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dj's Roaming Soldier Roundtable
posted in News
August 2, 2012

I know absolutely nothing about how to play soldier competitively. I rocket jump aimlessly, when I get into a close DM battle, my 2 years of scouting experience turns on and I start aiming like I have a scattergun. Everytime I kill someone, I am genuinely surprised. This is why I'm not even going to try to start talking about the soldier class like I know anything about it. The last thing you want is for me to go into a long paragraph about how soldiers need to play badlands mid or how gunboats and equalizers are slowly killing competitive TF2. This is why I brought my boy m0lk in to ask the questions to the pros. m0lk has been playing the soldier class since season 1 of CEVO (Yes, that's old school). He did a wonderful job of making up some questions that I would have never thought of.

I invited 3 of the top roam soldiers in the game to answer the questions. [/flag][b]Jaeger[/b] really needs no introduction, he has won more TF2 championships than the number of roster changes on Helix. [/flag][b]cbear[/b] is on one of the rising teams in invite. Definitely expect big things from him and the Muscle Milk crew this season. [/flag][b]Seagull[/b] played pocket soldier most of his career, but there are a lot of rumors that he might be the new roam soldier for complexity this season, which made me interested in how he would answer some of the questions about the roamer (especially compared to Jaeger's answers).

[iq]Hello gentlemen, thank you for helping me out with the roundtable, please introduce yourselves, what team you are on, and a little bit about yourselves.[/iq]

[ia][b]Jaeger[/b]: I play support soldier for compLexity. Team Fortress 2 is the first first person shooter I've played competitively. I started playing in a TWL ladder, I think it was December 07, moved up to CAL-O, CAL-M, moved to Apoplexy Industries for CEVO-P, moved to Pandemic to win ESEA-O and CEVO-P, moved to pureEsports and ESEA-I, then moved back to compLexity in ESEA-I and CEVO-P.[/ia]

[ia][b]cbear[/b]: I play off soldier for Area 51 (or off pyro) -- the new most hated team around apparently. I started as a low-mid twl 7v7 soldier/sniper about two years ago and have scratched and clawed my way into invite somehow. I think it's because ducky carries me.[/ia]

[ia][b]Seagull[/b]: I currently play backup for compLexity, but in the past have played "pocket" soldier for teams like 20ID and Blight Gaming. I originally came to the game when a friend of mine in a different game (HL2 Deathmatch) asked me to play soldier for his team (#cri) at the time. After that I messed around casually with the game until I joined Balloons seriously around November 2008. After that, I made a name for myself and progressed through better and better teams until I am where I am today.[/ia]

[iq]There is a lot of debate and speculation on having a "pocket" and "roaming" soldier. Sometimes in pickups I ask who is going to pocket, who is going to roam. A lot of kids go "that's stupid lets just do both!." Can you explain why it's important to have a pocket and a roam and how they interchange roles situationally during a match?[/iq]

[ia][b]Jaeger[/b]: If both of your soldiers die your team is usually in a lot of trouble. Losing one soldier is generally OK. The pocket is responsible for staying alive so your medic is protected and you can hold the territory you've won. A soldier that isn't stacked to 300hp is actually pretty easy to kill, your medic can only reliably keep one soldier up above 250hp. If your team is in a situation where the medic has to focus on keeping one soldier up it's good to have roles set so one of your soldiers knows he needs to manage his own health for the time being without having to discuss it which takes time and clutters the voice chat. If one soldier is weak, out of ammo, or the other is in a more advantageous position you can switch. Obviously if the pocket dies you need to switch. Rotating aggressive soldiers (get 300hp jump away do damage come back ~100hp and other soldier does the same while you get healed up) works very well in some situations.[/ia]

[ia][b]cbear[/b]: As off soldier I know that my job is usually to stay away from the combo -- and since our main fragger is our demo, it's extra important for me to leave those heals for the pocket and the Duck. Being able to play away from the combo is huge for any roaming soldier -- but there are many situations when you throw out the pocket/off distinction completly. For instance: trying to capture spire (and actually places like gpit b roof and fastlane mid tower thing work the same way) it's crucial that the soldiers trade off and stay alive, and in essence trade rolls mid round. So while it's important to have a pocket/roam distinction, it's also just as important that the soldiers feel comfortable doing either job.[/ia]

