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As the title implies, I'd like to learn how to play pyro better. I'm pretty good at most classes (aside from heavy, which I avoid on general principle), but I have trouble with pyro due to average health, and being truly effective only at point blank range.

Just to be clear, I'm not a W+M1 pyro. I do know how to use the airblast reflection (although I'm still working on mastering it), about using the shotgun for mid range, and the axtinguisher for quick melee kills, but I see expert pyros out there who come out of seemingly nowhere, and end up performing a lot better than I manage. However, the techniques I see them perform aren't particularly different from what I do, the only change I can detect is that they tend to come from completely unexpected angles at opportune moments. (If anyone needs to know, I use the Degreaser, the shotgun, and the axtinguisher for my pyro loadout.)

So, what should I do to improve my pyro game?

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I'm a defensive Pyro, so I'm not very sure of the non-W+M1 offensive strategy. And the one thing that truly holds me back is ping. Servers in my region with good latency are few and far between... want me to post an answer with defensive strategies anyway? The Pyro is great at both. –  The Annoying Pyro Jun 1 '11 at 18:21
    
Why not? I tend to prefer offense, as patience is not one of my in-game traits, but I'm open to suggestions. –  Nicholas1024 Jun 1 '11 at 18:32
    
Good job asking this question, I was trying to formulate a similar one a couple days ago –  Rapida Jun 1 '11 at 19:13
    
What on earth is W+M1 ? –  HorusKol Jun 1 '11 at 23:09
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@HorusKol: See this question. –  The Annoying Pyro Jun 1 '11 at 23:10
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5 Answers

up vote 51 down vote accepted

The Pyro is known for high standard damage at short ranges, and ambush capabilities (Soup's answer addresses your specific situation quite succinctly), but can do more than just spew fire in his/her general personal space, and can actually be pretty effective in long-range offense.

However, while the game therefore categorizes him/her as an offensive class — and most players do choose Pyro for the frontlines — he/she makes an equally useful defensive or utility class. (This isn't as much a secret to the Pyro class per se, as just a trait of his/hers that isn't known to many players as a consequence of obsessively one-sided marketing.) So whenever you're bored of popping up and lighting everything on fire, retreat and use some other tactics to continue keeping enemy forces at bay, and your team strong.

My loadout these days is Degreaser, Flare Gun and Homewrecker. My answer leans a bit toward defensive strategies and a bunch of other Pyro tactics, but I'm aware that you're more into offense, so there are some useful things to know about offense as well.

Hopefully these tips will help you maximize your time as Pyro and make your gameplay more interesting, because many people are still under the age-old impression that all the Pyro does is run around burning stuff. They may not get you a lot more kills, but hey, this isn't Solo Fortress, right?

Spychecking

Pyros are also renowned as the best class for spychecking. See (or set) someone glowing the opposite team color on fire? It's either an enemy or a cloaked/disguised Spy.

Unfortunately I'm not the perfect spychecker, but I think I'll pass. I just happen to play against good Spies who completely avoid the spots where I check, time their Dead Ringers very accurately, and are excellent quickstabbers.

I optimized my loadout for spychecking. The Degreaser speeds up weapon switching, the Flare Gun ignites and crits easily (good for their low health), and the Homewrecker removes sappers in a single hit with free points to boot.

While you're dedicating yourself to a particular area on the map, check every nook and cranny. Sweep fire and shoot flares just about anywhere that isn't a wall or object; you never know if a Spy could be there. And then check open areas, as some clever Spies may stand out in the open to avoid Pyros who only look at corners. Amid all this, though, remember that you're just one person, so it's OK if you're checking one area constantly when a Spy suddenly starts picking off teammates in another. Of course, you ought to move to that other area immediately if the Spy is there, but that's beside the point.

If you see someone suspicious approaching buildings or teammates, try to blow them back with airblast... unless you're standing or walking behind him of course. If he gets thrown back by it, then fire at will. Pun or not.

By the way... if you keep getting stabbed by a good Spy, my friend who mains as Spy tells me this: it's not that you're a bad Pyro, it's just that that's a good Spy. So don't sweat it, just do better next time, I guess. It happens to me a lot, so I know how frustrating that can get, and I'm only just starting to learn to take it in my stride.

Compression blast (aka airblast)

Compression blast is pretty much the only reason why I main as Pyro. It's the most versatile ability he/she has.

If you see teammates on fire, go to them and blow the fire out. Seriously. Not only does doing so grant you free points (1 per person you blow out), you save their lives too, especially Medics, who have slightly lower health than you. I've once earned 100 points in a single match from putting out fires alone because the other team kept sending W+M1s down unused tunnels to flank us. If your burning teammates are running away from you, probably to any available medkits, it helps to call out to them saying you're right behind them and to let you catch up. This is very helpful if you know they won't be able to reach a medkit before burning to death.

