Spy checking

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A BLU Pyro (left) Spy-checks teammates leaving their spawn area on Harvest, revealing a Spy (right) disguised as the Demoman (middle) next to him.
Hard ta stab a guy in da back when he's beatin' ya freakin' head in, huh?
The Scout on anti-espionage.

Spy checking is a common term for the investigations players make to determine where or who enemy Spies are and eliminate them. These investigations are both useful and important because Spies can instantly kill by attacking from behind. The process can be somewhat complicated because disguised Spies can use the Dead Ringer to make a hasty escape when discovered.

Identifying Spies

General Strategy

  • The easiest and most common way to Spy-check is to simply shoot a teammate. Real teammates take no damage at all, while enemy Spies die after a few shots. Pyros excel at this method, as their flamethrower can Spy-check multiple teammates at once and will ignite a Spy, instantly ruining his disguise.
  • Remember that players on opposing teams cannot pass through each other. Bumping into a teammate indicates that that player is an enemy Spy.
  • Look for teammates that are behaving suspiciously. Players in unusual positions, moving in the wrong direction, deliberately avoiding contact with teammates, or hiding in corners should all be Spy checked.
  • Pay special attention to areas with health kits or ammo boxes or corners, nooks, and spots that players usually do not enter. Spies tend to use these areas to hide in while they recharge their Cloak and Dagger.
  • Watch for teammates who are not firing their weapons. Spies cannot fire their weapon without removing their disguise. They can pretend to reload their weapons, but they can only do so once. A Soldier, Engineer, or Scout reloading multiple shots is definitely not a Spy.
  • Keep an eye out for smoke surrounding players. When a Spy uses the Disguise Kit, it takes a moment for the disguise to activate, during which the Spy will be shrouded in team-colored smoke. Spies can change their disguise much faster than they can apply a new one, however.
  • If you are dead, you can cycle through different camera angles around the map while waiting to respawn. Look out behind teammates or on open points for Spies uncloaking or disguising. You can then alert teammates or Spy-check where you last saw the Spy when you respawn.
  • For the first few seconds after you respawn, you can see silhouettes of your teammates. If you see one appear from nowhere, it may be an enemy Spy decloaking.
  • If the Spy is disguised as an Engineer equipped with a Beep Boy, the facial expression on the Beep Boy will always be sad.

Class-specific strategies

Leaderboard class scout.png Scout

  • The Scout is the fastest class. Because of this, one effective strategy is to run around the map and try to bump into fellow teammates. As noted above, any teammate that you cannot pass through is an enemy Spy in disguise.
  • Some of the Scout's melee weapons can be used to Spy-check effectively. Refer to these and their individual articles for details.
  • Mad Milk will reveal disguised and cloaked Spies, since a coated Spy will be visible by white drips.
  • The Boston Basher will cause enemies to bleed when struck. If you hit a teammate and they begin to bleed, you have discovered an enemy Spy. Be warned that you will take damage and start bleeding if you miss, so trying to find a cloaked Spy with the Boston Basher is unwise.

Leaderboard class soldier.png Soldier

  • The Soldier has few particular Spy-check strategies apart from the general ones. Spy-checking by simply shooting rockets at suspicious players is very effective because of the high damage your rockets do at close range.
  • When you activate a banner, nearby teammates that do not emit a glow are Spies.

Leaderboard class pyro.png Pyro

  • The Pyro's ability to set enemies on fire with incendiary weapons is perhaps the most useful tool for detecting Spies, since only enemies can be ignited. This is the most reliable method of Spy checking teammates. The team-colored glow produced by a burning player is especially visible when surrounding a cloaked or disguised Spy. It is recommended to use only small bursts to Spy check to conserve flamethrower ammunition.
  • The Compression blast is also useful in revealing Spies, as well as stopping attempts to escape. Teammates will not be affected by compression blast, so any teammate that can be pushed by it is a Spy. While flames are normally more efficient, compression blasts can be used to push Spies away from your teammates if they are in danger of being backstabbed.
  • If a Spy is using the Dead Ringer, they may appear to die instantly from your flames, though the flames will tend to surround them for a little while afterwards, which can show you that they faked their death. Spray fire in the vicinity to try and reignite them, and if you find them, pursue them until they die for real.
  • Know that the Spy-cicle greatly aids Spies trying to escape or stay hidden. Be aware of its use and counter it with other weapons if necessary.
    • The noise a Spy-cicle makes when extinguishing flames is very distinct. Learn to recognize it, both when the Spy is cloaked and when they are disguised as a teammate.
    • A melted Spy-cicle creates a Vaccinator bubble for fire resistance. It will show up, so remember to keep attacking the Spy so he will eventually take more damage. He will not take afterburn damage, though.

