What you need to know
- Over a year since Valve pledged to "improve things" in response to fans of its beloved class-based shooter Team Fortress 2 beginning a #SaveTF2 movement on social media, the hashtag is once again trending.
- Valve has done little to shore up TF2's security against floods of bot accounts using hacks to ruin games on official servers.
- Earlier this week, TF2's item servers went down for nearly two days, preventing everyone from accessing weapons and cosmetics that they bought or obtained from random drops.
- Additionally, the community has been frustrated by the studio's continued refusal to revert a chat ban on free accounts, as well as its choice to not implement community-contributed bugfixes.
About a year and a half ago in May 2022, game developer and Steam creator Valve finally responded to pleas for help from Team Fortress 2's community after bots with in-game cheats flooded the beloved class-based shooter's servers for well over a year. This "Bot Crisis" had gotten so bad that the game was almost completely unplayable outside of community servers, but after the #SaveTF2 movement on social media caused enough of an uproar that Valve broke its radio silence, many were hopeful that things would finally be looking up.
"TF2 community, we hear you! We love this game and know you do, too," wrote the company on an official Team Fortress 2 account that hadn't been posted on since 2020 before then. "We see how large this issue has become and are working to improve things."
Well, it's now the dawn of 2024, and unfortunately, things haven't improved much. While hacker bots are generally encountered a bit less frequently than they were in 2021, they nevertheless remain a huge problem, particularly in TF2's North American servers. And frustrated by both this and a handful of other recent events and issues, the fanbase has once again gotten the #SaveTF2 hashtag trending.
As someone who's racked up nearly 4,500 playtime hours in TF2 since booting it up for the first time in 2010, it breaks my heart to see that my all-time favorite PvP game is still hamstrung by this issue. As I've written before, it has some of the richest gameplay depth I've ever seen in a shooter, but little-to-none of it can be enjoyed or engaged with when there are Sniper bots and cheating players that blow your head off the instant you leave spawn.
Thankfully, there are bastions of fair play run by the community, such as the popular Uncletopia servers maintained by TF2 YouTuber Uncle Dane. However, these aren't as plentiful as the game's official servers, and newer players won't know they're there or that they offer a cleaner experience.
To Valve's credit, the changes that came in 2022 did reduce the severity of the Bot Crisis quite a bit at first, and the game even got a few major updates last year for summer and Halloween that added new community-created maps, game modes, and more — the first new pieces of gameplay content since the 2017 Jungle Inferno patch. Still, though, the bot problem is far from taken care of, and it's not the only one that's led to the reemergence of #SaveTF2.
For one thing, a widely hated policy change that was made in 2020 remains in place. In a patch at the time, Valve restricted free-to-play Team Fortress 2 players from using text or voice chat on official servers, and doesn't even allow them to use voice commands to ask for a Medic or to call out a Spy. It's assumed this was done to combat the use of free accounts to chat spam, but this solution for that issue completely prevents new players from communicating with anyone unless they buy a microtransaction, creating an even bigger problem. The community universally detests these restrictions, but Valve hasn't budged on them at all despite the loud and clear feedback.
TF2's item servers also went down for the better part of two days earlier this week, preventing everyone from using weapons and cosmetics they either obtained from random drops or bought directly. While these briefly go offline for a few minutes every Tuesday during Steam's scheduled weekly maintenance, an outage this long is unprecedented, and it has many concerned that fewer and fewer resources are being allocated to keeping TF2 stable.
Then there's the fact that neither of last year's sizable summer and Halloween updates included the community-contributed fixes Valve said it was planning to ship with them. These would resolve lighting bugs affecting visual clarity, annoying HUD glitches, and more, but for an unknown reason, they haven't been added to the game.
Valve's recent DMCA takedown of Team Fortress 2: Source 2, a project from a team of fan developers aiming to port TF2 to the newer Source 2 engine through the Garry's Mod spiritual successor game s&box (pronounced "sandbox"), certainly didn't raise any spirits either. Now, to be fair, you can't really blame the company for blocking an effort to recreate one of its games 1:1 on a platform it doesn't control. But when you consider the wider context and the state TF2 is in right now, it's still not a great look.
Ultimately, while I am hopeful that Valve begins to do more to meaningfully beef up TF2's security and act on fan feedback, I don't have much faith in the studio. Its communication with the community remains almost nonexistent, and its response to the first #SaveTF2 push was minimal. Only time will tell if things are going to change this time around.
Despite the Bot Crisis, the other aforementioned issues, and the fact it's over 16 years old now, Team Fortress 2 still stands tall as one of the best free-to-play shooters available, as well as one of the best PC games. It's also one of the most popular, with a typical average of 70-120K players online at any given moment according to Steam Charts data.
Team Fortress 2 — Free on Steam (PC, Digital)
Team Fortress 2's amazing gameplay, charm, and community make it one of the best games ever made, even after 16 years. It's available now on Steam for free, as is all of the amazing community-created gameplay content added in last year's two major updates.
Get the Windows Central Newsletter
All the latest news, reviews, and guides for Windows and Xbox diehards.