A Silver Lining to the Stickybomb Launcher Nerf

As a fellow Team Fortress enthusiast, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you–the reader–about the controversial nerf to the Stickybomb Launcher from the recent Love & War update, nor the equally controversial reversion of said nerf. It became the subject of much debate and, unfortunately, heated and rather aggressive argument. Unless you had no opinion on the matter, this was a change that affected you.

I’ll be frank with you: I didn’t support the nerf, and I was strongly in favor of the reversion. That’s not to say that I was adamantly against it; there were counterpoints from respected community members who grew close to swaying my opinion on the matter, but ultimately, I didn’t think that this iteration of the nerf was the ideal one. I’d like to see the Stickybomb Launcher addressed, but that’s another discussion for another article.

This brings me to the subject at hand: as much as I was against the nerf, it was actually a blessing in disguise for a certain hobby of mine: fabricating weapon stats. While I’ve only ever posted stat suggestions once on the SPUF forums (which was promptly met with valid counterpoints) I do like to come up with theoretical stat changes, or even new weapons entirely, in my spare time.

When it comes to balancing unlocks, The Sticky Launcher is a Tricky One. Evidenced by the fact that Valve has only released one (no, not that one) alternative, as well as its shortcomings and lower popularity compared to stock, conceiving stats for a would-be sticky launcher has always been a head-scratcher for me. Because of how versatile the weapon is, it’s difficult to think of one that doesn’t trip into the following balance pitfalls:

1. The weapon isn’t fun to play with or against. “Fun” is subjective, and different adversaries have a differing impact on one’s ability to have it, but there are certain things in this game that’re almost unanimously despised. While the nigh infinite reincarnation cycle of the Mini Sentry we’ve all fought would seem like the best example to bring up, I’d like to instead use stun and slowdown, courtesy of weapons such as the Sandman or Natascha. Reason being that, until Valve releases an update to suggest otherwise, a Stickybomb Launcher replacement that launches functional Mini Sentries is just silly, but movement-impairing effects are plausible for almost any weapon. I had contemplated a sticky launcher at one point that used its charge-up to generate a stun-inducing explosive instead of extra distance, but scrapped it when I realized that being completely immobilized isn’t… well, “fun.”

2. The weapon is too weak. This often occurs when a weapon sacrifices versatility in favor of utility. Weaker weapons aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but some fall into this category due to how situational their utility is (such as the Sun-on-a-Stick), their inferiority to alternate unlock options (such as the post-split Equalizer), or just how terrible they are, either in their own niche, or not having a niche at all. The Liberty Launcher never really filled a niche, but went through a major change during the Summer 2013 update. While it reduces damage from rocket jumps, it’s painfully weak to use against any of the frontline classes, and the increased projectile speed might throw a player accustomed to the standard Rocket Launcher off. On topic, we’ve already seen what a defensively-inclined sticky launcher would look like, courtesy of the Scottish Resistance. And while I wouldn’t call it “weak,” I also can’t call it “popular.” There’s no denying that this is due to the added arm time, which makes it vastly inferior for direct combat.

3. The weapon is too powerful. There are a number of unlocks that’re touted as being overpowered that I could put on this list, but I’d like to stick to examples that simply do another weapon’s job better. The two that stick out like a sore thumb are the Baby Face’s Blaster–which offers a ridiculous boon to the Scout’s mobility in exchange for a meager clip size decrease–and the Tide Turner–which boasts complete turning control and an instant recharge on kill in exchange for being a little bit less effective than the Chargin’ Targe against Pyros. This is where most of my ideas land. Because we already have the Scottish Resistance, my mind wanders in the direction of a purely offensive sticky launcher, but if I learned anything from this whole nerf-to-reversion situation, it’s that making a stronger sticky launcher is very dangerous territory to tread in.

