Hildreth — Welcome to part two of my three part article series documenting and reviewing the calendar year of 2011 in the world of competitive TF2. I would like to apologies to the Aussies, Africans and Asians for not really featuring you in these articles but I prefer to focus on the two main scenes which I actually know a something about. Anyway without further ado, I present to you the months of May to August of this year.

TL:DR – TF2 dies, gets born again and we have an awesome LAN.

May

Continuing where I left off, ESEA LAN ran over from end of April with  CheckSix Gaming Complexity eMazing Gaming and  Blight Gaming in attendance. Blight went out first in the lower bracket to coL before eMg  sent them packing in third spot setting up a rematch of the upper bracket finals versus x6. The unbeaten x6 came in with an overall season record of 18 maps won and 0 losses and took a superb 3-map final after coming back from a map down to win Coldfront and Granary. With an unbeaten season and a LAN trophy in their hands, what could stop x6 being the new dominant force in North America? How about their pocket soldier  TLR breaking into the team captain  Kalkin’s hotel room and stealing the trophy? In one of the most bizarre scenarios ever seen in gaming, Kalkin called security as TLR refused to give up the trophy with rage, sweat and nerd tears involved for all. Shame nobody videoed this on their mobile phones…oh wait they did, god bless you sir (see below).

The rest of the month seemed to be veering with negativity as we started to see more big name teams fold. Der Kaiser of German TF2,  Marco sensationally quit the game for Brink leaving  Button Bashers to die whilst Power Gaming decided to stop supporting TF2 altogether leaving  Hocz & co to rename themselves as SG-1. ETF2L’s activity was being nullified by ESL which itself was having all sorts of issues with ESL wire – “TF2 is dead” was the call by many. Near the end of the month though a major day in competitive TF2’s history occurred: almost out of nowhere, TF2TV – which had been struggling itself – disbanded with its main contributors joining forces with  Byte and  Torden to form ‘VanillaTV’. To quote the Mantra in the announcement article – “VanillaTV’s focus will always be on quality over quantity”. And what a first night of quality entertainment in store for VTV as hundreds tuned in to watch the much anticipated USA v Finland ESL nations cup match. The Finns seemed to get ‘drunker’ as the night wore on, originally destroying USA 4-0 with ping advantage in the first map; they arrogantly changed their names mockingly causing USA to challenge them to play on an East Coast server to which the Finns gracefully – or arrogantly – accepted. USA forcefully smashed the Finnish team in the second map so unsurprisingly the  Darn-led Finnish side swapped back for the third map which was shockingly won by USA thanks to some great work by  clckwork although to this day the Finns will tell you they “didn’t care”. They got what they deserved that night and TF2 got what it needed – a fantastic match to begin the new era of VanillaTV.

Other notable events:

  • Epsilon eSports called it a day as their legendary old roster packed it in. F2, Extremer, Cube, Sneis Jh,  Shintaz, Predz, Wai, Piece and Night had won both ETF2L seasons of 2010 and come second in the i40 LAN. It was indeed a sad day for all involved in TF2.
  • Monster Munch also called it a day, losing motivation after a controversial admin decision to award a default win to Button Bashers, who themselves of course quit sooner after. Three Premiership folds in a matter of week, top tier TF2 was crumbling into dust.
  • TCM’s new roster was hitting form, winning the Tt eSports TF2 challenge, taking the final against SG-1 and going through most of the top teams left in Europe en-route. It was also a good month for SG-1 as well, leading ESL and topping the Cadred top 10.
  • ESL Nation’s cup reached the quarter final stages of the upper brackets with Portugal, Spain, USA and tournament surprises Latvia reaching the last 8 along with the seeded pre-tournament favourites: Finland, Sweden, UK and Germany. Whilst USA knocked Finland to the lower brackets, the UK and Germany eased through to the upper bracket semi-finals against Spain and Latvia respectively. Germany had to grind out a result in a superb 3-mapper winning Granary 5-4, losing Gullywash 6-5 to a golden cap round before holding their nerve to take a long drawn out Gravelpit 2-1.

