Dream, in his private prison cell on his own server
  • The Dream SMP, a private server for "Minecraft" content creators, has exploded in popularity.
  • Hundreds of thousands of fans watch videos about lore and characters in the server's expanding universe.
  • Fan-run social media accounts catalog the lore, allowing fans to keep up with the content. 
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

"Minecraft" launched over a decade ago and the video game is as popular as ever. With over 126 million players worldwide, the voxel-based survival game drops adventurers into a world where they can craft, build, explore, destroy, and create to their heart's content. Aided by tools, blocks, and creativity, the simple sandbox world allows anyone on PC, console, or smartphone the chance to project their own feelings and creations directly into their virtual space.

"As long as you have the mind for it, you can really just do anything," 17-year-old "Minecraft" YouTuber Purpled, who has 700,000 subscribers, told Insider. "Because of how simple Minecraft is and how easy it is to build with it, you can create whatever you want."

In recent years, Microsoft's never-ending game has evolved into a tool for content creators to express themselves, leading to high-profile collaborations with some of YouTube's biggest personalities. By creating their own private "Minecraft" servers, creators have been able to craft ornate worlds and stories that they can explore in streams and videos, immersing fans in a cinematic-style universe. 

Minecraft has a long history on YouTube

"Minecraft's" versatility has made it an incredibly popular game for content creators and influencers. In 2012, a change in YouTube's algorithm promoting watch time over video clicks led to a renaissance of "Let's Players" who recorded themselves reacting and playing their favorite games. "Minecraft" was one of the most successful, spawning some of the largest channels of the time like SkyDoesMinecraft (11.3 million subscribers) and Tobuscus (6.25 million subs).

Though the popularity of "Minecraft" remained fairly steady, content about the title waned a bit over the next decade either due to content fatigue or newer titles like "Fortnite" taking the spotlight. 2020 flipped the title back into the forefront, with both streamers and YouTubers capitalizing on the title's popularity.  

The biggest breakout star for "Minecraft" in the past few years is Dream, an expert, faceless player with a neon-green avatar with over 17 million YouTube subscribers. YouTube labeled him the second overall content creator of the year and his streams consistently pull in a quarter of a million people. 

In May of 2020, Dream decided to create a small, private server for his friends to play around in. This SMP server, or "survival multiplayer," started off with only a handful of content creators being invited. Soon, the server would expand to over 30 members, bringing in millions of views from fans who chronicle every moment of the lore the creators eventually created. 

Viewership on Twitch of "Minecraft" content went from 17 million hours watched in January 2020 to 74 million in January of 2021, according to data from analytics company Rainmaker.gg.  

How the Dream SMP grew from a private server with friends to a cultural milestone

Purpled has been playing "Minecraft" for the past eight years and is a high-ranking player in a multiplayer game mode called "Bed Wars." He had started talking to Dream in the summer of 2019, when the pair were both small, mutual fans. 

"When the SMP was in its infancy, I just asked him if there was any room because he said how it's just for friends and if a friend wants to join, they can," Purpled said. "So I asked him, he said, 'Sure.' He sent me the IP and I was in."

The server was originally just a place to create and hangout, with no intention of creating an overarching story or plot. 

Fundy, a 19-year-old Dutch YouTuber with 2.7 million subscribers joined when only a handful of other creators were on."I had talked to Dream on a few occasions, out-of-the-blue Dream sent me a message about a survival world that they had going on. It was very small at first," Fundy said. "I thought it could be a fun little side-project I could stream every now and then on Twitch, so I decided to join."

Fundy joined in the early days alongside Wilbur Soot, a 23-year-old YouTuber with 3.8 million subscribers. Soot, after attempting to create an "illegal potion shop" on the server, decided to establish a nation of non-Americans players called L'Manberg. Soot said he wrote a "treatment" for how the formation of his country would go, creating an official canon that fans could follow along with. 

"I was invited into the Dream SMP near its inception but I only joined fully when I had an idea for building a country in 'Minecraft'," Soot said. "I write up a series of plot hooks and points that should tie together, however we improv dialogue and comedy throughout to take us from point to point." 

These streams and pieces of content all had a canon that could be followed and consumed like a television show. L'Manberg eventually started a war against Dream for its independence, staging a rebellion chronicled in YouTube videos with millions of views. 

