Go Team! Part 9: The Spy

I’m trying to work out what’s changed.

Spies can damage your health.

Back in Team Fortress Classic, I was all over the spy. Hell, I played under the name KING SPY! such was my delusions of grandeur – and, being such a mediocre spy, they really were delusions. But now, I only really don the Balaclava of Backstabbing when the game dictates our team needs one – an area too packed with turrets to be penetrated with anything short of a medic/heavy-ubercharge-combo, a stalemate in a narrow area with all the teams facing a single point, whatever. I do the job with surgical precision and then get the hell out.

Why don’t I love the Spy anymore? What’s changed?

After some serious head-scratching, I worked it out

I’ve changed.

I’m not a bastard anymore. Well, as big a bastard anyway.

Back then, in my mid-twenties, I was a heavy-drinking, philandering, ethically-broken moral monster who got bored with being a Belle and Sebastian lyric and decided to try being an Afghan Whigs one for a while. Now… well, I’m less so. I used to describe the joy of being a Spy as playing Thief when everyone else is playing Quake. That’s still there – the intricate mind-games which Spies play with their prey, the positioning, the sudden knife in a stupid lunk’s back. But the Spy is like the Sniper, but more so – because there’s blood on your fingers. You’re killing them when they didn’t have a chance against you.

(Sniper’s are sociopaths to a man, I swear. Parents: Never leave your children with a Sniper as a babysitter. You’ll come back to find the kid in question attached to the kitchen wall with a fork through their head.)

Spies can damage your health.

The thrill of the Spy is the flip is equally true. If you don’t kill them, you’re almost certainly going to be reduced to a fashionable red smear on the wall. The gamble’s a big buzz, and when it works, you’re a fucking genius. Hitting the back of an enemy advance, slicing your dagger through five unwary backs is the sort of thing which makes you want to howl your omnipotence to the skies. That’s fun. And how is it different to any other victory in Team Fortress?

The thing is, speaking generally, when you defeat an opponent, their failing is one of skill. When you kill someone as a spy, their failing is one of Trust. Spies predate on people’s better natures. They’re the kids who’ll point that your shoes are undone, then flick it up at your nose. Some would lob balls off a cliff and smirk as the stupid dog runs after it. That’s Spy mentality right there.

Spies are evil. But they’re a necessary evil. A necessarily awesome evil.

Spies can damage your health.

Team Fortress is a team-based game, reliant on close co-operation between a group of individuals for a common goal. Generally speaking, a team who works together towards the common goal will beat a group of individually better players who are playing individually. They may get more kills, but they’ll lose. This is heartwarming. This is also a little saccharine. Spies make things more complicated, more interesting. Your relationships with your team-mates are more sophisticated than almost any other multiplayer game, just because your team-mates… well, they may not be your team-mates. They may just be waiting for you to turn your back before sliding a blade into your back. They’re Judas to your Christ – the betrayal entirely necessary for the story to be as interesting as it is.

That’s my theory, anyway. In some ways, I regret no longer having the temperament for Spy-dom. The Spy’s a lot neater in TF2 than in TFC. Why?

Invisibility, obviously.

Currently, the interesting thing – and the thing which separates good spies from average ones – is an awareness of how invisibility works. There’s a fade between visible and not, and knowing what they look like to the opposition at any given moment can be very interesting. I was talking in the pub last night with the best Spy in my social group – mid twenties, ethically broken, argument UPHELD – and considering ways to deliberately feint directions when you’ve gone invisible. Good players are able to track the invisible foe, and guess where they’re going. The ability to mislead that is something that’s going to only increase in time, leading to everyone else trying to work out counters.

Spies can damage your health.

It’s another good example of why the Spy is good for everyone. Not in terms of the frustration of a knife from nowhere ending it all, but in that the mindgames he plays are two-player. Outhinking a spy is one of the most satisfying things in the entire game. And you can gun them down with a clear conscience, because – hey – the little runt started it.

In short, I was lying. I still love spies.

I love killing them. And they love killing me.