June

The birth of VanillaTV had given European TF2 a high-class casting platform but the news that really roused the hearts of every TF2 yeoman – that wasn’t a member of SPUF – was the announcement by Valve that TF2 was now Free-to-play! As of June 24th, anyone could download and play TF2 for nothing, although to get trading privileges you needed to buy something from the Steam store, but that costs about as much as a stick of bubblegum for most people. What did this mean for the competitive community? Simple my dearies – new blood being pumped into the veins of our humble hat simulator, TF2 peaking at over 100,000 players at one time, being ahead of all other Steam games. The huge influx of players equaled renewed interest from sponsors and tournament organisers alike, by the end of the month Summer Assembly proudly welcomed back TF2 after initial doubts that Assembly had abandoned our struggling game as if we were some unwelcome newborn baby – with a face like  Admirable.

TF2 broke records as it peaked over 100,000 players online at once and became the most played game on Steam

It was still as busy as ever in ESL with the Premiership season finishing up with the last matches were being scheduled and played, SG-1 booked their spot as number 1 with  Thermaltake eventually taking second spot and TCM securing third. The last spot would belong to the sheepishly improving outfit that were  K1ck as the weird Israeli/Spanish alliance (+ Mike) crept in at the expense of  RedCode. Everything seemed to be building up towards a month of finals for July with ETF2L’s trio of premiership teams fighting it out, ESL play-offs about to begin and the Nations Cup heading into the final straight. The UK booked their spot in the upper bracket final by beating USA 7-3 and 6-1 on Granlands. Spain finally nailed Finland’s coffin shut with a shock win in the lower brackets before making it a Scandinavian swoop by playing some amazing TF2 to annihilate Sweden – who had been crushed by the Germans in the upper bracket semi-final – to reach the last four. Their opponents would be Portugal who had dismissed the tournament surprises Latvia before ending up with a sort of controversial default win against the USA. The Americans had won a tightly contested match 4-3 and 5-4 but because some of their players were not using ESL Wire, USA reached the maximum amount of penalty points and they were eventually forced to concede it despite the sporting offer of a rematch by Portgual (after they got awarded the defaukt win by the ESL admins). An unfortunate end for the USA but the show must go on and on it went with Spain facing their neighbours Portugal in the lower bracket consolation final – despite losing the first map on Granary, our amigos from Spain rolled the next 2 maps to keep their Nations Cup dreams alive. The final Nations Cup game of the month was the upper bracket final between Germany and the UK, with the history between the two nations played up like it was world war 3, the spectators were treated to two really tense maps ending 4-2 to the  Tommies on Badlands and 3-2 to the  Krauts on Granary. The decider map was none other than the distinguished Turbine_pro which the Germans took 2-0 as their superior map knowledge shone through. So now the UK would now have to play Spain to book a place in the grand final of the ESL Nations Cup 2011.

Other notable events:

  • ESEA season 9 launched with defending champions x6 losing their prime stallion TLR after the trophy stealing debacle.
  • Infused.Tt started reshaping their roster with all except boomeh and Greg leaving the UK LAN champions. A new line-up had propped up by the end of the month with bright young British talent in Mike and Flushy joining along with Demoman extraordinaire Numlocked being bought back into TF2 full-time and TF2 mercenary ViQun to complete the line-up. The Dutchman also founded his popular Youtube channel ‘QunTV’ in this time, giving people a chance to see what it was like to play Scout in a Premiership team.
  • Epic LAN 6 was announced albeit with the requirement there would be enough teams entering for TF2. It was put into doubt due to the huge turnout expected for i43, only time would tell if this event would go ahead.
  • One big final over in North America was the UGG Highlander final for season three between Classic Mixup and Inglorious Broadcasters. Classic Mixup were stacked with Mid and High skilled players from the top end of ESEA whilst IB were a pubstar team, alas there was no great underdog victory as Mixup confidently took the finals. However Highlander had arrived in America with viewers equaling that of a big 6v6 matchup.
  • ETF2L announced it would run Ultiduo cups as TF2 madman  Angel joined the team. The league would keep the ball rolling with Experimental Ordinance cups throughout the summer – though most were won by  SNSD so they didn’t count, please erase this from the archives.

