The Dispenser, also known as the Dispense-O-Matic 9000 Provisions Dispenser, is a building that can be constructed by an Engineer using the Build Tool. The team-colored device is a sort of gas station pump with various supplies inside and a CRT screen with a gauge.
While operational, a Dispenser provides an endless source of health and ammo to all nearby players on the owner's team, in addition to generating and supplying a limited but regenerating supply of metal to any friendly Engineers. A single Dispenser can heal multiple players at once, lowering the burden of friendly Medics, especially if many teammates are on fire or there are more important classes to heal. Dispensers are also more effective at keeping weapons restocked than any ammo pickup, which reduces teammates' dependencies on them, resulting in Engineers having more metal to build and upgrade their buildings. However, Dispensers themselves are defenseless and take considerable effort to build up to full power. If a team can defend their Dispensers adequately, they form an anchor to the team's hold on an area.
Dispensers can prove to be very valuable in supporting a team when used effectively. Teammates that have been ignited can put themselves out by simply standing near the Dispenser. In addition to being an alternative health source, Dispensers act as a portable ammo source as well. They can provide additional metal for other Engineers to use. Dispensers will also attract many teammates to one area which can help to better forward an attack, particularly if the team is scattered and ungrouped. However, it can also make the group an easy target for rocket splash damage or incoming grenades. A Dispenser will not hand over new weapons if the player modified their loadout; a Resupply locker is required to do so.
The Dispenser costs 100 Metal to place, 200 Metal to upgrade to Level 2, and a further 200 to upgrade to Level 3, for a total metal cost of 500 metal. Each upgrade increases the Dispenser's health, as well as its outputs of ammo, metal, and health. While being constructed, a Dispenser's health will increase until reaching 150 upon completion. A newly built Dispenser contains 25 Metal and thereafter generates 40 Metal every 5 seconds unless upgraded. It can hold up to 400 Metal, as represented by a gauge on the front of the Dispenser. A Dispenser can be manually rotated to face a different direction before one builds it. When the blueprint is shown, using the alternate attack button (default key: MOUSE2) will rotate the blueprints 90 degrees counterclockwise per mouse click. A destroyed Dispenser (regardless of level) leaves behind 50 Metal (5 parts, 10 Metal / half ammo each) that can be picked up as Metal or Ammo by all players, regardless of team affiliation.
A Pyro standing near a Dispenser can act as a mobile "firewall". The Dispenser is capable of replenishing the Flamethrower's ammo faster than can be fired. This is a potential anti-Spy measure, but it will leave the team short of a possible attacking class. This is especially helpful to a skilled Pyro, as they could reflect projectiles away from the Engineer's buildings with the Compression blast.
The Heavy can utilize a Dispenser in the same way, laying down a hail of bullets across a large area. This can be used as an anti-Spy measure, or to defend an area such as a cap point or choke point. Any Heavy using this technique needs to be aware of the damage drop off of his Minigun. This can be used to control hallways or even in an enemy's base (such as the sewers in 2Fort) to keep either an entrance open or a safe place for a Teleporter. A Heavy can fire continuously; sweeping an area to send away stickies and check for hidden Spies.
A Sniper can keep firing without having to leave his position to replenish ammo if standing near a Dispenser. Since many Spies cannot resist sapping an unguarded Dispenser, it can be used as an early warning system.
When entering Sudden death, building a Dispenser first is important to provide health, ammunition, and metal to the team.
Dispensers give ammunition for any teammates nearby, including disguised enemy Spies. As a Spy, consider leaving enemy Dispensers intact to recharge Cloak, fill the health meter, or to remain indefinitely invisible while using the Dead Ringer or Invisibility Watch.
When in a centralized area close to other Engineers, consider putting all the Dispensers close to each other. The healing and ammo dispensing mechanisms do stack for multiple Dispensers, so placing them together will allow players to refill and heal up to full health much faster than with a single Dispenser by each Engineer's Sentry Gun. While the risk of losing the Dispensers is higher, the benefits can sometimes be enough to keep teammates on the attack. It isn't recommended having more than two Dispensers next to each other, especially if both are level 3. Having three or more Dispensers near each other risks the loss of all of the Dispensers in a counterattack.
A Dispenser can effectively block narrow passages from enemies, slowing down their progress. This is very effective versus Scouts and Spies when coupled with a Sentry Gun nearby.
The healing beam and ammo supply mechanisms are two separate functions of the Dispenser, someone in healing range of a Dispenser is not necessarily close enough to take ammo from the Dispenser.
Similarly, a Dispenser can sometimes supply ammunition and metal through walls but cannot heal through them.
An Engineer can stand on his own Dispenser, allowing him to reach higher platforms than he could just by jumping, allowing for more strategic deployment of Sentry Guns and other buildings. Keep in mind, however, that a Sentry Gun is taller than a Dispenser, regardless of which level it is.
Dispensers take the longest to build. It is usually best to construct one, and then put up a Sentry while it is still building.
Dispensers cost the least amount of Metal, along with the Combat Mini-Sentry Gun. They therefore serve as quick barricades in certain situations.
While Sentry Guns are usually the main target of ÜberCharge pushes, destroying the Dispenser is equally important. Without it, it will take much longer for the enemy to rebuild, not to mention heal, resupply, and allow the team more time to regroup for a decisive push.
Rarely, the Dispenser's CRT screen will disappear, making it possible to see through it.
A Dispenser can give ammunition and heal through thin walls.
A Level 3 Dispenser heals nearly as fast as the Medi Gun's in-battle healing rate (24 HP/sec).
You cannot upgrade Dispensers on the console games.
Sentry Gun fire and rockets can be blocked by Dispensers. Additionally, Sentry Guns will detect enemy players standing behind friendly Dispensers, but are unable to kill them. For this reason, it is common for Spies to hide behind a nearby Dispenser and kill the Engineer in the process.
By staying within the healing range of a Dispenser, it is possible to stay underwater indefinitely.
For a short time after the WAR! Update, Spies were able to build Dispensers through the use of the console command 'build 0', although they could not upgrade them.
Per the Sentry Gun's instruction manual, the Dispenser is a "Dispense-O-Matic 9000 Provisions Dispenser".
A fully-built Dispenser of any level pays homage to the Nail Gun, the Scout's cancelled primary weapon with an ammo belt of nails hanging out of the bottom tray.
A Level 1 BLU Dispenser makes a cameo appearance as a "curious Dispenser" in the Telltale game Sam & Max 304: Beyond the Alley of the Dolls. Standing near it makes the usual Dispenser healing sound. Sam can hit the Dispenser 8 times with a Wrench (complete with genuine sound effect) to open the bottom drawer revealing a "Banang" shake. Sam can also try to take the Banang, but the drawer closes again before he can grab it. (Max actually unplugs it out of irritation.) It also makes an appearance in Sam & Max 305: The City that Dares Not Sleep in the same area.
Look Max, free health, ammo, cupcakes, clues, and enlightenment! Oh wait, it's empty.