Ollie was asleep at three in the morning when the Discord app on his phone started blowing up. He panicked; many of his friends lived in different time zones, but they knew how late it was for him. The only reason they’d be frantically messaging him in the middle of the night is if something terrible happened. Bolting awake, he checked his messages.
“OLLIE, DREAM JUST GAVE YOU A SHOUTOUT ON TWITTER!”
“DREAM SHOUTED YOU OUT!”
A high school student and artist, Ollie spends much of his free time making fan art about his favorite Minecraft streamers. In one illustration, he shows his favorite creator, Dream, with a green-and-black hoodie, black nail polish on his fingers, and messy black hair — something Ollie had to invent since no one has ever seen Dream’s face. Dream, arguably the main character in his Minecraft universe, known as Dream SMP, has more than 2.7 million followers on Twitter and nearly 20 million subscribers on YouTube. So when Ollie saw Dream tell his followers to check out the art on his account, Ollie burst into tears. His own Twitter account went from around 8,000 followers to more than 13,000 followers in one night.
“In that moment, I felt so valued in the community.”
“In that moment, I felt so valued in the community,” Ollie told The Verge over Discord. “Not because of the numbers that were coming through with the shoutout, but because of how many people I realized were around me, supporting me, and being such amazing friends.”
Describing the story of Dream SMP to anyone not paying attention to every stream or YouTube upload can sound like a made-up language. Dream SMP (SMP stands for “survival multiplayer,” a type of Minecraft server) wascreated by a YouTuber who goes by Dream. Over the last 18 months, Dream has invited other Twitch streamers and YouTube personalities — including TommyInnit, Tubbo, GeorgeNotFound, Punz, and several more — to join in. Together, they get into hijinxes, stage lengthy feuds, and pal around for a combined audience of tens of millions of people. Dream went from 1 million to 15 million subscribers in one year alone. Some of it is scripted and planned out, driving a larger story, but many of the reactions and circumstances are totally improvised.
On the Dream SMP, there’s always something big brewing
Like a television show or cinematic universe, Dream SMP found its audience through a series of never-ending epic battles. The “Disc Saga” played out over countless hours, turning a game of capture the flag (essentially) into a dramatic tale of good versus evil, as Dream and TommyInnit fought for dominance of the server. Once Wilbur Soot, a 24-year-old YouTuber from Britain and one of the main Dream SMP writers, joined in, he set up L’Manberg and created a space for a specific batch of creators. This eventually led to an all-out battle for independence with Dream that enraptured YouTube’s Minecraft audience. On the Dream SMP, there’s always something big brewing, but it’s also the tiny, funny, and sweet moments that transform each streamer into a character worth rooting for — not unlike comic book heroes and villains.
The only thing more impressive than the elaborate world they’ve created is the fan base that’s sprung up around it. Dream SMP fanfiction writers dominate websites like Archive of Our Own, Dream SMP fan art can be found all over Tumblr and Twitter, and Dream SMP fan songs (including an entire in-the-works musical) get uploaded to YouTube. There is also a plethora of clip accounts that track Dream SMP stories for people who can’t tune in to each stream, full-blown fan-made animated episodes paying tribute to Dream SMP’s ongoing stories that air weekly on YouTube, and even a 24/7 news network devoted to tracking the universe’s story and hijinks. Dream SMP may exist on a tiny Minecraft server, but thanks to a fan network stretching across the globe, it’s become a worldwide phenomenon.
Being a member of the Dream SMP community can sometimes feel like a full-time job. For Evan, it’s practically become one. At 16, he juggles attending school and working on documentary-style videos for his channel, he told The Verge. Each video is designed to provide an entertaining and accurate summary of the various lore that comes out of Dream SMP storylines, and a growing audience tunes in. Evan has nearly 400,000 subscribers, and his Dream SMP videos collect millions of views. Those videos can take Evan more than a month to complete; his last video took more than 120 hours alone.
“Homework is essentially keeping me from working”
“I’m trying to balance videos and homework right now, but it’s weird because I find myself having to work on homework even when the videos make me significantly more money,” Evan told The Verge on a phone call one night. “Obviously, I’m not making anything from school — I wish we got paid to go to school — but it’s like homework is essentially keeping me from working.”
Since the Dream SMP lore is constantly growing, a big part of Evan’s job is trying to piece it all together for newcomers who find his videos, hoping to catch up. In one video, Evan tries to keep track of each time Tommy and Dream stole discs (think CD-ROMs with music on them) from each other and hid said discs far within the block earth that makes up a Minecraft server. Evan makes it easy to follow, hitting just the right dramatic notes as the story progresses, but he says the work can be exhausting.
As Evan describes it, trying to summarize Dream SMP plots in the simplest way possible is like “trying to explain a movie to someone who’s never seen a movie before.” Evan has also run into newfound challenges that make the job harder. When the Dream SMP creators started streaming more on Twitch, it became more difficult to track down videos to watch after the fact. He, too, has to rely on WikiGuides from devoted fans and popular clips on Reddit to figure out what video he should focus on next.
One of Ollie’s depictions of Dream.Illustration by Ollie / @vnzdnt
“The toughest parts to understand are what’s happening now,” Evan said. “Now, there will be points where there will be multiple streams happening at the exact same time, and both of them have really important stuff being added to the main story.”