Leaderboard class demoman.png Demoman

  • Placing Stickybombs over a wide area can cause Spies to hesitate about traversing such minefields. Teammates will have no such qualms, and simply walk across these areas.

Leaderboard class heavy.png Heavy

  • Because movement speed is greatly reduced for a spun-up Heavy, they are tempting backstab targets. This can sometimes be used as a lure to goad enemy Spies to approach. Act unaware, then turn around to surprise a possible Spy.
  • As Heavies are often coupled with Medics, Spies place great priority upon stabbing the Medic first, then the Heavy, to deny the team the Medic's support. Turn around quickly if you hear your Medic die from a backstab.
  • Spy-check by focusing your Minigun fire on a teammate. Spies will often die in a few seconds.

Leaderboard class engineer.png Engineer

  • Keep an ear out for Sapper notifications; if a teammate is standing near the sapped building, that teammate is probably a Spy.
  • Spy-check suspicious players that approach your buildings with the Pistol. The Shotgun can also be used, but its ammo is often needed for other threats. Avoid chasing the Spy with your Wrench, as it leaves your buildings vulnerable. The Wrench is also bad for Spy-checking since it prioritises repairs over combat, meaning that buildings will always be hit instead of players next to them.
  • If any teammate is unable to pass through a Sentry Gun or Dispenser, that teammate is a Spy. Placing these buildings in narrow passages and checking them regularly can severely slow a Spy’s forward progress.

Leaderboard class medic.png Medic

  • As a Medic, Spies can use you to gain health while disguised. If you are particularly suspicious of a player, do not heal them. Spy-check them with your melee weapon or have your patient deal with them for you.
  • Spies may target you while you are healing a patient. Watch your back while healing. You can also have your patient Spy-check for you, though this may be difficult during intense battles. Your Medi Gun stays locked onto your patient even if you turn away, so check for your team and call out any potential Spies during firefights.
  • Spies may also simply head directly for your patient rather than yourself. If a teammate seems to approaching your patient's back, warn them of a possible Spy.
  • Avoid chasing Spies too much — your ability to heal is generally more useful. Spies can also lure you into a backstab, so be careful. Your patient is generally more suited to killing the Spy than you are.
  • Keep your back to the wall. While not exactly a Spy checking strategy, keeping your back to the wall can be important as a Medic because it makes it harder for Spies to sneak up on you (instead of having to check 360 degrees around you, you only have to check 180 in front of you).

Leaderboard class sniper.png Sniper

  • Some Snipers are oblivious to their surroundings while zoomed in. Listen carefully, and check the area you are in after firing a shot.
  • Switch positions frequently and check your surroundings as you do so — newly-respawned Spies will sometimes head for where they last saw you, especially if you have recently killed them.
  • Jarate is a particularly useful Spy-check weapon, as it reveals both cloaked and disguised Spies. Use it to Spy-check suspicious teammates.
    • Equipping the Bushwacka allows you to kill a Jarate-soaked Spy instantly. Spies who understand this will often retreat if you hit them with Jarate, allowing you to follow up with a Sniper Rifle shot. Be careful — they may try to take advantage of your damage vulnerability by gunning you down with their Revolver — if you are low on health, consider retreating to heal before confronting the Spy.
  • The Razorback will prevent a Spy from backstabbing you, but doesn't protect you from being shot! Be careful when separated from your team, even with its protection.

