Late last month, more than 10.4 million subscribers to a YouTube channel received a notification that usually brought good news: Technoblade, an expert Minecraft player, had posted a new video.
For fans, each new video held the promise of Technoblade’s warm humor, whether he was winning a tournament or going on an inexplicable quest to produce more potatoes than anyone else in a Minecraft minigame.
But when fans clicked play on this latest video, called “so long nerds,” it was immediately obvious something was wrong. Instead of showing Minecraft gameplay, a man identifying himself as Technoblade’s father appeared. He announced that his son, whose first name was Alex, had died after being diagnosed with cancer.
The video has been viewed more than 72.9 million times since it was published on June 30 as the fans who used to look forward to Technoblade’s notifications try to process the death of someone they have known only through a screen.
Social media is flooded with fan art, tributes and links to grief resources. Memorials have been erected within Minecraft, including a digital book that had been signed by more than 377,000 people.
The grief has ricocheted offline, including into the home of Noelle, 13, and her sister Ilana, 11, who had recently told their aunt to name her baby Technoblade.
In a video call from their home near Toronto, Noelle said she learned that Alex had died on her last day of school.
“I was just a mess,” she said. “I was just sitting in my room crying. I didn’t know what to do.”
Ilana, who dressed up as Technoblade’s avatar, a pig in a crown, for Halloween, said, “I don’t like to bring up the topic when I am just sitting with others.”
They both started watching Alex’s videos in late 2020. They liked his lighthearted banter with other Minecraft players and how he would monologue about the absurdity of routine parts of life, like using, and losing, a box to carry soap to a communal shower in college.
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Alex spoke over screen recordings of himself playing Minecraft, the immensely popular video game developed by Mojang Studios in which players can create their own world piece by piece and compete against others online. The game developer was later bought by Microsoft.
The guided gameplay had garnered such a following that the company made a tribute to Technoblade on its launch page after he died. Mojang Studios said Technoblade “became synonymous with a source of good” in an emailed statement.
Among Technoblade’s most beloved game adventures was his whimsical quest to make more potatoes than anyone else in Minecraft, a feat first documented in The Great Potato War video, which had 35.8 million views.
In the video, Alex makes several references to Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” as he tries to topple the top potato producer at the time, a player who uses the moniker im_a_squid_kid. After Technoblade sees that his competition has created a rendering of the Mona Lisa in his Minecraft lair, he declares that im_a_squid_kid is not just “a potato madman, but a potato supervillain.”
Shielding an offline identity
In Alex’s videos, he talked about going to college (and dropping out to play Minecraft full time) and made occasional references to his family, but there was a clear boundary between Alex, the son and brother, and Technoblade. His family has sought to maintain that privacy since his death and declined to be interviewed.
Alex announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer in an August 2021 video threaded with jokes in which he also mentioned that he was 22 at the time. He did not specify what type of cancer he had, but his followers assumed that he had sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that is found in bone and soft tissues, because he created a fund-raiser for the Sarcoma Foundation of America on his YouTube page. He had raised more than $500,000 for the organization before the “so long nerds” video was published.
The foundation, which created a special donation page for Technoblade, said that an estimated 17,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with sarcoma in 2022, and more than 7,200 people will die from the disease.
After Alex died, his fans encouraged eligible people to donate blood to help cancer patients.
Riley, a 21-year-old in Connecticut, routinely donates blood in honor of a friend who died of sarcoma, and she made her most recent donation in Technoblade’s honor. She said his death was all the more difficult because of her earlier loss. “I was bawling like a baby for a couple hours,” she said. (Riley spoke on the condition that her last name not be used because she has faced online harassment.)
She has played Minecraft for about 10 years, but she did not discover Technoblade until the early days of the pandemic when she was working grueling shifts at a grocery store. “There was not a lot of joy in my life being an essential worker,” she said.
She liked Technoblade’s humor and introduced his videos to some of her co-workers, who were reminded of his famous potato war at work. “We were stocking potatoes one night and we just started laughing,” she said.
Technoblade inspired Riley to start broadcasting videos of herself playing video games, or streaming, under the name Notable_Crayon. It has been a great way to unwind, she said, but it has also shown her why someone as popular as Technoblade would protect his offline identity.
Occasionally people will figure out Riley’s full name and send her “creepy” messages, she said. She also has a friend who was the victim of swatting, false reports of crimes in progress intended to draw armed police to the victim’s home. Her friend was not hurt, but others have been harmed, with one man killed by the police and another dying of a heart attack.
In the “so long nerds” video, Alex’s father read a letter that he said his son wrote about eight hours before he died. In the letter, Alex acknowledged the consequences of sharing personal information online and revealed that he and a sibling had successfully convinced online fans that his first name was Dave by using the name in a 2016 video, which was later deleted.
Alex said the prank resulted in “thousands of creepy online dudes trying to get overly personal, going, ‘Oh hey, Dave, how’s it going?’”
Navigating the loss of an online friend
For some fans, the mystery of Alex’s identity has added a confusing layer to the muddle of grief.
Richard England, a vicar at Crofton Parish on the south coast of Britain, said that his teenagers were both devastated by Alex’s death and that they had a few conversations about how not knowing Technoblade’s offline identity affected their grieving.
“Through this new online, offline world we have, many of them will feel like they will know Technoblade and other members of those online communities better than they know kids in their own school,” Mr. England, 47, said. “They will have spent just as much time with them.”
In Canada, Noelle and Ilana’s mother, Janice, admitted she was skeptical at first about the idea that you could have fun watching videos of someone else playing video games. But she said the girls had educated her about the Minecraft world and its personalities, which she now appreciates.
Janice, 52, was well suited to handle her children’s grief about Technoblade because she said she previously worked with children in grief as a child life specialist, a role that helps children and families cope with stress they experience because of health problems, hospitalization and bereavement.
She said that adults tend to want to protect children from uncomfortable feelings, but that it was important to give them space to express, or not express, how they were feeling about Technoblade.
“If we help our children through grief when they experience it,” she said, “then they will be better able to cope with it when they are older and have other situations in their lives that would cause them to be grieving.”
In the video call with her daughters, Janice said her sister in Maryland had called after Technoblade died, because her son was also a big fan. The boy had decided to raise money for the sarcoma foundation, Janice said, prompting Ilana to turn toward her mother and ask: “Is there a way I can help him with that?”