Team Fortress 2’s population apparently soared following a patch that took aim at the game’s bot infestation. The June 22 patch had some specific tools to deal with the non-playing spambots that were flooding the game with abusive chat and game-breaking bugs. Now server owners can block new players from immediately launching a votekick, and limit the number of name changes during a match (to mimic other players). The update was followed by a new peak of 151,253 people in-game, the largest number since December of 2020.
These specific tweaks won’t stop the bots in their tracks, but they do enable servers to give real players some space, and to let them deal with the disruptions more easily. But it’s not enough. The bots are horrendous, at their worst spamming white supremacist memes and links to images of child abuse. Last week’s patch was the first for 112 days, the longest amount of time the game has gone without an update (previously it was 80 days). Valve let this go on way too long, and have been enragingly silent about the issue. You can acknowledge a problem without feeding the trolls responsible for it. At a certain point the silence just makes the players feel abandoned. "Numerous security and stability improvements" isn't enough at this point.
The response shows you how much the players just wanted their game back. The population grew to record numbers, though with TF2’s crafting and loot boxes there’s a portion that aren’t on a server, and a number of listed players are still bots. But the bump is a clear response to the first patch in months, and though it brought several new community items to the game in a Summer 2021 Cosmetic Case, that's not what this patch was really about. It was about safety. Valve needs to keep on top of this. The bots makers won't simply give up. They'll keep at it, and Valve needs to do the same.