When learning how to play community competitive Team Fortress 2, keep in mind it is separated into 3 main competitive formats, 6s (6v6), Prolander (PL, 7v7), and Highlander (HL, 9v9). Currently, only 6s is available in the in-game competitive queue. There are different community competitive leagues available for each region, with the exception of UGC which is a global league. Other formats have less league support and smaller communities but are still enjoyable options. These include Bball, 4s, and Ultiduo.
How to play the most supported formats in competitive Team Fortress 2
6s is the most popular and widely supported competitive format, which is often attributed to its faster gameplay. This speed comes from the team composition, which is traditionally 2 scouts, 2 soldiers, 1 demoman, and 1 medic. All classes are available for use, with a limit of 2 for each with the exception of demoman and medic, which have a limit of 1. However, the aforementioned team composition has proven to be the fastest and most effective in the majority of situations. While 6s is the most popular format, it has the steepest learning curve. When learning how to play competitive Team Fortress 2, try a variety of formats to find something comfortable.
Game modes in 6s
The most played game mode in 6s is 5cp (5 capture point), which is why rollouts and speed are so important. KOTH (King of the Hill) is the second most played game mode in 6s, which has similar gameplay to 5cp but a smaller map which creates faster gameplay and shorter matches.
For many years in 6s, nearly every unlockable weapon was banned, limiting players to stock weapons. In 2016, several community competitive leagues decided on a new whitelist (weapon ban list) which allowed the use of almost all weapons in 6s. This new whitelist has been adopted by the majority of community competitive leagues. If you’re considering trying out scout and are not sure what weapons to use, check out our scout weapons tier list.
Knowing when and how to off-class in competitive Team Fortress 2 is very important. Off-classing is when anyone (normally not the medic or demoman) switches to a different class. This is occasionally seen in 6s and frequently in Prolander and 4s, but is not possible in Highlander due to class limits. Changing your team composition on the fly is a risky strategy, but it can catch your opponents off guard. Off-classing is generally a situational decision, but once off-classing is no longer advantageous you are expected to switch back to your original class.
Highlander is the second most popular and frequently supported format, which limits classes to 1 of each. With 9 players on each team, the gameplay can seem a bit chaotic and hard to follow compared to other formats. However, having every class on a team at once also creates the potential for very complicated and interesting strategies. Having a constant sniper and spy to worry about makes keeping your medic alive all the more difficult. Nearly all unlockable weapons are allowed, with a few exceptions.
Game modes in Highlander
The game modes of choice in Highlander are Payload, Control Point, and KOTH. Control Point refers to both 5cp and Attack/Defense maps, although Attack/Defense is more popular than 5cp in Highlander. Occasionally CTF and Payload Race are played, but these are less popular options.
Prolander emerged as recently as 2017, which had the goal of improving on both the 6s and Highlander formats. 6s is often critiqued as being a stale format with a set-in-stone meta, which offers little deviation in terms of team composition. Highlander on the other hand can be a circus, with 9 players all trying to play while talking over each other in one voice server.
The difference with Prolander
Prolander seemed to fix both of these issues while offering gameplay most similar to Highlander. The most common strategy is changing your pick and support classes and strategies respectively, while the rest of your team composition remains the same. This leads to rapidly evolving gameplay where your pick or support classes are frequently changing roles depending on the situation. This format is also unique because it has a pick/ban phase before the match begins, which determines the weapon whitelist. If this phase is skipped, then the global whitelist is used, which allows the use of most unlockable weapons. The game modes of choice in Prolander are Payload, KOTH, and Control Point, referring to both Attack/Defense and 5cp.
How to play the least supported formats in Competitive Team Fortress 2
Basketball (or Bball) is a very fast and fun format that pits a pair of soldiers against another pair in a match of 2v2 basketball. The basketball is the Intelligence (the flag in CTF), and you capture it by rocket-jumping into your opponent’s basketball hoop. Bball is played on a basketball court with the Intelligence spawning in the center of the court. Players spawn on their respective sides of the court and respawn instantly when killed. The two main mechanics at play in Bball are rocket jumping and air-shotting. Bball can be played on MGE Training servers, and Bball community leagues and competitions are a small niche but have dedicated players.
4s is a simple format with a very wide number of potential team compositions. There is a limit of 1 of each class, with the rule that you cannot have a Medic and Heavy at the same time. The gameplay can be very interesting and vary widely, but the most common starting team composition is 1 scout, 1 medic, 1 demoman, and 1 soldier. This is the only game mode where medic has the opportunity to off-class, although a heavy is still rarely more helpful than a medic. Demoman sees more off-classing in 4s than in 6s, although his damage is rarely surpassed so most of the time other classes are not as effective. The most played game mode in 4s is King of the Hill, although some Control Point maps are also supported. The only league supporting the 4s format at the moment is UGC, which fortunately has leagues in every region.
Ultiduo is another 2v2 format that allows for only 1 medic and 1 soldier per team, played only on KOTH. Banlists for ultiduo vary, but traditionally, only the stock medi-gun (Ubercharge) is allowed for the medic and the soldier has a small number of unlockable options. This game mode is very good practice for 6s play.
How to join leagues in competitive Team Fortress 2
You cannot learn how to play competitive Team Fortress 2 without competing!
The only global community competitive league is UGC, which offers a 6s league, a Highlander league, a 4s league, and an ultiduo league.
North America’s exclusive league is RGL, which currently supports 6s and Highlander. Previously RGL supported Prolander so this will likely return but there is no 2023 RGL Prolander league so far.
Europe’s exclusive league is ETF2L, which supports 6s and Highlander.
Asia’s exclusive league is AsiaFortress, which supports 6s and Highlander.
Oceania’s exclusive league is OzFortress, which supports 6s and Highlander.