Hey – this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.


  1. dartt says:

    I think the Spy is the only class that ever causes me to feel any guilt. Only for a millisecond but it’s definitely there. I just know someone at the other end of the cable attached to my PC there is someone that is, maybe not howling with rage, but sighing with frustration. I’ve just spoiled someones fun and there was nothing they could have done about it.

    Then I get over it.

    It’s also the class where I’ve had some of the funniest experiences in the game. Being healed by an enemy medic is just hilarious however you look at it and being uber-charged is some sort of divine comedy. Skipping through a sea of engineers all desperately bashing the rapidly failing equipment surrounding them as I sprinkle my sappers over their carefully placed turrets and dispensers, none of them having the time to spare to pull out a shotgun and gun me down, each of them cursing them man next to him for doing the same but unable to allow their precious emplacement (It had almost 20 kills!) to be destroyed.

    I think this may be the perfect definition of a guilty pleasure.

  2. JP says:

    The kick I get out of playing Spy is that tactical prowess consists of modeling your enemy’s thinking. Soldier heading the wrong way into the enemy base? Instant dead spy. Soldier *backpedaling* into the enemy base in the middle of a firefight while calling for medic? Valiant comrade.

    The better at it you get, the more you become the identity you’re feigning. Disguised as a sniper you dart in and out of cover facing towards the front. Et cetera. The secondary skill of course is getting behind the enemy line in the first place, which TF2 does better I think with the limited invisibility.

    I like it because, unlike every other class, the skill ceiling echoes the limits of human social reasoning.

  3. Cargo Cult says:

    My favourite thing about spies is that they die with just one hit from my engineer’s spanner.

    I’ve played quite a lot as spy, so I know their likely thought processes. I’ve frequently seen asomeone apparently on my team happily trotting past – but I see through that disguise. I sidle up to ’em, they begin to look uncomfortable, then *THWACK* they are no more…

    What most concerns me, however, is one of the spy taunts. “I never really was on your side anyway.”

    To whose team is that directed?

  4. MaW says:

    Spies! Argh! The bane of my life as a medic. There I am, happily healing people, dodging around trying to avoid a rocket in the stomach and hoping my partner will kill anybody who looks at me sideways before they can take either of us out, and suddenly I’m flying across the room, limp and bloody and a masked figure is revealed behind me with a knife.

    Swear. Curse. Respawn.

    Heal heal heal WHAM.

    Knife in the back again.

    After a while, you know, it gets a bit old. Especially since when I’m a spy nobody on the enemy team ever stands still long enough for me to do the same to them.

  5. Homunculus says:

    (…)suddenly I’m flying across the room, limp and bloody and a masked figure is revealed behind me with a knife.

    Swear. Curse. Respawn.

    Heal heal heal WHAM.

    Knife in the back again.

    After a while, you know, it gets a bit old.

    This. This is why, as the good Doktor, I am forced into a constant, manic jig or at least ensuring that my back’s planted firmly against a wall. Spies get to choose the terms of engagement. This is why, as a Pyro, it is your solemn duty to rob them of this by putting the cleansing flame to every non-dead player model that crosses your path.

    Sterilise, purge, exterminate.

  6. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    As a Medic I do a lot of manic jumping and random running as well so I tend not to get stabbed /too/ much, however it does mean that Spies tend to make a bee-line for the Heavy I’m healing instead. By the time I’ve switched to the syringe gun and let fly my erstwhile companion is usually slumped on the floor and bleeding profusely.

  7. arqueturus says:

    “I was talking in the pub last night with the best Spy in my social group – mid twenties, ethically broken, argument UPHELD”

    That’s not Pentaduct by any chance is it? He’s bloody evil – nearly always at the top of the kill board because he’s so good at spying. However I have to thank him for one of *the* moments of TF2 so far – saw him sap a turret on Hydro and chased after him around a corner in my slow soldier fashion only to find the area empty. Now I *knew* there was no way that a spy could move that fast so it was I switched to the shotgun and pointed at a the corner… Boom! dead Pent. Sweet, sweet moment.