These streams and videos aren't just randoms in "Minecraft" trying to defeat the end-game Ender Dragon - these are performers putting on a show that their fans can't miss. As the lore expanded, so did the rules needed to keep a sense of continuity and order. For example, each player only has three lives before they are removed and deleted from the server.

"It went from a casual survival game to a whole story-line filled with plots and twists," Fundy said. "Role-playing at this point is a key-feature of the Dream SMP, some parts are scripted, some parts are improv, and some parts are 'non-canon,' where it is just counted as a standard 'Minecraft' server."

The fan communities have risen up and made their voices heard

Over the next few months, the lore and world would continue to grow and so would the fan base. Hundreds of thousands of viewers would tune in for these streams, trying to keep up with the lore and content. To help catalog the story, a network of fans established themselves as lore keepers, documenting each moment for those that had to miss a stream.  

The "DREAMSMP UPDATES!" account on Twitter has established itself as one of the most popular locations to find all this content and lore on social media. Starting in December 2020, the account has grown to over 147,000 users with just a team of seven administrators, ages 14-17, in different locations around the world, posting updates and stream notifications for fans. "Minecraft" is a game that appeals to all ages, but the audience for this content tends to skew younger, with 41 percent of Twitch's user base being 16 to 24, according to GlobalWebIndex. 

"You can tell they're all friends and it's a lot more lighthearted in general and it shows," mod on the "DREAMSMP UPDATES!" Twitter account eclaire said over chat app Discord. "When it's not lore you see them actually having good chemistry and it really pulls you in because it almost feels like being pulled into a friend group."

User SamHQ first started the fan account with a couple of friends from high school but the group quickly expanded after the account tweeted that they needed more fans of certain streamers to join. She is online and runs the account "24/7" but "it's just like answering a text."

"When I started the account I knew lots of people who couldn't catch up because of work or school," SamHQ said. "So I gathered friends to help and now people rely on us when someone's streaming or to catch up with the lore when they can't watch."

For the fans that run the update account, keeping up with the Dream SMP isn't dissimilar to following the Marvel Cinematic Universe or a long-running television show. Characters come and go, but the improv and roleplay stay.

"The Dream SMP did something really special - taking an original idea, creating new things that have never been seen on 'Minecraft' and incorporating them with humor and characters that you can become easily attached with," mod NotAlex said. 

Though other SMP roleplay servers, like EarthSMP and SMPLive, have been created over the years, none have been as successful or popular as the Dream SMP. 

Finding a fan base on the Dream SMP can lead to major growth. 

For the performers on the server, addressing fans and their responses comes with the territory.

"The Dream SMP viewers are very important to the Dream SMP, and the fact that they openly speak their mind about how a certain stream went only helps the streamers improve," Fundy said. "It's basically an instant review of what was liked and what wasn't."

Like most major fandoms with a young audience, fanfiction of these streamers has popped up online. Dozens of Dream fics and drawings exist online, some going a bit far and putting underage characters together. Dream responded on Twitter to those "ships," writing that they shouldn't "ship creators that are uncomfortable with it, and especially not minors."

The Dream stans, or the super fans, also tend to be very vocal online about the SMP. Hashtags on Twitter like #dreamnotfound and #dreamfanart consistently break-through to the trending page, confusing those who have no idea this world exists. The most ferocious of stans sometimes overstep the boundary between polite disagreement and outright harassment. This vocal minority has sent death threats and waves of harassment at those who criticize or disagree with their favorite content creators.  

The growth and future of these channels is in large part due to the Dream SMP server 

The popularity of Dream SMP has helped grow the content creators that take part in it. Since joining the server, Purpled is gaining three times as many subscribers a month on YouTube and has been introduced to an entirely new fan base. His streams used to pull in 3,000 viewers but now his average is closer to 35,000 to 40,000 viewers. 

"Some people think of them as obsessive or stalker fans, but those are people that really like to talk about certain creators and really get invested in things," Purpled said. "And it's really nice because they care a lot more and connect more with the creator than the content."

These creators understand the power of the fan base and know that they come for the content. 

"I think the Dream SMP is popular thanks to the brilliant creators and funny improv moments," Soot said. "I think we'll be seeing the emergence of a huge wave of roleplay-centric gaming communities." 

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