ANAHEIM, Calif. — Without as many mainstream Internet A-listers as in years past, VidCon, an annual social media conference for creators and their fans, seemed unusually quieter this year.
That is, unless you were at the Dream SMP panel on Thursday.
Two hours before the group, made up of Minecraft players, was due, shouts had already erupted from the crowded audience of around 2,000 fans. This does not include the 135,000 people who streamed the panel live from their homes.
“Honestly, there are a lot of people here,” said creator Jack Manifold, who moderated the panel. “I don’t know if it’s a fact, but everyone backstage told us it was, I think, the greatest show VidCon has ever had.”
Created by two friends who use Dream and GeorgeNotFound online, Dream SMP, played on Minecraft, “is famous for being a role-playing themed server with a mostly improvised plot and a long history of alliances, wars, of factions, eras and characters. ”, according to his Fan Wiki page. SMP stands for Survival Multiplayer, which is Minecraft’s default multiplayer mode. Every gamer broadcasts their point of view on Twitch, and many gamers have also found success streaming on their YouTube channels.
The VidCon panel – which the two Dream SMP founders skipped – marked the first time many gamers got to see the growth of the community in person since Dream SMP launched in early 2020. The popularity of the panel, to which participated mainly women, girls and non-binary people, also reported that Dream SMP has become more than a Minecraft storytelling medium or a streaming phenomenon. Its players and fans say Dream SMP has spawned a new subculture for girls in gaming.
“Seeing so many women who love Minecraft? Ten years ago it was completely different,” said Dream SMP player Hannah Rose, 22, who joined the server in early 2021 after Dream invited her. “I wish I had that when I was 12, 13, when I first got the game.”
Like Dream and GeorgeNotFound, Hannah Rose and several others within the Gamergroup do not release their real names to the public. In the gaming community, aliases are most often used instead of real names, as creators and fans prefer partial anonymity.
Many community members say that Dream SMP is the first Twitch gaming fandom to cater to this audience, which has given the community meaning beyond its popularity. But it also opened it up to closer scrutiny from outsiders.
“People are so hateful to the Dream SMP community sometimes,” Hannah Rose said. “They make a lot of jokes about having ‘girl fans’. Well, you have ‘boy fans’, what’s wrong with ‘girl fans’?”
Cultivate a diverse fan base
Minecraft, released in 2009, has become one of the best-selling games of all time. It’s a sandbox game, designed in the style of old 8-bit video games, where players can mine, fight, build, and do just about anything.
Although its players are mostly white males, the community is still considered more diverse than many of its counterparts in the gaming community. This is largely due to the huge female fanbase, many of whom look up to Hannah Rose and other gamers in the community.
For many in the community, including its players, Dream SMP is seen as the perfect medium for storytelling.
“Imagine ‘Dungeons and Dragons,’ but put it in Minecraft,” Kaegan, 20, a fan and VidCon panelist, said of Dream SMP.
Kaegan, who asked NBC not to release his last name for privacy reasons, traveled to Anaheim with two of their friends from the Dream SMP fandom. One was from the Bay Area, one from Las Vegas and another from Florida. They wore shiny wigs, face paint, animal ears, and homemade cosplay in the style of their favorite characters.
It is thanks to Kaegan and the thousands of other passionate fans that Dream SMP has seen its popularity skyrocket in just two years.
Dream, who has never revealed his identity online, now has 30 million YouTube subscribers on his personal channel. All players who have since joined Dream SMP have also seen their following soar.
Tubbo, real name Toby Smith, has 5 million followers on Twitch. Smith joined Dream SMP with his friend, Tom Simons, who has nearly 12 million YouTube subscribers as TommyInnit.
“It was kind of like the perfect storm, everyone being indoors with Covid, Twitch suddenly surged in popularity,” Smith, 18, said of Dream SMP’s surge in popularity. “It was a lot of blind luck if I’m being totally honest.”
Some fans have also turned to Dream SMP because they see themselves in players.
“It’s a place where LGBT people can find other people like them and just have a place to go, ‘I am that,'” said Eret, one of the Dream SMP players who participated in the panel, about their Twitch community. Eret, 23, identifies as bisexual and genderqueer. They use any pronoun.
I’m infinitely proud of everyone involved that we managed to cultivate something that was a completely untapped audience on Twitch.
-creator Jack Manifold
“Especially if you’re in a home that doesn’t accept you, having a place where you can go ‘I am this’ and get that weight off your chest is literally life changing.”
Manifold, 19, told the panel that he agrees that teenage girls make up a large part of the population.
“It’s sort of the demographics, which I think is wonderful, because I don’t think Twitch had that much of an audience before Dream SMP,” Manifold said. “I’m infinitely proud of everyone involved that we’ve been able to cultivate something that was a completely untapped audience on Twitch.”
“Unprepared” Dream SMP panel for such a passionate crowd
The VidCon gathering of Dream SMP fans was mostly celebratory. But the fandom, like many others emerging online, has had its own drama.
The Dream SMP community is known to be part of Cringe Culture, a fandom widely mocked online. There are a lot of “antis”, people who openly dislike the creators and their fans. Some of the creators have been subject to wider controversies beyond fandom, such as when Dream was stricken from the Minecraft leaderboards for using “unauthorized modification” in a record win.
Before the panel, some Dream SMP fans on Twitter created a list of rules of what not to do at the panel, many of which revolved around not acting.
Other fans created a panel bingo card, which lists weird things that might happen on the panel due to Dream SMP’s passionate fan base (like “security throws someone out”). One of the bingo list items – ‘the fire alarm is going’ – is said to have taken place at some point during the panel, with tweets that they heard about this and others joking to do it themselves. (NBC News did not witness this).
Some cautioned each other not to ask embarrassing or invasive questions about the “shipping” of male players during the panel. “Expedition” refers to when fans romantically associate characters or people in fictional relationships that can be the subject of fanart and fanfiction, both of which have been adopted into the Dream SMP fandom.
Players have enjoyed and even embraced some of the fandom creations, but shipping can get “awkward” because players are true friends. Their Dream SMP characters are a mix of their real-life personalities and drastically different fictional attributes, including villains.
Overall, Manifold said Dream SMP players who attended VidCon were “completely unprepared” for the size and passion of the crowd that awaited them.
“It really opened our eyes to the size of everything and what it meant to people, us playing Minecraft,” Manifold said. “I almost gushed, I was so emotional about it. Two years later to be able to see all these people, it’s just wonderful.
NBC News was a VidCon sponsor.