Relatively speaking, Pyro has been the weakest class in Team Fortress 2 for a long time. Examining the items released for Pyro (as well as others), Pyro’s playstyles, and the role that the map and environment play points to the conclusion that Pyro ranks dead last. The lack of diversified playstyles offered to the Pyro class leaves it in a situation where a different class would oftentimes have a more impactful contribution to the team.
Let’s begin by taking a look at the items brought by recent updates, both for the Pyro and for the other classes. Updates have brought an overwhelming number of items that negate the potency of fire damage. Let’s take a look at the more notable examples:
- Scout, a class many consider to be countered by Pyro, received items like Bonk! Atomic Punch, Mad Milk, and to a lesser extent, the Pretty Boy’s Pocket Pistol. A Scout who engages a Pyro can just as quickly disengage and render themselves invincible with Bonk, or negate afterburn with Mad Milk. No laughing matter when you consider that full afterburn accounts for 60 damage (so long as it isn’t from a Degreaser).
- Spy already had the Dead Ringer when he received the Spy-cicle, becoming immune to fire damage for 1 second and afterburn damage for 10 seconds. Additionally, the subsequent Dead Ringer changes prevent the Spy from immediately catching fire, allowing for a greater chance of escape.
- Sniper received the Sydney Sleeper and Jarate, two items that nullify afterburn damage. To be perfectly honest, Snipers and Pyros will not be interacting most of the time, as a keen Sniper will spend most time at the backline where they are most effective. Pyros, on the other hand, must remain in the heat of battle to be effective.
- Demoman, another class some considered countered by the Pyro, got multiple secondary shields like the Chargin’ Targe, Splendid Screen, and Tide Turner that greatly decrease the amount of fire and afterburn damage taken.
The classes traditionally believed to be countered by Pyro (Scout, Spy, and perhaps Demoman) all received items that negate Pyro’s effectiveness in countering them. Too many pesky Spies backstabbing teammates and sapping sentry nests? Switch to Pyro to check for Spies, a definitive way to allow for counter-play. This is all tossed out of the window with the advent of the Spy-cicle and Dead Ringer. With these two items, Spy gets two powerful “Get Out of Jail Free” cards that nullify the way Pyro aims to counter Spies. The same is true for the other classes. The strategy for dealing with Scouts as Pyro is to typically light them on fire and allow afterburn to finish them off, but this is negated with Scout’s Mad Milk and Bonk. Demomen take greatly reduced fire and afterburn damage when equipped with a shield.
Now a look at the unique items released for Pyro. The primary weapons released for Pyro include the Backburner, Degreaser, and Phlogistinator. The secondary weapons released are the Flare Gun, Detonator, Manmelter, and Scorch Shot. Finally, the notable tertiary weapons released for Pyro include the Axtinguisher, Homewrecker, Powerjack, and Back Scratcher. For the purposes of this piece, items like the Reserve Shooter, Third Degree, or Panic Attack will not be considered.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “Ugh, another W+M1 Pyro.” Pyro’s playstyle, from the beginning, has been rather straightforward (pun intended). Ambush the enemy and allow the massive DPS from the flamethrower to kill your enemy, or allow the afterburn to finish them. If they’re alive and getting away, fire your secondary to secure the kill. If they’re up close, swing your melee weapon to finish them off. Where environment works as an advantage for the other 8 classes, Pyro lands in a unique position of having the environment works against it. Scouts can bob and weave around corners, Spies hide in nooks and crevices, Soldiers and Demomen use explosive jumps for greater mobility. Pyro, meanwhile, is pigeonholed into a role where the only successful playstyle relies on ambushing an enemy. A large and open map spells bad news for a Pyro. There are further hindrances presented by the environment as well. Pyro is hurt worst of all classes by the availability of health packs on a map. A class that relies on afterburn damage as a significant chunk of DPS is rendered negligible by the presence of a health pack. Add water into the equation and every primary weapon Pyro has now deals no damage whatsoever, not to mention being another source of alleviating afterburn. Sadly, however, this is not where the crux of the problem lies. The other classes received weapons that diversify their playstyle and capitalize on some weaknesses. The sluggish Heavy can equip the Gloves of Running Urgently in order to run faster at the price of being Marked for Death. The frail Spy can equip a Dead Ringer for greater survivability. Sniper, who excels in long-range fighting but is dismal at close-range, can equip the Jarate and Bushwacka for a powerful melee combo. Demoman practically got an entirely new archetype with the advent of the Demoknight gear. The classes received innovative new weapons that pushed their archetypes into different directions or created new ones. Pyro, however, was not so lucky. The only concessions for Pyro were the Flare Gun, Detonator, and Scorch Shot. But these three weapons do not prove effective enough to push the envelope further for Pyro. A Flare Gun shot alone is not enough to secure a kill on an enemy, rather, the enemy will simply run for a health pack until the Pyro can close the gap. The problem is that the role of the Pyro is one-dimensional and formulaic. The few primary ways a Pyro seeks to get kills today are:
- A complete ambush or “W+M1” charge with a flamethrower (slightly gimmicky and predictable after a while).
- An ignition, airblast, and Axtinguisher (formulaic and requires a tight space).
- An ignition, airblast, and Flare Gun (same as the other two).
All of these methods require a smaller, tighter map where the Pyro can get close to an enemy. There is no deviating from this playstyle. There are little to no options presented to the Pyro that let the class make up for some of its weaknesses like the other classes have been granted. After a while, teams and individuals will recognize a wild Pyro running around and plan accordingly.
The items granted to the classes Pyro is supposed to counter serve to make the Pyro class weaker. The Spy-cicle, Mad Milk, and Chargin’ Targe are all noteworthy examples. Furthermore, future weapon changes will (tentatively) add afterburn reduction to multiple weapons. The environment serves as a source of woe for the Pyro as well. Large, open maps are not the type of place in which a Pyro shines. Abundant health packs and water greatly diminish a large source of damage in Pyro’s afterburn. Because Pyro thrives in close-quarters, the class has been pigeonholed into a one-dimensional guerilla who relies on formulaic ways to earn kills. Where other classes receive new items that open up playstyles, Pyro has received very little to change how the class is played. This leaves Pyro in a strange position with limited roles. Pyro is undoubtedly the best class for spy-checking, and the alt-fire airblast ability is strong for deflecting projectiles and ubers. Alternatively, one can play the role of a Pybro and equip the Homewrecker to further thwart the efforts of Spies. After that, though, you’re left with a spy-checking ambusher who is at the mercy of the distance between themselves and the enemy.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe Pyro is the weakest class but not by a large margin. I love playing Pyro and get a kick out of playing the class. These are just problems that I believe are inherent to the class and limit the creative space that Pyro can occupy.
Source used: wiki.teamfortress.com