It’s a curious fact that the Strange Southern Hospitality, alone of all the Engineer’s wrenches, ranks up on its owner’s melee kill count rather than sentry kill count. The March 5, 2014 update added sentry kill tracking to it, ruling the former melee-only counter a mistake, but if fans of Southern Hospitality think they’re going to be spattering their spiky wrenches with gore anytime soon, they’ve got another think coming — the newly added sentry kill counter is secondary and doesn’t affect Strange rank.
Players all over have been protesting this, of course. They cite the difficulty not only of achieving melee kills, but of achieving melee kills as an Engineer — a 125-health class with no stealth, no mobility bonuses, and no instakill mechanics. It is the sentry that nets most of the Engineer’s kills, these players argue; therefore, all wrenches should rank up on sentry kill. Not to mention the inconsistency!
It’s true that a lone Engineer doesn’t strike much fear into the hearts of its enemies. Though some of this complacence is simply a (wonderfully exploitable) underestimation of the class’s combat capabilities, an effective combat Engineer will be relying on primary and secondary damage, not running around taking swings at people. And even were someone to take it into their head to do exactly that, Southern Hospitality’s fire vulnerability and inability to crit make it a less than ideal unlock for silly melee rampages. It is, above all, a nesting Engineer’s wrench.
To properly situate a critique of the Southern Hospitality’s Strange rank system, however, we must examine it in context of other classes’ melee Stranges — not just the Engineer’s. Scout’s melees, for instance, are almost never used as in combat. Sure, it’s a high-speed, high-mobility class, but Scout speed and vertical mobility are used to rack up primary kills, not melee kills.
The same holds for Soldiers, shieldless Demomen, Heavies, and Snipers, none of whom make frequent use of melee to kill despite the fact that they theoretically might have an easier time of it than an Engineer. Medics have 107% speed and a slowly regenerating 150 health, but they are the target of every play-to-win enemy and every glory-seeker hunting down Medic picks — and without their pockets, they’re just about as defenseless as an nesting Engineer without a sentry.
Yet the melee Stranges for all of these classes rank up on melee kill, even those whose primary purpose is a non-killing utility. The Sandman doesn’t rank up on stuns, nor the Pain Train on points capped. The Ubersaw certainly doesn’t rank up on quarter-Ubers stolen. Why, then, do Engineer wrenches — Southern Hospitality excepted — rank up on sentry kill? And why is Southern Hospitality the exception?
The reasoning behind the Southern Hospitality’s exceptional treatment almost certainly lies in the fact that its “gimmick” is centered around dealing damage. Were the Eureka Effect to receive a Strange version, it would no doubt rank up on sentry kill like the the Jag, Gunslinger, and stock Wrench. But as to why the primary counter for wrenches is “sentry kills” by default? The reasoning behind that lies in TF2’s changelog.
Scouts, Soldiers, Demos, Heavies… all the other classes have been able to rank up on their main damage output sources from the outset, using Strange versions of their stock primaries and secondaries. Even the Medic could do so indirectly, through the main Ubers Deployed counter of the Medigun. The Engineer, on the other hand, had no other way to track sentry kills at all until the addition of the Strange PDA in the March 12, 2013 update — about a year ago, and two years after the introduction of Strange weapons in 2011. Not only that, but the Strange PDA was added to the game through a rare Salvage Crate that most players would never receive.
Now the Engineer has two weapon slots whose Strange versions redundantly track and rank up on sentry kills, one of which is inconsistently implemented and the other of which — despite being a stock weapon — is incredibly rare and correspondingly expensive for the average player. The Strange Kritzkrieg and Gunslinger are even more exorbitant, by a staggering amount, but imagine if it were the stock Medigun that came in a rare crate and ended up costing 51 keys.
Taken on its own, the PDA is bad enough — as of the writing of this article, it is priced at 9 keys at 7.11 ref per key and still rising. It would take a non-trader two and a half years to accumulate that much in-game currency!
Clearly, the Southern Hospitality’s failure to track sentry kills was not the only mistake Valve has made when it came to Engineer Stranges. They judged badly when they decided against releasing a Strange PDA in that first year, and again when they finally released it in a Salvage Crate. The only question is, how can these missteps be rectified?
Recall that other classes have easily obtainable Stranges that track kills secured by their main damage output sources, in addition to melee Stranges that count melee kills only. The PDA was introduced too late, and Valve doesn’t own a time machine (as far as we know) — but what Valve can do is reintroduce it in an ordinary crate, opening access to a larger swathe of the uncrate-happy playerbase.
As for the mystery of the anomalous Southern Hospitality… well, it’s not the Southern Hospitality that’s anomalous. Sentry kill ranking on wrenches was a band-aid for a poorly planned Strange release order; that is the anomaly. To achieve consistency across the Engineer’s melee Stranges, the correct step is not to make the Southern Hospitality rank up on sentry kill, but instead to make all wrenches follow suit in ranking up on melee kill. With a widespread reissuing of the Strange PDA, the band-aid solution is rendered obsolete, and Strange wrenches can finally be standardized.