Fandoms are a great place to meet new people who have similar interests and share the same passions. However, fandoms are also a big source of internet arguments and hate. With the Witcher fandom growing exponentially in size as a result of the Netflix adaptation, it’s interesting to look back and see how much the fandom has changed, whether that be overall opinions on certain characters, or the race and gender distribution of those who consider themselves a part of the fanbase.
However, as a relatively new fan of the Witcher franchise, I haven’t been around for long enough to speak of my own experiences. So, in order to write an accurate and objective portrayal of the fandom pre-2020, I had to turn to a few reliable sources. Namely, our own Witcher expert Benjamin Rose, and reddit.
But like any good research project, before we start, we need our hypothesis: The Witcher fanbase has most likely become more diverse since the Netflix series dropped. As the Witcher games were far more popular than the books, the fanbase most likely consisted of a male gamer audience. However, the announcement of the Netflix series gave the Witcher franchise far more visibility and opened it up to a more diverse audience than just that of gamers. With a more diverse group of people being introduced to the multimedia series, the fandom consequently became more diverse.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at the facts.
At the end of 2015 (the year that Wild Hunt was released), the witcher subreddit had just over eighty-eight thousand members. As of today, there are nearly seven-hundred thousand more members than there were almost six years ago. With the upcoming release of season 2 and Nightmare of the Wolf, I have no doubt that this number will continue to grow.
However, the bigger a fandom is, the more monstrous it becomes. With so many adaptations and so many changes to the lore and characters across the books, video games, and Netflix series, it’s almost a given that fans of the different forms will have different opinions toward the different materials.
It’s no real surprise that each different form of Witcher media seems to have developed its own culture and community. Just like the hydra, a new head pops up with each new adaption that’s announced. Of course gamers liked Triss. Of course readers hated Triss. Of course a large portion of female Netflix fans see Jaskier as a more viable romantic option for Geralt than both Triss and Yennefer. It’s all about framing, and with each new adaptation, a new picture is painted.
All of these different cannons and lack of regard for other’s opinions is a breeding ground for pointless internet fights. While it’s almost always a positive to bring new people to enjoy a particular piece of media, having a bigger, more diverse fandom sometimes causes problems of its own. There have been multiple comparisons of The Witcher fanbase to that of Star Wars, in terms of its toxicity and infighting.
The main source of strife in the Witcher fanbase approaching the release of the Netflix series was an issue regarding race. Specifically, the anger was directed toward the possibility of Ciri being anything other than white. Fans complained about “forced-diversity” and rioted against the supposed exclusion of white actresses for the role of Ciri (despite the fact that this was never officially confirmed). They called this (supposed) casting choice racist and threw hate at both the director and the minority of fans who were okay with a BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethic) Ciri. There are legions of memes on the r/witcher subreddit from late 2018 about how this (alleged) casting of Ciri had ruined the series before it had even begun.
But that’s not all. Even before the shitshow that was Ciri’s (presumed) BAME casting, the fandom had its fair share of issues. Heated immaturity regarding Triss vs. Yennefer, unnecessary arguments about the books vs games and hate toward Andrzej Sapkowski are just a few of the issues that plagued the posts on the r/witcher subreddit. It isn’t hard to find lengthy Reddit and Twitter posts from formerly passionate and vocal fans saying their goodbyes as the toxicity in the fandom became too much for them to tolerate.
So was the fandom toxic before? Of course. Is it still toxic now? Of course. The words “fandom” and “toxicity” have become synonymous, due to fans who take their media far too seriously and the few bad apples that like to ruin things for the rest of us with uncalled-for hate.
But the difference between the toxicity of before and the toxicity of today is that prior to the Netflix series, the majority of the fans seemed to be in agreement, and the hate was more so directed outward than inward. Naturally there were those that disagreed, but their voices were far and few compared to the general consensus. We’re comparing a hive mind of bad beliefs to a diverse pool of people with different opinions.
So yes, with the rise of the Netflix series came the rise of a new, bigger, more diverse Witcher fanbase. Female fans, black fans, American fans, and fans of all other ethnic and racial minorities have grown in number and are bounds more visible in the fandom. I have no doubt that they existed before (although few in number), but were drowned out by the loud voices of white European men who don’t seem to understand that black people don’t just live in America and Africa, and that the Witcher drew from more sources than just Medieval Europe. But I digress.
Although reddit is not the end all be all when it comes to understanding the complicated dynamics of a fanbase, it’s a good place to start. Book and video game fans will continue to voice their frustrations of the new adaptations and fans of the show will most likely continue to not care.
A friendly word of advice: If you love a franchise, let the fandom go. If not, it just might ruin it for you.