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How can I change the game mode in tf2 server? in the server.cfg file?

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Short Answer: Change your server's startup map to a payload map and change the maps in your mapcyclefile (tf/cfg/mapcycle.txt by default) to payload maps.

Explanation:

For most game modes, it's the map that determines the game mode and not the server.

Payload maps all start with pl_. The list of standard payload maps is stored in the server's tf/cfg/mapcycle_quickplay_payload.txt. As of this writing, the list is:

pl_badwater
pl_frontier_final
pl_goldrush
pl_hoodoo_final
pl_thundermountain
pl_upward
pl_barnblitz
pl_borneo

There are also a small selection of Payload Race maps, where both teams have a cart:

plr_pipeline
plr_hightower
plr_nightfall_final

There are also a few Halloween-themed Payload and Payload Race maps:

plr_hightower_event
pl_millstone_event 

and finally, a beta map that Valve is still working on:

pl_cactuscanyon

You can also use custom maps, including those from the TF2 Map Workshop. I even wrote a guide for server owners about it.

Note: I said most game modes earlier. There are two exceptions:

Mannpower

Mannpower uses specific CTF maps, but these CTF maps will be played as normal CTF maps unless you set these cvars:

tf_powerup_mode 1
tf_grapplinghook_enable 1

The CTF maps that are meant for use with Mannpower are:

ctf_foundry
ctf_gorge
ctf_thundermountain
ctf_hellfire

Mann vs. Machine

While MvM does use the map's filename, MvM mode works differently than the other game modes.

  • It will "crash" the server if maxplayers is set to something other than 32.

    • MvM only allows 6 player characters and up to 4 spectators. The other 16 slots are reserved for bots.
  • As soon as you launch an MvM map, the server stops using the mapcyclefile (mapcycle.txt by default, TF2 looks in tf/cfg/ for this file).

    • Instead, MvM uses the tf_mvm_missioncyclefile (tf_mvm_missioncycle.res by default, TF2 looks in tf/ for this file) instead. The default mission file is embedded tf_misc_dir.vpk and cannot be directly edited without extracting it first.
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  • I just noticed my Map Workshop guide is out of date. SourceMod 1.8 now directly supports Workshop maps in its plugins, including its MapChooser map vote plugin.
    – Powerlord
    Nov 17, 2015 at 17:35
  • Forgot to mention, the server's startup map is set using +map mapnamehere on the command-line or in autoexec.cfg as map mapnamehere
    – Powerlord
    May 29, 2016 at 22:46

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