Spy has always been a tricky class to balance. He’s designed to be a pick-class, someone who takes out key targets – generally a Medic or Sniper – so the rest of his team can gain the upper hand. But unlike our other pick-classes, Scout and Sniper, Spy really struggles to do his job effectively. Really, when you think about it, Spy is incredibly out of place in the world of TF2.
While Sniper sits on some ledge a mile away making his amazing picks (often baiting his team to distract the enemy so he can get those tasty tasty headshots) and Scout has amazing movement skills, jumping around like a maniac and placing buckshot in people’s back, or heckling them with pistol shots, Spy just finds himself dying a lot. It doesn’t make much sense on paper, because Spy can emulate Sniper with the Ambassador and pick up extra speed with the Big Earner, not to mention his ability to disguise and turn on visible.
Problem is, Spy’s strengths ONLY look good on paper. Even after the Gun Mettle update, which gave Spy a lot of new tweaks and some much needed love and affection, far better than what he gets in videos and comics. With the Kunai, you can grab way more health if you stab a much more valuable target – a Medic or Heavy rather than stabbing a Scout. Spy was also given 20 ‘armor’ when cloaking, enabling him to resist extra damage. But even then, Spy still struggles, ESPECIALLY when playing with smart or spammy players.
Spam, to a point, can be avoided. The extra armor means Spy can take a couple of hits, but being a 125 health class with normal speed in a game with bullets, rockets, grenades, bullets, fire, arrows, syringes, stickies and all sorts flying around, you can’t avoid everything, and it only takes one or two hits or a bit of splash damage to make you have to retreat and heal up. That’s before you’ve even gotten into enemy territory.
In come the disguises and the cloaking. Ideally, using these amazing utilities should enable Spy to sneak in and get his picks. But Spies have limited tricks up their sleeves to convince people they’re actually allies and these tricks are more widely known the smarter your enemies are. Even in the highest levels of play, Spies are rarely seen except for incredibly niche moments because 99% of the time, the enemy suspects something is up and keep an eye on their backs. On to of all that, Spies are so easy to remove from play once detected, all that’s needed is some prediction and a flick of flame and poof, that Spy is revealed and needs to run.
Even when a Spy does his job correctly, he can still be screwed over! While face stabs and fail stabs could be an article on their own, you’ve also got the plethora of disguise bugs, with missing arms and legs. Being invisible isn’t safe either, since you could have a particle give you away (this happens occasionally with a lot of new particles and was most apparent with the Big Earner and Spycicle) or you could accidentally give your position away just by playing Payload!
You end up with this weird scenario where a Spy can only survive if the enemy makes mistakes, and makes them often, with his own mistakes generally getting him killed. In the mean time, Spies, higher up ones anyway, can only make a living by abusing less experienced players or by becoming nothing more than walkie talkies, passing information on to the rest of their team. A more supporting role in general. It surprises me that Valve have never really done anything with that idea.
All this explains Spy’s constant bad mood in movies and comics. Must be depressing, constantly losing because everyone else turned around. But I’m sure Spy would fit right in if he entered, well, pretty much any more modern shooter…