Additionally, with the Hatless Update, using the Backburner no longer means you should only be attacking. If you're recharging at your base or Engie nests, it's a good idea to keep some of that ammo for extinguishing your teammates and pushing ÜberCharges away.

Other defensive uses of compression blast include point denial on capturing and defending objectives, as well as pushing stickies and ÜberCharges away from your team. Just make sure to push them outward, not inward. If they're near a ledge, shove them off it to render them useless.

Offensive airblast (my favorite sport) against rockets and grenades, on the other hand, is mostly about timing. About direction too, but more about timing, particularly with grenades and Direct Hits, because you're still more often trying to protect your teammates from them than trying to give them a taste of their own medicine.

Once you become really good at timing, you can take on Huntsman Snipers, level 3 Sentry Guns, Soldiers with Direct Hits and Kritzed Medic-Soldier/Demo pairs on your own, and win. I do the latter two on a regular basis, and it's pretty satisfying (examples 1 and 2). Remember that when you deflect critical shots, the self-damage is reduced. One thing you should note, though, is that you should never go up against Kritzed Demos using stickies. They will kill you as you can't change the affected team by deflecting them, unlike other projectiles. Just run.

Compression blast is also useful versus level 3 Sentries situated far away or high up. If an Engineer is there, get its attention; once it fires rockets, deflect them such that they point above or beside it, causing the splash damage to kill the Engineer and allowing your teammates to finish it off — or you to do it, with more of its deflected rockets.

For a list of everything the compression blast can deflect, see this answer.

One last thing: while under the effects of a Medic's Kritzkrieg, your airblast turns almost all projectiles critical, including Sentry rockets and baseballs but with the exception of stickies. Just something interesting to note, but I recommend that you tell your Kritz Medics to go with Soldiers, Heavies or Demos instead.

Shotgun or Flare Gun?

I don't like my Shotgun because my aiming with it is pretty bad — in fact, I don't recall ever killing anyone with a single critical shot. That's how bad I am. Surprisingly, though, I'm pretty good with my flares; plus, since the Hatless Update, they serve me at least 75% of my critical kills.

If you're more into close combat and your aim is good, you'll definitely prefer the Shotgun. Its standard damage ranges can quickly kill many classes in a 6-shell clip, at a short enough range. It's also obviously better against enemy Pyros, but when I encounter them I'm usually shoving them aside with my airblast rather than embedding bullets in them.

Equip the Flare Gun for long-range combat. Flares may take excruciatingly long to reload, but the nice thing is that they take long enough for you to switch to the Degreaser to deflect oncoming projectiles, nifty for heckling Soldiers and Demos. Plus, besides random crits, they also guarantee 90 standard critical damage on burning enemies, which is just barely half of the Axtinguisher's 195. The Shotgun only has random crits.

The Flare Gun is very effective against Engineers repairing their buildings, slow Snipers and Snipers who can't twitch-shot, stationary Heavies and anyone you're busy holding in place with airblast.

Another benefit the Flare Gun has is with Spychecking (as above). The Shotgun is terrible against cloaked/disguised Spies from a medium distance, because it's difficult to track the damage. But the Flare Gun? One shot to reveal them, another to kill.

Whichever secondary weapon you choose, the Pyro's taunt kill is one of the quickest, but not with as great a range as the Heavy's.

Axtinguisher or Homewrecker?

The most commonly-used Pyro melée weapons are the Axtinguisher and the Homewrecker, so I'll cover those.

The Axtinguisher is a great offensive melée weapon. You probably already know the "puff-and-sting" technique; if not, it's simply a matter of puffing someone to a wall or corner with airblast, then stinging them with the Axtinguisher. In fact, that's pretty much what this weapon's meant for. When I play offensive, most of my kills are from airblasts, flares or my Axtinguisher.

The Homewrecker, though, is a lovely weapon of (potentially mass) building destruction. It can do away with Mini-Sentries in a single hit, and other buildings in two hits, unless Wrangled or repaired. With it, Engies won't be able to slow you down too much with Mini-Sentries. For regular Sentry Guns, make it a point to get the Engies first, then focus on melting or bashing their toys.

If you'd like to pick up defensive Pyro play someday, carry the Homewrecker with you, and spend a good amount of time near your Engineer nests. Even if there aren't any Engineers in your team, it can be useful to have it around in case someone decides to help the team out with teleporters or sentries.

When a Spy appears and starts sabotaging your Engineer nests, kill the Spy first, then unsap the buildings one by one (just like the versus-Engineer strategy). Or, if he starts swinging his knife or firing his revolver, you could unsap the Sentry first and let it kill him for you. If he's on the other side of a teleporter, you should alert your teammates. Be careful not to let him telefrag you if you're on the exit!

Other tips

General tips for combat, etc.

