Ambushing is "an act or instance of attacking unexpectedly from a concealed position". By catching enemies off guard, an ambushing player can begin an engagement at a heavy advantage. This strategy is most useful to classes that are more effective at close range or rely on the element of surprise, such as the Pyro, Heavy, Scout, and Spy, bypassing the problem of these classes having to get close to opponents who are more effective at medium to long range combat. Still, the tactic of ambushing is also generally useful to the other classes. By hiding around corners or behind an obstacle, the player can catch passing foes unaware, ideally killing or severely damaging them before they can react.
Flanking is effectively the same as ambushing, involving catching a player from the side or behind while they are distracted by a frontal attacker. It involves less of the element of waiting as straight ambushing does.
Sometimes the enemy needs some convincing to commit to an attack, and so it falls to a teammate/objective to assume the role of "bait". The following is an assessment of the nine classes and an objective, and their "target priority":
- Scout - Low. Scout has low health and is most effective at close range, but can escape easily thanks to his speed. Enemies will rarely put themselves at risk trying to chase him down, unless he has low health. Consider calling for a Medic while fleeing in order to feign weakness.
- Soldier - Medium. Soldier is a large, fairly slow target, but his high damage output may dissuade enemies from closing in. Consider retreating while reloading; overconfident enemies may assume the Soldier is wounded or otherwise unprepared for an assault. Deploying the Escape Plan lowers Soldier's effective health, making him a more appealing target.
- Pyro - Medium-Low. Pyro has very limited range and is extremely vulnerable alone; conversely, he is most effective supporting the rest of his team. In competitive play, he is rarely seen on his own, and watching a lone Pyro retreat around a corner may alert the enemy to a potential ambush.
- Demoman - Very Low. Demoman can set up his own ambushes with his Stickybomb Launcher, and it is very common for him to set traps as he retreats. Enemies will rarely overextend trying to chase him around a corner or through a doorway. When baiting the enemy team, stay out in the open where you cannot place sticky traps effectively in order to lure in enemies, but be wary of longer-ranged classes, especially Snipers.
- Heavy - Medium. Heavy is slow and easily-outmaneuvered, but his Minigun deals massive damage at close range, dissuading enemies from committing to an attack. If his gun isn't spun-up, attacking becomes somewhat more appealing, as it takes nearly a second before he can even fight back if ambushed. If you run out of ammo, consider "firing" your Minigun for a couple more seconds - the clicking sound it makes will encourage enemies to attack you quickly before you find ammo.
- Engineer - Medium-High. Engineer has only basic weapons to defend himself, and if he's caught away from his Sentry Gun, he's often easy prey. Like Demoman, however, he can set up an ambush on his own by baiting enemies into his own Sentry Gun. Equipping the Gunslinger may make your act more believable, as enemies won't be worried about running into a Level 3 Sentry Gun.
- Medic - Very High. As his team's primary source of healing, Medic is usually the enemy's first target - without him, his team cannot recover health effectively. He is the weakest class combat-wise, and most enemies won't hesitate to charge him down if he's alone, even at the risk of an ambush. A smaller hitbox and faster-than-average speed makes him incredibly effective (albeit risky) bait for ambushes. When baiting as a Medic, make sure you stay alive - losing your team's Ubercharge is rarely worth killing an off-guard enemy.
- Sniper - High. Sniper is most powerful at a distance - up close, he is at a significant disadvantage. Seeing a Sniper backing away is common, and is less likely to alert enemies of a potential ambush.
- Spy - High. Spy draws a lot of attention from enemies, who will want to eliminate him before he has a chance to Cloak or disguise. After killing a high-priority target, such as a Medic, Soldier, or Heavy, the rest of the enemy team will often try to kill him. In competitive play, Spy is less of a threat thanks to good team communication, and an undisguised Spy will most likely cause enemies to suspect a trap. Alternately, Spy can disguise as a higher-priority target on his own team, such as appearing as a Medic to the enemy, and becoming an even more tempting target for chasing.
