This is the first of many articles to come, aimed at helping players of all skill levels step up their game. I hope you find them useful, and feel free to give me feedback or suggestions either in the comments or PM me on Steam or IRC. Thanks. -Joint
Over the last month or so, after revisiting the South African Competitive TF2 community, I’ve found an increasingly pressing problem in pickups, friendly clan games and, most likely, even existing in league matches.
This problem has and always will be around as long as online team-based games exist, but I never expected it to persist in a game like TF2. Yet, every time I join a 6v6 game, I see arguably experienced and skillful players failing to overcome this problem. And I see this as a pressing issue, because this problem involves the most important aspect of ANY online team-based game.
This aspect is in-game communication, otherwise known as comms for short, or calling (the latter often used to describe the “leading caller” or captain of the team, but that’s for another topic)
What I want to talk about today is what every single player in any online gaming community is capable of excelling at, regardless of previous online gaming experience or actual in-game skill. And that is the ability to communicate effectively, clearly and concisely with your team-mates.
Of course, it’s no easy task to succeed at it with little or no knowledge of the game you’re playing, let alone mastering it. But like anything else, time and effort will help you get there. But first let’s look at a few things:
What do we mean by “communication”?
An obvious question, it may seem, but if we want to improve this aspect of our game-play experience we must look at it with a little more scrutiny.
Communication is the ability to share your ideas, thoughts or feelings with other people around you, through body language or your voice. In the context of online games like TF2, you’re basically trying to voice out what you see on your screen with relation to what your team-mates see on their screens. On top of that, you may be describing your position, what you see or don’t see, and what your plan of action is from there on.
To sum it down in its simplest form: Communication is painting a picture in your team-mates’ minds. That picture involves:
What you see.
What you don’t see.
Your prediction of the enemy’s: position / status / action based on that knowledge.
What you plan to do based on that knowledge.
The clearer and more efficient you can paint this picture, the more effective your communication will be.
So let’s throw this into an example:
You’re a scout on Badlands, your team just captured middle point while the enemy team’s scouts were down, and you’re waiting on the flanks by their resupply. You do not see their scouts around that area. This is what you would communicate:
1. I’m at their resupply
2. It’s clear.
3. Their scouts are probably still at spawn.
4. I’m moving onto battlements to:
5. Force Uber / Kill the Medic / Scout ahead.
From that picture you just painted your team-mates now have the ability to:
1. Respond and put pressure on the spire without fear of being flanked by scouts from the house.
2. Acknowledge your aggression and respond with their own by attempting to locate and put more pressure on the enemy team to assist your attack.
3. Call off your move because they need support at the spire.
Now look at that example and notice just how much more freedom and flexibility the team now has just because ONE player communicated a few important facts that were relevant and useful to the rest of the team at the time.
Unfortunately, this is what usually happens:
Demoman: “OK, we’re moving through choke now towards their spire. Scouts, can one of you check the battlements, get on spire and start capping the point.”
-10 seconds later-
*DEAD*Scout: “Uh, sorry, just died trying to force uber…”
*DEAD*Medic: “CALL THE SCOUTS FROM BEHIND PLEASE.”
*DEAD*Soldier: “Why wasn’t anyone supporting me on the spire?”
Clearly this leads to a lot of frustration for everyone. And that brings me to the problem that we are facing:
People are not willing to communicate effectively or fail to do so by making one of these mistakes:
1. Hardly ever or never communicating at all.
2. Communicating ineffectively by either voice-spamming, shouting or voicing irrelevant information.
3. Not listening to your team-mates’ communication.
Note that not listening out for your team-mates can be just as detrimental as not communicating effectively.
It is said that a great conversationalist is first a good listener, then a good speaker. Keep this in mind.
So we’ve looked at what communication really is, and what problems that a lot of players seem to be facing with it. Now let’s look at some solutions.
SOLUTION NUMBER ONE: Know the difference between good communication and bad communication.
For the sake of reference, I’ve mapped out a scale on 1 to 10 (10 being the highest) of what I consider good and bad communicating.
10 – You communicate clearly, concisely and effectively by calling out enemy player positions, their class, and their status, if possible and when relevant. On top of this, you communicate your plan of action and/or intention when necessary. You acknowledge your team-mates’ calls and respond with your own when necessary. On top of all this, you balance out your calling, making sure you give others the chance to communicate and respond. Overall, you’re a great benefit to your team, just through your communication skills and etiquette.
