If you hop into a Team Fortress 2 match right now, there’s a good chance that you’ll be greeted by some very unwelcome guests: spam bots who overwhelm chat with everything from annoying troll-speak to full-on racism. Bots of various types have been giving players fits since early this year, but they took a turn into hard-R territory a few months ago. Despite this, Valve has failed to do or say anything in response to players’ repeated complaints.
The swarm of bots infesting Team Fortress 2 causes a multitude of problems. They join matches appearing like regular players, but then begin to employ game-breaking hacks, spam the chat until it becomes unusable, or any number of other undesirable behaviours. Chat spam, in particular, has become the calling card of a particularly pervasive bot type known as the “Myg0t.” It’s not hard to see why. Myg0t bots have taken to deluging in-game text chat with racial and homophobic slurs. Recently, they have started to include detailed messages saying that George Floyd deserved to die at the hands of a “supreme race,” among other similarly specific and execrable things.
Players across TF2‘s subreddit, Steam forums, Discords, and other communities are clamoring for Valve, which has largely (though not entirely) abandoned TF2 in favour of bigger games like Counter-Strike and Dota 2, to intervene. Posts about the spam bot problem are so common in these communities that some players have grown nearly as sick of them as they have the actual spam bots.
“There’s been more than enough time to even acknowledge this problem, and yet the TF2 team hasn’t seemed to even mention it on their blog or Twitter account,” a TF2 player named Andrew Van Antwerp told Kotaku in an email. “Meanwhile, Valve continues to profit daily off the tens of thousands of everyday players that spend money on the game’s microtransactions. It’s unprofessional of Valve to continue to profit off of this game while showing absolute apathy to the racism and hate speech actively being cast upon their player base.”
Kotaku reached out to Valve to find out what, if anything, it plans to do about the automated army gumming up TF2‘s gears with undiluted vileness, but the company has yet to reply.
In Valve’s absence, players have taken it upon themselves to manage the machine menace. The TF2 Hacker Police, a community with bases of operation on Reddit and Discord, try to combat bots in their own ways—partially by gearing up to literally combat them and their hack-enhanced abilities.
“We use TF2‘s wide array of unlocks to be as resistant to the instant headshots as possible,” WordpuzzleQ, a moderator on the TF2 Hacker Police subreddit, told Kotaku in a Reddit DM. “Second priority are high-DPS loadouts. We try to get the Steam accounts of the bots and report them, as that’s the most we can do.”
Another member of the Hacker Police, Hunterrocks77, told Kotaku that the group is going after bot users’ GitHub code repositories and trying to get those shut down, as well.
As for whether or not this approach is working, opinions vary. The Hacker Police seem optimistic and have taken to creating propaganda to encourage others to join their cause, but it’s hard to look at the current state of TF2 and see the Hacker Police as eventual victors in this war of attrition.
“The TF2 Hacker Police and many like them don’t honestly do that much,” a player who goes by the handle Potch told Kotaku in an email. “They use in-game weapons interactions like the Fists of Steel and Vaccinator to lower the possible effectiveness of the bots… Some of them even make their own friendly bots who attempt to recognise and start vote kicks on cheaters. These community created bots sometimes have funny names or positive ones like ‘Pro-LGBT.’ Their chat binds are a lot nicer, as you can imagine. Those are a lot more rare, though. I’ve never seen one, as opposed to the swarms upon swarms of provoking cheaters.”
Bot users have also taken to seeking vengeance against specific players who’ve crossed them. A player named Pazer, for example, created a tool that could automatically detect and kick bots from matches. In retaliation, bot users changed how bots worked to get around the tool and tried to drag Pazer’s name through the mud.
“The [bot] hosters obviously didn’t like it, so they named their bots after Pazer to humiliate him and ruin his reputation,” Hunterrocks77 told Kotaku in a Reddit DM.
Even the Myg0t bot’s name, apparently, is another prong in bot users’ passive-aggressive internet smear campaign. Myg0t is a longtime online community that, back in the day, played a role in the infamous pre-release leak of Half-Life 2. These days, it bills itself as “the harassment authority,” with members who band together to make other players rage by either using hacks or harassing them over voice and text chat. These tactics sometimes involve spammed deluges of sexist, racist, and homophobic jokes, deployed so as to make chat useless.
Despite employing suspiciously similar methods, current members of Myg0t claim that a single “rogue member”—not the whole group—is responsible for all the recent bot spam. This member, they say, got kicked out of the group and named his bots “Myg0t” to destroy whatever semblance of credibility the group had. If true, it appears to have worked, since Myg0t’s subreddit is overflowing with angry accusations from TF2 players. When contacted for more information about these allegations, members of Myg0t did not respond.
At this point, it seems like only Valve can set things right, but even after months of racist bot spam, the company hasn’t made a peep. This is all the more damning in light of the current cultural moment, in which companies, including Valve’s biggest rival Epic Games, have taken to speaking out in favour of Black Lives Matter and the protests that began in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police. Many of these gestures have come across as empty instances of “too little, too late,” but a few companies, Activision chief among them, have redoubled efforts to battle racism in their own games. Valve has neither said nor done anything in this regard.
Team Fortress 2 players are fed up.
“How could it not be [Valve’s] responsibility? You’d have me hard pressed to construct an argument for the opposite. Valve makes profit every single day from the Steam Market tax. Thousands of dollars pour into their pockets from people trading any possible tradeable item they can imagine,” said Potch. “Nearly 60 per cent of content that keeps people interested for literally years has been made by the community. Trading, competitive, etc. We host our own LANS with hundreds of volunteers. We price our own items like stocks… We have been living off love for as long as we can remember, and when we are finally countered with something we are totally helpless to, that is when we can no longer stay silent and fix it by ourselves like we always have.”