Team Fortress 2's player count doubles after fan pressure sees Valve step in with a bot-demolishing banwave and a firm line on appeals: 'No'

 Smiling Heavy in TF2.
Credit: Valve

Team Fortress 2's bot problem is an ongoing drama in PC gaming land: the issue seemingly went into overdrive when developer Valve stepped back from major work on the game in 2017. To be clear, whatever some in the community may say Valve has never abandoned TF2, and continues to periodically release bug fixes and community-authored expansions for the 17-year-old game. But the bots… the bots have definitely gotten out of hand.

The issue seemed to become particularly acute around 2020, and led to various player campaigns before Valve even acknowledged there might be a bit of an issue. In recent years the community's kept up the pressure but things reached fever pitch this year with a renewed effort under the "FixTF2" hashtag that's been part internet petition, part awareness campaign, part review bombing, and all about pushing Valve into a response.

It seems to have finally got some results. Over the weekend a new FAQ page has appeared on Steam, and it's dedicated entirely to players banned from Team Fortress 2. It opens with the line, and you really have to imagine this delivered in the Heavy's voice, that "Team Fortress 2 game bans are permanent, non-negotiable, and are not removed by Steam Support."

It somehow gets even better from there. The behaviours Valve lists are cheating, manipulation, "botting and/or automation", and "interfering with the normal operation of game servers or other players", and then we get to the juice. The following is an excerpt from Valve's text:

Can you tell me why I was game banned? "No."

Can I appeal my game ban? "No."

I was not using my account when it was game banned. Can the ban be removed? "No."

Can I move my Team Fortress 2 items to a different account? "No."

Sappin' those sentries

The Spy from Team Fortress 2 holding a Saxxy award.
The Spy from Team Fortress 2 holding a Saxxy award.

Big words, but the appearance of this new page on Steam was accompanied by the kind of bot banwave that instantly had the fanbase reaching for the celebration gifs. The estimates based on SteamDB activity are that about 16,000 bots lurked among the humans until June 27 when, all of a sudden, that portion of the player population disappeared in an instant.

TF2 YouTuber Shounic, who's made several videos about the bot problem and #FixTF2 over the years, covered this banwave and, as an experienced bot-spotter that knows the times and places to find them, claimed it had become "impossible" to find bots immediately after the purge. They did later find one after 20 minutes of searching, which seemed to be just spinning on the spot and rather confused.

There are also some community-sourced claims that PC Gamer cannot verify. According to these, around 850 accounts were targeted, with roughly 250 receiving lifetime bans, just under 100 VAC bans, 131 community bans and four game bans. Bear in mind that one Steam account can be part of a network responsible for many more bots.

"I played 20 matches today," posts the X account Did TF2 Get Updated? "I checked in less popular regions, and not a single bot, and also the difference between the player count in the last week before the ban wave) and now is huge. If Valve continues doing this, TF2 could make a major comeback," which is a rather optimistic note to finish on.

What can you say though, the numbers are the numbers: on 27 June Team Fortress 2 had just over 60,000 players, per SteamDB (still an incredible number, it must be said). In the last 24 hours it's had around 145,000 players.

The TF2 community is absolutely revelling in the fact that, finally, something seems to be happening. The attention from big Gabe's proxies has offered an opportunity to call out known botters and hosts, and in particular the ones who make a show of bragging about it. This one that sometimes goes by "Toad" seems an especial target of opprobrium.

This being the TF2 community, there are also some excellent memes.

Judgement day

Money money money.
Money money money.

There should of course be some perspective. TF2's bot problem will no doubt persist, even if players are currently struggling to find them. Valve's obviously decided to get the hose out, but Valve is Valve and who knows whether this will be a significant and permanent improvement in the game's condition, or simply a temporary lull before the bots return with a vengeance.

But sometimes… sometimes you have to smell the flowers, and bask in the schadenfreude. Discussing a known botter's profile and waiting for the inevitable can be its own reward, after all.

"8 year old account," notes Redditor Fogoticus, discussing a known botter's profile. "Would be a shame if he got VAC banned."

Shortly afterwards Half-Life-Cat replies with the good news: "Fucker did get banned LMAO."

"Another endless W," writes Fogoticus, as they light a cigar, lie back, and think about the Scout's mother.