    Another funny one – crossing a bridge on Well and seeing a spy’s shadow on the bridge and spending 30 seconds shooting randomly in all directions only to finally realise that it’s a spy’s corpse floating on the surface right under the bridge.

    That’s what spies tend to do to you, turn you into a scared, paranoid head case with rocket launcher right off the set of Predator.

  8. Kieron Gillen says:

    This thread is full of reasons why I both love and despise the Spy.


  9. Seniath says:

    I had some fun with the Spy late last night (or was it this morning?). I tend to prefer playing him on quieter servers. On the one hand, it’s easeir to slip in undected, but on the other, the enemies tend to be a little more close knit, so fooling them and backstabbing their snipers/sapping their turrets is even more fun than usual.

  10. FringeRock says:

    I think the Spy has to choose which enemy team class to disguise as carefully. I’ve clocked a “friendly” scout nearby before now and happily blown the crap out of him because he was running just that little bit slower than a real scout would be. Similarly, you can keep an eye out for fast Heavies.

    Disguising yourself as an enemy spy seems to work quite well as people won’t look at you funny if they see you cloak.

  11. Homunculus says:

    Think this is the last of the team to cover, as well. At this juncture, I can safely say that I feel that the price of admission for the entire orange box package has been more than met by the beta test of Team Fortress 2 all by itself.

  12. Pentadact says:

    ‘Ethically broken’ misleadingly suggests that I was once ethically intact. But I think it’s probably more like Alec’s stated psychological subtext for playing the Heavy – I’m really nice. I never argue, except with John Walker, I laugh at everyone’s jokes, and I’m on say-hi terms with all my mortal enemies. Of course I’m going to play as the professional dick.

    I remember it well, Arq. I think my epitaph was “Good guess.” The reason I Spy so relentlessly is that it’s even fun when you’re getting killed – there’s a comic payoff to every death, particularly admirable ones. It might be my imagination, but it feels like enemies have a higher chance to critical-hit a Spy if he’s cloaking or out of disguise – pretty much every time it happens, I’m sent flying with a single cracking shot or wrench-whack. Which only adds to the comedy, of course.

    By the way, FringeRock, a Spy disguised as a Heavy or Solider moves at exactly the same speed as a real Heavy or Soldier. The Spytron 3000 slows him down when it needs to, but it can’t speed him up beyond his normal saunter when pretending to be a Scout.

    PS. Pentadact

  13. arqueturus says:

    Oops, sorry :)

    Like a five sided… Pterodactyl?

  14. DarkElfa® says:

    I live for spies. Well, I live to set them on fire anyways. I’m a professional spy killer in TF2. It’s all I do, the only thing I do. I hunt spies as a pyro, torching them without feeling or remorse. My current list stands at over 800 confirmed spy kills. Chances are, if you’ve been set on fire as a spy, I probably lit you up. ;)

  15. Caraamon [Med-Tech] says:

    I agree with you DarkElfa, I love the way spys burn burn burn so bright. Mmmm, purifying fire.

  16. Kadayi says:

    Heh my best moment as a spy was being unmasked by a soldier on Dustbowl managing to flee around the corner of a hut and cloak just as another soldier came the other way. Naturally of course the unmasker assumed the latter was me and pursued him and I was able to slip past and plant my saps unmolested. I’m not a good spy, but moments like that are what one lives for :)

  17. roBurky says:

    My fondest moment as a spy was when I was disguised as a soldier and ran into an enemy medic and a team of snipers. They all stopped, and looked at me. The medic got out his healing gun and started squirting it at me. I moved towards him, tried to sidle round behind him, but he turned to face me. I tried to nip behind one of the snipers, but he carried on looking at me.
    Then the doctor shouted to go, and I realised I wasn’t going to get any backstabs because they were all watching and waiting for me to charge in first. So I did. I led the enemy charge into our final capture point on dustbowl.

