrageous amount of time, same thing if new players join. There is no situation where this game can become a good game and it is a trap for fresh players still in the queue looking for a game. I’d say implement a surrender function to help mitigate getting to this point. For example, the game SMITE (or many other MOBAs) have a button you can press to request a forfeit of the match, setting you free to start another. However, this forfeit is a vote where most players must agree and they can only be called every few minutes. I’d say start with a 75% forfeit acceptance (that means only 2 of the people on current RED have to realize the match is dead) and let one pop up every 2 minutes. If somebody spams forfeit then we are lucky because in TF2 we can vote kick people so they can be removed and replaced by my new ringer system in the previous section.
Games Dead Jim
OK, we can hop back to Bob and crew now but there really isn’t anything to see. Bob is fed up with the fact that most every game has been like this since the update and has decided to go blow off some steam surfing. Samantha is also annoyed as even though Bob did his best to protect her, there is no way she could survive as medic, yet it is crucial to have one. She quits the game entirely. Conversely, Tommy is still going to give it another shot, he queues up alone and finds himself another game. He spawns in, picks sniper, steps out of spawn, and sits looking down main with the other 5 snipers on his team.
At the time of writing this article, the casual system has been just shy of unplayable for almost a year now. That is countless lost hours of enjoyment and potential players. Even if all I care about is surfing and competitive I know an unhealthy casual means an unhealthy TF2. Dare I say the Meet Your Match update has greatly hurt the competitive side of TF2, the point of the update, as it has spread mass amounts of misinformation as to what competitive TF2 plays like and I am getting fewer and fewer new players in /r/newtotf2 asking questions about the subject. I am actually getting fewer and fewer players in general, numbers are dropping and while I think the people shouting DED GAYME are fools there is a feeling of foreboding in the air. I can’t educate players who aren’t there. To the valve employee not reading this, please save my favorite game.