[ia][b]Seagull[/b]: Well, for newer teams I think it's important to throw labels on your soldiers like pocket and roaming. Those teams' soldiers don't really have the chemistry and teamwork to interchange between the two roles seamlessly and without verbal communication. As two soldiers play with each other more and developer better chemistry however, I think it's OK to step away from those labels so you don't unintentionally limit what your soldiers can do in a given situation. Take my run on 20ID, for example - when the team was playing (well, the team I was on, anyway) we didn't have a pocket. When we were first starting out, we looked at a lot of European SourceTVs, mostly Dignitas (#1 euro team), and eventually figured out that Dignitas' Medic (agron) pretty much roamed and healed whoever he thought was best in any given situation. This allowed their team to put out more damage than the enemy team at the expense of medic protection, which wasn't an issue if their medic was good and their team was on the ball. We decided to pretty much completely steal this idea and take it to the next step by only our soldiers (myself and Hong) be with our medic (ruwin) if we wanted to charge uber or have an uber battle and otherwise completely disregard our medic (to an extent, of course) allowing our team to almost constantly be putting out significantly more damage than the other team. On 20ID I was lucky to have the best medic in the game as well as individually very capable DMers - ultimately, it comes down to each team discussing how they would like their soldiers to play.[/ia]

[iq]A lot of soldiers out there have decent aim, but seem to lack all sorts of game sense. What is a good way to up your vision and understanding of the game?[/iq]

[ia][b]Jaeger[/b]: A good support soldier needs to learn to manage their health. A rule of thumb for awareness I give a lot of aspiring players is to do a quick 180 and look behind you for a split second, every 2 seconds. This will help you to not be flanked, know when you're over extended and alone, and keep tabs on your team's positioning and status when the comms aren't as good as they should be. Watch demos, watch live match casts, and vods, read articles such as this one, explore the European, Australian, Korean, Brazilian and Japanese scenes to find new insight.[/ia]

[ia][b]cbear[/b]: Along with checking your back constantly (until it becomes second nature) I used to work heavily on maintaining the most detailed and informed understanding of what's going on in game. The most prevalent problem soldiers have is tunnel-vision (2nd is trying to be flashy) -- as either roamer or pocket it's crucial that you know not only what you're doing but what everyone on your team is doing. Note who is dead and who is alive constantly until it becomes 2nd nature. Playing smart is literally as easy as waving your mouse around to see the entire fight, and then taking an extra moment to make the best possible decision.[/ia]

[ia][b]Seagull[/b]: Like Jaeger said, an easy way to get some "gamesense" is to see how other TF2 scenes play the game and break it down to see how it works and then incorporate that into your own play. What I did was watch a lot of SourceTVs of my team's matches and look for the round-deciding battles. Finding them was how I improved the most - most of the time, way before the huge intense really close fight that won the round for either team, mistakes were made which caused that situation to happen in the first place. Recognizing those allowed me to find those moments in matches as I was playing, giving me the chance to make big plays when it mattered most.[/ia]

[iq]As a newer soldier, what is a good way to figure out if you're a better pocket or a roamer? Once you figure out your role, is it best to get practice playing the opposite role to help you have a better understanding of the game?[/iq]

[ia][b]Jaeger[/b]: A good soldier should be able to play either role well. It's just a matter of familiarity and convenience. A support soldier usually has less room for mistakes and lapses in awareness, although the Equalizer now allows them to escape or win in situations where they should have died for their poor positioning/decision making. A pocket soldier generally has a good health stack at all times, and can be very mobile, his medic often can save him from poor choices or lack of awareness with uber, and most enemies will ignore him and target his medic first which means your aim isn't thrown off by being shot and you aren't dodging so you can focus on aiming.[/ia]

[ia][b]cbear[/b]: I played pocket for over a year (actually just switched to roamer halfway through last season) which helped me out a ton after switching. Jaeger is right when he says that any good soldier should be able to play both, but for beginning players/teams I'd give the advice to let your soldiers try each role during scrims. It's really helpful for a pocket to get a feel of what the scouts/roamer have to do on the flank and for the roamer to get a feel of playing combo. But, generally speaking if you enjoy one role over another than stick with it and have fun.[/ia]

[ia][b]Seagull[/b]: Well, going off of my previous answer, it really comes down to how your team wants to approach the game. If your team chooses to have a pocket&roamer, those two players should play each role to see which they like more. Whichever role the players like more, they should play, regardless of how good each player is at the position to an extent - if x player loves to pocket but he's terrible, the team leader should throw him on roaming and tell him once he's good at pocket he can play it. If both soldiers want to play pocket or roamer and they're both really good at it, then the team should see how they can play off of that and change their style of play to make that work, whether that's a turtle-style team or a suicider-style team. It just comes down to the team playing off of their strengths to have the best performance while still being fun for everyone.[/ia]