Leaderboard class spy.png Spy

  • Spies are generally poor Spy-checkers, because they deal poor ranged damage and use tools to escape quickly. Although their backstab is very useful to protect teammates as it kills instantly, Spies spend their time best among the enemy and rarely encounter one another.
  • If you stand behind a teammate while holding your knife and it raises in the ‘backstab’ position, you have discovered an enemy Spy. Backstabbing a Spy is a guaranteed kill — not even the Dead Ringer can save them from a backstab.

Revealing cloaked Spies

  • When cloaked, Spies will momentarily appear as a team-colored silhouette upon being damaged or when bumping into enemy players. Keep an eye out for when a Spy is revealed this way. Strafing left and right while navigating corridors makes it difficult for a cloaked Spy to pass you safely.
    • Note that The Dead Ringer greatly diminishes this drawback, as they can use it to escape easily.
  • Shooting into common Spy hiding places may reveal an unlucky Spy.
  • Try to listen for the sounds Spies make while cloaking and decloaking. If you hear a characteristic cloaking sound, a Spy is nearby. Remember that friendly Spies make this sound as well.
  • An ammo box or health pack that disappears without a player picking it up indicates that it was picked up by a cloaked Spy. Spy-check nearby to reveal any careless Spies.
  • In places with water, look for floating water drops. Players climbing out of water will be visibly dripping with it, including cloaked Spies.
  • An automatic door that suddenly opens without any visible player being nearby indicates a cloaked Spy passing through.

Protecting an Engineer's buildings

Since an Engineer's buildings are a major target for Spies, specific strategies may be more effective around Engineer's buildings:

  • Spy-check suspicious players that approach a friendly Engineer's buildings. Spies trying to sap buildings often run straight towards them. You can body-block Spies to prevent them from placing a Sapper.
  • As a Pyro, use Dispensers to constantly refill the ammo of your flamethrower. You can use this ammo to create a constant firewall that Spies cannot safely pass through or to constantly Spy-check the area. Heavies can also make use of Dispensers in this way.
  • As a Demoman, Stickybombs can be placed around friendly buildings to kill Spies who try to sap them. Place a few bombs around an Engineer's buildings and detonate them when you hear the Engineer announce that his buildings are being sapped. Watch your stickybomb counter, though — if the number begins to decrease, an enemy is destroying them.
  • As an Engineer, if a Teleporter is being sapped from its entrance, you can Spy-check the next player teleporting through once you remove the Sapper. This may be an enemy Spy trying to telefrag you, so be careful not to stand on top of it. Turning the telefrag attempt into your own surprise can frustrate enemy Spies.

Identifying enemy Spies

  • Various team-colored indicators definitively determine an enemy Spy or a friendly one, including:
    • The flicker a cloaked Spy makes when being bumped or injured.
    • The fading a cloaked Spy does while cloaking or uncloaking.
    • The glow a player on fire makes.
    • The smoke from a recent use of the Disguise Kit.

Signs that definitely indicate an enemy Spy, or lack thereof

Common signs

  • A 'teammate' that cannot pass through another teammate, or conversely, a 'teammate' that has been observed walking through an enemy.
  • A 'teammate' that asks for Medic and has the "wrong" cross background colour. For example, a Pyro at full health having its background red like on heavily injured teammates, or a near-dead Heavy having it white.
  • A 'teammate' who cannot enter areas open to your team (such as supply rooms), or conversely can enter areas forbidden to your team.
  • A 'teammate' placing Sappers on friendly buildings.
  • A 'teammate' standing on a friendly Sentry Gun or Dispenser, or who cannot pass through them, and is not the Engineer who owns the building.
  • Two people that have the same name. One (or both) of them is a Spy.
  • Seeing or hearing a voice command attributed to yourself without you having used it, or more importantly, seeing "yourself" moving around.
  • A 'teammate' that is known to be dead or elsewhere.
  • A 'teammate' who has a name that does not correspond with his or her current class on the scoreboard. This happens when a Spy disguises as a class not currently on the team, or if the person has changed class while the Spy was disguised. Their disguise will be holding the stock weapon for that slot.
  • A health or ammo pickup that vanishes without cause; this means a cloaked Spy has stolen it.
  • A 'teammate' on an uncontested control point or near the cart on Payload maps who does not seem to be capturing the point or pushing the cart (assuming the point is available for capture by that team).
  • A non-Spy 'teammate' that is being ignored by an enemy Sentry Gun.
  • A non-Spy 'teammate' that is being healed by an enemy Medic or Dispenser.
  • A ‘teammate’ holding a weapon that their class cannot use, such as an Engineer holding a Revolver, or a ‘teammate’ with parts of their character model missing, such as a Demoman without legs. This is a glitch surrounding Spy’s disguise — occasionally, the disguise will not display properly on enemy players’ computers.

