This article is going to take the same pensive tone of the similarly-themed “The Art of the Backcap“, except whereas backcapping isn’t completely lost, flagrunning by and large is completely absent from TF2 in the game’s current incarnation. It was largely dead from the getgo.
Flagrunning is the act of playing with one objective in mind; reaching the enemy’s flag, grabbing it, and getting it as close as you can to your team’s capture zone before you die. It may sound odd for me to claim such a simplistic act is completely gone from TF2 (after all, matches do end on 2fort every now and then, right?) but nothing in TF2, even the speedy scout or stealthy spy cap, can come close to what happened in Team Fortress Classic every second of every game.
TFC was a game built around flags. Attack/defend maps involved one team moving their flag forward from capture point to capture point and the other team trying to stop them, like TF2’s Haarp. Control point maps were the same thing except both teams had a flag. On the map ‘Hunted’ someone got to play as the flag. This meant that the Scout and Medic classes were on permanent flagrunning duty. Scout was actually a pretty bad class other than his unparalleled mobility, and Medic turned out to be something of a ultra-mobile jack-of-all-trades, and that was enough that they both became mainstays in the competitive circuits zipping through the enemy defenses via a combination of masterful bunny-hopping and perfectly-timed concussion grenades that sent them careening in three dimensions no other class could hope to pursue. Just watch this video and try to think of anything in TF2 that even comes close:
Not really pictured in that video (due to Wheaties being so badass) is the level of teamwork prevalent in a flagrunning raid. Half of those flags he picked up weren’t at their spawn point; a series of other scouts and medics had picked up the flag, reported exactly where it was going to be when they died, and then threw it there just in time for some other healthy flagrunner to zip in and continue the chain. It was like a dance, a synchronized airshow of flagrunners coordinating with split-second precision to keep the flag moving so that the defense couldn’t lock it down. If you’ve got some time I recommend watching this video, the only shoutcasted TFC match I can find on the internet (please tell me if you know of any more!). It does a good job of demonstrating what I’m talking about.
Now compare this mentally to any competitive TF2 matches you’ve seen that took place on CTF maps. Do the caps come from impossibly agile scouts who zip through the enemy defenses and repeatedly sacrifice themselves just to move the flag a few feet forward? No…every cap I can think of was the result of a concentrated effort of Ubercharges and heavy firepower classes demolishing the defense into scrap and then lugging the flag home General Sherman-style. These caps aren’t really ‘flagrunning’ so much as brute-forcing the objective which just so happens to be a flag. This shift can be partially chalked up to game mechanics (in TF2 pressing L drops it at your feet instead of flinging it forward) but also just the lack of advanced mobility in general. Bunnyhopping was removed and the Sticky Jumper is the closest thing we get to a Conc grenade (and Valve stopped it from being able to carry flags…) meaning that no class can maintain the momentum needed to completely bypass enemy defenses. In addition, defense got some seriously powerful buffs in the form of the TF2 Engineer. A stock Engineer can upgrade his dispenser, haul his buildings, enjoy the defense of a not-worthless friendly pyro, and flagrunners can no longer run faster than his sentry can track or nailgun it from afar. And that’s not even going into unlocks like the Wrangler, Rescue Ranger and Short Circuit.
All of these are reasons why I think TF2 has shied away from Capture-the-Flag. It just doesn’t work to the extent that it did in its predecessor. Not that it ever really liked CTF; the first iteration of the game had only one abysmally bad CTF map, choosing instead to focus on control points in its other game modes. I don’t blame them; the offense-defense relationship in TF2 isn’t adjusted correctly for CTF to really work, and I doubt it ever will be.
So if you want to be a flagrunner…you really had to be there. Mannpower is trying to bring it back with the grappling hook, and it’s doing a halfway-decent job in that I can now flagrun solo. But until I see a teammate intentionally drop the flag so that his teammate can get it home faster while he repositions himself for the next flag to respawn, I’m going to continue to regard real flagrunning as a thing of Team Fortress past.