September 2, 2021

#178 I Am Not a Bot

by Reply All

Background show artwork for Reply All

This week, Alex's favorite place on the Internet is in danger... thanks to a bunch of robot snipers.


This episode of Reply All is brought to you by childhood. Remember childhood? When you had less responsibility, and one of your responsibilities was just to like, run around and play? And now you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing, you know, driving to work or sitting at the laundromat or doing the dishes or whatever, and you’ll never have that childhood feeling again? Anyhow, here are the ads.


From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m Alex Goldman.

In 2010, I was in a particularly uncertain and anxious time in my life. I had just turned 30, and walked away from what would have probably been a pretty safe career in IT to take an unpaid internship at New York's public radio station, WNYC. I remember saying during my interview, “This is what I want to do for a living,” and the interviewer responding, “This is a very competitive field — don’t expect to find work at WNYC after this internship.” 

For me, being an intern was a nerve wracking line to walk between asserting myself enough to learn things and get to know people, and being quiet enough and thoughtful enough not to annoy them. I frequently ended up on the wrong side of that line. The first story I worked on, when I asked one of the producers for help, he ran his hand down his face in exhaustion and said something like, “I just need you… to figure it out.”


After work on particularly stressful days, I would leave the office and ride my bike in circles around Central Park, replaying every interaction that day in my head and wondering: Was that joke I made not funny? Was I loitering in conversations I wasn’t invited to? Would I ever get to make a story I felt passionate about? Would I ever get to make a story at all?

And then, when I had worn myself out, I’d ride home, eat dinner with Sarah. And after she went to bed, I’d shuffle into our tiny study and close the door, turn off the light, put on Gza’s Liquid Swords, turn on my gigantic desktop, and boot up the game Team Fortress 2.


I'd only just started playing Team Fortress 2 at this time, but I was already convinced that it was the best. Fortnite, Overwatch, Apex Legends — these games have tried to chase the magic of Team Fortress, but none of them can hold a candle to it. 

Team Fortress 2 — or TF2, as the fans call it — is hands down the greatest Free-to-play Multiplayer, Class-based First-Person Shooter ver.

And this is what it was like to play: I’d log on, and within seconds I’d be plunged into this stylized landscape unlike any of the other shooters I'd ever played. It was this cartoonish Looney Toons world. Southwestern, lots of rocks and dust. The palette was bright, and the sky was always blue.

You'd pick from this cast of nine characters, each with their own unique backstory. Like the Medic — this German mad scientist who liked to perform bizarre medical experiments. Or the Heavy — this gigantic bald Russian guy carrying a massive Gatling gun that looked like it would be impossible to lift.

Basically, the game had a sense of humor. And I loved it. After a day of overanalyzing the facial expressions my coworkers would give each other whenever I opened my mouth, I'd come home and the only job I had to worry about was how to defend the fortress from the opposing team. And I was good at it.

I felt like I excelled in this world. I could be the Pyro for a few hours, a maniacal pyromaniac with a gas mask and a flame thrower. I could jump off a cliff, pull out my shotgun, spin 180 degrees to shoot a player trying to take me out with a rocket launcher, and still land on my feet and continue playing.

I never stopped playing this game. In 2011, I was run over by a car, and I spent months laid up in bed… and every day, to escape the boredom and pain, I would play as the Spy, a French secret agent with a 3 piece suit and a balaclava. In 2014, in the terrifying first months of Reply All, when we were all working 15 hour days and my wife was about to give birth to our son, I would decompress late at night by playing as the Demoman, a Scottish explosives expert with an eyepatch and a drinking problem.

TF2 felt like a place where I was safe from the uncontrollable chaos of life — because it was a world I had completely mastered. Like, yeah, I would die a lot, but that’s part of the joy of the game… and if you were as good as I was, you got a lot more kills than deaths.

And then, around 2018, 8 years after I started playing TF2, I logged on one day and saw a user named “I am not a bot.”

 And the moment that I left the spawn, which is like, the moment that I started playing the game — it shot me in the head.

