SPUF goes through phases when it comes to things to argue about. Some debates are seasonal like holiday updates, some are deceased like the Gunslinger, and others are eternal like random crits and autobalance. But one that crops up every now and then is the question of Specialists v. Generalists.

It’s generally agreed that some classes in TF2 are more specialized than others. Engineer can do a number of things well, but he’s rather pigeon-holed into those categories especially when compared to Scout and Demoman. Where to draw the actual line regarding which classes are “Generalist” engenders much debate, with Soldier being the only one unanimously agreed on, and I think that’s because at the beginning of TF2’s life everybody was supposed to be a specialist.

Remember that Team Fortress 2 has always cared deeply about fostering teamwork, and to that extent they made many design choices forcing every player to accept the weaknesses of the class they picked. Demoman lacked hitscan, heavy lacked speed, medic lacked self-defense, scout lacked survivability… Back then Soldier was still the closest thing to a Solo Fortress class, coming with mobility, explosives, accuracy, hitscan, and health pool. But everybody else was embroiled in a rock-paper-scissors web where somebody countered anybody else while being countered in kind.

It was really unlocks that mucked this up. While TF2 has valiantly tried to keep the unlock system fair and done a more-than-adequate job of extending the game’s lifestyle through a very unique system of design, the unlocks at their core are still slowly eroding the whole concept of Specialist vs. Generalist. It was almost impossible for them not to. At its heart, an unlock wants to either introduce a new playstyle or fill a hole in the current playstyle of the equipping class, and both of these things turn the class into more of a generalist just because they suddenly can perform better in more battlefield situations.

Caption: Neither Sniper nor Engineer were designed to be offensive front-linesmen, but unlocks have allowed both to fill that role with self-sufficiency.
Neither Sniper nor Engineer were designed to be offensive front-linesmen, but unlocks have allowed both to fill that role with self-sufficiency. Picture by Medic.

This is part of the reason the discussion surrounding this topic gets so bogged down in semantics, because rarely is everyone even on the same page. In the current thread about this on SPUF, I see people debating the definition of the words, the role of the classes, the definition of the words used to define the roles of the classes… and that’s before factoring in that some people consider top-level competitive the standard to judge while others consider pubs the standard, some think in terms of death-matching while others think in terms of objectives, some think in terms of 1v1s while others think in terms of balanced teams…

Part of the problem is that the only official stance on class roles is probably the single interpretation everyone disagrees with.
Part of the problem is that the only official stance on class roles is probably the single interpretation everyone disagrees with.

So no wonder the debate can’t really go anywhere; there’s nowhere to go. Everyone’s got their own way of looking at how the classes match up, here’s mine, but in the end I think it’s impossible to peg just because the community can’t and will never agree on what we’re even talking about. The grid of possible angles to view the question is equal to the number of people participating in the debate.

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