With the Dream SMP creators posting fewer YouTube videos and documentarians like Evan taking additional time to get the videos just right, a need has developed for daily updates.
Sam, Claire, Kenzie, Mae, Alex, Lilja, and Boston make up a group of mostly teens who run DreamSMP Updates, a Twitter account dedicated to updating fans on “who’s live, who’s on each other’s streams, when the members release something, an explanation on the storyline for when people miss live streams,” and more. Basically, it’s a one-stop shop for anyone looking to find up-to-the-minute information about their favorite streamers or check in on the big things that happened on stream if they weren’t able to watch. Sam started it in December, asking friends she met through the community to help out with the project.
“We have a lot of responsibility”
The group told The Verge over a Discord chat that it takes some coordination, but they’ve gotten to the point over the last several months where everyone knows what their role is within the team. It’s a huge responsibility, one that every member takes on without asking for any kind of payment in return. People expect everything to be right 100 percent of the time, Claire said, adding, “We have a lot of responsibility to be the person that people need.”
Work is divided into sections (often grouped by platforms), and those can change day to day, Alex said. Someone handles keeping up with YouTube uploads, merchandise updates from each creator, ensuring the Twitch bot doesn’t flail when streamers go live, keeping fans updated with creator appearances in separate streamers, etc. Claire and Boston mostly handle tweeting explanations of what happened on the stream and how it pertains to ongoing lore. (“Puffy says she does believe Dream is wrong, that its good he’s in Prison, that he deserves the punishment,” one recent update reads.) Boston keeps an eye on what’s happening, tweeting updates when needed, while also jotting down live notes about every new lore development. It’s a complicated operation — one the team does because of their love for Dream SMP creators and the community in which they found one another as friends.
“One of my favorite things to do on the account is look at DMs and talk to people in DMs,” Kenzie said. “When I see people thanking us for the account, it makes me feel good that I’m helping people out and doing something for the community. That’s probably what motivates me to continue running the account.”
Even after the 30 or so Dream SMP members have signed off, fans keep expanding its world. Archive of Our Own, one of the biggest fanfiction sites, is home to nearly 106,000 works listed under Video Blogging RPF (fanfiction about real streamers and vloggers). The biggest fandom under that umbrella is Minecraft. Wattpad has just under 34,000 works listed under “Dream SMP,” and Tumblr is full of many more.
At one point, fans of the saga “Heat Waves,” one of the most viral Dream SMP fan stories, thought they crashed Archive of Our Own when rushing to read a new chapter. The site’s downtime was just a coincidence, but “Heat Waves” at the time was the “third most kudosed fic on the site,” an administrator told The Verge’s Adi Robertson. (Kudos are equivalent to a like on Facebook.) The story became so popular that the Glass Animals song “Heat Waves,” which inspired the name of the story, crept into the Hottest 100 tracks in Australia last year, partially thanks to the fanfiction.
The Dream SMP narrative isn’t fan service; it’s “collaborative storytelling”
What’s helped to propel that community is the way Dream SMP has incorporated it into the stories that actually play out on their server. During one arc, fans started using the phrase “welcome home, Theseus” in their art, essays, and songs, comparing Tommy to the Greek hero who was exiled. Eventually, the Dream SMP streamer Technoblade actually used the line. “I screamed so loudly I probably did permanent damage to the hearing of the brother sitting next to me,” as one fan, who goes by Teahound, wrote on Tumblr.
“I decided to write about how the Dream SMP is a brilliant example of how to do fan service properly,” Teahound continued. “But actually, what is happening on the SMP cannot be described as fanservice. It’s collaborative storytelling in it’s best form.”
The community wouldn’t continue to thrive if there wasn’t a plethora of fans celebrating and boosting people’s work.“Usually, big fandoms are kind of toxic in some aspects. But this community genuinely respects the content creators, and we all genuinely support each other,” Ali Tyler, a college student who has helped create an entire musical based on the Dream SMP, said in a phone interview with The Verge.
“When people do listen and are respectful, the community is at its best.”
Fan creations are mostly positive, but there are more controversial sectors where critics argue a line is crossed. Because the streamers are real people, the stories have faced criticism for sexual depictions of everyday people. “Heat Waves” focuses on Dream and GeorgeNotFound, two prominent members of the Dream SMP world, as they dance around their feelings for each other. In real life, they’re just good friends. But in fanfiction, they often become much more.
The majority of writers contributing to the Dream SMP fanfiction community “hate to see real people’s boundaries being crossed as well,” says Xetera, who writes real-person fiction within the Dream SMP universe. Newer writers “tend to ask for forgiveness rather than permission,” and that’s something the community tries to push back against.
“I believe people fight over boundaries more than trying to listen when creators speak,” Xetera said over Discord, noting that “when people do listen and are respectful, the community is at its best.”
At the center of all of these stories — the artists, writers, YouTube editors, and musical producers — is the community. Beyond the creators they watch, it’s the friends they make, feeling like they’re a part of this rapidly expanding and immersive moment in internet culture. It’s a world all their own, and they want to contribute their little section to the overarching narrative in any way that they can. For Ollie, the first artist that Dream ever gave a shoutout to on Twitter from his dedicated Dream fan art account and who wants to pay it forward by giving new artists their chance in the spotlight, that’s everything.
“If it weren’t for the community that we’ve built, the Dream SMP wouldn’t have the same charm that it does,” Ollie said. “And I think the creators know that, too.”