Let’s face it; TF2 is very old in video game terms, especially for a multiplayer FPS. It’s been going strong for almost seven years now, even though in the last two years Valve has been winding down on updates and general attention-giving to it in favor of DOTA 2, their new moneymaker, as well as their own console and probably some super-secret projects with their names written in indecipherable coding which just translates to “HL3”.
In these seven years, TF2 has gained a fanbase and with that, people have learned things about the game and its classes, and how to counter them. The Spy is a great example of this. Go back and look at things like TF2 Espionage, which, although still highly relevant today, often make you think “how did he get away with that?” when you see someone decloak directly behind (and sometimes on top of) an Engineer without being noticed, or pull off some sort of maneuver which is nigh impossible today, easily.
This is an unfortunate side effect of the age of TF2. At this point in its long life, the community is more knowledgeable than ever and things that worked in the days of 2009/10 will not work today. People are extremely paranoid about Spies even when they can’t see them – especially then. They’ll constantly check their backs, shoot corners, spycheck friendlies and generally be concerned all the time, so much that it’s become more of a habit than an active thought. New players are brought into this group very quickly – they’re easy targets for Spies and soon learn to be cautious of them, avoiding their trickstabs and trying to spot traitors amongst the ranks of their allies.
This effect, however, works on both sides. Because while the main community is evolving their Spy counter tactics, in the shadows, the Spy community is busy figuring out how to fool them and keep their class valid and effective. Acting, trickstabs, illusions – almost every Spy tactic today can be traced back to this. Sick of people spotting you when you’re trying to stab them? Try jumping over their heads from a staircase. Can be tracked too easily while invisible? Change direction. And so on, and so on.
This cycle has repeated so many times that today, fighting a Spy is often a massive mindgame instead of a combat encounter. You see him disappear around a corner; did he cloak? If so, is he changing direction and doubling back? If not, is he going to continue down that way or go through a side passage? If he doubled back, will be try to come round and kill you? This cycle can branch off so many times it gives me a headache to think about how complicated an action as simple as turning a corner has become for the Spy and his opponent.
More recently, though, the cycle seems to be slowing down. With no new weapons being added to the game to fuel how the Spy can use his arsenal or his enemies’ to his advantage, the Spy community is turning more towards what a few years ago was somewhat taboo – Gunspying.
And it’s surprisingly effective with the varying weapons the Spy has these days. The Ambassador began to make Gunspy viable with its headshotting capability and the Dead Ringer to complement it, but then, it was used as more of a utility. These days, for some, it’s a way of life (or death). The Diamondback, too, can offer something of middleground between knife-based Spy and gun-based Spy; though it is considered overpowered by many (fun fact: the buff Valve gave it had been proposed by a troll in the Spy forum of SPUF many times before) since it operates off a slightly less absurd version of the old Soda Popper concept – rewarded for doing basic things; in this case, sapping and backstabbing instead of simply walking.
Gunspy is becoming more and more popular as some Spies denounce the knife entirely and turn to the alternative of the gun. I myself have found the gun to be a more prominent weapon in my arsenal, challenging the knife for #1 used slot in my arsenal. Where the knife gave me a sense of security, the ability to deal 102 damage with an Amby headshot or DB crit from range does now.
And why not? The gun is a much more reliable tool than the knife; it’s affected much less heavily by lag than the knife, it is of course a ranged weapon, and many of the guns today offer bonuses much more complex than +stat/-stat like other classes have. The Amby deals headshots; the DB gives crits; the L’Etranger buffs cloak; the Enforcer is… the Enforcer; and the poor Revolver is left in the dust stat-wise, mostly by the Enforcer which outclasses it in every way except DPS over several seconds.
The knife is still going strong, of course, but the gun is gaining its strength in the community. Is it the future? Only time will tell (Valve time, that is.)