  • While waiting in ambush behind walls and facing door openings, hold your secondary or melée weapon out so your flamethrower doesn't stick out and give your position away. With the Degreaser's faster weapon-switch bonus, the enemy has even less time to react to spotting you when they aren't expecting anyone there.

  • It's alright that the Degreaser suffers from a slight afterburn nerf. You shouldn't rely on afterburn to kill anyone but lite classes anyway, whichever primary weapon you use. Spew as much fire as you can, and puff and sting them before they can get a chance to escape. Even if they do slip away, either the Shotgun or Flare Gun will easily bring them down.

  • Get good with circle-strafing and you can easily take out slow-turning Heavies and Sentry Guns propped against one or no walls even without a Medic buff, much less an ÜberCharge, whether you use the Flamethrower or the Axtinguisher/Homewrecker respectively.

  • Despite what people say about W+M1, you can use it effectively with a surprise ÜberCharge. Even if you don't want to use W+M1, you can go W+M2 instead, sending the enemy team in all directions to disorient them real bad. As an added bonus, if you have helpful teammates at all, they can follow the Über and do the dirty work for the two of you. Just don't confuse your folks too. If you encounter any Soldiers, Demos or level 3 Sentries during your ÜberCharge, try deflecting their projectiles toward their teammates or buildings to deal some collateral damage.

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For some fun, once in a while you may rack up huge amounts of bonus points by continuously hitting a teleporter with your Homewrecker, if there's a Spy continuously sapping it. A level 3 teleporter would give about 20+ bonus points before being destroyed (1 for each side!). But you shouldn't be doing this kind of thing anyway, at least not intentionally, otherwise you might just get banned for point-whoring. Besides, if a Spy is persistent enough to stay there and sap, it becomes impossible to use the teleporter anyway until he dies. –  The Annoying Pyro Jun 1 '11 at 23:29
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Another thing, I wonder if this can be made into a post at the blog instead? I really think this reads more like a blog post than an answer to the actual question. –  The Annoying Pyro Jun 1 '11 at 23:30
    
+1 for reminding me I can use the homewrecker to remove sappers. –  Raven Dreamer Jun 1 '11 at 23:39
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+1 billion, great post! –  Shaderach Jun 2 '11 at 1:30
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@RavenDreamer: I hope that's not the only reason you +1'd it, considering that I mentioned the same thing in an answer posted earlier than this one. ;P –  user2974 Jun 2 '11 at 4:59
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Little Known Game Mechanics

Some pyro players may notice that their lifespan in this class might feel shorter than other classes, therefore, it's important to make very careful use of what time you do have.

- HitBoxes

Hitbox knowledge can make or break a player. In my opinion, becoming a pro player means understanding where and how to hit another player. Simply trying to melee every visible body part is actually not a very good strategy because of the way hitboxes actually work.

- Weapon Mechanics

Did you know that your backburner and normal flamethrower both do different damadge according to the enemies position? (Last I checked) The normal flamethrower's damadge is actually maximized at the tip of your flame. This is especially important in flamethrower vs flamethrower battles. Know the pros, cons, and mechanics of your weapon. Because your enemy does and ignorance makes a poor reason for defeat.

- Air Compression

Air compression is a very neat and fancy trick that will wow your peers. But in reality, it takes a great many hours to master the technique of rocket reflection and then a great many more to reflect the rocket somewhere useful. Air blasts are very useful in some situations like cooling off burning players, blasting away stickies, and rocket reflection, but in most cases, the ammo and risk of injury is usually better spent elsewhere.

Tactics

Tact is very important in team fortress 2, especially as a pryo. Simply going up to someone hoping to barbeque their eyebrows will mostly just get you killed.

- Pyro as a Scavenger

A lot of tournament strategies suggest that the pyro is a terrible class to put into tournament and that your team is much better off with a heavy or soldier. The tournament stragegies agree that the pyro class does make for an excellent "scavenger", a player who mostly hides out and scouts and characters low on health.

- Scanning

Just like driving, you need to keep your eyes and brain on what's happening in front of you. The atmosphere can (and often does) change in a split instant. More games are won by having the right weapon out at the right time than not. Anticipating what's going to happen next, who you will meet, what they will be doing and which weapon they will have out, is very important. The pyro class does very well with a great amount of planning.

- Backwards, Sideways, But Never Forwards

As sated,the pyro is not a front-battle-line class like the heavy. They do much better approaching enemies from the side and rear. This means that you may be doing a lot more retreating than other characters.

- Make Use of What You Have For The Situation At Hand

There are a lot of unconventional things you can do with yourself that can benefit your team. For example, blasting uber'ed pairs apart or pushing back advancing enemies. You just can't put all the possible uses of your weapons in any situation, but learning to think outside the box 'flamethrower is only for throwing flames' will ramp up your game play.