  18. Rockeye says:

    I love being a Medic to a good Pyro, they keep the spies off my back and I give them the resilience to actually get kills without dying all the time.

    There was a good spy on the last server I played on though, I must have healed him three or four times.

  19. Jachap says:

    My concern for being Backstabbed is directly proportionate to the class I’m playing. I only really feel exposed as a medic or a sniper. As anything else, unless I see one and/or I’m actively hunting one down, I don’t tend to worry about them. Being killed by a spy produces the same feeling I have when I fall off something high or fire a rocket too close to my own feet. It feel to blame but most spies are so rubbish I’m not going to spend my time
    shooting everyone on my team in a sort of trigger-happy process of elimination.

    Having said that, sometimes I see someone on my own team who is not remotely conspicuous in any way, and, for no discernible reason, I think, “That’s a spy,” and promptly kill them.

    I’ve done it several times now. TF2 is nurturing some sort of latent sixth sense.

  20. Freelancepolice says:


  21. Freelancepolice says:

    oh dear that didn’t go well….
    I meant to say i heart the spy

  22. FringeRock says:


    “By the way, FringeRock, a Spy disguised as a Heavy or Solider moves at exactly the same speed as a real Heavy or Soldier. The Spytron 3000 slows him down when it needs to, but it can’t speed him up beyond his normal saunter when pretending to be a Scout.”

    Ah, yeah. I just guessed that the Heavy or Soldier would speed up, it was the Scout that I had actually noticed. Cheers for the info!

  23. cthulu_mt says:

    I like to disguise as a “defensive class” like Pyro or Demo. I can stand at a corner dodging around and look like I’m waiting for a target. Once people run by out comes the knife.

  24. Gozer says:

    The only time I play a spy is to backstab my nemesis.

  25. Nick says:

    I’ve had some wonderful tussels with Pentadact in particular, me catching tell tale trails of blue from a teleporter heading past and dutifully exploding the cause, him shooting me in the face in full view at a central capture point (the GALL I say!). Oh, I go by Chernobyl Kinsman on steam.

    I have yet to play a spy that much, I’m not too good at the disguise/backstab thing, but they can be surprisingly versatile as hit and run combatants as well, even sneaking up to capture points. It’s nice they can be useful even outside of their “main” role.

    It’s also greatly amusing to run into your doppleganger and do a doubletake..

  26. Paul R. says:

    If there’s one class where I’ve felt the absolute most guilt, it’s the spy.

    The sad part is, it wasn’t much guilt. I’m heartless. I’m cruel. I’m everyone’s worst enemy. And that’s why taking the role of a spy is so frighteningly fitting.

    Disguised as an enemy heavy, and placing myself behind the enemy lines, assumed to be one of their own, a medic finds it within his heart to heal me, expecting me to follow him to the front lines. Once he turned his back, and once I was boosted to superhuman health, he was rewarded with a knife in the back.

    Don’t trust a spy. In fact, don’t trust anyone. Remain alone as a Pyro, and be courteous to no one.

  27. Nic says:

    Random question from a random person:

    Had there been much use of the spy’s other disguising ability? (Pressing “-” at the disguise selection menu to disguise as someone else on your own team)

    It seems like it has some potential, but I don’t think I’ve seen it in use.

  28. K2. says:

    “Had there been much use of the spy’s other disguising ability? (Pressing “-” at the disguise selection menu to disguise as someone else on your own team)”

    I do that occasionally on 2forts. Right as I spawn I’ll disguise as a different class so that when I run out and jump into the water they won’t be expecting a spy, and it will save up my cloak if I need a quick escape.

  29. Garth says:

    The only change I would make to the Spy is to make sapping slower in some way. Either with a ‘time to use’ or something like that, I find it much too easy to lay waste to an entire fortress of turrets, dispensers and teleporters before the engineers can even walk to their failing machinations.

    Other than that, it’s golden.

  30. roBurky says:

    Garth: I see that has an intended downside to packing multiple engineer’s into a small space.

