6v6, 9v9… 4v4?

Stay tuned for a fresh new take on competitive Team Fortress 2! Picture by Gen. DeGroot.
Stay tuned for a fresh new take on competitive Team Fortress 2! Picture by Gen. DeGroot.

Competitive TF2 comes in many forms, including relatively niche ones like Ultiduo (a 2v2 duel of Soldier/Medic combos) and BBall (rocketjumping CTF — dunk that intelligence!). For the most part, however, the main competitive leagues have stuck to the old standbys of 6v6 and 9v9/Highlander. Come January 24th, this will no longer be the case. The 4v4 format has been picked up by UGC, one of the biggest competitive TF2 leagues (certainly the biggest in the North American Highlander scene!) — and the first match of the season will be here by the end of January.

The format isn’t entirely new. UGC 4v4 largely takes its cue from the rules, map list, whitelist, and class limits of Andyvich’s 4v4 league, originally a Europe-only one-night cup (in fact, Andyvich was tapped to be one of the UGC 4v4 admins): KOTH maps for the most part. One of each class. No simultaneous Heavy and Medic. No quickly swapping to a class just to get buffs — though admittedly, that’s up to the honor system, not to league configs.

Reactions have been mixed. Some enthusiastic participants are hailing it as a new format that will bridge 6v6’s fast pace and 9v9’s diversity, bringing a welcome breath of fresh air into the competitive scene. Others have dismissed it as gimmicky and not worth taking seriously. They point to the inclusion of maps such as sd_doomsday in the UGC schedule, as well as the significant skill disparities that have plagued some matchups in Andyvich’s tournament — a consequence of the budding format’s (still-)small participant pool.

To a certain extent, elements of both stances can be attributed to 4v4’s newness as a format. Even harking back to its earliest one-night-cup incarnation, it has only existed in significantly organized form since September 2013 — a piddling three months and change as of the writing of this article.

Because there has not yet been time for the meta to settle on any optimal team composition, and the stakes have so far been very low, 4v4 players have been relatively willing to experiment with different classes. However, as time goes on, it’s not unlikely that a preferred composition will arise, with certain classes swapping out as the situation requires. Similarly, the suitability of maps and matchups is something that will probably resolve itself over time, as admins receive more feedback on how each map plays in official matches and as the participant pool increases.

It remains to be seen whether 4v4 will offer a truly new and different addition to the UGC lineup. The possibility remains that it might turn into 6v6 without double classes, or just die out altogether. On the other hand, there are indeed tantalizing hints of the emergence of a unique meta — teams running full-time Pyros as pocket due to the small maps, for instance — and some mapmakers have even expressed interest in creating or modifying maps for 4v4. I am quite hopeful and interested in where this new format can go, all things considered, and look forward to watching its maiden season unfold.

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