So I left spawn again, and “I am not a bot” shot me in the head immediately, again. 


Whoever was doing this had to be cheating. And the cheat they were using was making it impossible to play. So I started reading a TF2 message board and what I find out is… this person, “I am not a bot”? Well, they’re a bot. Some kid probably wrote a program that allows them to automate hacking TF2, so they just get to sit there watching while all of our heads got blown off, a few seconds into each game.  

​​And I tried to appeal to them. I’d like, you know, I’d get in the text chat and I’d say, “Hey can you stop doing that, why are you doing that, why would you hack this game, you are not getting anything out of it.” Of course, no one would ever answer me. 

And this problem just got worse and worse. It got so bad that TF2 players started referring to it as the Bot Crisis. Even though TF2 remains so popular that it’s still on Steam’s list of top ten most played games, the game’s developer, this company called Valve, they don’t seem to be doing anything about it. It’s only become harder and harder to find servers to play on that are not full of bots.

ALEX: How are you feeling? You, you excited to play some Team Fortress? 

I showed my producer on this story, Jessica Yung, what it’s like to try and play TF2 now.  

JESSICA: Okay, I'm ready. I'm readyyy. 

ALEX: All right. Well, plug in and boot up. 

I joined a game and immediately boom — shot in the head. 

ALEX: So see all these — see these — see these guys? I just got auto killed by a sniper, uh, by a sniper bot. 

JESSICA: Oh my God. I couldn't even see you get killed. That was so fast. 

ALEX: Yeah, these are all bots. And I just got killed by a bunch of bots.

JESSICA: You know what’s weird? It just feels like they’re fucking with you. How do you feel about that?

ALEX: Fucking furious!! It’s so annoying because it’s like, it’s like— you know, you play a game strategically and you’re like alright i’m going to get set up in a good spot… and then without even seeing them, suddenly your head disappears.

ALEX: Do you see how the — do you see how I'm, like, looking right now at the game? And there are guys standing there and they're kind of, they're kind of —  

JESSICA: Twitching? 

ALEX: Jerking around. 

JESSICA: Oh my God, so scary. It's like a David Lynch movie. 

ALEX: Those are all bots.

JESSICA: I see. 

ALEX: And. Then— I just got killed again by a bot. You can’t even see them. They take you out right away.

JESSICA: Holy shit. 

ALEX: And more bots keep coming on this server. 

JESSICA: Holy shit. 

ALEX: Look at how many there are now. There's one, two, three —  

JESSICA: One, two —  

ALEX: — eleven. Eleven bots on the server right now. 

JESSICA: Jesus... 


JILGAMESH: I noticed it getting really bad, um, at the start of COVID. Like, I know it was a problem before then, but it seemed to get exponentially worse during COVID. The bots have been, like, insufferable.

That's Jilgamesh, she's a TF2 Twitch streamer.

ALEX: How, how bad would you say it is right now?

JILGAMESH: Um, borderline unplayable. I just—I don’t know what kind of sick pleasure people get out of that, but… like, you’re— you gotta be a special level of degenerate to... you know, host bots.

This is exactly how I feel too. Like, these bots, I feel like they’re specifically designed so that their makers can just laugh at me. For example, the only way that you can really get rid of bots is through something called vote kicking, where you have to convince a majority of the randos playing on the server with you to vote out a bot.

But it started to feel like the hackers saw us doing this, and started training the bots to work around the vote. Like, one thing that the bots do now is change their name to the name of someone else on the server, so you might accidentally kick off a real human player by mistake. 

And then some bots, they- they call themselves Discomouse: not only do they cheat & headshot you, but they play obnoxious EDM relentlessly into the voice chat while they’re doing it.


ALEX: Can someone kick Discomouse, please?

It’s fucking annoying. And even die-hards like Jilgamesh, who make a living in part by streaming TF2 matches — they’re starting to wonder if they should play something else.