- Control Points - High. As the main objective in many game modes, a team may either choose to quickly capture a control point (more often happens in King of the Hill maps) and then retreat, tempting enemies with an "undefended" control point and subsequently catching them in a crossfire, or if playing Attack/Defense, purposely hide defenders at control points to catch enemies unawares. The former can even be extended to full CP maps by luring the enemy into full assaults on a freshly captured CP, eliminating them and using the break in enemy reinforcements to push ahead. When approaching an enemy-controlled point, however, most players will actively search for defenders, reducing the element of surprise.
Class-specific ambush tactics
- As a Scout, your speed and heavy damage makes you lethal against unprepared enemies.
- Your speed allows you to use alternate routes to flank the enemy.
- If it becomes too difficult to get behind enemy lines, use Bonk! Atomic Punch in order to dart through the front lines and behind the enemy. Remember that enemies may immediately hunt you down before you cause too much damage.
- By using Crit-a-Cola, you can deal a great deal of damage in a single ambush, but you likely won't survive long against more than one enemy.
- Pick your primary weapon carefully; if you're only trying to kill the enemy Medic before dying, consider using the Soda Popper, which can kill most classes before they can react. If you want to attack isolated targets, the Shortstop and stock Scattergun allow for greater staying power if more enemies arrive.
- If you have confidence in your aim and ability to get close to an enemy, the Force-A-Nature deals the most burst damage of any of the Scout's primary weapons, at the cost of having only two shots per clip and reloading very slowly. Remember that it is most effective for weakening two separate enemies; the knockback prevents the second shot from dealing maximum damage against a single target. If you want to kill a single enemy before he can react, use the Soda Popper.
- The speed boost from the Baby Face's Blaster allows you to make quick entrances and exits when attacking. Don't stay too long; if you get hit, you become much more vulnerable. Additionally, the reduced clip size prevents you from being as effective in direct combat.
- The Back Scatter greatly increases the benefit of ambushing an enemy from behind, but at the range that it is most effective, the stock Scattergun usually does the job just as well.
- Rocket jump onto high places that are above the player's average eye-level, e.g on top of doorways or on top of a pile of crates. When the enemy runs through the doorway, rain down rockets upon them.
- A barrage of Air Strike rockets can bring an enemy push to a halt. Consider using the B.A.S.E. Jumper to stay closer to the enemy, where your rockets deal more damage.
- The Beggar's Bazooka can often kill enemies before they can react. If you have a Taunt that is instantly cancelled, such as the High-Five or Square Dance, you can load up a barrage, then wait behind a corner indefinitely until an enemy approaches.
- Lurk around corners or next to entryways into different areas of the map to take advantage of the limited range of the Flamethrower.
- Players tend to watch their front and flanks, but rarely above themselves. Dropping from above onto unsuspecting enemies gives you a greater advantage, but doing so against a large group will often result in your death.
- Sometimes, when hiding behind a corner, your Flamethrower may stick out, alerting enemies to your presence. Switching to your Secondary or Melee weapon will prevent this, but it takes time to switch back.
- The Backburner rewards Pyros with its 100% critical hits when attacking an enemy from behind, making it an excellent ambush weapon.
- After ambushes, feign a retreat and disappear from the enemy's view. Some enemies may follow you in hopes of an easy kill; this gives the potential for another ambush.
- Stickybombs are tailor-made for ambush purposes. Doorways, corners, and anywhere the enemy does not normally look when passing makes a great location for a potential Stickybomb trap.
- Placing them on moving props such as trains might surprise enemies as they may not see the floating sticky bombs.
- Thanks to the abilities of the Scottish Resistance, multi-ambushes are now possible. When waves of enemies approach, detonating the first batch of stickies can take out the first wave, leaving the second batch ready for the second wave and so on.
