How to Survive as a Spy

Some of us (read: me), are not very lucky at spy. We tend to miss the backstabs due to random movement by the target, we struggle with chainstabs and trickstabs, and since we hate the dead ringer, we feel like we gimp ourselves as spies. Well, maybe that last one is only me, but oh well…

To combat this lack of talent and luck in the backstabbing department, some of us learned how to survive and try again. There is nothing more frustrating than missing a stab and then immediately dying because the heavy or the demo we were aiming for was able to easily take us out. Ok, maybe dying to a random crit as a medic while we had full uber is more frustrating, but still!

But, you may say, how can I survive as a mere 125-HP squishy class that has no speed advantages and is frequently behind enemy lines? Well, it’s not easy. And you have to taste humble pie a lot because you will have to run away. But isn’t that a key skill in TF2 anyway? Running away?

Picture by  HerrdoktorHans.
Picture by HerrdoktorHans.

Tip Numero Uno:
Run away.

This might seem obvious, but I have killed so many spies that, after missing the first stab, kept circling and trying to get that backstab. You should congratulate those spies in chat for helping to improve your K/D ratio.

Running away keeps you on the battlefield, and more importantly, keeps you behind enemy lines. If you can cloak and get away, I guarantee after five seconds, the other team will forget that you exist. Then you can go back in and try for that medic kill again (You are aiming for the medics first, right?).

The Second Tip:
Change direction right after cloaking.

As soon as you cloak while running away, change direction. Go somewhere else. Preferably, go somewhere else that isn’t directly for the nearest health or ammo pack. My rule of thumb: Go towards the nearest enemy weapon to refill your cloak. In TF2, there are so many weapons lying around after people have died that it is a veritable feast of infinite cloak for smart spies.

Tip Three:
Don’t press B to disguise.

In default TF2 settings, pressing ‘B’ will automatically disguise you as the person you were last disguised as. It’s generally a bad idea. If the RED soldier notices a RED pyro coming after him, that RED pyro reveals himself as a BLU spy, misses the backstab, cloaks and gets away, and then the RED soldier sees another RED pyro coming after him, he’ll get awful suspicious. Disguise as something else. I tend to disguise most as a medic, a pyro, a demo, an engineer, and a sniper with the jarate out. Rotate between classes!

Four tips already? I’m on a roll…:
When disguising, choose the weapon that would make sense for that class to have out.

You do this by holding the weapon that corresponds to the correct slot before disgusing. For example, if you hold your sapper out, then disguise as a medic, the medic you are impersonating will have their medigun out. If you hold your revolver out, then disguise as a scout, the scout will be holding their scattergun.

This is the one time you should press ‘B’. Say you accidentally disguised as a scout holding their pistol out. Oops! Just take out your revolver, press ‘B’, and your disguise will pull out his scattergun.

This is actually a good way to fool an enemy team. I sometimes, while traveling with a pack of enemy players towards the front lines, will switch weapons and press ‘B’, making my disguise switch weapons like some nervous TF2 players do. Players tend to forget that spies can change the weapon that their digsuise holds, and will automatically assume you are on their team.

Please do not disguise as a pyro holding out the axtinguisher. Or a demo with the bottle. Disguise as the medic holding the medigun. One of my favorite disguises is of a soldier holding out the disciplinary action. People won’t be suspicious of you running towards them – they’ll think you are going to give them a speed boost.

I once was a RED spy, and disguised as a disciplinary action soldier. The BLU medic, who was pocketing a BLU heavy, saw me, took out his syringe gun, saw my disciplinary action, and went back to pocketing the heavy, giving me an easy backstab on him. He could have been just a really stupid medic, but I prefer to think that I fooled him.

One potential problem with this is that your disguises are entirely dependent on the loadouts of the players that you are impersonating. You can’t disguise as a RED pyro using the degreaser if the real RED pyro is using the backburner.

Of course, this gives you an advantage in round startup, because by rapidly disguising as different classes, you can see what loadout the enemy is using, and inform your team in chat, “Hey, don’t worry about that soldier; he’s using the direct hit.” Or, “The RED medic is running the kritzkrieg – be careful.”

The Five Dollar tip:
If you need more cloak time, pull out that L’etranger. I have always defended the L’etranger, because I rarely use my revolver anyway, and it’s got great utility! That extra 40% cloak time can really help you out on maps where health and ammo packs are scarce.

Also, the spycicle is awesome at saving you from pyros. In fact, my default spy loadout is the L’etranger and the Spycicle.

