What you see here is the only unlock that is a straight upgrade in TF2.
So naturally, since the Third Degree is a straight upgrade with zero downsides, people will flock to use it, right?
If you hesitated for even a moment before saying “no”, you are obviously new to the game.
The Third Degree has an equip rate so low at least half of TF2’s playerbase since 2007 haven’t seen it used by someone else before. Sure, it is better than the Fire Axe, but that doesn’t matter since the Fire Axe itself is used if and only if you do not have any other unlocks.
The Pyro is a close-range powerhouse, and his Flame Thrower at close range can deal 173.3 DPS. That applies for all of his primary weapon unlocks as well, except for the Dragon’s Fury, which can deal up to 90 damage per shot at close range. The stock Fire Axe’s 65 damage per hit (same 0.8 s attack interval as the Dragon’s Fury), 81.25 DPS is just downright horrible in comparison.
And the Third Degree’s perk of being able to hit players connected via Medi Beams doesn’t help its case against the Flame Throwers either. Since the flame particles can penetrate enemy players, and Medics generally stick decently close to their buddies anyway, you are bound to get both the Medic and whoever he’s healing with the Flame Throwers in one go anyway. Not to mention, as long as there are players clustered together, you can get them all with the Flame Throwers, while the Third Degree requires the Medi Beam link.
Thus, the Third Degree needs a buff. And it should hopefully preserve its one unique feature, that is being able to affect other players connected by Medi Beams. However, its Medi Beam gimmick doesn’t leave much room for expansion. You can perhaps make it so that Medics hit by it get their Übercharge drained, but that is not going to sit well with the Medic mains in TF2. All three of them complained about the old Pomson 6000, which can both penetrate enemy players and drain Übercharge. Most of the time, Medics hide behind their buddies for protection while remaining close to the frontlines. That is a sensible way to position yourself as a Medic since you need to be protected and aware of how the battle is progressing at the same time. Having the shots being able to penetrate enemy players and drain Übers means that they are getting punished for doing something that they should be doing, which is why the Pomson’s projectile’s enemy penetration aspect was later removed. Making the Third Degree drain Übercharge will have the same issue, as Medics need to be healing their buddy while they are in combat and they will be punished for doing so.
Having the Medi Beam heal the Pyro instead for one second will be rather fun, and the Medic will need to disengage the Medi Gun to target his buddy again. However, that will be a massive pain for the Medic to deal with, and with an attack interval of 0.8 seconds any Medic will probably just give up and whip out the Crusader’s Crossbow instead. It could temporarily disable the Medi Gun for a short duration, like how the Razorback disables the Spy’s knives, Cloaking and weapon switching. But oh man, that will just make every Medic main leave TF2. And given how many time people have been saying that TF2 is dead, we really can’t afford to lose three players at once.
The best approach so far, in my opinion, is to just Persian Persuader it (#notmypersianpersuader). I really can’t think of any other way to make it more viable without just redesigning it from the ground up. Other than that, the only reason to equip and use it is for its taunt, which comes with a heavy metal guitar sound.
aabicus wrote two articles on this as well, with one of them covering the two extremely small niches that the Third Degree currently has. Do give it a look.