JILGAMESH: not this past Sunday, but the Sunday before when I went to stream, I legitimately could not find a match. I was playing for like, a half an hour, and I could not find an actual match. Like, I had to join a match, see that there were no people there, it was all bots, then leave… try to join another match, all bots, no people, have to leave. Um. It was so bad that I had to change my stream from playing, um, TF2 to playing Apex. 

In a world where something as beautiful as Team Fortress 2 actually exists, the very idea of having to go play APEX Legends instead is so offensive to me.

I've been playing video games a long time, and I've seen games die before. And here’s what can happen: for some reason or another, the player base abandons the game, but the servers stay on, and the landscape of that game becomes like the Wild West. You log in, there's nobody there. It's just an empty map with nothing to do except run in circles alone.

I’m afraid that’s what’s going to happen with TF2. I’m afraid that this vivid and bright world that I love to visit is going to become a living corpse, overrun by insufferable bots.

And I'm just wondering, like, is there anything that I, Alex Goldman, can do to stop this from happening? Is there a way that I can just keep playing TF2?


After the break… the hackers.


Welcome back to the show. 

So first of all, I wanted to know: who were these hackers, and could they be stopped? 

And fortunately, they aren’t that hard to get a hold of, because in addition to being really annoying in the game, they like to flex on legitimate players by spamming the text chat with links to their Discord where they hang out and trade tips on how to better run bots in TF2. So I followed one of the links to their chats, and I said “Hi, I’m a journalist, I want to learn more about how you control the bots, and why.” And I got a response— quote: “Banned, because FUCK YOU.”

So... I found another chat server, and again, I asked to interview one of the botters. And what I was told was “oh, you want Defcon. Defcon5.” 


Defcon was actually a name that I recognized from the game. Any time I log on, I‘m bound to see some bots with Defcon’s Youtube channel as their username on a server. 

And then a username, Defcon5, responded in the chat. Defcon said: “Hello I am Alex Goldman. I am made of gold. I however am no man. You stand before a god.”

Defcon agreed to talk, but on two conditions. They would only talk over chat, and they wouldn’t give me any identifying details.

So to turn this interview into audio, I’ve voiced my questions… and I also voiced Defcon’s answers. With a voice changer.

ALEX: Hey Defcon.


ALEX: My producer Damiano Marchetti is here too. So we're just gonna ask a couple questions, and see where it takes us.

DEFCON: Sounds good. Apologies if responses are a tad delayed.

ALEX: No worries.

I messaged with Defcon for a couple days. They said they were quite busy, with what they couldn’t say, so it would often take between, like, ten minutes and several hours for them to respond to a question. But when they did show up, they’d answer as if everything I was asking them was insanely dumb. 

The first thing I wanted to know was like, just how much of this problem was Defcon personally responsible for?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Okay, so casual servers right now are totally overrun with bots. And I'm curious, as someone who knows the bot ecosystem, what percentage of bots in the whole TF2 ecosystem do you think you and your friends are running?

DEFCON: couldn't say

ALEX GOLDMAN: I mean, would you say you're the majority, or a small number of them?

DEFCON: Majority in NA


DEFCON: North America


The North American servers are the ones that I play on. So I asked Defcon, like, when you’re running your cheats, what do you see? Are you seeing me flip out in the chat, or what?

DEFCON: We don't really watch the bots. Or at least I don't. We have scripts in place to handle startup, shutdown, and restarts for us, so we do not have to manage the bots whatsoever

ALEX GOLDMAN: [LAUGHING] What! If you don't watch them, then what’s the point of running them? Like, what do you get out of the exercise?

DEFCON: There are many reasons to run them. Most if not [all] casual players dislike bots (which is a reason to run them)

ALEX GOLDMAN: But I don't understand — do you look at some kind of log afterward to see how they did, or what happened in the games?

DEFCON: Nope. We don't really care too much about their score in the long run, We aren't very interested in those stats

ALEX GOLDMAN: I mean, as a person who has played this game for a decade, and still really likes to play the game, my fear is that the bots are going to basically cause the game to shut down. Is that the goal?

