To get a full understanding of my criticism, it’s important to understand what the underlying problem is, and to get to that we need to take a step back and a quick detour. This is all important for later.
Major social media sites have a moderation problem. It’s simply unscalable to moderate the billions of users who use their sites. This leads to massive backlogs of reports and people getting away with abuse.
There’s a little distributed social media network called the Fediverse. It’s like E-mail, but for social media. The details aren’t too important, but there’s one component that is. Anyone can start their own site, and join the network. This means that the ratio of moderator to user is smaller than sites like Facebook. This leads to less abuse overall and more effective moderation. Often times the people moderating the site are also the users. This creates a far more healthy relationship between owners and their users.
Before Valve abandoned the game, before all your favourite TF2 YouTubers got burnt out, there was a feature called QuickPlay. Instead of queueing up for an offical Valve server it would connect you to a curated community server (or sometimes Valve’s own that ran alongside the community ones.) Not only did this make the playing field between community servers and Valve more fair, but also spread the burden of dealing with bad actors amongst more people. At the time you could do ad-hoc connections to these servers, which lead to server-oriented communities and regularing becoming common. Often times people stuck to one or two servers. You’d see a lot of familiar faces whenever you joined your regulared server. When you hear about people who became friends from TF2, it’s often from this era because it encouraged interaction outside of the game.
It wasn’t perfect. Valve had some strict rules on who got to be a part of QuickPlay, which cornered some admins in terms of the kinds of things they could do with their server (such as random crits being forced on.)
In 2016, Meet Your Match was released, which abandoned the QuickPlay feature for matchmaking on mostly unmoderated Valve servers. Valve disabled ad-hoc connections on their servers, and shoved community servers into its own category with a clunky and difficult to use browser. This lead to a dark age for community servers, many disappearing. This was very controversial at the time but eventually players stopped caring.
After Meet Your Match there was a year of silence from Valve that was broken with Jungle Inferno. After this update Valve neglected the game, and to this day continues to do so outside of the occasional bug fix or mostly automated seasonal events.
Players begrudgingly continued to play. The game worked, and it didn’t stop being fun (at least for many.) That was until 2020. A wave of automated bots flooded TF2 servers. At first it was managable, just kick the one or two bots that joined. Over time it would get worse and worse. They would start filling entire servers, bypassing votekicks, starting fake votes, and stealing usernames. These bots would starting spamming hateful messages. The media caught a wind of this, and reported on it. Only after the media reported the problem did Valve address it. They muted certain accounts, most notably free-to-play users. This made the game unfun for a large portion of the audience, pretty much ruining the game. Communication is crucial in a game like TF2.
A TF2 YouTuber spread misinformation about sprays, explaining how they’re cached and stored in a folder, urging people to disable it because people were spraying child pornography. The community panicked, many avoiding playing the game. In response to the misinformation Valve disabled sprays by default, likely because it could have meant yet another major controversy about the game. Of course, though, they left in a profitable item that lets you do practically the same thing.
For years Valve gave little hope to the community. They remained silent, outside of an occasional grumble, never implementing a proper solution. The game became unplayable via matchmaking. Community servers started rising to the occasion, with some even picking up where Valve left off and adding new weapons, cosmetics, and more. Community servers became the only reasonable way to play TF2.
A YouTuber, who vowed to never involve themself with the community or make videos about TF2, made a video about TF2 trying to help the community. They proposed spamming Valve’s emails, and spamming Twitter with the hashtag “#SaveTF2” in an effort to get the situation trending. The idea was to do what TF2 players had been doing for years, but more loudly: begging Valve to fix things.
Many eCelebrities began to also weigh in, all with nearly identical posts criticising Valve for failing to make their game playable. This also seemed to be the consensus among people in the movement. Just go on the hashtag and you can see people advocating for Valve to save the game.
Valve released a statement on the matter.
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.
It ultimately said nothing outside of a lie we’ve heard before. The community shouted and cheered, aside from a few skeptical people who wasn’t buying it.
missed point and opportunity
The fundamental problem with SaveTF2 is that it simply repeats history. Valve ignores problems. If they don’t, it’s because media or risk of controversy is pressuring them to, after which they release ineffective solutions that punish unprofitable players. The community continues to beg someone who doesn’t care.
There’s a common sentiment that matchmaking should work, and that we shouldn’t need to rely on the community servers. The reality is that the opposite is true. Valve took control away from the community, and abandoned the game right after. Valve has proven that it isn’t responsible enough to run their own servers. It’s simply more effective to distribute the responsibility amongst many community server admins. Anticheat is pointless if there’s a human admin in the server.
Instead of begging Valve expecting something different we should have used this opportunity to put power back into the community’s hands. Imagine if all the media and eCelebrities pointed to some existing solution or tried to get people on board to make solutions and bring people to them. In a very short amount of time we could have actually gotten somewhere.
Things like teamwork.tf’s QuickPlay isn’t perfect. It has some stupid requirements like Valve had back when the in-game QuickPlay was around. However, it would be lying to say that such a system isn’t far more functional than what Valve does now. With a few tweaks and some elbow grease this could replace matchmaking in its entirety.
If there’s one thing people should be begging for, it’s QuickPlay’s return. Even if Valve implements a solution do we know how long it will hold up? Will they follow up on patches or would we be at square one? QuickPlay is simply a more permanent and sustainable solution. Valve occasionally curating servers is something I could reasonable expect from them. It’s probably less effort than the seasonal events.
Don’t listen to Valve. Do something about it. Valve isn’t going to save you.