YouTube stars have recently become a staple of the entertainment industry, as millions of subscribers turn to easy, quick entertainment from the wide range of personalities on the internet. Gamers, in particular, have started to use YouTube as a platform to showcase their respective skills, comedic talents and personable attributes. We’ve seen Seth Abner (Scump) rise as a competitive gamer in OpTic Gaming and Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg (PewDiePie) star on Conan O’Brien’s Clueless Gamer series. These internet celebrities just get more and more powerful as technology and the Internet become more prominent in our lives.
But how did it get to this point? Back in 2006, YouTube was a website home to a random assortment of homemade videos posted by people with the desire to broadcast their everyday lives. Any videos about video games were just a few minutes of low-quality gameplay. The commentary on gameplay didn’t start until 2008, when a man named Anthony, under the alias Blame Truth, decided to start commentating gameplays. He took gameplay from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and added his voice behind it, talking about his strategies in the game and giving tips for new players. In retrospect, the videos were boring and lacked personality. They were simple play-by-play commentaries on what viewers could see happen.
But then, people decided to follow in Blame Truth’s footsteps and put their own twists on gameplay commentary. Shaun Hutchinson, under the name Hutch on YouTube, discussed God in one four-video series, and in another he discussed his use of cigarettes, expressing his more personal approach to making videos. This gave viewers the sense that they mattered to the video makers, because they felt like the makers were creating content that was directed towards them. They could debate in the comments and talk about the video’s issues with one another and the commentators, making them more inclined to watch these videos and get more involved, shown by a spike in views and comment activity. The internet was bringing people together who never would have talked if these videos had not been made.
Other commentators, though, brought their viewers together with a less personal approach.
Bruce, or xcalizorz, decided to take a more objective route on his channel. He decided to create an unedited series on his journey through the 55 levels of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, known as “Road to Commander.” Although the series had no commentary, gamers yearned to see every moment of gameplay with authenticity (as shown in the comment section of the videos) — every good and bad play without edits. He then started recording “Let’s Play” videos, a long, commentated series that spanned the entire story mode of a game. These videos brought in a lot of views, due to the unedited reactions of gamers to unexpected moments in their favorite games, which brought a sense of authenticity and humor to the videos.
Eventually, gameplay commentaries became so popular that entire companies developed around them. Machinima had been around since 2000 as a website for real-time video game based videos to be posted. Around 2007 and 2008, though, it became the main place for gameplay commentators. Users such as Hutch, SeaNanners, Xcalizorz and WoodysGamertag joined the company on its YouTube channels, Machinima and Machinima Respawn. Gamers were paid for videos they posted to the channel, which increased incentive to create more videos and obtain more views.
The Machinima craze went on for about seven years. Most of the videos continued to be centered on Call of Duty, since a new installment came out every year and generated the most views and highest ratings. In 2011, during the height of Call of Duty: Black Ops’ fame, Call of Duty started to gain popularity on YouTube and, with this, a newfound appreciation began for the different teams that played competitively. The best teams, including OpTic, EnVyUs and Strictly Business competed on live streams, demonstrating their dominance over other teams and producing perfect call-outs for map spots, as well as new moves that allowed them to perform at a higher level.
An increased demand for competitive gameplay resulted in an increased demand for knowledge about players’ personal lives. Players such as Scump and Clayster created accounts solely centered on commentaries and vlogs. This went back to the roots of the YouTube commentary movement — simple gameplay and commentary. However, this time, more emotion and comedy were incorporated into videos; video makers channeled their creativity and began to make the videos more interactive and fun for the viewers, with multiple videos intertwined to create a story and videos that paused and asked viewers what they thought the player should do.
After Black Ops, some people started getting tired of the barrage of Call of Duty videos that cluttered their YouTube feeds every day, as shown by a huge decrease in views for Call of Duty videos. And so, YouTubers such as PewDiePie and SeaNanners started to gain millions and millions of subscribers and viewers on their channels, which consisted of videos of gameplay from various indie and PC games with friends. Although the videos were simplistic, they gave off a fun and stress-free vibe.
The trajectory of gaming videos on YouTube has gone from simple to complex and back to simple again. However, the YouTube gamers we have today are more open to expressing themselves, and a majority of gaming videos on YouTube are focused on fun rather than skill and competitiveness. Currently, the actual gaming in these videos is just background distraction for the main point of the videos — the commentary — which has made an impact on the lives of gamers around the world, both in-game and out-of-game.