DEFCON: Not really. I don't really have an end goal in mind. Just to keep going as long as possible


I was starting to feel like a rat in someone's experiment… but the experiment seemed to mean a lot more to me than it did to them.

ALEX GOLDMAN: I’m so fascinated by this. There's something deeply philosophical about this. It's like "if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound." Except it's "if you're running bots and you're not even there to see their handiwork, what’s the point?" I still haven't quite figured out why you like to do this, or what the reason is to run them.

 DEFCON: As I tell everyone else, simply because I have the hardware capable of doing so. I can't provide a reason that would make anyone happy so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

After the interview, I called producer Damiano Marchetti to talk about it. 

DAMIANO: Hey there my guy.

ALEX: Oh my god, dude. Ugh… fuckin—

DAMIANO: [LAUGHS] So how you feeling?

GOLDMAN: I feel— like, I thought there was like this great ideological divide, and we were all furious on either side. And like, like, they believed they were doing something— like, they thought they were like impish elves that were causing trouble and like, gumming up the works. And—and— they set the bots going on a server, in perpetual motion, and they don’t even look at it! It’s fucking ridiculous.

DAMIANO: You’re literally fighting a windmill. [LAUGHING]

GOLDMAN: I’m glad you find it funny. I don’t.


Defcon did mention one thing that seemed kind of useful — which is that in order to actually run bots in TF2, the cheaters use a program called Cathook.

Cathook was designed by hackers specifically to help you cheat in TF2 — it allows you to do all kinds of things you’re not supposed to be able to. And so I started looking for coders that work on Cathook. And I was like, what kind of monster would spend their time doing something like that?

 RIAZO: Hi my name is Raizo and I’m a maintainer of Cathook.

It turns out that person is actually a very sweet kid from Germany who’s 16 (even though he sounds like he’s 35) and absolutely ADORES TF2.

RAIZO: I love that TF2 has such a high skill ceiling with every class, and that has like, many variety of game modes, like King of the Hill, uh, Capture the Flag, even though that’s a bad game mode. Or, you know, Attack and Defense, Payload. There’s so much, uh, you can, uh, play.

ALEX: So, uh, it’s safe to say you love this game?

RAIZO: I just like TF2 so much that there isn’t a game like it… there will never be such a great game like Team Fortress 2. 

Raizo, I was stunned to learn, has played this game a lot more than I have. 

RAIZO: Uh, I have— I think I accumulated, uh, 5,000 hours now [ALEX: Wow.] or around that. I’m not sure.

If you lined up all of Raizo’s TF2 playing end to end, that would mean that he’s played for 208 days straight.

In Raizo’s ideal world, he’d work for Valve — on TF2… but he can’t, he’s 16. So he’s become what’s called a Cathook “maintainer” — basically someone who continually updates the program’s code, keeps it running, implements other people’s changes — not because he wants to taunt middle-aged men like me on the internet, but because it allows him to get under the hood.

As Raizo explained it to me, Cathook gives you these godlike powers to change almost everything you see in the game. You can change the sky to be a picture of your face, you can change the perspective of the game from first person to third person. I honestly found it kind of stunning.

ALEX: I’m looking right now through the, through the feature list. It is hundreds of features long. It is crazy.

RAIZO: Yeah, it is quite long.

And it started to make a lot of sense to me why Raizo, who loves this game, would be so interested in maintaining and updating Cathook. 

But of course… Cathook is literally the engine that is powering the bots... which are killing the game.

But Raizo, he didn't really see this as an ethical dilemma. Like, he felt his hands were mostly clean.

RAIZO: I feel like, um... I’m personally not running bots because why would I discourage people from playing the game I love so much, you know? The, the game’s great. I mean, uh—

ALEX: Right. But you, you maintain the software that enables bots. Like, it’s just like, such a—an interesting contradiction to me, you know?

RAIZO: I think, the pretty sad part about, that Valve is not doing something about this.