Class- or item-based signs

  • A Pyro experiencing afterburn, unless ignited by the Gas Passer (real Pyros can't be ignited except by said weapon, though they may appear to be on fire if shot by the Dragon's Fury).
  • A Scout running at the speed of a normal teammate.
  • A 'teammate' being soaked by friendly Jarate or Mad Milk, or not being affected by the enemy's.

Signs that suggest an enemy Spy

None of these indicators are conclusive proof of a Spy, but all of them would be a good time to Spy check:

Common signs

  • A teammate trying to stay behind other teammates, as if trying to backstab them.
  • A teammate not firing at the enemy.
  • A teammate who is in the direct firing line of an enemy but is not being fired at.
  • A teammate who retreats backward upon seeing other teammates, while still facing those teammates.
  • A teammate who appears to be dodging your team's attacks or backpedals immediately after seeing loose grenades or a carpet of friendly Stickybombs.
  • A teammate that deliberately avoids walking through other teammates, especially in tight corridors. Spies will strafe and dodge other players to avoid bumping into them.
  • A teammate with an entirely stock loadout (occurs when a Spy disguises as a class the team does not have).
  • A teammate being attacked or accused by real teammates who believe the player is a Spy.
  • A teammate holding their primary weapon for longer than they should. In particular, it is unusual to see Spies, Engineers, Medics, and Demomen holding their primary weapons for long, as they will usually switch to other weapons.
  • A teammate hanging around areas that are advantageous to Spies, such as dark corners and nooks.
  • A teammate that isn't displaying the player's usual behavior.
  • Someone standing still at a distance from the rest of the team. This could be a Spy trying to line up an Ambassador headshot.
  • A teammate that appears to be looking more at your team than at the battle.
  • Being suddenly blocked for no apparent reason. This may indicate a cloaked Spy passing through.
  • A teammate suspiciously near Sentry Guns, especially if they are attempting to move behind the Engineer tending them.
  • A teammate acting inappropriately for their class, such as an Engineer with no nearby buildings or a Sniper near the Intelligence but not scoped in.

Class- or item-based signs

  • A Medic who isn't healing anyone.
  • A Heavy that does not spin his primary weapon when enemies appear.
  • A Sniper who does not stop to zoom in and take shots.
  • An Engineer that does not appear to be upgrading or repairing buildings.
  • A Spy who is not behind the enemy.
  • A Medic without any Übercharge built up.
  • A Soldier who doesn’t Rocket Jump to the front lines.
  • A Demoman who doesn’t Sticky Jump to the front lines.
  • A person you know that is using a weapon that they don't normally use (i.e. a friend who normally uses the Huntsman, but appears as using the stock Sniper Rifle; meaning a Spy is disguised as a Sniper when your team doesn't have any) or not wearing hats if they wear them (again, a Spy disguised as a class your team doesn't have).
  • A teammate holding an inappropriate weapon, such as a Medic holding (but not firing) a Syringe Gun while there are teammates around.

Signs that indicate a teammate is not an enemy Spy

These actions prove that a teammate is definitely not an enemy Spy. Performing any of these is a good way to inform your teammates that you are not an enemy Spy.

