Ambushing is "an act or instance of attacking unexpectedly from a concealed position". 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 fall into an ambush, 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. Scouts are weak, with weapons that are most effective at close range, which, normally, would make for an ideal target. Scouts are usually too small, too fast, and too nimble for any enemy force to invest a serious amount of effort in chasing.
- Soldier - Medium. Soldiers, being a large and relatively slow-moving opponent, can often be enticing for the occasional enemy to chase. The amount of damage a Soldier can do, even while unassisted, offsets these weaknesses. Retreating while reloading may cause the enemy to assume the Soldier is wounded or simply not prepared to attack and make them give chase. Additionally, equipping the Escape Plan may also lure in enemies as they will assume the Soldier is trying to escape.
- Pyro - Medium-Low. Pyros have limited range and are generally seen running towards enemies rather than away from them. Enemies might be tempted to chase a fleeing Pyro, but they may also be wary of a Pyro turning an about-face and catching them in a corner.
- Demoman - Very Low. Ambushes are extremely popular with Demomen, and most players will expect a fleeing Demoman to leave Stickybomb traps in his wake. Enemies will generally fall back unless they can safely destroy the stickies or push them away with an air blast.
- Heavy - Medium. Heavies make slow and obvious targets, but their Miniguns can put out a lot of damage in a very short period of time. Heavies who are not spun-up make slightly more appealing targets, as it takes roughly a second before they can launch an effective counter-attack.
- Engineer - Medium-High. Engineers have only basic weapons to defend themselves, and if they're caught away from their Sentry Guns, they are largely considered easy prey by the other classes. Engineers have been known to set up their own ambushes using their Sentry Guns, walking around to find enemies and baiting them right into their concealed Sentry Guns.
- Medic - Very High. Medics are usually the number one target when it comes to the order of elimination due to their ability to heal teammates. A slim profile and faster-than-average speed make them superb, albeit valuable, bait for ambushes.
- Sniper - High. Snipers operate best when they can put significant distance between themselves and their opponents. At close range, Snipers are out of their element and will often retreat to regain the advantage. However, players may use the Huntsman with the Jarate, making the Sniper's way of ambushing more effective.
- Spy - High. Undisguised Spies draw a lot of attention from enemy players, who will want to eliminate the threat before the Spies have a chance to Cloak or disguise. Additionally, a Spy can disguise as a higher-priority target using friendly disguises, 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.
Class-specific ambush tactics
- As a Scout, your speed and heavy damage scatterguns are what makes you a lethal ambusher.
- Use alternates routes and your speed to try 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.
- By using Crit-a-Cola, you can deal a great deal of damage in a single ambush. To make the most of it, use the Scattergun or Shortstop as the small clip size and long reload time of the Force-A-Nature makes it a less-than-ideal accompaniment.
- 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.
- The added maximum speed of the Baby Face's Blaster often allows the Scout to make quick entrances and exits when attacking. However, you must make each shot count, as the clip is only four rather than the usual six.
- Using the Back Scatter greatly increases the benefit of ambushing behind an enemy as it does Mini-Crits, but this only applies at a specific range.
- 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.
- Fall onto the enemy with the Mantreads to deal extra damage.
- 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 on their front and flanks, but not above themselves, therefore another form of ambush is dropping from above onto approaching enemies. This form of ambush can land the player in the middle of a group of attacking enemies, allowing them to douse the entire group in flames in a second or so by spinning around. It has the advantage of speed as free fall is significantly quicker than foot speed. It is only possible wherever a ledge exists to drop from, and this can be anticipated by the enemy team.
- Sometimes, when hiding behind a corner, your Flamethrower may stick out, ruining your element of surprise. Switching to your Secondary or Melee weapon will prevent this, but require you to switch back later on.
- 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 perfect ambush weapon if equipped with the Chargin' Targe. It has a chance to kill multiple enemies in a single hit due to its high explosive damage. Note that the explosive is only good for a single use and it deals the user damage as well.
- A Heavy can jump around corners, spinning his Minigun on the way down, and proceed to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting, approaching enemy team. This works particularly well due to the Heavy's high DPS at close range.
- With the Gloves of Running Urgently, you are almost as fast as most classes, which can allow you to get to places quicker than most Heavies. However, your health decreases while the Gloves are out.
- Using Natascha when ambushing enemies can be quite effective as the slowdown effect prevents enemies from fleeing, and the reduced damage is made up for by the increased damage when fired in close range. In addition, Natascha is quieter when spinning than the Minigun, making it harder for approaching enemies to anticipate an ambush.
- 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 Tomislav up is silent, shooting 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.
- Similar to the Level 1 Sentry Gun, the Combat Mini-Sentry Gun has the additional advantages of a rapid build time and low construction cost. This allows it to be quickly set up for ambushes in contested areas or delay pursuers if forced to flee.
- Be wary of obstructions which could create blind spots for your Sentry Gun, and potentially botch your ambush attempt.
- Enemies are not likely to fall into the same trap twice; move your Sentry Gun's location after an ambush to maintain 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 uncharged bodyshot or a melee hit with the Kukri.
- However, be aware that after drawing your bow for 5 seconds, the Huntsman will have greatly diminished 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 decent Sniper will be able to perform easy headshots from behind the enemy team.
- Cloaking/disguising while hiding behind an object or around a corner is a common strategy for Spies. The player can easily wait an oblivious opponent to pass their hiding place, and then deliver an unsuspecting backstab. The Dead Ringer can make this strategy a lot easier if used the correct way. Change disguises frequently as enemies might see patterns in your attack, remember disguise smoke is still visible while cloaked.
- If there is a large-scale heated battle taking place, the Cloak & Dagger can be used to hide in the corner of the area. This can be used to take out enemies that are moving in on teammates.
- Hiding and using Your Eternal Reward is an effective strategy. Uncloaking right behind enemies in the heat of battle and then giving them a quick jab can leave very little impression of a Spy ever being there, thanks to the dagger's effects.
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.