ALEX: Wait a minute. You’re the person who helps create it. You’re sad that people—that Valve isn’t trying to stop it?

RAIZO: Yeah. I’m sad that this is possible.

ALEX: I guess I’m a little confused, because I don’t understand what you like about working on Cathook if you- if like, your ideal world is that it wouldn’t even exist.

RAIZO: Yeah. The problem here is, even without me, Cathook would still be alive. And, if I- if I work or contribute to the problem, I’m kind of, kinda saying like, Valve, do something. Like, just do something about this.


So what Raizo’s basically saying is that TF2 is an abandoned building with no one caring for it, and he and the other hackers are like mold growing in a damp corner of the living room. Doesn’t matter if you get rid of him, because he’s not really the problem. The problem is that the building’s been abandoned, and Valve wasn’t fixing the holes in the leaky roof.

But in the interest of full journalistic disclosure, I have to tell you something: I love Valve. Every game they’ve come out with is a masterpiece. They're like the HBO of game developers — you know, Half Life, Counterstrike, Portal, TF2 — all of them are revolutionary.

And as big game developers go, they always knew how to make TF2 fans happy. They made it feel like you were a part of something. Die-hards would design the TF2 weapons of their dreams, and Valve would actually look at them, and sometimes incorporate them into updates. They just had this personal touch. Like every Halloween, the developers would tenderly decorate the game, give you new game modes and all kinds of crazy stuff, just a little surprise update every year. 

And then somewhere along the way, Valve got more distant. They stopped saying what they were up to, they stopped with the creative updates. Us TF2 fans… this cone of silence fell over our world. 

But like… why?? 

So I wrote an email to Valve. And they were friendly — they told me they have a lot of love for the TF2 community — but they also declined to answer any of the questions I had for them.

JESSICA: As a— as a member of the press covering Valve, it's a little frustrating. Because, I mean, even if I send them a list of questions that are relevant to an important story, I'm likely not gonna get an answer.

That’s Jessica Conditt. She’s done a lot of reporting on Valve and TF2 for Engadget.

JESSICA: So Valve is a private company. And they have so much influence and power in the industry that they don't, they don't have to talk to press even. They don't have to try to make news. You know, Valve just is news. Valve is a black box, uh, and it's, it’s a weird one.

ALEX: if you had to wager a shot in the dark, why do you think no one is willing to talk?

JESSICA: Well, I think it's— so Valve has this structure at the company where there's like no hierarchy is the idea, right. So I think it's very easy for anyone at that company to just say, "That's not my problem." 

And Jessica says the structure of the company might explain a lot of the weird shit I don’t understand about Valve.

Let me explain. 


So, Valve is set up unlike any company I've ever heard of before: zero hierarchy, zero bosses, it’s totally flat. Like everybody is ostensibly a totally equal employee.

JESSICA: I've seen the handbook and then I've heard tales from people who have left Valve, right, where it’s a very flat structure where there are no leaders and you get to work on what you want to work on. You can experiment, you can collaborate if you want to...

This almost sounded made up to me. But I actually found the Valve handbook… you can find it online, Valve released it in like 2012.

And there's literally this infographic where they show you how to pop out the wheels of your desk to ditch whatever project you're not interested in and wheel over toward the project that just won you over. And Valve employees are encouraged to find their own assignments. Like, you could work on Steam, you could work on VR stuff, you could work on TF2.

And Jessica says, with Valve, of course, you never know for sure, but what that very well might mean is that TF2's fate is actually just up to how interested the engineers at Valve are in solving its problems. That no matter how beloved it is by its playerbase, TF2 just isn't shiny anymore.

JESSICA: TF2 is not using hot new technology, TF2 is not at the forefront of any, you know, major esports. So yeah, it's just... no one wants to work on it, so no one is. 

That’s her theory, and that’s the theory of a lot of the TF2 community too.


It's a weird feeling that one of my favorite places — this place that’s protected me from all of this sadness and pain — might not survive because of what... sounds like an office popularity contest. 