- Since confined locations are generally used for ambushing, it is best to place Stickybombs in tight clusters of 3-4 as opposed to covering a large area. The affected area is decreased, but the explosive damage from each Stickybomb stacks, and even the minimum splash damage will generally kill any class with a single detonation.
- The Ullapool Caber is a good kamimaze weapon if equipped with the Chargin' Targe - this is the only way you can deal critical explosions on demand without a Kritzkrieg. A critical hit with the Caber will instantly kill any class except an overhealed Heavy, and can shred multiple enemies if they are grouped up. Should you miss the critical, however, you will likely die for nothing.
- Heavy can jump around corners, spinning his Minigun on the way down, and proceed to wreak havoc on unsuspecting enemies. This works particularly well due to the Heavy's high DPS at close range.
- Remember that Heavy's miniguns are less accurate and deal less damage for about a second after being spun up. If you survive the first second after an ambush, you will be at an even greater advantage.
- With the Gloves of Running Urgently, Heavy is as fast as Pyro and Engineer, which allows him to ambush from unexpected areas. His health is drained while running, however.
- The Natascha allows Heavy to attack retreating enemies for longer, at the cost of reduced damage. It is particularly effective against Scouts, which will often try to dodge Heavy's attacks. In addition, the Natascha is quieter than the stock Minigun, making it less likely that approaching enemies will react.
- The Tomislav grants a perfectly silent, 10% faster rev up at the cost of firing 20% slower, but still deals more than enough damage to kill most any class in under a second of direct fire. The faster spin up time also allows the Heavy to respond to ambushes much more effectively than a Heavy wielding any of the other miniguns. Note that while spinning up the Tomislav is silent, but firing it is not.
- Level 1 Sentry Guns are small and relatively quiet, making them ideally suited for planted ambushes and traps much in the same way Stickybombs are suited for trapping doorways.
- While weaker than a Level 1 Sentry Gun, Mini-Sentry Guns have the additional advantages of a rapid build time and low construction cost. This allows it to be quickly set up to augment your own damage output in contested areas.
- Be wary of walls and props which could create safe spots from your Sentry Gun, and potentially botch your ambush attempt.
- Enemies are not likely to fall into the same trap twice; move your Sentry Gun after an ambush to keep the element of surprise.
- While the Sniper is not a particularly stealthy class, the Huntsman's close-range capabilities allow for a fast 360 damage on a fully charged headshot, which you can get quite easily by waiting around the corner, while fully drawn. Alternatively, if you cannot fully draw in this time, a headshot will still deal 150 damage, instantly killing 5 out of the 9 classes. Those that survive the headshot (excluding Heavy) can be easily killed with a follow-up bodyshot, a few shots from the SMG, or a melee hit with the Kukri.
- However, be aware that after drawing your bow for 5 seconds, the Huntsman will have greatly reduced accuracy and be unable to headshot.
- The Sniper's Rifle can also pull off an ambush successfully if you can sneak behind the enemy lines - although it is more difficult. A good Sniper will be able to perform easy headshots from behind the enemy team.
- Remember that the Sniper Rifle emits a distinctive sound when fired. After a kill, change locations before the enemy hunts you down.
- Cloaking/disguising while hiding behind an object or around a corner is a common strategy for Spies. Spy can easily wait for an oblivious opponent to pass his hiding place before de-cloaking and killing them.
- After a couple kills, the enemy will likely check their backs when approaching your hiding spot. Change locations and attack from somewhere else.
- The Dead Ringer allows you to make riskier plays, as it offers a nearly-guaranteed escape. However, you can no longer cloak manually. Stay out of sight until an opportunity presents itself.
- During a firefight, the Cloak & Dagger can be used to hide in the corner of the area. This can be used to take out distracted enemies.
- Hiding and using Your Eternal Reward is an effective strategy. When a teammate gets backstabbed, players expect to see an undisguised Spy trying to flee. The split-second of confusion when no Spy is visible gives you time to slip away or go for another kill.
