Curse of Sudden Death! Arena!

There's no respawning in Arena Mode, so don't die!
There’s no respawning in Arena Mode, so don’t die!

Arena is a gamemode that came long ago to TF2, back in times of Heavy Update that introduced the horribly broken Natasha (back then it was, it so was…), underpowered sandwich and KGB that no one wanted to put aside for simple fists. The times changed as did the weapons, and so changed Arena.

Back in time it was quite popular. New gamemode, duh. Now… Not so much. There aren’t a lot of servers that run Arena without that Freak Fortress mods. And people assume it’s dead now. Mainly because lots of people don’t even know what arena is, lots of people don’t have the patience to wait till the round ends.

I find Arena one of the best TF2 gamemodes. Why? Mainly because I find it fun. But there are other reasons:

1. Isolation from newbies. Arena isn’t in quickplay. Arena isn’t told about to the new players. Arena servers are rare and thus tend to have a lot of quite skilled regulars. This means that Arena has got generally high amount of skilled players in it compared to other servers. Of course you’ll run into potatoes there too, but, hey, random is random and arrival of newbies is nothing else but random, albeit at lesser odds.

2. Every class is viable. Arena is a bit harsher on players, but gives them freedom of class choice. At higher skill levels, Scout, Sniper and Spy become viable choices for a player, and the other classes are good there, as usual. Heavy+Medic pairs still cause rage, but they are nothing scary for a competent sniper.

3. Teamwork is important. “But there is no objective here! You just do deathmatch here!” The objective here is to preserve yourself and your teammates (or gunmeat) and not let the enemies do the same. Everyone can help everyone by scaring off the enemies, distracting, using healing or debuffing items, being a Medic or relaying information about wounded classes.

Of course Arena has it’s quirks that make it not so interesting for other players – the CS-like way of respawning and suddenly useless unlocks are just an example.

Survival 101 : Basic things of survival on arena might just need common sense. Protect your medics at all costs. Use your headphones to hear where the fight is. Don’t rush into fights and be careful, unless you have teammates helping you. Don’t steal medkits from players that actually need it and don’t take ammo boxes if there are living Engineers on your team (this is vital for Engineer to build his nest as quick as possible because the maps are so small). Watch out for deep endless pits, saw blades, trains and other hazards. These small tips are sometimes overlooked (especially the Medic ones) by players new to Arena. But they are obvious, so they kinda can get figured out after a while.

Classes: As I’ve said, every class has a role there. Here is a short list of classes with their “roles”, tips and suggested items below (quite a wall of text, in fact).

Scout: Scout remains a 1vs1 class in Arena. His fragility is incredible but he makes up for it with mobility and great ambush capabilities. If you are good at Scout in other gamemodes, playing scout in Arena won’t give you much trouble.

Good weapons: Scattergun – a reliable weapon that allows you to one/two-shot kill most of the classes, including Engineers, Medics and Snipers.
Mad Milk – one of the few healing sources for Scout that can also help your team in fights and against fire.
Crit-a-cola – a tricky one. Increased speed and damage output can improve your ambushing capatibilities, as long as you don’t stay in fights for too long and are good at dodging. Of course risks are even higher in arena, but this item has it’s reward increased in such a gamemode too. Mini-crits also don’t suffer from falloff, so Shortstop goes quite well along with it, if you have good aim.
Sandman – stunning your enemies is a cheap way to achieve victory, but it’s a way.
Candy cane – a second way of healing that Scout has and if you are efficient (and your teammates will let you to finish off the foes), this item can provide enough medkits to make up for it’s drawback.

Bad weapons: Baby Face Blaster – it takes quite a bit of damage to fill up and decreases your speed, causing you to arrive at position just as quickly as Soldier. Lack of jumping also make this item really risky to use without providing good reward for it.
Fan-O-War: If your enemy let themselves to be hit by a melee weapon from Scout, then he would probably die from two shots from your scattergun as well. And it’s quite risky to do this, as it causes you to enter melee range. Other items provide better possibilities without requiring as much risk.
Boston Basher: No matter how good you are at meleeing people, Hit Registration would find a way to screw you over. Getting an unlucky miss is a bad thing due to your already high fragility and the reward is too low for the risk to be reasonable.
Soldier: Soldier remains a jack of all trades in Arena – a capable fighter in quite a lot of situations. If you are a Soldier, you are probably the meatshield of your team, drawing all the attention to yourself while Demomen rain stickybombs from your back, Scouts and Spies try to use your distraction as a way to sneak past and snipers just simply standing behind, watching you absorb bullets so they can shoot at the foes without flinching.

Good weapons: In general, all of the soldier’s weapons are a good choice, with the exception of the “bad weapons” listed below.