But Jessica and I, we're on the outside of this black box, like everyone else. And trying to decipher the things Valve does and says is really hard. 

Like, earlier this year, some TF2 fan leaked a low quality clip of Valve cofounder Gabe Newell doing a Q&A with some Catholic high school students in New Zealand. And in it, they ask, "is Valve planning any major updates for Team Fortress 2?" 


Gabe says, "Yes, we have updates planned for TF2."


And they ask, “Are you aware of the bot crisis?” and he says, “Yes we're very aware, and I think we have some good ideas.”

This set the TF2 community on fire — in extreme different directions, on one pole - hope, and on the other - jaded skepticism. 

For myself...I couldn't help but notice how, in that clip, he inhales slightly between the words "we have" and "updates" —


...even though he was actually asked about "major updates." 

To me, it feels like he's basically saying, nothing major is coming your way.

But who knows. Being a Team Fortress 2 fan can make you feel like you’re being strung along by someone who clearly doesn’t love you anymore… they show up every once in a while with a bottle of wine and some Little Debbie’s snack cakes, but in your heart, you know you should probably just move on.

JESSICA: Maybe there is Team Fortress Three right around the corner. Next week, we're going to have Team Fortress Three, launches on the steam deck, free for everyone, there’s an esports league… Maybe, maybe. This is, that’s Valve. Valve is the house of Maybe. They could do it, but I really don't think they will.


These days, I feel like I’ve moved out of denial and into something like acceptance. I called other players to see what I can do to sort of mitigate the bots’ presence— like, how do I just keep playing the game?

And people told me about all kinds of stuff. You know, anti-bot bots — bots that actually target the bots that are auto-aiming at my head — but they don't really seem to work. The only thing that I heard about that sort of kept you alive was a strategy where you could just look up the whole game, because then the arm of your character is blocking shots to your head, and the aimbots can't kill you in one hit. But when you’re doing that, you’re not even really playing… you’re just kinda walking in a circle, staring at the bright blue sky. 

That was the best case scenario I was offered.

Until…. I talked to Xerox.

XEROX: Uh, aka Xerox1million. And I’m a TF2 player. Um, I’ve been playing since, I guess, 2011.

ALEX: Oh wow.

XEROX: Which, uh… Yeah, that means it’s about a decade now, which is a bit scary.

I was drawn to Xerox because — unlike most of the people I talked to, who seemed ready to give up on the game entirely — he seemed pretty upbeat.

XEROX: I like to find a lot of zen in the game. I kinda, I kinda go for that whenever I can.

ALEX: Can you talk a little bit about this feeling of Zen in the game? Like, what does the— what does this game do for you emotionally? What does it mean to you?

XEROX: Well, I guess that ultimately, it’s actually a place for me to hang out with my friends. These are, these are close friends that I’ve had for years. And we hop on, and we just chat. And, uh, you know, I’m almost only half paying attention to the game. And we’ve all noticed this phenomenon, where we’re actually all best at the game when we’re distracted with the conversation, and when we’re actually just really relaxing and not focusing too hard, not really, uh, like, clenching too hard at the point and trying to, you know—

ALEX: [LAUGHING] This game’s like transcendental meditation for you.

XEROX: Yeah, yeah. A little bit. A little bit.

This could not be more different than my experience of the game. For me, I play in my room alone, quietly seething at these fucking bots. And for him, the game is almost just background to like, hanging out with his pals. 

But talking to Xerox, I realized playing with friends is more than just like, a fun diversion. It actually gives you a tactical advantage against the bots.

XEROX: If you play in a larger group, uh, you’ll only join up to servers that have a lot of slots free. A lot of the time, you’re joining a server that has another group of six or eight people on it. So you know that you’re getting a lot of, of humans in your lobby if you just have a party together already.

It also makes kicking the bots easier.

XEROX: There are six of us in a Discord lobby together. And uh, as soon as a bot joins, the first thing that we do is all, you know, coordinate and get it kicked. And we know there’s six votes to kick it right off the bat. Um...

