Team Fortress 2 launched before some of its players were even born, all the way back in October of 2007, but it hasn't stopped its developers, Valve, from updating the game consistently throughout the years.
While maintaining any player base for over 16 years is an impressive feat by itself, what's even more remarkable is that it just hit its record for most people playing concurrently at 253,997 people on July 13, 2023.
Currently, the game has anywhere from 160,000 to 180,000 gamers playing at any given time, making it the 6th most-played game on Steam, right under the highly popular Apex Legends.
Most of the recent success of Team Fortress 2 likely stems from the Summer 2023 update that dropped on July 12 and introduced a host of new content, including 14 new community-created maps, cosmetics, taunts, and more.
Another driving factor is likely the Summer Special Event, which includes the new maps and provides players with seasonal drops. As with other live-service games, creating this seasonal event model typically brings in more players who want to obtain special items, like the Summer 2023 Cosmetic Case and Summer 2023 War Paint Case.
Bots are definitely a problem
To see what all the hype was about, I hopped back into TF2 to see what it was like in 2023. Coming from someone with 1,500 hours in the game, I can say that a lot has changed, but the core gameplay that was so addictive back in the day has remained largely unchanged.
Sadly, in many of the matches I played, both teams almost instinctively started a vote-kick for bots at the start of the game. While it's anecdotal evidence at best, every casual game I played had at least three to five bots the team had to vote to ban.
Typically, bots linger around in the game to get loot drops without anyone actually having to play. Since TF2 implements a time-based drop system, many utilize bots for farming items in the game. Combine this with the fact that the game is free-to-play, and there aren't many deterrents to this sort of activity.
More prevalent in games where loot is the primary goal, like ARPGs or MMOs, botting is a problem that has afflicted titles in the past, such as World of Warcraft and, more recently, Lost Ark.
I’d like to say with pretty high confidence that if you hopped into a few casual matches, you’d probably have a similar experience. Just make sure you talk over your mic so that the team doesn’t kick you.
While this isn't concrete proof that the player-count numbers aren't as high as the official stats would indicate (I was mistaken for a bot in my first game), it is strong anecdotal evidence that perhaps the record-breaking player-count numbers may not all be human after all.
That being said, TF2 is still a blast, and there are a ton of new weapons, cosmetics, game modes, community maps, and more for returning players to explore. Regardless of the real player-count number, it's still a title worth revisiting or trying for the first time.
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