There was recently something of an upset when the Highlander team swept the Gunslingers in the recent tournament, and it rightly seems to have attracted something of an interest in the SPUF community. (I notice there hasn’t been a single thread arguing the Gunslinger is OP since the event…) Since I’ve participated in two of these events, playing Medic for Season 2 (the first time the Gunslingers won) and the most recent Season 5, I’ve got a pretty good perspective from which to analyze the two teams.
On a fundamental level, the first major reason that Highlanders performed so much better in Season 5 was that they were given some truly amazing options that weren’t available back then. The buffed Quick-Fix proved to be an amazing gun for the tournament, with its quick Ubers, rapid healing, and rubber band beam that allowed the scout to zip the Medic to the front lines. In Season 2, the Quick-Fix was an overheal-free rubberband-free P.O.S. that caused SPUF to lose the tournament against SPUD. This left me with the choice between the Medigun (whose Uber was painfully slow to charge and couldn’t get much done against a room full of mini-sentries), Kritzkrieg (whose Uber was useless against buildings), and Vaccinator (whose overheal penalty and defense-oriented Uber was a constant hindrance to the entire team) which made it very hard for Season 2’s Highlander team to push into new areas. The scout in Season 5 had a huge arsenal of buffed weapons including the Shortstop and Crit-a-Cola which let him remain a powerful and dangerous flanker that could keep the heat up and shut down Engineers before they could build up. (JoshuaFH’s Shortstop had 111 buildings destroyed by the end of the event!) Craylash the Demoknight had the Loose Cannon and the Tide Turner, both weapons the Season 2 demoknight would have killed for.
Compare all this to the only unlock that has come out for Engineer: the Rescue Ranger, who cripples the Engineer’s combat ability in favor for moving a sentry designed to be disposable anyway. In exchange, he earned a buffed Short Circuit and a nerfed Gunslinger. The new sentry hitbox size proved to be quite useful for my Crusader’s crossbow; I never missed a shot and I can only imagine it was even easier for my teammates who had real guns. The Short Circuit in return was only useful to counter Demoman and Soldier, and its counterpart the Wrangler has never been considered particularly useful with the mini-sentry.
The map cycle also deserves mention, as Season 2’s Badwater, Steel, and Doomsday proved to be chokepoint-galore maps that gave Engies plenty of time to setup and Pomson-spam corners. Season 5 had Process, Ashville and Swiftwater, which all contain much more open space and better sightlines for sentry-busting. In addition, Season 5’s maps cared more about initial rollouts than Season 2. Highlanders controlled the flow of action on Process and Ashville due to them being capable of reaching mid faster.
But I think that the most important thing we learned from Season 5 is that the teams are balanced. Highlander may have won, but with even teams and the right game modes in play the game could really be a close and enjoyable match. The Gunslinger Engineer is something of the prototypical TF2 class, with a shotgun, pistol, middling health, speed, and firepower. Every other class can derive off of that model, and that’s why its such a close match when 9 of them get together and bring a plethora of buildings to the table. The fun round of Season 2, which took place on cp_degrootkeep yet still somehow resulted in Gunslinger victory, probably highlights best of all how the mini-sentry is not as important as the Engineers who are building them. I’m personally looking forward to when we can run this event again, once we’ve fully recovered from the last one. Maybe I’ll finally get the chance to try Team Gunslinger!