Home Editorial Balance How do you solve a problem like the Pyro?

The poor, poor Pyro. Long-relegated by the mainstream as the noob “W+M1” class, the Pyro hasn’t seen the spotlight since, well… ever. While he/she/it has certainly captured the imaginations and hearts of the Team Fortress 2 community, the Pyro suffers from a number of problems that have kept our favorite little arsonist from claiming the Cammy Quick Combination Close Quarters Combat throne.

Problem #1: The Pyro has no tools for ambushing opponents

Ask anyone what the Pyro’s intended gameplay role is, and they’ll say, “What the are you talking about? And who the hell are you?” But ask anyone who actually plays Team Fortress 2 what the Pyro’s intended role is, and they’d say it’s that of an ambush class. Simply put, the Pyro is supposed to set up traps, lie in wait, then pounce forth and strike on his unsuspecting victims. With fire.

But that plan falls apart when you consider that the Pyro has absolutely no way to set up these traps. He doesn’t have the mobility of a Scout to reach areas before other players do, or to quickly flank them from behind. He doesn’t have tools of stealth and subterfuge like a Spy does. He can’t double-jump, rocket jump, or sticky jump, either. Hell, he has the longest weapon in the game, meaning even when he does get to a corner before you, you’ll see the end of his flamethrower sticking out from 30 feet away. (This distance is also known as too far for the Pyro to do anything to you whatsoever.)

Problem #2: The Pyro does not actually dominate in CQC

Let’s assume, for the sake of bumping my article word count, that the Pyro does manage to ambush an enemy. Somehow, she got into range, and is now officially up in your grill. This is about the time when you encounter a firey, unintelligibly pronounced death, n’est-ce pas?

Well, not exactly. A recent number-crunching excercize by DragonRider on the Steam TF2 forums shows that, surprisingly, almost every weapon in the game does more damage per second than the Flamethrower. Think about that for a second. The Pyro, who relies on carefully stalking, flanking, and ambushing her prey, is outgunned by nearly every opponent once she gets in range. And DragonRider’s numbers are for point blank range, the range at which Pyros should excel.

Of course, it’s a little easier to land Flamethrower shots than Pistol bullets, but the fact remains that the Pyro is simply outclassed when it comes to short-range damage. Even after the most recent “buff” patch, the Pyro barely eeks ahead of the competition. But, regardless of the exact numbers, all of this info is even worse when you consider every class deals more damage than the Pyro at mid-long range. Because, after all, the Pyro doesn’t have real long-range options (aside from Flares, which we’ll discuss below).

Problem #3: The Pyro’s skill ceiling is even shorter than its range

All W+M1 jokes aside, the reality is that even the best Pyros don’t have a lot of options for upping their game. Your basic goal, as Pyro, is to light people on fire, extinguish teammates who are on fire, and axtinguish enemies who are on fire. And occasionally you can reflect stuff and remove sappers. But that’s about it.

The underlying issue is that all of these actions are extremely straightforward. Lighting enemies on fire takes no real skill, nor does learning that M2+Axe = dead foes. Airblasting takes a little timing, but it’s completely dependent on how incompetent your foes are. Smart players will switch to the Shotgun/Sticky Bomb Launcher in short order, putting you at a disadvantage. And don’t get me started on the Backburner.

Valve’s attempts to “fix” this problem only get more and more bizarre. They make the only skill-based aspect, the compression air blast, so easy to use it’s basically a spam move. They decrease direct Flamethrower damage (the part that’s actually hard to aim) and increase afterburn damage (the part that even the luckiest noobs can cause by spinning in circles holding the trigger). They make the Backburner even more hard-hitting, discouraging players to use the more skill-based primary weapon. Okay, sure, they made the Flare Gun more rewarding for skilled marksmen, but that’s a small ripple in an otherwise swirling sea of fail.

Potential Solutions

So, what can be done to solve these problems and make the Pyro the King/Queen/Robot Overlord of short-range anarchy?

Read my proposed solutions here!

5 replies to this post
  1. The pyro certainly takes good advantage of ambush opportunities, but then so does the heavy – I’m not fond of pigeonholing him as an ambush-specialist. I think of him as an asssault/flanker. Solo he needs to be clever to close the range, but with backup he’s a fine frontline fighter.

    As for skill, fun as it is, I’m not a fan of what the airblast does to the game. I prefer the ubercharge to trump everything to prevent impenetrable defences, and your team’s demomen/soldiers should not be more dangerous to yourself than the enemy.

    Accordingly my pet ideas for adding a bit more depth to the pyro replace the airblast and stand no chance of ever being imlemented. They’re both about killing enemies with fire and neither add any long-distance capability. Not a big deal in my mind since like the spy and the heavy, the skill in pyroing isn’t aiming, it’s getting yourself into the right situation and choosing the perfect moment to commit to the attack.

    1) “Napalm”
    This is a change to the basic rules for fire. Enemies on fire take minicrits from non-fire damage just as if they were jarated.
    Now the pyro plays better as part of a team. Coordinated assaults are the name of the game. Hit and run also becomes more of an option, since you know that even if the enemy isn’t in danger from the afterburn damage, they’ll be afraid to risk their face until it’s finished. Nipping in from the side and lighting up a few opponents then backing off to shotgun could turn the tide of a push.

    2) Pressure gauge.
    Give the flamethrower a gauge that looks like the jarate/bonk recharge. It depletes with continuous fire, and recharges fairly swiftly otherwise. The more full the gauge, the higher the rate of fire of the flamer. I’m not egotistical enough to pull exact numbers out of my ass, but certainly a bit more than normal at full; pressure and maybe as low as 50% RoF when at minimum pressure.
    The pyro now does his best damage at the very start of his attack and is penalised slightly for just holding down the button. Adds more weight to the decision of when to start firing, and catching as many enemies as possible in the initial burst. Good pyros could also cause a lot more damage in a scrum by being more economical with their fire rather than holding down M1.
    Like napalm it also makes hit and run a more effective option, though in this case it’s due to front-loaded damage on the flamer. This mechanic would also make pyro vs pyro fights a lot more interesting and skill-rewarding.

  2. PS – I found this blog when I was looking for an update to your spy walkthroughs.

    Those videos were fantastic. I pretty much gave up on the spy way back in the beta, and occasional dabbling since never changed my mind . My biggest problems were lack of patience and dealing with failure. Your videos did a great job teaching me that spies have the luxury of picking their moment to strike. And also to expect at least a little unavoidable bad luck.

    Many thanks for them.

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