Common signs

  • Any usage of a weapon or item (taunting, shooting, swinging, scoping, eating, drinking, etc). This does not apply to reloading, however, as Spies are able to imitate a reload by reloading their Revolver whilst disguised. However, they can only pretend to ‘reload’ once — a Soldier, Demoman, or Engineer reloading two or more shots is real.
  • A teammate that passes through other teammates, or yourself, as opposed to being blocked. (However, this can also happen if both ‘teammates’ are enemy Spies).
  • A teammate entering an area forbidden to the enemy, such as resupply rooms.
  • A teammate who appears to take damage from enemy fire.
  • A non-Engineer who can pass through friendly buildings.
  • A teammate that is carrying the enemy team's Intelligence or capturing a control point for your team.
  • A teammate using certain responses which a Spy cannot imitate himself.
  • A teammate that can be spectated. Note that a few servers allow spectating enemy players.
  • In Mann vs. Machine mode, a teammate that jumps. Spy Robots never jump.

Class- or item-based signs

  • Any usage of class-specific abilities, e.g. Scouts double jumping, Heavies spinning their Minigun, Snipers that are scoped in, etc.
  • A Scout moving at his normal movement speed.
  • An Engineer holding a PDA or a toolbox (preparing to construct a building).
  • A Spy holding their Sapper or Disguise Kit.
  • A Medic with any amount of Übercharge built up.

Spy-checking Spies with items

Main article: Anti-Spy strategy

Dealing with the Dead Ringer

The Spy has the ability to feign death with one of his unlockable items, the Dead Ringer, so always be wary upon killing enemy Spies, as they may still be alive elsewhere. Thus, it's best to know some of the signs that tell that the Spy may not really be dead. Spies using the Dead Ringer cannot manually Cloak, and cannot use any weapons while invisible.

  • If an enemy dies to a single weak hit while approaching friendly lines without firing his weapon, it is most probably an enemy Spy disguised as one of his teammates. Most players don't run in with such low health, and a Spy disguised as a teammate will drop a corpse of the class he was disguised as.
    • Similarly, if an enemy Spy disguised as a teammate approaches the front lines from the enemy's position, he is most likely using the Dead Ringer, even if he doesn't ‘die’ from the first hit. Remember that the Dead Ringer cannot Cloak at will, so a Dead Ringer Spy will rely on opponents' fire activating his feign death in order to become invisible.
    • In general, if a player that has been identified to be an enemy Spy seems to be approaching a teammate suicidally, he is probably trying to get damaged so that his Dead Ringer will be activated, so try to track him down and kill him.
  • The decloaking sound of the Dead Ringer is very distinctive, but requires players to be within a certain distance to hear it. Listen for it.
  • Picking up the Spy's dropped ammo box does not replenish ammo or metal. This is an easy way to double-check if a recently-killed Spy is using the Dead Ringer or not.
  • Being stopped while moving and not bumping into any visible objects can mean that a Spy whose Dead Ringer was activated is trying to pass through.
  • If the Spy uses his Disguise Kit shortly before being "killed," the smoke effects will follow the Spy for the time that it takes for the Disguise to be equipped. Try to track any smoke that continues to move after an enemy Spy was killed.
  • If it is safe to do so, stand still after "killing" a Spy known to use the Dead Ringer. This may provoke the Spy into uncloaking nearby and making himself vulnerable. You can also check the scoreboard during this time, to see if the Spy "respawns" much faster than they should be able to.

Dealing with the Cloak and Dagger

The Spy's Cloak and Dagger allows him to stay cloaked indefinitely, and to hide in unconventional places while waiting for the right time to strike. An area that may seem impossible for a Spy to hide in may be sheltering a particularly cunning Spy who knows where the enemy team will not check for Spies.

  • In general, most Cloak and Dagger Spies will try to hide in corners in order to avoid being bumped into as they recharge their Cloak. Try to occasionally fire into corners or vantage points with wide fields of view.
  • One brute-force method for dealing with the Cloak and Dagger is to simply repeatedly check an area where the Spy is hiding. As the Cloak and Dagger has a relatively short charge meter, the Spy cannot make too many movements or their Cloak will run out and show their silhouette. If the Spy has L'Etranger equipped, however, chasing him down will be harder, as he will benefit from the extended cloak time, allowing him to dodge your attacks or simply sneak off elsewhere.
  • Some unconventional Spies will hide out in the open rather than against walls or in corners. This allows them to maneuver easily to avoid detection, and easily avoids the most often checked areas of a map. Try to keep this in mind if you suspect that a Spy is in the area.