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+1 General tips are always nice, and even I think I can benefit from yours (particularly hitboxes, retreat and scavenging), so thank you for them! I still think my answer doesn't belong here, but oh well, at least 30 upvoters disagree. –  The Annoying Pyro Aug 3 '11 at 19:11
    
@Pyro Ah, but it does. There's actually a very big leap between M1+W and realizing the game has a lot of strategy and depth, and you highlighted it all perfectly. –  rlb.usa Aug 3 '11 at 19:42
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Pyro is primarily a close-range class. However, Pyro is extremely weak to the other attack classes.

In the game of Valve RPS, the Pyro is:

Good against:

  • Medic
  • Sniper (if you manage to sneak up on him)
  • Spy
  • Engineer away from his guns

Even (more or less) against:

  • Scout
  • Soldier (unless you rock at reflecting rockets)
  • Demoman

Bad against:

  • Sniper (from a distance)
  • Heavy (he'll mow you down before you get close)
  • Engineer behind his gun
  • Pyros... Pyro is the only class that's terrible against itself

Now, this is referring mainly to your primary weapon, and if you manage to flank them, it's an entirely different situation.

Speaking of flanking, the 3 flamethrowers have different uses:

  • The Flame Thrower is good if you use a lot of airblasts, but don't use the Axtinguisher.
  • The Degreaser is only really useful with the Axtinguisher, or if you're using the Gas Jockey set for its speed boost.
  • The Backburner is good if you don't airblast much or use the Axtinguisher. It has a higher base damage, plus crits from behind.

Don't underestimate your secondary weapons. The Flare Gun crits against people who are on fire, no matter how far you are from them. This makes it quite useful against Heavies, as they have trouble dodging the shots. (Incidentally, if you're good with the Flare Gun, you'll likely be good with the bows in the game and vice versa.)

Your melee weapons are a mixed lot. As you already know, the Axtinguisher works really well, particularly with the Degreaser. The Volcano Fragment can be combined with the Flare Gun for interesting results. The Volcano Fragment, Powerjack, and Back Scratcher are all useful for Medieval (or melee) modes. The Powerjack and Back Scratcher are also useful if you don't have a Medic.

On defense, if your team has a large Engineer team, consider equipping the Homewrecker. While mostly useless, you can unsap Engineer buildings with it... in a single hit, as I recall. It's also useful if the enemy Engineers are dropping Mini-sentries.

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+1 My long answer elaborates on flares and the Homewrecker. Maybe I should just post it and see what happens. –  The Annoying Pyro Jun 1 '11 at 23:04
    
Also I never use the standard flame thrower anymore. The Degreaser's reduced afterburn damage isn't much, and I don't rely on afterburn to score kills, so there's not much of a point switching away from it. –  The Annoying Pyro Jun 1 '11 at 23:20
    
Good answer, although somehow I don't think reflecting rockets does much against a scout. :P –  Nicholas1024 Jun 1 '11 at 23:24
    
@Nicholas1024: I've done that by accident, actually. –  The Annoying Pyro Jun 1 '11 at 23:47
    
How can a pyro be bad against another pyro? They both have equal advantages/disadvantages, no? –  Konerak Nov 21 '11 at 17:41
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Here are two really good resources on Pyro play from the TF2 Wiki:

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Is that still being updated? I only look at the official version these days since this was passed over to Valve. –  The Annoying Pyro Jun 1 '11 at 20:50
    
I believe so, on the pyro strategy page it says last updated May 6, 2011. Even if it isn't still some good information, I'll throw in the official wiki's pyro tips and strategies too. –  Rapida Jun 1 '11 at 21:23
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Ambush!

The Pyro deals the most damage while preserving his own health in an ambush position. His relatively low health and close-range weapon make it hard to be aggressive head-on. So get behind them. Instead of camping a choke in the front or at the sentry like many new pyros (and often becoming the target), you should camp behind them in ambush position.

Let a sentry, heavy, or soldier take damage at your choke while you camp in an ambush position behind the enemy approach. Once the enemy has engaged these big defenders, light some behinds on fire.

Repeat.

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Well actually this answers the question's situation pretty nicely. Not only is the answer I'm working on more general, it also covers defense more than offense. Also, I suck at ambush. –  The Annoying Pyro Jun 1 '11 at 20:13
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@The Annoying Pro you'll be surprised how easy it is to ambush once you find those ambush positions. Spies do especially well moving to Pyro because they've already found these positions. –  Soup Jun 1 '11 at 20:17
    
I would consider the typo in your comment quite ironic :D –  The Annoying Pyro Jun 1 '11 at 20:23
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I'm not quite sure what you mean by "relatively low health" given that the Pyro ties the Demoman for 3rd highest base health in the game. –  Raven Dreamer Jun 1 '11 at 21:05
    
@Raven Dream "relatively" –  Soup Jun 1 '11 at 21:11
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