Preventing and surviving ambushes
Since an ambush is, by definition, an attack of total surprise, usually the only way to escape is to retreat. There are, however, steps that can be taken to avoid triggering ambushes in the first place.
- Do not follow the same path twice if possible. Enemies may be watching to see which paths are ideal for ambushes.
- Look for Stickybombs and shoot or move them out of the way whenever possible.
- Anticipate the places the enemy will be hiding and enter from the far side while strafing.
- Move quickly through confined spaces, or if possible, avoid them altogether.
- Be on the lookout for the nozzle to the Pyro's Primary Weapons. It is a large and longer weapon than most and tends to stick out if they have it equipped.
- Listen for noises that certain classes make, such as a spinning Minigun, the decloaking sound of a Spy, or the beeping of a Sentry Gun.
- When entering doorways or moving around corners, it is often good to move out and back quickly in order to catch a glimpse of the area and any potential ambush, and move away before any enemies have the chance to react.
- Spies hidden behind enemy lines can relay ambush locations back to the team.
- To counter ambushes when using an explosive weapon, turn on Hit Sounds and shoot an explosive projectile (such as a Rocket or Sticky Bomb) near the area where ambushers are most likely to be hidden. If you hear a Hit Sound play, you know that an ambusher is waiting there.
- Unless an ÜberCharge is ready, pushing through an ambush is risky and often suicidal.
- Equip weapons that are suited to retaliating quickly against an ambush (such as the Tomislav) or for fleeing an ambush safely and swiftly (such as the Rocket Jumper).
- When ambushed, quickly assess the situation and decide if you should stay and fight. If not, retreat and call to your teammates for help.
- Inside the hooded plaza entrance to the Intelligence area.
- Around the corner from either of the two entrances to the enemy base.
- Around the corner from either of the two sewer entrances.
- The small corner round the bottom of the stairs leading from each base to its sewer.
- The small pile of crates (RED) or barrels (BLU) upon ascending the stairs from the sewer.
- The "Grate" room in either base; allows a good view of the front entrance.
- The shelf and "worksink" between either team's Base Entrance and the Courtyard. (Enemies tend to charge directly from the Base Entrance to the Courtyard and then stop, ignoring this corner completely.)
- Stage 1, behind the small house outside of the BLU exit leading directly to control point 1. While it is easy to be spotted from the exit across the ravine, it is ideal for ambushing BLU players heading straight for the control point as well as dropping down on players approaching the control point from within the ravine.
- Stage 1, above the stairs leading to the small building across from control point 2. Players heading up the stairs tend to go straight up the stairs and onto the building, sometimes ignoring anyone nearby.
- Stage 2, end of tunnels leading to control point 2 area. There is a wooden walkway above these tunnel exits (Engineers like to build Sentry Guns on it) for a Pyro can drop down from on emerging attackers or for RED players to attack BLU attackers heading straight for the control point upon leaving the tunnels.
- On the overhead path with the circular exit leading from control point 2 to the central control point.
- On the framework to the right of control point 2, from the defending side. If the defending side is RED's side, the sign directly above the point can be scaled as well.
- Stage 1, the staircase leading up to the Sniper nest next to spawn. Jump down to the bottom of the stairs while the enemy is walking up them to get to the Sniper nest, effectively cutting the enemy off from the exit.
Steel plays well to the short-range classes' abilities as a large percentage of the map contains blind corners, choke points, and narrow corridors.
Some specific ambush locations include:
- The Window Room overlooking control point E. This is accessible from A, just beside the RED team's Spawn Room. A BLU Spy can easily use this to slip in amongst enemy players incognito.
- Next to the rail tracks at the middle control point on the outside of the entrance or on the inside of the exit.
- Next to the doors into the fourth control point (this is close to water for Pyros though).
- Behind any of the rail cars.
- Next to the well entrances/exits.