Bad weapons: Rocket Jumper – Trolldier is a bad choice for usual gamemodes and is an even worse choice for Arena. Since you only have a shotgun (or even nothing) and a melee when you use this item, you can’t contribute to combat well. In worst case, you’d probably just die from all the fall damage.
Banners – all of them. The time it takes to fill them up doesn’t make them a good choice for Arena as they would probably provide their bonus only in the late stage of the game if you are lucky not to die before that. And by that time, most of the teammates that could use your bonuses would probably die anyway.
Half-Zatoichi – I think getting stuck in melee-only mode as a slower than average class (that’s probably also injured) is quite a bad thing.
Pyro: Finally, a place for ambushing class to actually do ambushing. Pyro is a panic-inducing class. His mere presence will cause players to try to relocate themselves to somewhere more distant – Scouts and Snipers at least, will totally do. With the amount of abilities to apply the Damage over Time effects on enemies and the foe’s lack of ways to get rid of it, a careful Pyro becomes quite dangerous. And let’s not forget puff-n-sting and other combos, since they work there too.

Good items: Degreaser – a generally good utility weapon, allowing you to quickly switch between an anti-projectile shield (the degreaser itself), a ranged harasser (flare gun-esque weapons) or a melee weapon of choice. Using it on par with the Powerjack helps you to lessen the effect of it’s damage vulernability by quickly switching the weapons.
Flare guns – if you know that enemy doesn’t have a medic or an engineer, any flare gun type weapon can do quite well to weaken the foes. And most of them are good at doing burst fire damage to the enemies already set ablase. Scorch shot and detonator have a range at which the enemies are set on fire and Manmelter’s projectile travels faster than of any other flareguns, so they all are viable.
Powerjack – unlike some may think, the Powerjack became better after removal of the sets. The increased speed allows you to close in with your prey quicker than usual, not letting them run away while you try to get closer to them. The damage vulernability can be softened by careful management of the active weapons with the help of Degreaser as well. Using it without Degreaser, though, is not as good.

Bad items: Phlogistinator – yes, it heals you to full health. Yes, it even gives you crits for a while. But first you need to fill it up by either setting enemies on fire with flare guns or W+M1ing them. Your defensive capatibilites become much weaker as you can’t switch weapons as fast as you can with Degreaser and you don’t have any ability to defend yourself from rockets or stickies.
Backscratcher – most of your healing would be from teammates (unless they are full potato). Lots of maps feature medkits in dangerous places (Lumberyard, Nucleus), or don’t have any at all (Ravine, Badlands), making this item not a good choice at all.
Demoman: A great class for dealing damage and destroying sentry nests. Lacking self-defense abilities in close range against Scouts, Demomen should rely on assistance of nearby teammates (such as Soldiers) to avoid getting picked by Scouts. Basically, Demomen in Arena are just like Demomen, except more careful.

Good items: As with Soldier, most of Demoman’s items are worthy to be used, except for obviously bad choices that are shown below.

Bad items: Booties/Bootlegger – Using it without shield is a bad idea and using a shield without a ranged weapon in Arena is a bad idea too. The bonuses it provides for Demoknights on Arena are weak (and being demoknight on arena is a bad idea in general) and for non-Demoknights even weaker.
Eyelander: -25 passive penalty to health is quite a bad thing. Usually you won’t have enough time or opportunities to get at least one head and getting all four heads to be able to use the sword efficiently is nearly impossible.

Heavy: Fire bullets. Eat sandwich. Be meatshield. Have a doctor behind you. Is good. Is easy.
Good items: Sandwich – eat sandwich, regain health. Is good.
Dalokosh bar – infinitely eat food, if have patience. +50 max HP. Is good.
Bad items: Brass Beast – slower than Heavy. Heavy is slow, no need for Heavy to be slower. Is bad.

Engineer: Engineer’s role became a bit different in Arena. Instead of area denial, Engineer’s main purpose is to build dispensers and provide safe zone for players to retreat to when injured. In addition to that, Engineers should know when to move their nests and to where, so at the later parts of the game they won’t get wiped out by sudden enemies or lose by failing to protect the point.

Good items: Gunslinger – yes, people hate it, but it does great job at saving your snipers from Scouts and Pyros. Mini-sentries are also a great escape tool, if you ever get ambushed.
Eureka Effect – at the incredible price of being unable to move your buildings, Eureka Effect allows you to play more aggressively as engineer by giving you ability to rapidly move back to spawn and resupply fully.

Bad items: In general, all of Engineer’s items are viable, so I won’t really list anything here.

