That TF2 was going ‘freemium’ was breaking across the gaming-centric corners of twitter, just as I was doing an interview about the TF2 project I’m taking up this summer. My conversation was with ‘Agro (the pyro)’ from Kritzkast, and I don’t think either of us expressed any real degree of surprise at the development, just a great deal of excitement at what it meant for the game. As it turns out, I seemed to have picked the exact right time to get back into the mix with this game.
Here we have one of those moves that makes total sense, but was obvious to few. It had been rumored that it might be happening since early this year, but I feel it had been cast off as just rumor mill grist and nothing more.
Yes, it’s going to mean that pub servers will be flooded with the uninitiated; my short session last night turned up plenty of people running the wrong way on payload maps and plenty of questions being tossed around in global chat. But, honestly, who gives a shit about that? It’s wonderful! The less patient among us, particularly those that have been playing since the game released in 2007 and know every polygon of every map, have released a fair bit of vitriol in the comment threads of every post that’s been posted about TF2 going free, and they’re all idiots. The noobfest we’re witnessing this weekend will subside in time, and the game will be much better for it, as a whole.
I’m primarily concerned with the impact to the competitive community, and TF2 going free solves one of the biggest problems for the growth of the game: the monetary barrier to entry.
The game’s now cheaper to play than Counter-strike, and that’s something that is unlikely to be brought back into parity. Bringing a secondary item mart to Counter-strike would be a pointless and destructive proposition. It means that if you’re bored of CS, or of paying $60 every year or so for the same goddamn CoD game, you’ve an easy out that costs you nothing to at the least pickup and try, even if only for a season.
An equally important facet of the impact here is simply the multiplication of playerbase and mindshare that the game will now enjoy amongst FPS enthusiasts. It’s probable that the massive influx of players will trail off a bit, if we’re being realistic, but even if the game falls even twenty-thousand concurrent players off its current level, it’s still right up there with CS. This should translate directly to a much larger receptive audience for what’s happening within the competitive scene. As much as I’ve wished it to be the opposite, the audience for a game’s professional scene is directly bound to the larger community around the game.
Simply put, you need a large number of people playing a game to serve as the core audience for the top-tier competitive scene around a game. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a big player base will instantly translate into a large audience for competition, but it’s definitely a prerequisite, you’re fucked without it. Ask League of Legends about that.
Yes, while I’m sure everyone who stops by to read my scribblings here have some anecdotal evidence to the contrary, I think it’s far safer to say that people that haven’t played a game are far less likely to give a shit about the competitive scene within that game, than to say that people of all flavors will immediately get into esports if only it would be set in front of them. I also know that some of you guys hold the opinion that TF2 is a fundamentally inferior game in a competitive frame than CS, and you’d also be wrong there too.
The only thing holding Team Fortress back from commanding a more robust competitive scene and opportunities towards sustainability has been a weak player base, and that problem has now been decidedly solved. It will take a gargantuan evangelism effort on the part of the competitive community to make good on the potential for growth that the competitive scene now has, but that potential is now there.
All…thanks to hats.