British youngster Tom Cassell is just 21, but his YouTube channel has six million subscribers - more viewers than hit TV shows such as EastEnders.
Cassell started his channel - where he shows off videos of hit shoot ‘em up Call of Duty, with his commentary over the top - as a hobby, but it’s now a full-time job, with Cassell and dividing his time between homes in London and LA.
He’s one of dozens of gamers who have suddenly found themselves celebrities online - earning salaries from adverts, and flying around the world to present awards.
Other gamer channels are even bigger - Brighton-based Swedish gamer 'PewDiePie' has over 20,000,000 subscribers, making his the most subscribed channel in the world, beating any celebrity, news or entertainment channel. Machinima.com - who advertise on Cassell’s page - recently hit a billion page views.
For many people over 30, it’s a mysterious world - and Cassell can walk, unrecognised, through the streets, despite being known to millions.
“When I started to make YouTube videos it was honestly just a hobby. I grabbed my dad’s camera, stacked about 20 games on top of a chair, pointed the camera at the TV and hit record. I didn’t expect to get anywhere,” he told Yahoo News.
“When I was flying out to America for the first time, just because of what I did on YouTube - I just sat there reading it thinking ok... this is it! From me just talking into a microphone whilst playing a video game got me the opportunity to fly to the other side of the world - my mind was blown!
His channel, The Syndicate Project now has 6.7 million subscribers - with Cassell commenting over videos of the hit game.
“I actually started my YouTube channel because my friend was recording his sniping clips on Call of Duty and making it into a montage and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world! So I thought... you know what I’m gonna give it a go,” Cassell says. “I’d amassed about 300,000 views on my Call of Duty videos in total when one day I received one of the greatest emails in my life. A company called Machinima offered me the chance to earn revenue from doing nothing except allowing them to place ads on my videos. The road to this becoming a full time job had begun.”
Cassell suddenly began to pick up sponsors, he says, with companies offering free travel, free clothes, and free gaming gear. He thinks it is only a matter of time before ‘mainstream’ TV begins to catch up with the huge market for gaming shows.
“There is such a variety of YouTube channels now days it’s insane, he says, “ If you have a favourite game or style of gamer you like to watch it'll be out there. On YouTube I’m still surprised people still watch what I do. At the end of the day, I just play video games and have fun. I feel the way to gain viewers is to be consistent with your videos and let people know what’s going on and where they can find it is you want them to watch. I try and post every day at 6pm so people know it’s there - almost like a TV programme.”
There are 100 million Call of Duty gamers around the world, but Cassell doesn’t believe that the game itself is key - people enjoy gaming shows because of the personalities behind them as much as the games themselves.
“I thought after the first year, the channel would just fade into the abyss of YouTube,” he says, “But it’s still going strong. That day, a story from the past or just some words of wisdom I can share with people if they are going through a rough time. You could become a "Gaming Star" from simply playing Call of Duty or even something really basic like Pong! It’s all about the personality and content of the creator - the world is your oyster on YouTube.”
Alistair Aiken of gamer channel Ali-A also posts daily - and kept going despite only gaining 100 subscribers in his first year.
“I decided to not go to University after I finished my A Levels in 2012. I took a gap year to make
YouTube my full time job. From that point onwards I have invested as much time as possible into
creating videos and growing my YouTube channels,” he says.
Aitken now has 3,500,000 subscribers, and earns enough to make a living from his channel. He says that for young people, shows like his are a substitute for TV - and that his viewers simply don’t watch ‘normal’ shows.
“The audience that watch my videos tend to not consume a lot of TV content,” he says. “Personally I only ever watch a few TV shows using catch-up and I think this is the same for a lot of my viewers. I think a lot of gamers spend time on their computers so watching a YouTube video fits a lot easier into their life than watching TV. Gaming video content suits an online platform like YouTube better than something more general like TV.”
Aiken warns, though, that anyone interested in turning their hobby into a living may not find it easy. Both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 make it easy to share videos - PS4 has a ‘Share’ button on the controller - but becoming a star online is getting harder, he says.
“I think with the launch of the next generation of consoles more people will get into gaming, which
could lead to those people watching YouTube gaming videos. However, the market for video game
content on YouTube is very saturated and it’s tough for new content creators on YouTube to catch up with bigger channels that are already established. The new consoles certainly make it easier to share - but f you wanted to start out on YouTube you need to set your goals accordingly. When I started, I never expected to have over 3,500,000 subscribers.”
“As soon as I wake up to the point of going to sleep I try to work. I probably spend too long at my computer and too long thinking about YouTube but it’s got me into the position I am in today and I want it to continue for as long as possible.”
Call of Duty Ghosts is out now on Wii U, PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. The first DLC Pack Call of Duty: Ghosts Onslaught launches on 28th January.