Medic: Poor Medic turned from target #1 to kill into the target #1!!!!!11!1! to kill. Snipers would do all they can do to shoot you till you die (even… BODYSHOT! Scary! Even good snipers do that!) and thus you really should take extra care so you won’t die. Your next priority as Medic (that shouldn’t be too far below the surviving) should be saving your team from death. Sometimes your death would be better than the death of some strong player, especially by the end of rounds (but not always).

Good items: Crusader’s Crossbow – a great utility for Medics who know how to use it, the Crossbow allows you to save people on bigger ranges, for example, these poor Scouts that are getting burned across the map and too far away to be saved by the usual means of healing.
Vaccinator – in my opinion, the only medigun that a Medic should ever take with them on Arena. It’s the only Medigun that is capable of using ubercharges in the first “skirmish”, providing a great advantage over enemy team. The damage resistance can help you against headshots as well (bullet resistance, even without the glitchy crit negation, allows you to survive the uncharged headshot). It, of course, needs some time to get hang of, but the time it would take to learn how to use it is so worth it.
Solemn Vow – Having an ability to see who is wounded and who is not is a great thing that comes at zero cost. It’s even arguably better than the Ubersaw – as long as you relay the information and use it to max yourself.

Bad items: Medigun – compared to all three other unlocks in the same slot, the Medigun has the slowest uber charge rate. Knowing that the uber charge is literally the most broken thing this game has… In the case of the medigun, you won’t get uber in most cases, unless the round gets way too long. But in these rare cases, invulnerability would rarely do too much help.
Vita Saw – due to the way Arena works, Vita Saw never preserves the uber charge that you used to have in previous round and thus becomes a straight downgrade to any of your items.

Sniper: I used to think that snipers are the worst class for Arena, until I started playing Sniper myself. And actually, while the bad Snipers remain bad Snipers, the good Snipers are deadly and really scary. Snipers, unlike other classes, are capable of delivering reliable amounts of damage instantly on any distance, as long as they see the target. Both headshots and bodyshots are scary, especially if the enemy team has no sources of healing. As a Sniper on arena, you should always move and know where your enemy is, to keep a distance from them so you would be able to fire at them without getting hurt yourself, as you are the most fragile class without mobility, stealth or buildings to help you.

Good items: Jarate – ability to put out fires and screw around with spies is much better compared to lousy defense against one hit in back from the said spies or the crutchy defense from enemy snipers. It also provides mini-crits on enemies (should have mentioned it first!) and is really good at fending off the enemy puff-n-sting Pyros if you have Bushwacka and skills.
Bushwacka – assuming you use Jarate, you should also use this. If all else fails, you still would have an ace in your sleeve, at the cost of slightly increased damage from burning.

Bad items: Machina – it fires tracers, it’s loud and can’t do no-scope shots. It removes your stealth effect (if you actually bother with sneaking around the foes) and forces you to rely on other weapons to defend yourself.

Spy: Spies can be devasting too, if used properly and with skill. They are great at wiping out Engineer’s safe zones, picking Medics and other important targets, crippling their foes. As a Spy, you should try to avoid the spammy areas but try to be quick, properly prioritizing your targets.

Good items: Ambassador – it requires skill to become useful, yes, but when it does, you can harass enemies at any distance and do some good gunplay if you can’t sneak through.
L’etranger – increased amount of cloak really helps you to act even more aggressively, gives you more opportunities to “peek” and think through your actions, at the cost of not having headshots and slightly decreased damage.
Spycicle – essentially a straight upgrade to knife in the arena condition, the Spycicle provides good bonus against enemy Pyros, at the cost of inability to stab for a while after the encounter. Considering how rare medkits and water are in the arena, putting out fire while sacrificing knife and finishing off a Pyro or escaping is better than having to burn for a while and probably dying in the end.

Bad items: Any knife that isn’t Spycicle or default – all of these knives have “on-backstab” effect. This means that you’ll have to get a backstab to get any use from them, and it’s not the most common thing that’ll happen to you, or at least common enough for them to have good use and compensate for their penalties. Your Eternal Reward strips you off the Disguise Kit, a tool that can actually fool enemies well and is necessary to combat enemy Engineers. The big earner’s reward for enemy kill is really small, not enough to compensate for the health penalty and Kunai makes you so vulnerable, that even it’s incredible regenerative properties won’t help you, as they would come in quite rarely.
Dead ringer – it doesn’t let you to position yourself properly at the start of the round (unless you want to cripple your team by letting enemy get an effortless “first blood” bonus) and is quite noisy. Having an ability to cowardly escape a fight that you’ll lose because you couldn’t get into good position isn’t worth an ability to win the said fight by getting into good position.

As for now, it’s all. The giant wall of text is over, but the overview of Arena strategies isn’t. Next time I’ll review the classes in detail, and boy, that’s going to be detailed as well.

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