[iq]Over the course of competitive Team Fortress Two we have seen a lot of soldiers break into the higher echelon. Who are these guys who used to struggle and how did they make it to be top players? What can we learn from them?[/iq]

[ia][b]Jaeger[/b]: Well I am certainly one of those soldiers who used to struggle. I think 1300+ hours on soldier has a lot to do with it. Practice with purpose. There is room for just going in having fun and shooting around. You need a regular minimum amount of time just to maintain your current skillset, shooting around in a pub/lobby/ammomod for a half hour or hour a day will help you keep your current level. If you want to improve you need to focus on something, positioning, rocket jumping, health management, ammo management, awareness, comms, air control, dodging, aim, etc. Pick something and push your limits on it. Create personal challenges that go beyond just winning your next scrim. A few examples I've used: I'm not going below 100hp this scrim. I'm not going to my medic for heals this scrim. I'm not going to get bounced this round of ammomod.[/ia]

[ia][b]cbear[/b]: I used to struggle a ton trying to keep up at a mid level. Once you realize that this game has much less to do with DM and more to do with everything else you will see drastic improvement in personal and team results. It takes time to develop the secondary skills such as prediction and awareness, but if you can stick with a team long enough to gel and develop devastating timing and teamwork you will quickly rise the skill ranks.[/ia]

[ia][b]Seagull[/b]: It all comes down to just how bad do you want to be top. If a player really wants to be top, that person is going to do everything in their power to make that happen - watching demos, playing 1300+ hours as soldier (!), whatever it takes. If you want to be #1, it can't be something like "oh yeah that'd be nice to be #1." It has to be more than that - it's referred to as the fire for a reason.[/ia]

[iq]What is your favorite map to play as soldier and why?[/iq]

[ia][b]Jaeger[/b]: Badlands. It's my favorite map to play as any class.[/ia]

[ia][b]cbear[/b]: Freight. Random, I know. I don't have the slightest idea why but it's always been my strongest and favorite map to soldier on[/ia]

[ia][b]Seagull[/b]: Badlands. It has evolved so much in TF2 and I can't wait to see what insane strats teams will come up with next.[/ia]

[iq]What can a scout or demo on your team do to make the soldiers excel?[/iq]

[ia][b]Jaeger[/b]: Demo can stay alive, deal damage, get to mid fast (although too many teams use their demo is faster to mid as a scapegoat). Scouts can make good comms and clean up what you kill. Both benefit soldiers by managing their health well as a support soldier is usually the last to get a buff when everyone needs one.[/ia]

[ia][b]cbear[/b]: I almost always am the one trying to soften stuff up for the rest of my team. I spend most of my time with the scouts, and do whatever I can to feed them hurt things to 8). But really, I'm on a team with 4 strong DMers -- if I can set them up I'm doing my job regardless of stats or points (and thus, excel!)[/ia]

[ia][b]Seagull[/b]: It's not what can they do to help me excel, it's what can I do to help them excel. Scouts and Demomen in this game have some nutty damage output. If I can get them to utilize it at the right time and place, then we start winning battles and rounds. The best thing they can do is to be on the same page as me - to know when I'm distracting and when I'm jumping, without me having to call it out every time I do it.[/ia]

[iq]I notice a lot of soldiers going for greedy airshots/frag video shots and being mowed down by scouts while they are distracted. What's a good way to recognize a distraction jump over a suicide? When do you go for that airshot and when do you body block?[/iq]

[ia][b]Jaeger[/b]: If you hit the airshot then it doesn't much matter. You almost never want the enemy to be taking zero pressure shots. There are times where you can't shoot everything that is coming at you. Usually if your positioning makes sense these are basically all-in plays and if you can just survive the initial onslaught without sustaining too much damage your team's better positioning, health, and ammo resources should correct the situation to your advantage. When there is a bombing soldier and a flanking scout and not enough time to shoot both of them you can often look the the scout off like a quarterback will look off a safety. That rocket launcher pointing at their face is usually enough to make them take some evasive/defensive action which makes it harder for them to land punishing shots on you.[/ia]

[ia][b]cbear[/b]: It's impossible to really answer that question as it's so situational. Generally speaking most soldiers dont respect how valuable loaded rockets are during a fight -- that being said I dont usually ever attempt airshots unless they're either easy or crucial. A lot of times using the shotgun to slightly push bombers away and use the rockets after the flanking scout attacks might be the best play, other times shooting 3 rockets into the wall and equalizing everyone is the best play -- it totally depends on the situation. It's really hard to not try to hit those nasty airshots, but when you see me double jumping around like an idiot remember that I'm doing it knowing that there's like a 2% chance one of the 3-4 airshot attempts will hit me. That's 300+ damage that I've skirted for my team doing something any pubber can do.[/ia]

