Team Fortress 2 is a game that holds a very special place in my heart.
I remember spending a lot of moments on this game after busy high school days – and later, college classes – and always having a ton of fun. With a vast community, a lot of different maps, and the fact that it’s absolutely free to play, TF2 had a lot of good stuff going for it.
As a Pyro, Demo, and Sniper guy, obliterating the RED or BLU competition was just extremely fun – and its accessibility made it very easy for friends to hop in.
However, when I booted up the game a whole lot of years later, I immediately noticed that something had happened to Team Fortress 2.
First of all, I was absolutely getting my ass kicked in online matches. A bit of ‘gamer rust’, you might say. That’ll definitely play a role, but I consider myself to be an above-average gamer and even when I peeped out in the open with my character (pyro, of course), it seemed like snipers were able to find and headshot me in a millisecond. Something just felt incredibly off. One peek at the list of players and I immediately got suspicious of a whole lot of different players on the opposing team. Was I even playing against humans?
I decided to mingle with the TF2 community and ask some questions in the chat. Unfortunately, my suspicion got confirmed. The Team Fortress 2 I knew was no more, and there have been numerous reports of bots, spammers, and cheaters. The whole gaming experience in Valve’s TF2 – once one of its most prominent titles – simply became a letdown.
But where did it actually all go wrong with Team Fortress 2? I’ve tried to explain what happened to TF2 below.
Here’s what happened to Team Fortress 2
First of all, it’s safe to say that Team Fortress 2 certainly isn’t dead. If we just take a quick glance at the number of players on Steam, we see that the COVID-period (2020 – 2021) saw a huge boost in peak concurrent players, but it’s not far off from the current peak number of players. In the first quarter of 2023, TF2 still manages to get a peak of around 120,000 players. In fact, you can often find TF2 near the Top 20 games list on Steam.
Here’s a statistics embed from Statista showing the peak concurrent players of TF2 from 2016 until now.
That’s not counting the players on PS3 or Xbox 360 (yes, Team Fortress 2 is that old), but the vast majority of gamers will be playing on PC because the console versions are no longer supported and well, old (heck, even ancient).
In other words, the player base isn’t a problem, as it is still very much active. Or is it?
Plague of the bots
In 2021 and 2022, there wasn’t only an influx of new or returning TF2 players because of COVID, but a whole lot of those gamers weren’t exactly real. They were bots.
Those automated snipers I mentioned in the beginning? Turns out that this was one of the most popular cheating methods in the game – making it practically impossible to win a match properly. As you can imagine, the whole thing was just incredibly frustrating, and it wasn’t just the snipers. Invisible players, limitless HP, instakill weapons – you name it.
Kicking back, and relaxing with a few games of hat-wearing team-based action, suddenly became impossible. And it didn’t just stop with the cheating and destroying fair play, some bots even shared malicious or downright illegal content.
For a while, it was even completely impossible to join a game, as the bots would auto-vote and autokick any human player who attempted to join.
Team Fortress 2 became a toxic wasteland.
You might wonder why there suddenly was an influx of these game-breaking bots. The answer might even surprise you because the game was actually stolen. In 2020, Valve stated that the source code for Team Fortress 2 (as well as that other hugely popular game, Counter-Strike Go) was stolen and leaked online. With anyone being able to download and inspect the source code, creating malicious software cheats and hacks for TF2 suddenly became a lot easier.
Valve seemingly didn’t care
I totally get that games can’t have everlasting support – it takes resources, manpower, and money. However, for a service-based game that was still extremely popular and one of Valve’s most unique titles, plenty of gamers were understandingly frustrated that the developer didn’t want to do anything about the bots situation on there. After all – Valve wasn’t exactly a small company anymore at that point.
With the source code leaked, this wasn’t just your average bug-fixing undertaking, and it would be completely understandable if Valve took some time to fix everything.
What people were most upset about, however, was the complete lack of communication from Valve’s side. Not a tweet (except the one where they mentioned players didn’t have to worry about the TF2 source code being leaked, which obviously didn’t hold much value anymore), not a blog post, not an e-mail, not an official announcement.
In the eyes of gamers, Valve simply didn’t care anymore about their Team Fortress 2 and it felt like they were abandoning the game altogether.
What certainly didn’t help was that at that point, it was over five years ago before the last TF2 update was pushed to gamers. Everybody knew that they couldn’t expect to see more content, but a complete lack of support was simply astonishing.
After more than two years, the TF2 community had enough
Some popular YouTubers who were big fans of Team Fortress 2 decided to ask their followers to come together and write an open letter to Valve. A #SaveTF2 movement quickly started and the idea was to try and get as many content creators on YouTube, Twitch, and Twitter to support the #SaveTF2 campaign and capture Valve’s attention.
Valve ignored this huge issue for over two years, but gamers finally had enough.
The community was unanimous and its mission was clear: return Team Fortress 2 to the great game it was before.
The #SaveTF2 hashtag on Twitter was a massive success and was trending worldwide in the first position. Over 400,000 tweets were made in an attempt to grab the game developer’s attention.
And the best part? It totally worked.
On May 27th, 2022, Valve tweeted the following:
TF2 community, we hear you! We love this game and know you do, too. We see how large this issue has become and are working to improve things.
— Team Fortress 2 (@TeamFortress) May 26, 2022
A few months later, Team Fortress 2 servers were temporarily taken offline. Luckily, it didn’t take long, because to server was back up and running within a few minutes.
The game was online again, and so was Valve’s anti-cheat system (VAC). A whole bunch of bots were completely banned and had no access anymore to the game. In other words, Team Fortress 2 was for the players again, and hopping into a casual game suddenly became possible again after two years.
Why Team Fortress 2 still isn’t fully fixed yet
Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely great that Valve responded to fan feedback (even though it was two years too late), but I can’t really say that the TF2 issues are one hundred percent fixed nowadays.
Jumping into a Team Fortress 2 game – one year after the supposed fixes – still doesn’t deliver a perfect gaming experience. In my experience, there were few human players in lobbies, some lobbies died instantly when I tried to join them (and there should be players enough), and the game just became unrealistically hard to play.
Some bots were still very much present – it’s simply a cat-and-mouse game between cheaters developing new tools and exploits, and Valve trying to fix them. And let’s be honest, Valve’s priorities don’t exactly lie with TF2.
A few in-game discussions with regular players confirmed my suspicions that the issues weren’t completely fixed yet, “although the state of the game is a lot better than before”.
Your mileage may vary of course, but I didn’t find my recent Team Fortress 2 game to be particularly satisfying or reminding of the golden era of TF2.
In any case, it’s a good thing that there’s a dedicated community around Team Fortress 2. If there’s one thing that previous events have shown, it’s that hope is not always completely lost.