July

This was the month of finals with a whole summer of less important matches building up to their climaxes. We have to start with the big one – the Nations Cup final which was between Germany and the UK with the Brits having won the lower bracket comfortably beating Spain 6-3 and 5-0 on Granlands. Our amigos can be proud of their performance but in the end we got the final we expected; the cliches returned and so did the drama over scheduling the event. Eventually they settled down to play it on July 27th with Team UK (Byte, Numlocked, Flisko, Mike, Fisshu and Greg) looking much more settled and well-drilled after their loss the previous month to Germany (Kurt, Thy, Gear, Klar, Stefen and Bash). The Brits were in control of the majority of the final, taking a nervous Granary 4-2 then going 4-0 up on the second map Gullywash with 8 minutes left, the Germans managed to keep it respectable by clawing 2 rounds back but in the words of the immortal  JimmyBreeze “the Germans had been ahead about 5% of the match”. Team UK won the Nations Cup of 2011, a fitting prize for Byte to take as team captain after some criticism over whether he should have led the side to begin with. I will try to ignore the drama over the last best of 3 map series that was meant to be played and thank the Germans for sportingly defaulting it to the UK due to scheduling circumstances.

LINK TO THE MATCH VOD.

The other event catching the eye of multiple audiences from beyond the usual crowd of TF2 lovers was the Free-To-Play Invitational Cup Ashkan, and some others invited players from some of the top teams in Call of Duty 4, Brink, Left4Dead 2 and Counter Strike: Source with the winners playing a show-match next month versus a celebrity (minus  TheSucker) team. The cup was won by the Epsilon Brink team mentored by Admirable and carried by a chap named  Rulah who impressed so much he would soon be invited to join a Prem outfit. On the same night the ESL season finished with K1ck going through RedCode, TCM, Thermaltake and then, against all odds, SG-1 in the final. It appeared the Israeli’s and Spaniards mixed together would be a force to be reckoned with in the future as they held their nerve to win the best of three map series. ETF2L had been hard hit by folding with just 3 teams left in Prem – Thermaltake and TCM met each other in the grand finale to try and restore some prestige in the league. Not only did both teams restore prestige but they re-invented the term ‘spectacle’ with a thoroughly entertaining match fought over three extremely close maps. Thermaltake won Badlands 5-4 in a tense, back and forth encounter then seemed to think they had won their first ever ETF2L season as they held TCM’s fourth point with 1 minute left on the clock, TCM pushed out in desperation and managed to get enough kills to scare Tt off of second point and with momentum – and nothing to lose – they surged through middle and then Tt second point in 25 seconds before pushing last uber v uber. Somehow Tt cracked and TCM capped the point with no more than half a second left on the clock, forcing a golden cap round with TCM won with the adrenaline still running – check this video out courtesy of CommFT. So against all odds there would be a deciding map on Granary with Tt who somehow managed to put the loss on on Gully out of their minds and recovered to draw the final map 3-3 before snatching a dramatic  golden cap win to take the season 9 crown.

TF2 is actually at Defcon 1, picture by JimmyBreeze

 Other notable events:

  • Epsilon TF2 returned with F2, Extremer and Sneis the survivors from their old line-up. They also picked up German superstars Stefen and GeaR along with TF2 veteran Wltrs to make up the numbers, the team would change over the coming months as i43 approached. New Epsilon instantly struck gold in their first online tournament winning the Excello Bigfoot TF2 challenge, beating SG-1 in the final.
  • One the same night of the ESL final and the F2P invitational cup, the CommFT Highlander tournament reached its final stage in both Europe and North America. Kawaii Explosion won the NA bracket whilst SNSD retained their dominance of the European scene by beating the highly skilled  Angry German Kids in a 3 hour marathon of a final.
  • Ex-top gamer Albert was back in TF2 but this time as a cup host, holding cups all summer long. The one team that made a name for themselves playing in Albert’s cup were the  Fish-led outfit  Renob/DG eSports.

August

TF2 was in a state of recovery after a month of awesome matches and sudden new interest surging throughout the scene, with I43 impending and a record turnout expected. The only other noteworthy event other than ESEA was the Alienware cup hosted by Team Dignitas. This tournament would prove to be a very tasty little prelude to the I-series event which was happening a few days later – the two finalists being Epsilon – who came through  Team Dignitas) and Infused.Tt, who beat TCM in the semis. Epsilon took the first map Badlands 6-1 but Granary proved much closer with a 4-4 tie in regular time but a crucial mid win by Epsilon gave them the momentum they needed to take the cap and the £100 prize money. The win cemented Epsilon’s position as the team beat at i43 but Infused had proven themselves as worthy contenders, making the final without their main caller Numlocked. Before I go on to i43 – big news at the end of the month was ETF2L announcing their 10th season with the notable change being the Vanilla plus Medic unlocks rule set as Europe completely abandoned any unlockable weapons (Wireplay also went Vanilla). This move did finally bring an end to the unlock debate and help unite the community after months of arguing about the items allowed in 6v6.

