On Snipers and Engineers

Name your three most hated classes in TF2. I wouldn’t be surprised if Engineer and Sniper were included in that list. People complain about both classes, one which seems lacking in a skill ceiling, the other having an infinite one, but perhaps Sniper and Engineer have more in common than we think?

When you look at an Engineer, you see someone locking down an area with their sentry gun. Their sentry makes sure that you’re not getting past without some heavy hitters, preferably a Demoman, occasionally an Ubercharge. Everyone calls the Engineer stupid and skill-less, because the sentry does a lot of the work, the Engineer keeps everything running smoothly.

Thing is, at a stock level, both Sniper and Engineer are perfectly balanced. Sniper is weak in close range and Engineer has to spend time and resources to protect his buildings. A lot of the complaints come in when we introduce stock weapons. Engineer’s weapons, particularly the Gunslinger, Wrangler and Pomson 6000, are constantly in the eyes of the general public. Sniper on the other hand, people only really talk about the Danger Shield, unless someone has an obsession with one of their weapons. You look at Sniper though, many of his weapons are broken.

The Razorback forces enemy Spies to use the Ambassador. The Gunslinger forces people to switch to Direct Hit Soldiers, and everyone hates that, so why does everyone let the Razorback slide? Worse, it’s a counter-counter weapon – Spies have always been Snipers’ soft counters, and using the Razorback means that a Spy must either shoot the Sniper (and hope the Sniper isn’t skilled enough to headshot him in close range) or forgo the confrontation and pick another target. In fear of retaliation and because time is money, using the Ambassador is the best because you can kill the Sniper in two shots. The Diamondback could work, but only if you have crits available. Other guns require more shots, giving the Sniper more time to react.

There’s also the Bushwacka. Thankfully, it only took Valve a century, but this bastard no longer random crits. When it did though, on an average server, it meant that a Sniper, no matter their secondary, was a threat if you got into their weak spot. 195 damage crits hurt.

But the Bushwacka is nothing unless coupled with Jarate. Yes, I’m going to say this, Jarate is overpowered, considering the skill required to use it. It puts out fires, it reveals Spies AND it can be lobbed into a choke point for easy assists, essentially stopping a push. You know who else has AOE mini-crits? Soldier and his Buff Banner. But Soldier needs to charge his banners up and he can’t use them to put out fires. Kritzkrieg Medics can deal full crits by healing one target, but the minimum time for that is 32 seconds, assuming you’re at constant maximum charge rate, which can be very hard to obtain outside setup time. Jarate recharges every 30 seconds.

On the flip side, like Engineer’s wrenches and most of his shotguns, Sniper’s primary weapons are mostly balanced or underpowered. Underpowered is always better than overpowered, unless a weapon is useless. Like the Cleaner’s Carbine.

So back to comparing the two classes again. They’re both amazing at locking an area down. Snipers though can do it in a different way. If there is an Engineer on the enemy team, you’ll hear his sentry. It forms a bubble of effectiveness, outside of which you can build an Ubercharge and take it down. Once that sentry is dead, you have a good 40 seconds to clean up and push onwards. Snipers don’t have bubbles of effectiveness, they have sight lines. These sight lines, depending on the map, have a varying distance of effectiveness, and can be harder to spot. But there’s also the thing where your window of opportunity after killing a Sniper can often be smaller. A Sniper just needs to get back to the front lines, an Engineer needs time to rebuild his sentry gun.

Another issue that a Sniper’s weaknesses aren’t as clear cut as the weaknesses of the Engineer. Engineers counter Scouts and Pyros and are countered by Demomen and Soldiers, with Spies as a soft counter (ignoring stupid weapons). Snipers, the best counter to a Sniper is a better Sniper. You can also use Scouts and jumpers (generally a Soldier), but Soldiers in particular should be pushing ahead and killing the Medic and his pocket, not leaping behind enemy lines to kill a single target. In an ideal world, getting behind enemy lines would be the job of the Spy, but he’s countered by pretty much everything. Even if a Spy got to a Sniper, his life is wasted should that Sniper be wearing a Razorback or be using Jarate.

So how important is a Sniper’s job? Well, apparently it’s his duty to keep Medics, Demomen and Heavies in check. You know who else can do that? Scouts and Soldiers. Also your own Demomen and Heavies. “But what if that Medic and Heavy are out in the open!?” If they’re out in the open, they’re open to aimless spam. Also, most maps have flanks. Scouts in particular are designed to abuse flanks and take out targets. Unless you’re playing on cp_orange, there’s generally some alternative path you can take, to take out the enemy. Medics in particular die to a stiff breeze anyway. What Sniper does is a combination of picking and area denial – his sheer presence forces the ‘combo’ to hide! Just by existing!

In the end, it’s not that Sniper is overpowered. What troubles people is his risk/reward ratio. Yes, aiming is hard, I know, it really is. But when you’re behind an entire team, your presence forcing an entire enemy team to hide away and send someone to take you out, which can be thwarted by hiding next to your fellow area-denial man or by simply equipping a weapon, people will get annoyed. Even more so if it’s a badly designed map. Maps have more to do with this than you think.

Sniper’s problem is that he’s always looming somewhere in the background, killing you instantly. NO ONE likes being killed instantly. NO ONE.

 

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