This is part one of a two-part series on the Team Fortress franchise.
There’s a long-unfinished comic series — its penultimate issue was released over five years ago — which features one moment that captures the entire nature of the show. It’s just after the climax, a grand battle between a giant army of robots against a small but victorious team. The army’s leader lies defeated, clutching a fatal wound. As the rival team’s leader drops to her knees, torn over the battle’s outcome, the dying man asks her something with his final breaths:
“How … the hell … did you beat us?”
The leader regains her composure, sits upright and looks him in the eyes, responding with her own question.
“You wanna know how we beat you?”
She pauses, taking everything in but not breaking eye contact.
“I honestly have no #&%@# clue.”
That is the exact sentiment I believe everyone has when reflecting on “Team Fortress 2” (TF2). It’s bewildering how the 2007 game that inspired those comics still has an extremely active fanbase, especially given how the publisher, Valve, stopped working on the game years ago. Following this, the historic #saveTF2 movement began after the game was found to be virtually unplayable due to these delays. While other team-based shooters, like the original “Overwatch,” have come and gone, TF2 lives on like a flower in concrete, stubborn to survive despite minimal support from its source of creation.
So what is TF2? The Team Fortress series started out as a mod for the first-person shooter game “Quake” and was then repurposed into a standalone project now known as “Team Fortress Classic” — a shooter comprised of several different character classes to shake up gameplay. A sequel was developed for its grittier predecessor, originally called “Team Fortress 2: Brotherhood of Arms.” However, something happened behind the scenes that would give rise to TF2’s immortality.
A choice was made by TF2’s team to leave behind the previous and more realistic polygonal graphics for a much more stylized and smoother look based off of early 20th century commercial illustrations. There’s a dramatic discrepancy between those trailers; while previous work in the series saw the characters as slightly different variations on the same realistic soldier-like models, this new entry has radically different looks for each character, with every class occupying an extremely unique role. Both trailers end on the original roster shot displaying these designs front and center. Yet after looking at this second roster shot ending the next trailer for the game, what was originally an easily differentiable cast is now exceptionally imbued with its own identity: the Scout, Soldier, Pyro, Demoman, Heavy, Engineer, Medic, Sniper and Spy.
The Sniper class is where we run into an issue. As mentioned before — after years of success — Valve would abandon TF2 without any major updates and support, letting all its public servers be overrun by bots. To be specific, these are Sniper aimbots that instantly kill anyone who could potentially be in their line of sight, bought and paid for by hordes of online trolls. They spam the chat and voice channels with racist and homophobic remarks and are nearly impossible to remove from the game via team voting, as they would quickly replicate in games, changing their names to other players’ to throw off the trail and eventually gain a majority vote in the game to kick whoever tries to remove them. I’ve seen match after match grind to a halt as both teams try to figure out how to remove the bots before, in many cases, just giving up and leaving.
The TF2 community could tolerate not having new content added to the game, but the bots made it unplayable. The only way to avoid them was to play on private servers that required massive amounts of money for upkeep — which was even more frustrating considering how much Valve still made from TF2’s Community Market. It felt like there had become two different versions of the game. It was the best of times and the worst of times — the chaotic glory days accessible to few and the bot-ridden mess plaguing the rest of the public.
What felt even worse was the feeling that Valve was tarnishing the legacy of the fallen. Before the bot issue, the last update given to TF2 by Valve was a memorial. Rick May, the long-beloved voice actor for the Soldier character tragically passed away in 2020 after contracting COVID-19. Upon news of his death, the TF2 community banded together to pay tribute to a man whose work had formed their youth, and the team behind the game added in-game statues of May around various maps. After years away, it was around this time that I revisited TF2, only to start leaving matches after noticing the beginnings of the bot issue.
TF2 was one of the first PC games I played, and it’s one I’ve been in love with for almost a decade. Playing endless nights together with my friends from middle school are some of the happiest memories I’ve had. As these issues reached their peak around the summer of 2022, when I fell back into everything, the game tried to recapture that magic. In trying to find bot-less matches and returning to TF2Tube (the nostalgic and the new) — with full realization that this might become a pattern — I became obsessed with TF2’s storyline and how its impact on the game’s immortality is overlooked. However, like the creators of TF2, I’m gonna leave that for the next installment. Maybe read the comics while you wait? I’ll be back, bigger, better and sillier because — to quote the Muppets — we’re doing a sequel.
Daily Arts Writer Saarthak Johri can be reached at email@example.com.