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Brands To Watch
February 22, 2023
min read
Max Rochman

From board game to the online world - Dungeons & Dragons edition

Throughout the long quarantined year, our trend reports showed that many people turned to new hobbies and activities. There was a sudden spark of interest in making sourdough, “plantfluencer” and “booktuber” impressions began to increase, and suddenly everyone was looking up ‘home renovation’. 

Recently I’ve discovered another interesting trend that really took me by surprise, people playing Dungeons and Dragons. 

Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop role-playing game where players take on roles of adventurers and, as a “party”, fight enemies, solve puzzles, and explore fantasy worlds. The game is normally played in person, with players sitting around a large table, and one player acting as the “Dungeon Master,” narrating the game. 

In a COVID-concious world, where sitting around a table with friends is somewhat unusual, I was interested to see why the popularity of the game began to skyrocket. The graph below shows the first mention of D&D in 2006 to the frequency in mentions to date --there has clearly been a huge spike in popularity of the game.

Additionally, Dungeons and Dragons thrives on Youtube with almost 1.5 billion views, an average of 86k views per video, and an overall sentiment score of 98.24% -- indicating very strong support for these types of channels and content. 

From these graphs we see that the first peak of D&D interest started around the end of 2016 into 2017, with the biggest spike happening in 2020. I was interested to see what else happened around 2016-2017 that could have created this peak in interest into D&D. Using the ThoughtLeaders platform to search for D&D related terms, I discovered that the increase in D&D related terms correlated around the same time as the release of the hit TV show Stranger Things on Netflix. This graph shows Stranger Things interest from 2016-2017:

A big element of the show centers around children playing Dungeons and Dragons, so clearly the show sparked some interest in the game.

Moving into 2018, D&D content had continued popularity, with various creators making names for themselves based solely off of their D&D related content. Animators such as Puffin Forest, JoCat, and Zee Bashew, all began to post animated videos retelling stories from their Dungeons and Dragons games, or giving tips to prospective “Dungeon Masters” on how to play the game. This sudden boost of content and popularity also made room for Twitch streamers and podcasters, who would record their D&D sessions and broadcast them on the internet. 

Amount of content creators since 2018 who spoke about Dungeons and Dragons related content

Yet even before Stranger Things, an interest for D&D was brewing. One of the biggest channels in the D&D world, Geek & Sundry, began uploading content in 2012, with their most popular campaign, Critical Role, going up in June of 2015 . This channel featured “live” Dungeons and Dragons games, played by professional voice actors and recorded in a dungeon-themed studio. 

Graph shows Geek & Sundry mentions starting from their first videos to now. 

Critical Role was a major hit for Geek & Sundry, their first episode (which was 3 hours long) currently sits at almost 16 million views and in total they uploaded 141 episodes of Critical Role before ending their “first season.” Seeing the success of this type of content, the production team at Geek & Sundry created another Youtube channel dedicated to only Critical Role content.

Graph shows Critical Role mentions starting from 2018

They are currently one of the most well known D&D content creators featuring the likes of Stephen Colbert and Vin Diesel on their channel and averaging 356,000 views per video and 1.2 million subscribers. 

Other notable Dungeons and Dragons creators include, The McElroy Brothers Present: The Adventure Zone, Dimension 20, and Dungeons and Daddies

When the pandemic hit in 2020 and people began to use video-chatting apps like Zoom more frequently, D&D creators discovered that they were still able to produce similar content without physically sitting around a table. The previously mentioned creators used formats such as Twitch streaming, podcasts, and Youtube simulcasts to publish their content, keeping their same audience as well as bringing in new fans looking for something to do while stuck at home. There was a surge in popularity with apps such as Roll20 and D&D Beyond, which are virtual aids to help play the game. 

This graph shows the amount of ThoughtLeaders talking about Roll20 from 2018-2020:

Take note of the huge spike from Jan-April in 2020. With interest in D&D and other roleplaying type games increasing, many wanted to jump in and try it out for themselves. But the biggest issues with many of these games are...well..the rules. How do you play? How do you be a Dungeon Master? What do you need to play?

This in itself sparked another trend in D&D, which focused on teaching new players how to play and giving tips and tricks to prospective Dungeon Masters on how to play. 

The search shows mentions from Jan 2019 to now which includes the key words “How To Play” and “Dungeons and Dragons.” There has been a somewhat rocky climb since 2019, but mentions of “How to Play Dungeons and Dragons” has gone up nearly 4x.

Overall, what started off in 1974 as a nerdy game for people to play in their mother’s basement, has turned into a cultural powerhouse, sparking D&D celebrities, clothing lines, and passionate fans who are willing to consume hours of content. 

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