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Overwatch is still king of Tumblr, but self-generated fandom rules the rest

Overwatch is still king of Tumblr, but self-generated fandom rules the rest


Its runner-up is a dark horse

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On gaming Tumblr, Overwatch rules. Blizzard has built a deep and compelling backstory for its team-based multiplayer shooter through animated shorts, comics, and character bios; even if you’ve never played a single match, you can still immerse yourself in a world teeming with fan art and fan fiction.

Every year, Tumblr analyzes tens of thousands of lines of data — posts, tags, searches, reblogs — to rank and reveal its top trends of the year. In 2018’s gaming category, that ranking looks slightly different than usual: in addition to the larger list for video games, this year’s roundup also includes one for mobile, to better account for fandoms around titles like Overwatch, Undertale, or Life Is Strange, vs. mobile hits like Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Fire Emblem Heroes, or Pokémon Go.

But the top 10 gaming list itself includes a few big surprises, beginning with Quantic Dream’s Detroit: Become Human snagging the top 2 spot.

Detroit: Become Human launched in May to mixed reviews. It wobbles between a story that desperately wants to say something important, including comparing the existence of androids to slavery, but often does so in a way that’s clumsy, confusing, or downright offensive. It’s a bit head-scratching that it’s inspired such devotion on Tumblr, until you consider the nature of the community. Earlier this year, Kotaku’s Gita Jackson wrote about how Detroit’s most die-hard fans actually hate the game itself.

“These fans seem to want to expand upon the text not because they think it’s good, but because they think it’s bad,” Jackson wrote. “By emphasizing the small interactions they love in Become Human, these fans are adding more nuance to a game that they believe needs some.” 

Amanda Brennan, Tumblr senior content insights manager and meme librarian, says that indeed, fans aren’t showing up because it’s the best game. “People are very appreciative of the characters and the story of the people in the game,” she says. The community has developed largely around what they having developed: their own fan canon and the shipping of specific relationships, Tumblr’s favorite activity.

Look no further than HankCon, a ship between android protagonist Connor and his human partner Hank. “People are kind of ripping the characters away and taking them and making fan art and fan fiction,” Brennan says. “That is what drives people to the game, not necessarily the playthrough.” Fans look past the game’s poor dialogue or its clunkiest moments and tell their own stories.

“I would just like to caveat that we don’t account for sentiment in this,” Brennan adds, speaking about Tumblr’s rankings. “It’s just pure volume. We’re not saying whether things are good or bad on the list.”

Tumblr’s full list extends to its top 30 games (excluding mobile rankings), with many familiar names like Kingdom Hearts, Persona 5, or League of Legends. Brennan says that Deltarune, Undertale’s surprise spinoff, was her personal surprise of the year. When the game launched in October, she says, “we were all like oh my god, this is going to break Tumblr.” Fans’ love of Undertale makes its success a logical outcome, but to see a game break into the top 10 so quickly was still impressive.

But perhaps the most shocking part of this list? Fortnite is dead last. Despite its breakout popularity this year, Brennan says it just doesn’t have a large community on Tumblr. “I see a lot of parallels [to Overwatch],” she says. “There’s the opportunity for it — it just hasn’t clicked with our community yet.” Maybe it’s time for Fortnite to find its own great love story.