    The advantage of keeping sentries etc close together is that the engineers can repair and upgrade each others’ stuff more efficiently, watch over each others’ buildings as one goes to build a teleporter, team up to give greater anti-spy coverage, etc. And if someone tries to assault the position, they’ve got to withstand fire from multiple sentries at once to get past.

    The downside is that one spy can set all of them sparking within a couple of seconds if he gets near.

  31. Cigol says:

    See now I wouldn’t have thought of that off hand, but it’s brilliant isn’t it how balanced the game seems to be… I just can’t fault it (even if I’m still having trouble finding a use for the Pryo and Demoman, at least in any satisfactory capacity where I enjoy doing so).

  32. Nuthead says:

    Spies are definitely for those with disturbing evil needs.

    I can’t help but grin as I remember infiltrating an offensive force as a demoman, getting a heal from the medic, stab the scout in front of me then turn around and shoot a critical revolver bullet into the medic’s face.

  33. Nuthead says:

    Unfortunately one thing that lots of disguised enemy spies have in common is the fact that when you look at them a lot of them appear to have half health, I think that’s due to them disguising as a class that has a higher health max than they usually do, but when I see anyone with nearly exactly half hp, I shoot them, around 1/3 of them end up being spies.

  34. Andrew Farrell says:

    Pyros are ambushers and spykillers, Demomen are for people who miss halflife’s grenade gun (and who can pull off amazing damage one they get the range right)

  35. Rad says:

    this character review seems more like an autobiography of the person who wrote it

  36. kaleedity says:

    I don’t recall anything throughout gaming that’s as fun as stealing medics’ ubercharges.

  37. NiceMissMayonnaise says:

    I agree you learn a kind of sixth-sense to spot spies – glimpsing one getting caught in explosive splash damage in cloak, and guessing exactly where he’s heading next, spotting just the right suspect behaviour of a ‘fellow teammate’.

    Or the classic spy blunders – decloaking/disguising too soon so you’re still semi-invisible/smoking when someone sees you, or the old favourite, the trail of Teleporter sparkles wandering through your base as the cloaked spy doesn’t realise he’s glowing.

    All of which get a prompt grenade to the face (I’ve learned the joys of playing Demoman well – perfect grenade-chucking, setting up sticky-traps just where 6 people are going to walk into them at once, breaking my bottle over the head of an Heavy looking the wrong way… highest damage and kills totals for any class: Demoman!)

    I’ve been on the end of a fair few Spy rampages tho – a good spy can still wreak havoc even in the current state of paranoid pyros and eagle-eyed others.
    Playing as a medic the other day I was killed 5 times in a row by 3 separate spies, each time more and more sure I was healing a valuable team-mate only to be stabbed in the back, shot in the face, stabbed in the face and stabbed in the back again as every time my new friend turned out to be a turncoat…

  38. Scorch says:

    Ahh, I still recall me favorite spy kill…

    Some poor spy had squirmed his way into our Intel basement, and had come up against the wrong end of my wrench. With a friendly Demoman coming, he had no choice but to decloak next to the watercooler.

    One face-full of buckshot later, the dead ragdoll comically hung on the protruberances of the water-cooler, a sad sight and grim reminder of the things one must do as a spy.

    Remember Spies:

    Wrenches hurt, but a humiliating defeat is worse than anything else.

  39. paper says:

    I only occasionally see someone’s clone. I was healing a soldier and did a quick 180 to check what was going on behind me, only to see a soldier standing there with the same name as the person I was healing. At least the needlegun is decent at close range.

  40. dsi1 says:

    I remember playing the TF2 beta on the second day as a spy, I got twenty-two points in about five minutes. Infact I try to avoid playing as him, so as not to add to my time, letting people know that I got that many points in one life, only playing him for five minutes.

  41. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    i fucking hate spies!

    That is all.

  42. Medieval Warrior says:

    It’s so funny when you get killed by a spy and you know who the spy is, then you watch as he begins to sneak up on your friend. You begin yelling: “LOOKOUT! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! TURN AROUUUNNDD!!!” to your friend only to realize that by the time you type in that huge message, he/she can’t see spectators’ messages. It’s so funny.

