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