At this point in my college essay, you might be asking yourself, “what does this all have to do with the Stickybomb Launcher nerf?” Surprisingly, it has everything to do with it. Coming up with ideas for a sticky launcher that wasn’t too strong, too weak, or focused on irritating game mechanics was difficult because the Stickybomb Launcher was the jack of all trades, so to speak. The additional damage ramp-up opened up a new possibility: what if there was a sticky launcher that sacrificed defensive capability in exchange for pre-nerf damage? After learning of the nerf, taking some time to test it myself, and soak in opinions from both sides of the debate, I began working on an idea, and came up with this:

The Compromise
No damage ramp based on time.
-3 clip size
-3 max pipebombs out
Stickybombs disappear after 5 seconds.

This weapon would utilize the original offensive prowess of the Stickybomb Launcher, while sacrificing the ability to set traps. Instead of taking the role of traps after five seconds, the placed stickies would disappear in a similar manner to when the Demoman is killed. Theoretically, this would make holding a choke point more difficult in a more organized environment, especially if the opposing team knows the Demoman isn’t using the Stickybomb Launcher.

However, this would not address one of the issues from which the pro-nerf debate stems: it can be difficult to dodge mid-air detonations, and while this is often situational, it is also highly rewarding while being relatively effortless to pull off. I’ll refrain from saying anything further, as that is a debate unsuited for this particular blog writer, so please, save your torches and pitchforks for another time.

As an alternative, I’d like to bring up another weapon idea that came to mind as these discussions enveloped SPUF: a stickybomb launcher which has no detonation delay, but can’t “stick” to surfaces and can only be detonated when it’s on the ground. The initial idea was based around having heavy metal spheres instead of standard stickybombs, creating a sticky launcher unlock that functions more similarly to the Grenade Launcher with a manual detonation. Being heavy, they wouldn’t roll as great of distances as grenades, but would be significantly more resiliant to any effort to remove them, such as explosions or airblasts. I couldn’t think of a way to word such a weapon without making it overly convoluted, and as you can see, I have no idea if all (or even any) of these attributes would have a positive impact on gameplay. So, take it for what you will.

With the reversion of the nerf, these ideas became irrelevant once more. With the Stickybomb Launcher’s stats returned, The Compromise becomes a redundant concept, although the downsides could always be reworked into another weapon. Even though I don’t have the ramp-up as an attribute I can meddle with for future ideas, it gave me some insight into how a sticky launcher can be changed to be more or less effective at frontal combat. And with Valve continuing their evaluation of the Stickybomb Launcher, who knows? The next nerf might spark new ideas in ways I couldn’t comprehend at present.

There you have it. I seemingly spent the entirety of this article in preparation for a new weapon proposition; something I could easily have done in the Demoman subforums, where I could proceed to be lambasted by the Demo community for bad ideas and conjecture. However, this wasn’t my intent, nor my focus. I wanted to use this as an outlet for pushing forth a new brand of discussion in the endless Stickybomb Launcher debate: compromise. Instead of asking for the nerf back, it would be more productive to try and conceive new ways of nerfing the Stickybomb Launcher to ideal conditions for an average match, without ruining its purpose in organized play. And to those who have explained why it’s fine because it works in organized play, show sympathy toward those who don’t participate in it, and try to work with them to find a compromise. For as heated as this debate is, I feel as though a wider margain of players would be satisfied if they chose to work with the other side of the fence, as opposed to throwing insults over it. Or stickybombs. You get the idea.

Above all else, this has also been a learning experience for me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I disliked the nerf so much. I mostly play Soldier, and while I have sunk time into Demoman, my favorite loadout is the Grenade Launcher, Chargin’ Targe and Frying Pan, so I doubted that it was bias. After writing this article, I think I’ve finally figured it out:

When Valve nerfed the Stickybomb Launcher, they left a void in the Demoman’s arsenal that was not simultaneously filled. The Love and War update added five new weapons, none of which addressed their intent to dampen the effectiveness of the Stickybomb Launcher. It’s an irrational disdain, because I can see why they did it: it was an experimental nerf, and the chance that they would revert it was likely prevalent before it was even revealed. But it’s good to know why something upsets you; otherwise, you might chase after an argument only to realize that you don’t truly believe in it.

So where do I stand on the argument now? No comment.

Until next time, perhaps.

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