[ia][b]Seagull[/b]: Airshots don't matter that much. If a soldier is jumping on your combo or jumping anywhere near you, it isn't your job to try and take them out before they hit the ground. Your job revolves around shooting the ground. The only realistic time to go for an airshot is when you're on a CP that's on high ground that you're defending or capping - like C on Gpit and Spire on blands. Outside of those, jumping soldiers are almost always suicides - that soldier jumping on your train on blands, or crate on granary, chances are he's going to be focused and totally screwed - a distraction for sure, but also a suicide.[/ia]

[iq]Sometimes roaming soldiers are sent to work with the scouts. Other times they are with the combo. Which play style do you prefer and why?[/iq]

[ia][b]Jaeger[/b]: I like to mix it up so the enemy doesn't know what look we're going to give them next. This is probably the one area where calling the soldier a roamer makes sense. He can float between the combo and the scouts freely and apply and relieve pressure. If he does this well the enemy will over commit somewhere and you can punish them and take your advantage.[/ia]

[ia][b]cbear[/b]: I love working the flank with the scouts, and I probably spend 75% of the time away from the combo. Though more and more I've been spearheading non-mid fight pushes (ie being the first to bomb trying to force a pop). Though mixing up your positioning and play (hide one round, push aggressive one round, hold a lane one round, etc) will do a lot to keep the other team off balance.[/ia]

[ia][b]Seagull[/b]: Well this really comes down to the situation. If it's a stalemate like 2-3 granary/badlands where both teams are charging, I'll probably get an overheal and then play with my scouts. But it completely depends on what the other team is doing. I'm not going to play with my combo when my scouts are playing against scout/scout/soldier (without good reason, anyway), and so on. For most pushes though, I really like the synergy between demo/soldier/medic - they are generally going up against a soldier/medic/x, and the demoman combined with the soldier are extremely versatile and can handle just about anything. On the flank of that, you would have a soldier/scout/scout - if the soldier gets an overheal (or sometimes even without an overheal), he can generally take on scouts easily as well as take out sticky traps for your scouts, which is very useful. It all depends on the map and where the other team's strengths lie, however.[/ia]

[iq]Often times as soldier you have to make instant decisions on whether or not to jump the combo. Can you describe some situations that explain when to do this and when to hold back?[/iq]

[ia][b]Jaeger[/b]: Any time your team is under a great deal of pressure (low health/low numbers/spam incoming/poor positioning/etc) you can make the decision to go in and relieve pressure off your team to scatter and flee behind defensive rocket spam. If your team has no uber advantage, or your teammates (demo for instance) have just done a lot of damage you can go in aggressively and try to make plays. If you have a coordinated flank you can try and distract/deal damage to make it easier for your flank to succeed. Most of the time though your team is served better by you staying alive. Constant suiciding is a crutch for poor aim and insufficient teamplay. As a support soldier it is important to be ready to change your role at the drop of a dime. If your pocket dies you become the pocket, if your medic dies often you have to instantly try to pick their medic, if your demo does a lot of damage you have only a few seconds to capitalize on that damage to gain territory or kills before it gets healed up.[/ia]

[ia][b]cbear[/b]: Jaeger nails most of it there (nerded). I've modeled my play after Jaeger since the old AI days (both pockets turned roamers turned gay) though I'd say I'm more bomb heavy. For area 51, our offense is to try to set up the main fragging power, so a lot of the time I'm bombing at the onset of fights or in order to force a pop or do enough damage to win the fight. While I I do bomb quite a bit, I favor playing more a sweeper, staying alive and annoying the other team with gay hiding spots or unexpected flanks. Unless I'm trying to suicide-pop the other team at last, every bomb is coordinated and done with the effort of having the follow up push moments after the bomb.[/ia]

[ia][b]Seagull[/b]: I think most of these jumps where you know you have to make the decision now, with no setup time, happen on badlands mid. They'll jump a soldier onto your team, and you know that if you jump on him it's a race between killing him and then focusing the rest of the team before any of you die, or you can choose to jump on their team and delay their time to push onto your team - it's just a huge meta-game of soldiers jumping on each other. I think these types of strategies where you just all jump at them/jump on stuff and hope for the best are slowly dying out and players can expect to see them become less prevalent. More soldiers have been realizing that while jumping on teams clumped up (which almost always happens on maps like badlands) can be really tempting, it's not worth it unless you clutch it. An exception to this would be to jump and follow up with your team - but as teamwork becomes more and more complex and teams become more skilled with each other, this type of strategy will probably die down as well.[/ia]

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