For people like me, it’s difficult to look at the vast history of the game and consider it one cohesive whole - the scene has changed greatly since its humble beginnings. As a result, I naturally try to separate it out into distinct eras. Given that I’m a relative newcomer, I can’t claim to know everything about the past, but I feel like I have enough of an understanding to identify the era-defining events of the scene.
Of course, the game’s release begins the first era, which for lack of a better name I will call the Early Era. Within this era you have the initial growth of the scene, wherein new formats are created and discarded, leagues rise and fall, and the game grows and gradually settles into an established rhythm. Many significant events happened during this era, certainly, but not any that I would really consider to define the era. At the end of that era, the game was pretty well divided into regional scenes, with the main areas being North America and Europe. While all of the scenes were in contact (given that the game was over the Internet), they did not have any significant interactions.
That all changed when (as the announcer might say) “three years ago, a tradition began that changed the face of competitive Team Fortress - Insomnia, a tournament summoning the finest TF2 teams from across the globe.” This began a new era, which I call the International Community Era, in which the community collaborated across oceans. It has been highlighted by the annual Insomnia summer TF2 tournament, each of which has featured multiple international teams crowdfunded by the community to attend and has attained the status as the unofficial world championship of the year. Other notable landmarks include the establishment of teamfortress.tv, which has grown into an international organization working to support competitive play, and events like Tip of the Hats, which attract a global audience and unite the community for great causes.
The recent announcement by Valve leads me to believe that a new era is forthcoming. If Valve expands beyond simple matchmaking to even more directly support competitive, especially by funding tournaments, it will begin the third major era of competitive history - the Valve Era. The era will be defined by this Valve involvement, most certainly greater than the token support given to competitive in the past - with the result hopefully being the game defying all expectations and growing to unexpected new heights. Of course, it’s too early to tell whether such possibilities are even within the game’s capacity, but the reappearance of Valve after a long period of time has reignited hope once again. All we can do is wait and see what the future brings.