Thursday, August 18, 2011

Learning to play Medic, pt. 1

The medic is the most powerful class in TF2; it lacks any offensive power, but possesses the unique capability of on-the-go healing, as well as the powerful ubercharge or kritzkrieg. Most of the game revolves around how well a team's medic (or medics) can play, for without them, every player on the team is more likely to die.

It can be hard to learn how to play medic, simply because you have to rely on your teammates to do the fragging for you. In a pub, obviously, this is going to be pretty difficult; who knows if that soldier you're healing is an aliasing Reptile or some coincidentally blind and deaf Hungarian who happened to download TF2 and join your server! That being said, it's probably best to switch to competitive play if you really want to improve your medic skills, because you'll be able to build up experience with your teammates, and learn their habits.

Here are a few tips that all starting medics can focus on, which will produce visible results quickly (in the form of less deaths, less ubers dropped, and ultimately more rounds won).

1. Stay behind cover!
I see so many medics, in pubs, lobbies, pugs, and scrims, trying to play as aggressively as the soldier or demoman they're healing. They peek around corners with their pocket soldier, and will run as far as possible with their ubercharge, even if it runs out in the midst of the enemy combo. This brings us to the first rule of playing medic: always stay behind cover.

As a medic, you are the glass cannon of the team. You have the most power of anyone on your team, but you are also defenseless on your own. While your pocket [note: the "pocket" is any player that sticks with the medic almost 24/7, and whose goal it is to protect the medic at all costs. This is typically a soldier, demo, or heavy] may have incredible aim, he or she can't protect you singlehandedly. Take the following situation:

You and your team are holding granary last on defense, and you see that you're at 80% uber while you stand on the left side of the lower pipe. Suddenly, you see that the enemy team is pushing out of the leftmost and upper-left exits of the second point. An enemy soldier jumps out of the upper-left pipe exit onto you, and you run back towards the left spawn door. He lands two rockets, and you're dead before you can pop uber.

Let's take a look at that scenario, and see how we can improve it!

First, notice where you are standing while holding the last point. It's important to not play too far back from the enemy, because you risk giving them control over parts of the map without ever having to fight for them. Certain locations, such as the roll-down doors or the pipes on granary last, can be held relatively easily by a team, and provide a significant tactical advantage. However, when you don't have uber and you know/suspect that the other team does, you want to play much more defensively. After all, if you die at 99% uber, it doesn't matter--you still died. You can avoid this kind of problem by staying as far away from the enemy as you can, while simultaneously delivering heals to every teammate who needs them. This means that sometimes you won't  be able to go after your team's soldier who just jumped onto their medic, and that's okay! As long as you survive, your team will have a chance of success.

Second, look at the hypothetical response to the soldier jumping: running back towards spawn. This is playing right into the soldier's hands! Think of a bullfighter and a bull: if the bullfighter just ran backwards from the more massive, speedier bull, he would be gored quickly. It is as such in TF2; as a medic, simply running backwards is often your worst option when you're surprised. If an enemy is rocket/sticky jumping over you, the best form of avoidance short of ducking under cover provided by the map is to run towards where the soldier/demo started their jump. This almost guarantees that the enemy will overshoot you, and typically they will land in a disadvantageous position. Of course, you must communicate this to your pocket, or else you risk being stranded with no heavy firepower to defend you. 

In the specific case of the last point of cp_granary, the best covers that the medic can use are the two pipes. The left pipe provides cover from everything below it on the left side, and still gives the medic a good line of sight on all his/her players and enemies. The right pipe can be used to block enemies standing on top of it from firing at the medic, though this requires pretty advanced prediction on the part of the medic to avoid rockets/stickies/pipes from above.

2. Avoid being seen by the enemy!
It goes without saying: with a few exceptions, you can't get killed if no enemy player can see you (b4nny's blind sticky dets ruin that advice, but playing against him is just awful anyways!). Resist the temptation to peek around the corner, or to run into a room before your pocket. They are the ones with the big guns and extra health, let them take the risks! When you're in a firefight, try to choose a location that gives you great cover, and identify all the areas that are potentially risky. If you're fighting a battle on the midpoint of cp_badlands, for example, and you choose to stay behind one of the trains, you need to check the closet to the left of you, the stairs behind you, and the entire area in front of you for enemy players/projectiles.

In this situation, as long as you stay there, allow your teammates to come to you; your roaming soldier or demoman may be screaming at you that they need heals, ASAP, but your safety comes first. If you judge that leaving cover to heal a player is too risky, just don't do it. Tell them, obviously, that you are going to stay behind cover, but make sure you stay alive.

3. Keep moving!

This is a bit counter intuitive, especially coming on the heals of the last tip, but even when you've found the perfect hiding space (behind the rocks on yukon mid, for example), you need to be planning where you'll move next. If I am in-game, and I notice that an enemy medic has taken cover behind a prop, and hasn't moved for several moments, I know exactly where they will be, and most likely, where they will be two seconds later, when I'm soaring through the air towards them! As a medic, this is a worst-case scenario for you. Ideally, the enemy never sees you, because this deprives them of their ability to attack you; however, in situations where they will inevitably see you (think midfights or offensive pushes) it's important that you be unpredictable. Mastering the short-strafe movement pattern, using enemy rockets and stickies to surf on explosions, and choosing new paths to get from point to point will aid you in confusing the enemy. When you're not moving, you might as well be telling the enemy team where you are and what you're doing, because they can see and guess everything.

Coming soon in pt. 2: How to use ubercharges/kritzkriegs effectively, heal priorities, and midfight mentality!

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