Regardless of game mode, the Spy's job remains roughly the same. His primary goals are to assassinate high priority targets on the Enemy team, such as the Medic, Heavy, Sniper or Engineer. As well as this, the Spy is tasked with sapping the Engineer's building, thus allowing his team to push forward.
Due to the Spy's low health, and combined with his relative immobility, the Spy will usually have a low amount of kills, and will often times finish a match with a negative K/D. This is because, when backstabbing, he becomes visible to everyone, and the player who was just backstabbed will call out his position. Unless he can successfully cloak and escape, his death is almost certain at that point. In addition to this, the enemy Pyro will usually ignite the Spy, this revealing him to the rest of the team, making a stealthy escape impossible.
As the Spy is not seen as a major role of a team, he can often be used to 'run interference' with the enemy team by purposefully revealing himself in a poor situation, turning the focus of the enemy team to him to either allow his team to push forward uncontested, or draw a high priority target like a Heavy or a Medic out of position, leaving them open to focus fire. Because of his low priority status of the team, he can often spend vast amounts of time out of combat, relaying valuable information to his team, such as telling his Medic or Heavy where the Enemy Sniper is, allowing for a tactical advantage for his team.
In regards to information gathering, the Spy has the ability to see what weapons the enemy team have equipped by disguising as an enemy class and switching weapons. This is most commonly used to find out which Medi-gun the enemy Medic is using, and allows his team to adjust their positioning and loadouts accordingly.
Another trait of a Spy is his ability to cause confusion and panic within the enemy team, causing them to become more focused on finding or avoiding the Spy, and allowing the rest of the Spy's team to push onto them unaware. A common tactic is revealing himself in the distance for brief periods of time, ensuring that the enemy Sniper can see him. When the Sniper shoots at the Spy, it can allow the Combo to cross dangerous open ground with safety. Back stabbing a Heavy, then using The Dead Ringer to cloak and escape will cause the enemy Medic and the rest of the combo to switch focus from pushing or defending to discovering the Spy and taking him out. The constant looming threat of a Spy backstabbing them at any point can cause panic in players, making them move out of position and into danger, or make other mistakes that the other team can capitalize on.
One of the more advantageous elements of the Spy is the ability to disguise as an enemy Medic. This allows the Spy to see what the Medic's load-out is. This allows the Spy to call out what Medi-gun the enemy is running; be it the Kritzkrieg or the Stock Medi-gun. Also during lulls in the objective the Spy may also help push the cart or help capture the Control Point. Also one of the best ways a Spy maybe utilized is to uncloak as the friendly team is pushing into the final point on 5CPs maps as it will put some cap time on the point. In situations where the comms (of the enemy team) are very cluttered, the Spy is able to get valuable picks and make plays that wouldn't be available under different conditions.
While the Spy stands out in communication and tactical advantage potential, he is often utilized in helping out the flank with consistent damage output achieved by a more heavily usage of his primaries. Especially in higher divisions the gun playstyle is a pretty common one, since it is usually seen as a more reliable option than backstabbing. Also the sheer value of staying alive is considered as an important aspect by many players. Good decision making and an effective mix of consistency and picking potential are seen as one of the most valuable traits of a good Spy throughout the competitive scene.
At the current state of Highlander there are mainly two different playstyles which dominate the meta. Both styles are used between all divisions, with no clear playstyle being the best for each and every map or situation. The two different forms of playing Spy are called Gunspy and Knifespy. An example of a well-known Gunspy is toast who is playing for Strong Opinions. toast recently earned the Spy of the Season award as well as the Best Player of the Season in ETF2L Highlander Season 10. A spy who has been playing in the top divisions of ETF2L for a long period of time is Grenjabob, who is famous for his use of the Knifespy gameplay.
Defining the Gunspy role can be subjective depending on previous experience and usage of the Spy class. Different primary weapons can be used, based on what objective the Spy is trying to accomplish. Both the Revolver and the Ambassador are commonly used as primary weapons by players playing Gunspy. The Ambassador is frequently paired up together with the Dead Ringer, giving the Spy the ability to put out damage in the form of headshots behind enemy lines. The use of both weapons is a part of toast's signature loadout. An example of a common spot where the Gunspy can utilize his or hers loadout is on Badwater roof. If a Gunspy is on the defending team, and the attacking team is moving towards the third point, a Gunspy can sneak behind the enemies to get a safe spot on the roof to shoot from with the Ambassador. Some players value a Gunspy higher than a Knifespy, one reason being the amount of times a Knifespy dies in comparison to a Gunspy. Simply staying alive to provide intelligence on the enemy team can be of great value, especially on maps where sudden tactical changes can make a huge difference on the outcome of a match, one example being Steel.
The classic way of someone playing as Spy is today often labeled as a Knifespy. Different melee weapons may be used, two examples being the Spy-cicle and the standard Knife. All the invisibility watches are used in various ways, depending on map and situation. The Cloak and Dagger is often used as a way for the Spy to gather data on the enemy team. Where the combo is located as well as the enemy Engineer's sentry gun can be communicated to the rest of the team while the Spy is cloaked in invisibility. Using the Cloak and Dagger to gather data is by all means not restricted to a Knifespy, but one major difference between the two playstyles is the focus on using a melee weapon in close combat, instead of long-range attacks using the Ambassador. Altough knife spies primarily use a melee weapon, examples such as Grenjabob and Domaytoe have found great success using the Revolver on classes separated from the enemy combo. Killing a Sniper using the Razorback with a melee weapon is near impossible, making the use of either the Revolver, L'Etranger or Ambassador great options, depending on personal preference.