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I'm trying to finish a Tour of Duty on the Co-op mode, 'Mann vs Machine'. However, it seems that whenever I join an MVM match using the 'Mann Up' mode, I always seem to get into a server that has high ping (relative to me, anyway).

I can work around that a bit by playing Engineer (a Sentry's aim is calculated on the server side thus they aren't subject to lag issues), but I can't always be Engineer, especially if the team is lacking in other classes.

I can also see MVM games on the Server Browser, with low ping and open slots, however I can't seem to activate the Tour of Duty ticket when joining servers this way. Is there a way to do this?

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There is no way to do so.

When you join a Mann-Up server through either the server browser or through joining a friend's game, it is considered an ad-hoc connection. Mann-Up does not allow ad-hoc connections to be made regardless of whether or not you own a ticket, and in order to join a game you can only use the matchmaking system.

"This server only accepts connections negotiated through matchmaking. Ad-hoc connections are not allowed." (Tested with a Tour of Duty Ticket in inventory)

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