ALEX: That’s a good point. That’s a good point.

XEROX: Yeah. Yeah. The bots don’t have, the bots don’t have party members, so they can’t, uh, they can’t group up and compete against you. They don’t have friends.

Neither do I. At least not in TF2. 

And then I started to think, like, maybe that would feel different… playing the game with friends.

ALEX: Who, who do you— who do you main? Who’s your preferred class?

XEROX: Oh, my gosh. These days, I’ve been a spy, mostly.

ALEX: How do you even play spy these days?

XEROX: Alex, it sounds like, it sounds like you play some TF2. 

ALEX: Uhh, yeah.

XEROX: What’s your main?

ALEX: For many years… I would say [FADES DOWN] almost a decade, I was a Demoknight. I would play as Demoknight almost [crosstalk].

XEROX: Oh yeah?

ALEX: Yeah.

XEROX: I’ve been playing some Demoknight lately. It’s a lot of fun.

Talking to Xerox... it was kind of the first time I felt like the game might still be playable for a while.


ALEX: I almost always play Hightower, ‘cause High Tower is just like…

XEROX: Oh yeah. What, what game mode is that? Why have I not heard of Hightower?

ALEX: Hightower’s the best map. Oh my God, it’s the best.

XEROX: I gotta try it out. Aw, man. That’s, that’s awesome. Do you play on Steam?

ALEX: Yeah.

XEROX: Yeah?

XEROX: You could add me if you want—

ALEX: Oh, let’s do it.

And then, Xerox invited me to play with his friends. 

ALEX: Email me. [LAUGHS]

XEROX: I’ll email you. I’ll email you. Yeah. We can hop on, I’ll probably be on later tonight.

I know this sounds ridiculous, but do you remember that scene in Titanic where the boat’s sinking? And there’s a shot where, rather than trying to escape, this elderly couple just lays down on their bed and spoons while the cabin fills with water?

I weirdly kept thinking of that scene. 

Like… I didn’t feel like I had some grand fix, or even an escape. But maybe there was a way to ride out and enjoy whatever time I had left with TF2. 



ALEX: Hey guys 

XEROX: Hey Alex

ALEX: Can you hear me?


XEROX: I can hear you.

ALEX: Oh my god there’s so many of you, this is exciting. I’ve never played with this many people before. 

At first it was kinda awkward—

ALEX: Gentlemen. [LAUGHS] start your, start your engines…


XEROX: Get ready. 

...coming into 5 friends who have known each other forever, and then... me.

XEROX: We are not good.

PLAYER ONE: Oh, we can take ‘em.

PLAYER TWO: [muffled]

But as the night went on we started talking about our lives, and about the game, and learning more about each other, and kicking bots. It was fun.

XEROX: Most of them are dead, we can push to win…

PLAYER ONE: Heavy’s back.

PLAYER TWO: Yeah yeah!

PLAYER THREE: Hey! Good work!

PLAYER FOUR: Well done.

[whistling, victory cheering]

I was Demoman. I wasn’t getting headshotted every 2 seconds. I was good again. It felt kind of like old times. 


This episode of Reply All was produced by Jessica Yung, Hannah Chinn, and me, Lisa Wang. It was edited by Tim Howard, with additional editing help from Damiano Marchetti. And, of course, it wouldn’t have happened without the rest of the Reply All team: Emmanuel Dzotsi, Phia Bennin, Anna Foley, and Noor Gill. 

We’re hosted by Alex Goldman and Emmanuel Dzotsi. This episode was mixed by Rick Kwan, with fact checking by Isabel Cristo. Music in this episode is by Luke Williams and Tim Howard, with additional music by Breakmaster Cylinder and Marianna Romano. 

Special thanks to Kalila Holt, Matt Haynie, Jason Schreier, Luis Garcia, The Great Milenko, z4K-97b, Gimble, and Funke. And thanks to all the other TF2 players and fans who wrote to us and sent us voice memos about the Bot Crisis.

Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you in a couple weeks.