Six tips and no signs of stopping…:
Hang around a teammate.

Yes, you heard me right. Spies can be part of a team, too.

One of the most rookie mistakes that spies make is trying to take on the whole other team by themselves. One of the most fun things to do is run up to the front lines with a heavy-medic combo, or a soldier, or a demo, or someone. Right before I get in the line of sight of the enemy, I cloak, disguise, and get behind them. While the enemy is trying to take out my teammate, I stab them. Even if I miss the stab, they automatically focus on me, leaving them open for a rocket or a pipe to the face.

Seventh heaven…ly tip:
Don’t sap the dispenser unless you have to.

If you are disguised as the enemy team, and stand next to a dispenser, it will heal you and refill your ammo. In fact, you can cloak and sit next to the dispenser indefinitely, because the dispener will refill your cloak even as it drains.

I will never turn down free health. Sometimes I will go to an enemy dispenser when I am low on health, refill it, and use the voice command “Thanks!” to the engineer guarding his lvl 3 sentry. Then I go around the corner, wait a few seconds, come back acting like I need ammo or something, and backstab the engineer who thought I was an ally. You’d be surprised at how effective this is…

Sometimes it is in your best interest to sap the dispenser. If you are just passing by as a spy, or need to divide the engineer’s attention, go ahead and sap it. I have found that sapping the sentry, teleporter, and dispenser consistently succeeds as destroying two of the three at least. The engineer can’t decide what to save first, and tries to save all of them, and more often than not loses two out of the three.

The Eighth Tip is on my tongue and won’t get off!:
Don’t taunt after a kill unless you are alone.

I know, the spy has the best collection of taunts of any class. And with that new strange part, freezecam taunt appearances, the temptation to taunt is greater than ever. But your life is more important than making the enemy ragequit. If you feel the great need to taunt, win the round and then go taunt in front of the defenseless enemy players instead of just killing them.

Nessie’s Nine Iron Tip:
Know the map and avoid the spamfest routes.

The two classes that benefit the most from knowledge of the map are the spy and the engineer. You will need to know all the health and ammo locations, and the flanking routes, and the nooks and corners that allow you to recharge your cloak out of sight.

Coming out of nowhere is the oldest, most obvious, but the most effective trick in the spy’s considerable arsenal.
Now, on most maps the spawn at the beginning of the round is a spamfest (especially when you are on BLU), so it is often worth it to wait a few seconds until that RED demo has detonated his sticky trap, and the RED soldier is reloading his rockets, and the RED pyro has done something stupid and gotten himself killed before coming out of spawn.

The Tenth and Final Tip:
Have fun!

The spy is a fun class, it really is. I love being a spy, even though I rarely get to play it (mainly because my team usually already has three snipers and two other spies). You don’t have to be that “leet pro shpee” to enjoy the class.

And if you die, oh well. Take the time while you are waiting for a respawn to check out what your teammates and the enemy are doing. Sit back, relax, drink some Mountain Dew or grapefruit juice (I am addicted to grapefruit juice for some reason). You can’t be an effective spy if you are all mad about dying to some random crocket or a pyro airblasting you off a cliff. Chat with your teammates. Tell them about a sentry nest that you saw.

But just have fun.

3 thoughts on “How to Survive as a Spy

  • December 24, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    Nice article! That stuff about dispensers and Disciplinary Actions is pretty evil @_@ One nitpick: I believe that for DR at least, a level 1 dispenser will not be able to indefinitely maintain cloak.

    /inaugurates Steam OpenID thing

  • December 25, 2013 at 5:02 am

    If you feel like taunting often after every kill, get the High Five. It’s still a taunt (so it counts towards your precious Strange Vintage Camera Beard) but also short enough that, if done often enough against the same player, it begins to get humiliating for them.

    And yeah, Dr. L’etrang-cicle is my go-to “I Hate Pyros” loadout.

    Eleventh circle of Hell tip: A knife (or gun) for every moment.
    Your Eternal Reward is great against a team that does not co-operate or communicate. Do try to avoid stabbing Heavies though. Seriously, Heavy-sluggishness + Spy-checking Pyros = very bad. Unless you’re willing to try to restart the streak all over again.
    The Spy-Cicle is best for Spies that insist on stealth or being to consistently cheap out Pyros in getaways/combat.
    Stock is plain

    • December 25, 2013 at 5:03 am


      Stock is plain reliable. No gimmicks, disguises available – basically, the most flexible.


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