9 – Excellent use of communication, just as above, with great balance, and with little or no error. Very occasionally are you not consistent in key situations, and may miss a small piece of information that could have greatly benefited your team.
8 – Great use of communication, just as above, with good balance, however you may occasionally miss important calls that could save your teams a lot of hassles, but overall, you make a huge impact just through your communication.
7 – Your communication is good, but sometimes you either call irrelevant information, or communicate unnecessarily instead of effectively (“Medic SO LOW” instead of “Medic in bottom lobby, low”). You are calling important stuff at the right time, but at the cost of effectiveness and drowning out other team-mates’ communication.
6 – Decent communication, unfortunately nothing special or of great benefit to your team due to the fact that you may miss some pretty obvious calls at times, and consistently forget to call out your own position as well as enemy positions. Overall, you’ve got to make a conscious decision to step it up.
5 – Could be worse, but definitely could be better. You’re either too quiet or too loud, call too much rubbish, or don’t call at all at times. You need to keep your focus on what’s happening, not what happened or should have happened. Focus on calling ANYTHING that could be helpful, no matter how frustrating the situation is or was.
4 – Worse than average, and often not a help to your team at all. Your biggest problems are probably that you’re chatting, taunting or reacting to your opponents, rather than communicating with your team-mates. Take your focus away from your ego, and put it into something useful, like calling out where that opponent is heading, rather than what you think of him / her. Either that or you’re really not communicating enough.
3 – Hardly any help to your team except on occasion. Little or no communication, and it’s usually not much help when you do. This is probably because you’re expending that energy raging at your team-mates for the mistakes they made, rather than moving on and putting that energy into something more useful, or at least not say anything, that might just be more helpful. Either that or you need to start listening to your team-mates more often.
2 – You’re no help to your team at best, and a detriment at worst. You either don’t communicate at all, or you voice-spam way too much and need to start calling more relevant information, more concisely.
1 – You argue with your team-mates. Simple and straight. You can’t be more counter-productive than this. Yet we’ve all experienced it and, unfortunately, most likely contributed to it.
Take a moment to compare the good and the bad. Notice how raging at your team-mates is actually more productive than arguing, usually because at least there is some intelligent direction most likely involved, but with arguing, you cease any sort of productive communication with your team, and all parties are left feeling frustrated, and upset.
Now that we’ve clearly outlined that which we DO NOT WANT, let’s take some time to examine what we do want.
It’s a rarity that we get to play with some of those 9s or 10s, let alone be one of them, but I’d like to take this opportunity to list some players that I personally feel that have possessed that level of communication on a consistent basis, just to give you an idea of what you want to be aiming for. Unfortunately, some of these players aren’t with us anymore, but I feel they deserve the recognition. You’ll also notice these players have previous experience in online team-based games like Counter-Strike, Call of Duty and Natural Selection. In games like these, it is essential to clearly and concisely communicate with your team-mates.
So here it goes:
If you find yourself not on this list, do not despair. It took these players a lot skill, patience and practise to get to that level. It also took experience. And if that is something you are lacking at the moment, then now would be a good time to start working at it.
You can do the following:
1. Ask – well, if you want to learn how to be effective at communicating learning how to ask in the right manner is a good place to start.
2. Download Mumble recordings of top teams’ comms. At this time, I have no links available to share, but I’ll post some in the near future when I get my hands on them again.
3. Make a conscious decision to improve. This will probably be of most benefit to you. If you constantly force yourself to communicate more effectively, it will eventually become second-nature.
SOLUTION NUMBER TWO: Know exactly what you should be calling, and when.
O.K, so you think you’ve got an idea of how to communicate effectively. Great stuff. Now you need to know WHAT you should be communicating.
In online team-based FPS’s, there’s a dreaded word, known as the “H-word”. It’s “here.”
“SCOUT HERE, HELP ME PLEASE”
“FORCED UBER OVER HERE, THEY’RE MOVING IN”
“I’M HERE, WHERE ARE YOU?”
“Here” is the most useless word you can use to describe anyone or anything’s position in an online game. Don’t use it. Rather use something more specific.
The most useful way to describe an enemy’s position is:
1. Call his actual position relative to a map landmark (health packs, houses, flanks, bridges, spires, points)
2. Call his position relative to your team-mates position (back-left, front right. Top-left behind etc.)
Note: never just say “BEHIND”, that is almost just as useless as “HERE”. Because “BEHIND” is as good as describing half of the map behind your team. “BEHIND LEFT” is at least a little more specific.
