Arie — In this first part of a series on server providers, serveme.tf. But first things first: I wrote the serveme.tf reservation system. This makes the research for this article really easy for me and any conclusions about the quality of the service undoubtly biased. ;) If you hate walls of text, there’s a TL;DR list of pros/cons at the end.

Serveme 'logo'

Serveme homepage

About serveme.tf

In this series of articles on server providers, serveme.tf is the odd one out. First of all, you can’t even rent a serveme.tf server. You simply make a reservation out of a large list of servers (20 at the time of writing) and at the reserved time a gameserver is configured with the settings you picked, updated and started. As such, you can’t depend on a server last minute, they might all be reserved by Russian TF2lobby players when you most need it. So some planning and preparation is required, not exactly the strongest point of the TF2 competitive community. A small collection of donator-only servers is available, so for them it’s rare not to have a server available.

Why serveme.tf

If you can live with the possibility of finding all servers in use, it’s a pretty good benchmark for the more traditional server providers (and another excuse for me to write about my own system first).
All servers within the serveme.tf system are provided by sponsors, free of charge, right now all server sponsors are community members that already had a machine and wanted to donate the spare capacity for the greater good of the TF2 community. Because of this, the servers run in non-overbooked setups, meaning that even if all gameservers are in use on a machine there should still be enough CPU, memory and bandwidth to run the games fluently.

Thanks to the different server sponsors, there are 20 servers in 6 different datacenters to choose from, I’m not aware of any commercial server provider that offers this many, instantly switchable, locations. This should mean you can always find a server with a ping that’s good for both teams.

Reservation settings

 

When creating a reservation you get to choose the server, passwords and the active config/whitelist. Unlike other server providers, there’s no option to add maps or configs, and there’s no FTP interface to get the logs and demos. The logs and demos are available however, when you finish your reservation they get zipped immediately and you receive a download link to the zip. Unfortunately there’s no way to get custom plugins, maps and configs on your reservation, the only way to make that happen is asking in a comment on the homepage. Automatic integration with logs.tf is available for users who’ve entered their logs.tf API key in their serveme.tf user profile. It’s also possible to manually upload logs once the reservation is over, no logs.tf API key is required for this.

Uploading logs

Why not serveme.tf

It’s great to be a free user of something, until it breaks. Since you’re not paying, there’s no support staff to help you. If your reserved server doesn’t come online or crashes, the only thing to do is to try another server. But that might be difficult during prime time, since most servers will be full at that time.

The lack of direct control over the configs, maps and plugins is also something to take into consideration. You can’t spontaneously decide to have a mario_kart_b3 race-off combined with the Saxton Hale plugin, but also more likely scenario’s of a test tournament on a new map require intervention of a serveme.tf administrator (aka me).

TL;DR pros/cons

Pro:

  • Free
  • Lots of locations
  • Automatic zipping of logs and demos
  • Automatic and simple manual uploads of logs to logs.tf

Con:

  • Server isn’t ‘yours’
  • No support/warranty
  • No FTP access to upload new plugins, configs and maps

Conclusion

Since it’s free there’s no reason not to try it. The wide range of locations should guarantee a low ping server that performs well, but only if you make an advance reservation, else you’d might find your desired server already in use. Even if you’re already happy with your current server provider, serveme.tf could at least be your backup in case your own server has a bad day.

In the next article, we’ll be discussing a community favourite (?), Hiperz.