Dealing with Your Eternal Reward

Spies using Your Eternal Reward can backstab a teammate and instantly disguise as that teammate as well as leaving no corpse of him/her. A Spy using Your Eternal Reward can be impossible to detect even when he is killing teammates nearby.

  • If one of your teammates gets backstabbed without appearing on your kill feed, identify his/her name and class. Note that the Spy can change his disguise at the cost of his entire cloak meter.
  • If backstabbed by the Spy, clearly announce this to teammates, as well as the class that the Spy is now disguised as, to make sure that they know who the Spy is disguised as (beware that the Spy can change his disguise, albeit at the cost of his entire cloak meter).
  • When the Spy backstabs his victim, the faint sound of the melee hit can be heard if close enough. This can serve as a key warning that a Spy might be killing teammates in your immediate vicinity.
  • Remember that any kills made using Your Eternal Reward will not generate kill reports for the opposite team. Pay very close attention to teammates' movements and listen for any melee hit sounds nearby.
  • When a Spy with the Eternal Reward backstabs a teammate, the teammate's body disappears. However, their weapon remains sitting on the ground. If you see one of your teammates and their weapon on the ground, it's not a bad idea to Spy check him.

Related achievements

Pumpkin.png Scarechievements

Costume Contest
Costume Contest
Kill a Spy disguised as your current class.

Leaderboard class soldier.png Soldier

War Crime Spybunal
War Crime Spybunal
Kill a Spy who just backstabbed a teammate.

Leaderboard class pyro.png Pyro

Firewall
Firewall
Ignite 5 Spies who have a sapper on a friendly building.
Got A Light?
Got A Light?
Ignite an enemy Spy while he's flicking a cigarette.
I Fry
I Fry
Ignite 10 disguised Spies.
Spontaneous Combustion
Spontaneous Combustion
Ignite 10 cloaked Spies.

Leaderboard class demoman.png Demoman

Shorn Connery
Shorn Connery
Decapitate a cloaked Spy.
Spynal Tap
Spynal Tap
Kill 20 Spies within 5 seconds of them sapping a friendly building.

Leaderboard class heavy.png Heavy

Spyalectical Materialism
Spyalectical Materialism
Kill or assist in killing 10 cloaked Spies.

Leaderboard class engineer.png Engineer

Fistful of Sappers
Fistful of Sappers
Destroy 25 sappers on buildings built by other team members.
Get Along!
Get Along!
Manage to get to, and then remove, a sapper placed on your building while you were several meters away.
Quick Draw
Quick Draw
Kill a Spy and two sappers within 10 seconds.
Search Engine
Search Engine
Kill 3 cloaked Spies with a sentry gun under control of your Wrangler.
The Wrench Connection
The Wrench Connection
Kill a disguised spy with your Wrench.

Leaderboard class medic.png Medic

FYI I am A Medic
FYI I am A Medic
Use your bonesaw to kill a spy who has been calling for 'Medic!'.
Hypocritical Oath
Hypocritical Oath
Kill an enemy Spy that you have been healing.

Leaderboard class sniper.png Sniper

Consolation Prize
Consolation Prize
Get backstabbed 50 times.
Jarring Transition
Jarring Transition
Use Jarate to reveal a cloaked Spy.
Kook the Spook
Kook the Spook
Kill 10 Spies with your Kukri.
Shock Treatment
Shock Treatment
Kill a Spy whose backstab attempt was blocked by your Razorback.
Shoot the Breeze
Shoot the Breeze
Kill a fully invisible Spy in a single hit.

Leaderboard class spy.png Spy

A Cut Above
A Cut Above
Kill a gun-wielding Spy with your knife.
Counter Espionage
Counter Espionage
Backstab a disguised Spy.
Spies Like Us
Spies Like Us
While cloaked, bump into an enemy cloaked Spy.
FYI I am a Spy
FYI I am a Spy
Backstab a Medic who has healed you in the last 5 seconds.