Is Team Fortress 2 Pay to Win? (Definitive Answer)

Team Fortress 2 started as a free game, but now players must pay for some features. That raises a question: is TF2 free, or is it a pay-to-win game?

Updated on Jan 15, 2024
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Is Team Fortress 2 Pay to Win? (Definitive Answer)

Many games are free to download and play but require payment for some features that are essential to the gameplay. These games are known as pay-to-win. Team Fortress 2 was free to play for several years, but in 2020 the Team Fortress 2 Premium account was added to the game, making recently created accounts have limited features. The big question is, did this update turn TF2 into a pay-to-win game? Or is TF2 still free to play?

What is Pay to Win (P2W)?

Before deepening this investigation, it is necessary to clarify all the concepts mentioned. First of all, let's understand what a pay-to-win game is.

In some games, players willing or can pay for premium downloadable content, unique items, or features can gain an advantage over players who don't spend any money on the game. Therefore, they are "stronger" than "normal" players. These games are called "pay to win", usually abbreviated as "P2W".

P2W games are often seen negatively by the gamer community since they consider that these advantages are unfair. After all, people have different economic conditions, and most people can't pay for extra features. Does that make them bad players? Not at all.

Remember that there's a difference between a pay-to-win game and a game that is free to play but that has paid content. A great example is Valorant. The game is entirely free to anyone, but you can pay for skins, which alter the visual of the guns you can use. Does that affect the gameplay and your skills? No. It is an entirely cosmetic alteration. Yet, it gives the company a lot of money, helping it make updates that will benefit all players, even those who never bought a skin.

In games like Valorant, the paid content is an extra, something that makes the game funnier but doesn't change how you play it. Gamers who buy skins are on the same level that players who don't.

What is Free to Play (F2P)?


A free-to-play game, also known as F2P, is a game that has a significant portion of its content free. You can download and play it without having to pay for the game. It is different from entirely free freeware games.

F2P games can ask players to pay for certain features, usually cosmetic ones. Also, nowadays, these games are called "free to start" since most of them ask for payment at a different level.

For example, imagine that you downloaded a free-to-play game and started playing it. When you reached the level 30, the game asked you to pay $5 to continue playing. The game is free, indeed, but only until a certain level. After that, you must pay.

There are various free-to-play games, each with its own rules and specifications, but most have some type of microtransaction so the company can earn some money to keep developing the game and releasing updates.

What is Play to Earn?


Recently, a new type of game has been created, the play-to-earn game. Mainly using blockchain technology, these games allow players to earn real money while playing. They can also be known as blockchain games.

Is Team Fortress 2 a Pay to Win Game?


So, this information leaves us questioning whether TF2 is a pay-to-win game or not. After all, you can buy a lot of things in the Mann Co. Store, the game's official in-game store.

The items that you can buy in the store do give you an advantage in battle. There it goes; that's the harsh truth. However, they can be obtained through drops, which technically makes it fair to all players since they all have access to these items.

Yet, that doesn't exactly make the game really fair. It is much easier to pay for the items than waiting for them to drop. Besides, you can't predict which items are going to drop. How long do you have to wait for the item you want to drop?


Team Fortress 2's community is kind of divided in this matter. Most consider that the game isn't P2W since you can obtain the items through the drop system, but some think that this isn't enough. So, it is a question of how you see the matter.

Particularly, I believe that TF2 tries to make it fair to all players, yet obviously, those who can pay do have a minor advantage over players that can't buy unique items. However, it doesn't determine a match's destiny in most cases. Skill, training, and communication between teammates are still the factors that are essential for winning in TF2.

Why Team Fortress 2 Isn't Free Anymore?

For those who don't remember, Team Fortress 2 was completely free to play from 2011 till 2020. It was one of the most downloaded games in the Steam store, and a big part of its community came from that period.

Mann Co. Store existed, but the only items you could buy were cosmetical items, such as weapons, skins, and clothing, like the famous hats.


However, Team Fortress 2 was four years old in 2011. Before the Über Update – the one responsible for making the game accessible -, players needed to pay to play TF2. It wouldn't be fair that those who paid for it wouldn't have any benefit once the game became free, right?

Concerned with it, Valve (the company responsible for TF2) created two types of accounts: the free and the premium accounts.


The free account type is the one that every player that downloaded TF2 after the Über Updated received. Those with it had less capability to store items in their backpack, trade, and craft. Their backpack had only 50 slots, and some cosmetic crafting blueprints weren't available to them. These players can only trade away items that were traded to them, and the item drop system will only drop standard items.


These limitations may seem big, but all of them are cosmetical. They don't affect the gameplay at all. So, gamers with free accounts can play as well as those with premium accounts. You can even craft unusual items.

Talking about it, the premium account type allows players to do basically everything. Formerly, they would be able to play Team Fortress 2 Beta. However, this feature was removed in 2013.


In the June 16, 2020 Patch, newly-created TF2 were restricted from sending text messages on official servers, only being allowed to send messages to their party. A new patch prohibited these players from communicating in the voice chat less than a month after this update. These limitations also exist for those with Limited User Accounts on Steam.

Luckily, it is pretty easy to have a premium account in Team Fortress 2 nowadays, are there are ways to get it for free. Check out the article we have on it.

What is the Item Drop System in Team Fortress 2?


The item drop system, known by the game's community simply as "drops", is the process of item distribution in which a random item is given to players regularly until the player reaches their weekly-time cap.


It was introduced in the Sniper vs. Spy Update released on May 21, 2009 Patch. This system allows games to earn items fairly based on the time they spend playing Team Fortress 2. To avoid idling – the act of not interacting in the game but still being in the server -, in 2010, an update obliged players to accept the item before allowing them to earn the next item.

Did Team Fortress 2 Start as a Free Game?


No, Team Fortress 2 was paid at the start. Anyone who wanted to play it before the Über Update in 2011 needed to pay something around $15 to $30. However, after the update, the game became free to play, so anyone who wanted could play it by downloading it on Steam.

You might also want to learn how to get free TF2 items, which are the best Team Fortress 2 gambling sites, and check our list of the best Team Fortress 2 server hosting providers.

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