December 21, 2018 Team Fortress 2’s latest player count record is a record, but it might not actually be a player count.
Team Fortress 2 just reached a new player count record in the wake of the game’s Christmas update. 122,938 accounts were logged in shortly after the update went live – that’s the biggest number in the game’s history, and the first time it’s been about 100,000 since all the way back in 2014. People may be excited about something – anything – coming to TF2, but sadly it looks like that player count jump may not be entirely genuine.
Smissmas 2018 launched yesterday and – as you can see via SteamDB – the player count rose precipitously immediately following that update. It’s close to the previous record (so close that Steam Charts actually reports it slightly lower), but the rise is so sudden that it seems pretty suspect.
We don’t know for sure what happened, but the popular speculation is that we can thank bots for this. Since TF2’s items have some value on the Steam market, it’s not unusual for bots to idle and grab items, and the return of the Giftapult means a new reason to do so here. Community-run trackers which report the number of people playing on servers routinely report significantly lower numbers that more general trackers. Last we checked post, 54,892 people were logged into TF2 via Steam. According to Teamwork.tf, only 14,278 people were actually playing.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had bots as a potential reason for a weird shift in TF2’s player count. Back in February, average players dropped by 15k in just a single month. This was around the time of Fortnite’s big rise, but it seemed that crackdown on idling bot accounts was the more likely reason for the shift – as succinctly described by a video from Valve News Network.
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So the TF2 player count continues to be a confounding thing for all involved. Regardless of bot inflation, there are plenty of people playing for Smissmas – just not significantly more than usual.