So to Telford, United Kingdom came thousands of gamers and hundreds of TF2 players with an estimated 250 in attendance. Everyone reading who attended the event will have their own personal memories to share from LAN; mine was meeting my team in person and sad panda-ing over nobody beating up  Pikachu like promised. 40 teams entered the TF2 competition but with only 4 teams realistically able to win the tournament, (5 if you count  Vertex :D) the long drawn out group stages and knockout stages don’t seem worth mentioning. That is until we reached the upper bracket semi-finals; TCM managed to end their LAN curse against Dignitas and book a place in the upper bracket final versus Epsilon who themselves took down Infused. With games being played late into the evening there was little time for breaks as we saw the upper bracket and lower bracket finals played simultaneously: Epsilon booked their place in the grand final by annihilating TCM 6-1 and 7-2 whilst Infused held off Team Dignitas, winning the decider map on Turbine 2-0. This meant TCM and Infused would be facing off in the last match of the night for a place on the stage; personally I enjoyed watching the match from behind Infused back with a bunch of other people soaking up the LAN atmosphere but for those who couldn’t be there and caught the Arx + Beta cast on VanillaTV, it was a superb match that went right down to a golden cap round in third map on Granary. Infused engineered an incredible push back from their last point to TCM’s last in the golden cap round to book their spot in the grand finals against Epsilon the next day.

TF2 community photo

After a night of alcohol and video gaming, we woke up to watch the grand finale at about midday. Due to technical issues with Knoxx’s PC, the game had a lot of pauses and delays but the mood was high within the TF2 community sounding more like a football crowd than a bunch of gamers. The first map belonged to Epsilon though, rolling through Infused 6-1 after a tense first half of the map but the second map Gullywash – dubbed as Infused’s “home map” – was much closer and owing to some fantastic roamer skills by Mike was won 6-4 by Infused to set up a third map decider. Tension was high but Epsilon turned it up another level, taking the final beyond the reach of Infused with 10 minutes left on the clock, winning 5-2 in the end. Despite the anti-climactic final map, we still had an amazing LAN with the biggest attendance ever and amazing support for the game. So much for TF2 being dead…

 LINK TO FINAL VOD

Other notable events:

  • Europe’s most successful TF2 team in the history of humanity officially announced their retirement. Team Dignitas had been dominant online and offline for nearly 2 years including winning Assembly and i40. It was an end of an era but thankfully it would not be the last time we would see Darn,  Agron Rebeli Ryb and  Bybben.
  • Team Dignitas as an organisation didn’t leave TF2 for very long, picking up the ex-Power Gaming line-up known recently as SG-1. They also announced they would be sending a mixture of the Old Dignitas and New Dignitas players to i43.
  • It was a big month for Orgs picking up TF2 teams with a lot of big LANs coming up, CKRAS being the latest team to enter the game by picking up  Anexis. Meanwhile highlander famed 6v6 outfit SNSD were picked up by Yoyotech; a team with massive potential in every position, with the exception of medic of course.
  • The F2P’ers from Epsilon Brink (featuring Admirable) faced off against the TF2 dream team consisting of: Robin Walker and  Jon Lippincott from Valve,  Gonzo from Cadred, Youtube sensation  Total Biscuit Extine (who subbed for Jon in the second map) from eXtv, TF2 pro  Macisum, a random Swede with ‘Ashkan’ connections in  lwf and finally world record holder for most dropped ubers in TF2 history, Yoyotech medic TheSucker. The Brink team managed to win Badlands 3-2 but having only ever played Badlands before, they lost out on Granary and Viaduct but they still managed to put on a great show and their scout Rulah even gave up Brink for TF2 afterwards by joining  CKRAS.

Big thanks to Rinta for helping me out with the archives and other stuff. Those dark summer months for TF2 soon disappeared as we entered a new dawn of TF2 coverage, however the rest of 2011 would see some changes that could ultimately decide TF2’s long term future. Tune in next time as I wish you all a Happy New Year.