  43. Jack says:


    Definitely, the most sensible thing i have seen in a long time….

  44. d00d says:

    I love being a spy and then killing enemy spies..*maniacal laugh*

  45. pisk says:

    my spy playtime is about twice as long as the next class (enji, kinda bi-polar eh). it’s hardly a new idea for a team shooter but tf2 has got it so damn right. stabbing pyro’s has to be one of the most satisfying things you can do as a spy, it’s just not supposed to happen like that. it really does turn opponents into real people, and as such i guess it does take a certain level of ruthlessness :) hey, it’s all good as long as you’re actualy trying to do something usefull for your team.

  46. Forever says:

    As a sniper, I have a tendency to utterly despise spies, to the point where the greatest joy in a game is sniping some recently-uncloaked backstabber. However, I have two fond memories of spies –
    As a defending sniper on Dustbowl, early in the game, I was covering an exit tunnel, where a soldier came out. Naturally, I set my laser pointer on his chest (i’m not good enough to do consistent headshots) and pulled the trigger. I was puzzled; the soldier had apparently taken no damage… however, when I took a second look, there was the body of an enemy spy a few feet in front of the soldier. Ah, sweet revenge.

    I also had an interesting experience while attempting to infiltrate on dustbowl. As I proceeded towards their area, fully cloaked, I ran smack into a cloaked enemy spy. For about 3 seconds, we both stood there awkwardly while I tried to figure out what the hell had just happened

    Then he decloaked first, and I promptly got a knife in my face

  47. spehizle says:

    Following are bits of my favorite, (and original,) spy lore:

    * In the Land of the Sniper, the Spy is King.

    * God put me on earth for one purpose: to backstab heavies.

    * Awww. Cute Engy, trying to build. **backstab** NO SENTRY FOR YOU!!!


    * LET’S GET SAPPY!!!

    * Poof! Gone! Magic! (when cloaked.)

    * Medics are chumps. BACKSTAB! GO BACK TO MED SCHOOL!

    * Hehe, solders. Slow, big back, runs like a Welshman.

    * RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE. (??? No explanation. You say weird things when backstabing five in a row.)

    * Backstabbing snipers is like shooting fish in a barrel.

    That’s it from me…for now. Cya on dustbowl, guys. (AP)spehizle.

    “9/10 times, when you die, it’s me.”
    “I don’t have an ego. I just love how awesome I am.”

  48. rei says:

    I play Demoman and Spy. I have to say, the two have some similarities.

    And I don’t mean just hiding stickies behind a wall, I mean actually thinking one step ahead of your opponent. Scaring opponents into corners, lobbing stickies between them and their medics so that they can’t heal, chipping away at their mobility before taking down their health with the grenade launcher, putting stickies in plain sight so that you can make an escape.

    Demoman can be just as mean as Spy. You just don’t realize it because you don’t look at your feet very often.

    Meanest of all though is the crit rocket. It’s the Chuck Norris of TF2.

  49. ComradeTrotsky0 says:

    it is so bloody fun to be a spy, thats all i ever am. i’ve clocked up 42 hours with him so far, while the next one down is Engy with 7 hours. the constant thrill of getting behind someone, and physically waving goodbye to them, keeps me in the pin-stripped suit and silly balaclava. im pretty good with him i reckon, my best backstabs without dying was in dustbowl, 36, and what a long match it was. DONT DISS THE SPY, or you’ll find a nice “present” in your back

  50. CatFaise says:

    I don’t believe I’ve ever felt guilty for a single backstab. For a triple crit on the revolver though…

    I’ve grown to like that weapon much more than any other simply because of its menacing shape and sound when it fires. The best kill I’ve ever gotten with it was probably on tc_hydro. A sniper had spotted me from the high window in the building which houses the enemy spawn. I was standing on the high metal platform across from him, quite a long ways away.

    Three shots, the second one a crit and I had counter-sniped him.