Throwing in one or two key landmarks as well as a direction is always best, especially in a tight situation where your team-mates need to know what you’re talking about, ASAP. Example:
“Scout behind left, our crate.”
Next thing, and probably an essential point for SCOUT players: never ever forget to call the position of an enemy combo (soldier/medic or demoman/medic) that were just forced to UBER. Because without knowing their position, your team is better off NOT EVEN KNOWING that they were forced to uber, due to the fact that most players on your team will see that as a cue to move in aggressively (which is a good thing for the most part, except when…) the ENEMY COMBO USES THE UBER AGGRESSIVELY TO INITIATE ON YOUR TEAM AND FORCE YOUR OWN TEAM’S UBER, usually resulting in losing your hard-earned advantage. Why did this happen? Because someone didn’t call out WHERE they ubered, resulting in confusion and mayhem for your own team. This is especially important on maps like Badlands and Granary, where most uber fights happen around the extremely tight choke areas, and most combos are happy to uber in blindly. Don’t let them catch you off guard like that because you didn’t call their position after forcing it.
All the above applies to the entire enemy team pushing in aggressively. Never under-estimate how your team-mates can miss huge plays like that. Be the first to call it and save your team a LOT of unnecessary danger.
When holding off choke points, it’s also necessary to call out any enemy player positions that you can, especially if:
- you’re a SCOUT
- their team is FALLING BACK or PUSHING IN
- their team is playing unconventionally passive, usually indicating there’s an enemy demoman’s STICKY TRAP somewhere out of the norm.
There are other countless examples of enemy player positions that are obviously important to call, but it’s unnecessary to list them here at this time. Just know, when in doubt, call it.
2. Class-Specific Actions
These are somewhat more challenging to spot out, but can be an incredible help to your team. These class-specific actions usually apply to the enemy Demoman and Medic, but can apply to any other class.
Usually this involves:
- The enemy Medic deploying his ubercharge or being forced to do so (remember to call his position as well).
- The enemy Medic having or NOT having a 100% ubercharge ready to deploy.
- The enemy Medic having a distinct Uber Advantage or Disadvantage.
- The enemy Medic is using Kritz. (Look out for the different particle effects on the Medigun)
- The enemy Demoman has a Sticky Trap in a certain location.
- The enemy Demoman detonated his trap (allowing a small window of opportunity to slip through a choke or flank.)
Those are probably the most important. The next important class-specific actions are basically:
- Rocket-jumping Soldiers or a Sticky-jumping Demoman. (Predict their movement and jump beforehand; look out for that sticky, or watch for the soldier reloading ominously)
- Enemy Scouts that are flanking or bonking in.
On top of that, you’ll generally just get unconventional or uncommon situations, but are still important to call out ASAP. (Snipers, Engineers, Spies, and the like)
That’s as complex as it gets, unless you find yourself playing against teams that use varied strategies, in which case you’re going to want to give those strategies some names (Valley-strat on Badlands and right-side Crate-jumps on Granary are two of the most common ones.)
SOLUTION NUMBER THREE: Improve your speech.
If you’re getting an idea of what you’re going to be calling out in your next 6v6 games, we’re getting somewhere. However, one more thing that can hinder your ability to communicate effectively is bad speech habits.
Things like talking too fast, too softly or obnoxiously loud, or using too many pausers (“Like, he’s flanking at that, you know, house area, I mean, choke.”), monotone voice and sounding unsure of yourself are the most common ones.
Simple solution: watch your demos with voice playback on. Notice if you’re plagued with any of these issues. If so, take steps to improve them. I’m sure there are countless resources online to help you out there.
SOLUTION NUMBER FOUR: Don’t give up, and don’t under-estimate how important good communication is.
There’s only so much someone can do to convince you how important this part of your game is, but if I had to sum it up, I’d have to go back to clumsy analogy I used earlier.
Playing this game without effective communication is like trying to paint a picture with rubbish paint brushes and the wrong colours and textures, then expecting someone else to make sense of it.
As silly as it sounds, that’s the reality of it. Our minds think in pictures, not in words or sounds. The more clearly you can share that picture with your team-mates, the faster you’ll start heading towards being a successful team-mate, speaker and listener at the same time.
It’s a win-win situation for everyone that is involved, and I hope you give this part of your game the time and energy it deserves.
Thanks for reading and I hope to seeing you comm-ing it up in future games.