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Fandom's Ultimate Slash Madness tourney enters the Elite Eight

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The annual Ultimate Slash Madness tournament is the closest thing fandom has to a sporting event, and competition this year is fierce.

When Entertainment Weekly decided to exclude Teen Wolf’s favorite male/male pairing, Sterek, from a poll of favorite fandom “ships” last year, gay entertainment website AfterElton, now known as The Backlot, decided to set up an all-slash poll of its own. The poll was so popular, gaining millions of votes, that it instantly became an annual tradition.

Pitting popular slash pairings from megafandoms like Sherlock, Supernatural, and Teen Wolf against one another, the tournament uses five rounds of head-to-head polling to determine which fictional couple is the most popular. Predictably, it attracts a huge amount of fandom attention—not to mention controversy over things like vote eligibility and the fact that all the most popular pairings are inevitably between two white guys aged 20-45.

Any slash pairing is eligible, as long as they’re fictional characters and are not a canonically gay couple. So it’s possible to nominate Sam and Blaine from Glee but not Kurt and Blaine, because they were a canon couple. And certainly not any relationship between the actors who play them, because Real Person Fanfic is disqualified. Maybe next year, One Direction fans!

The question is, how much have things changed since 2012? Last year’s final round was a fight to the almost-death between Sterek and Destiel (Dean/Castiel from Supernatural), with Sterek pulling into the lead at the last moment. This year, we’ve just reached the third round, leaving eight pairings in the running, including the slash fandom triumvirate of Supernatural, Teen Wolf, and Sherlock. It’s entirely possible that this year’s final will be a repeat of 2012, as the only new fandom on the ticket (Hannibal), dropped out in the second round. Sadly, Tumblr’s latest obsession, Welcome to Night Vale, doesn’t qualify because its two male leads are already in a relationship. 

Image via The Backlot

This year’s two big controversies are Wincest and the unexpected war between Merthur shippers (Merlin/Arthur from the BBC’s Merlin) and supporters of Arthur and Eames, two characters from Inception. Wincest, in fact, was a problem from the start.

As you can probably tell from the name, Wincest includes more than a hint of brotherly love, as it focuses on the relationship between Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural.  The Backlot was concerned that featuring an incest pairing would not look great to advertisers, but Wincest’s huge popularity meant that they eventually decided to keep it in.

Plus, as we already know from the online reaction to that one creepy Folger’s commercial, fandom isn’t all that weirded out by incest, so long as it’s fictional. Not to mention the fact that last year’s winner, Sterek, is the relationship between an adult werewolf and a high school sophomore. With the exception of Kirk/Spock and Teen Wolf’s uncontroversial teen pairing of Stiles/Danny, none of the slash ships left in the latest round are exactly sweet, harmless romances.

The neck-and-neck race between Merthur and Arthur/Eames fans was more of a surprise, since Inception came out in 2010 and has not been a major fandom for at least 18 months, and Merlin was cancelled last year. Still, over a million votes were cast in the Merlinception poll, with Arthur/Eames getting just over 600,000. To put things into perspective, that’s more than double the number of votes won by any of the other pairings, and more than the total of 573,288 votes that were cast in last year’s final round. 

Image via kavinskysdick/Tumblr

Of course, the ridiculous numbers involved in the Merlinception poll immediately led to accusations of vote-fixing, but the Slash Madness tournament isn’t an election; it’s not necessarily about which pairing has the most fans (probably Sterek, although it’s pretty much impossible to do any kind of official census about counting the number of fanfics for each pairing on Archive of our Own), but which has the most intense fanbase. 

Merlin and Inception may not be the most current of fandoms, but that just meant they had more to prove. People voted multiple times, to the extent that the Slash Madness Tumblr tag is full of people saying they’d been temporarily blocked from the site. According to the backlot:

“You may vote as often as you like, with one caveat: be aware that too frequent voting or a voting pattern that appears to be computer automated (i.e. a “voting bot”) will result in a “suspicious activity” message and will trigger a one hour cooldown period.”

As Tumblr user lemmylynxu put it, “COOLING DOWN PERIOD? MORE LIKE RILING UP PERIOD.” 

There were also plenty of accusations of cheating, as well as tips on how to beat the system. Although the Daily Dot’s own Aja Romano (in her capacity as a blogger for The Backlot’s “Shipping News” column) worked out that it would only take around 40 people voting per hour to reach the kind of astronomical numbers achieved by the Merlinception poll war.

After this level of ferocious activity just in the second round, things can only heat up as we draw closer to the final. Wincest and Johnlock are likely to crush Teen Wolf’s less-popular pairings (Scisaac and Stanny), but it’s anyone’s guess who will win between Destiel and Arthur/Eames. Supernatural may be a far bigger fandom at the moment, but if we’ve learned anything this round, it’s that dedicated voting counts far more than force of numbers. 

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