Jarate Chop!

Populating a TF2 Server

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One of the hardest things about starting a new TF2 server is getting players to play on it. No one wants to join a server with no players, but if no one joins the server with 0/24 players then how does a server ever get started?

Initially with Smurfy Fortress it was up to the core admin group to get the servers populated. We had all played thousands of hours on other servers so were lucky to have quite large friends lists.

The process goes like this:

  1. Our intrepid server starters join the server via their Favorites list
  2. Friends of theirs join the server
  3. A few randoms will join via the server browser
  4. Once we get to 12+ players Quickplay begins sending players to the server

The exact point at which Quickplay kicks in varies depending on the server reputation.

The crux of it is that without a few players joining the server manually to begin with Quickplay would never kick in, and the server will never be populated.

A significant problem between steps 1-3 and 4 is keeping everyone entertained as sometimes it can take half an hour to get to step 4.

When there's only a handful of players it's very easy for the game to be one sided. All it takes is one good combo and steamroll ensues, causing players to leave to find a more balanced game. Every player is critical at this point because you need to hit the magic threshold for Quickplay to help fill the server.

Fortunately we've built a friendly community on Smurfy Fortress and regular players have devised a number of silly games to play with low numbers of players.

Here's one example known internally as COD Fortress 2:

Others include combinations of:

  • Battle Medic - everyone plays Medic and equips the Blutsauger
  • Tickle Fights - Holiday Punch Heavy, no miniguns, just tickle and taunt kills
  • Trolldier - Soldier using the Rocket Jumper, aiming for Market Gardener or Mantreads kills only
  • Stab Stab Sniper - Huntsman Sniper, going only for Skewer kills
  • Flare Pyro - guess what? Pyro, but you can only use the Flare Gun. Whodathunkit.
  • Melee only

The point of it all is stupid but fun. It's much harder to kill people with these loadouts, and less biased towards skill/experience, so it's not only fun but also non-rage inducing. And it works with any number of players.

The end result is that the servers populate faster as players stick around because they're having fun. We do lose a few players who dislike the fact that people aren't playing seriously but that is actually beneficial to our community as we want players who don't take the game so seriously all the time.