I’ve been trying to grow an audience on YouTube for about six months now. As career goals go, it’s not something I’d recommend. There’s a lot of guesswork involved and you have to accept that you are arriving late to what is already a rather crowded party. To enter the world of “Gaming YouTube” is to also devote yourself to a genre that, while popular, isn’t particularly respected. Even grocery haulers and makeup tutorializers thumb their nose at you.
But I’ve always seen that as an opportunity. The perception of the streamer or YouTuber is a rather basic (if not inaccurate) stereotype; typically a 20-something with a suspicious amount of energy that overreacts into a webcam. This person is also assumed to be more easily swayed by publishers due to their age and/or complete lack of a journalism background. The ethics question that so many seem determined to point at traditional media has yet to be turned on those video creators, at least, not in any significant regard.
Early on, I decided that I simply could not be like those others, fighting for that same space within that bubble, not knowing if and when it would burst. Misguided as it may be, I try to offer something different to an audience that may or may not even exist. I create YouTube gaming videos for people that hate most YouTube gaming videos. You may see how this could be a hard sell.
As you’d imagine, growing on YouTube is an arduous process that involves a lot of uncertainty. As such, there are also no shortage of “experts” online that are willing to tell you just how to get a leg up and ensure that you’ll have a million subscribers in no time. Creating content for no one is one of the most discouraging experiences anyone could go through, so I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve spent many a night binge-watching videos from these same experts. A lot of their information is simple, yet practical advice about how the various aspects of the site work; how to add tags, create custom thumbnails, etc. But what I found the most attractive, naturally, were the videos with titles like “Zero to 100,000 Subscribers! Learn How!”
I’d estimate that I’ve probably watched a dozen or so different videos of that same ilk. They all tend to be fairly similar, empathizing consistency and quality of content with an occasional reference to Google Adwords and how you can exploit site algorithms to appear in search results. At first I simply nodded. After all, the guy telling me this has 300,000 subscribers. Surely he knows what he’s doing, right? It’s then that I noticed the person telling me this only ever created videos about how to be good at YouTube. That’s when it all clicked for me. I knew the answer. If I wanted to get popular fast, I needed to put on a suit and tell hundreds of thousands of frustrated creators about the wonders of search engine optimization.
Needless to say, I stopped watching videos full of “tips” after that. The truth was something that I already knew – there are no shortcuts outside of simple dumb luck. Months later, for reasons I don’t quite remember, I found myself watching a video by JackSepticEye titled “How to Become YouTube Famous”. For those that don’t know, Jack is one of the most popular gaming personalities on the site, with over 12 million subscribers. A video that he put up not even 3 hours ago has more views than my income for the past decade. I figured, if anyone knew the answers, it would be him.
For the record, I don’t watch Jack’s videos normally. His content just… isn’t for me. He’s a very excitable chap that talks very loudly and very quickly into a microphone. In this video, however, he was calm and lucid. He was “out of character”. It became immediately clear to me why people liked him so much; why I had then decided in that moment that I liked him. He came off as humble and at times, even awkward; not comfortable with the idea that he was “famous” by any real definition. I found it easy to relate to him. You could tell that, at one point, he was in the same place, fighting for his hundredth subscriber, and was still grasping with his newfound position of influence.
The advice that followed was sound, if not exactly surprising. What was most interesting to me was when he offhandedly mentioned that he had once been shouted out by PewDiePie, the most popular creator on YouTube. The resulting endorsement then multiplied his subscriber count tenfold. There was a moment of immediate defensiveness when Jack brought this up, following it up by empathizing that it was not the cause of his success. He didn’t get famous because he was lucky.
“Don’t put down my work like that” he went on to say.
Clearly, someone had at some point. Even more clearly, it bothered him.
We’re wired to see the concept of luck as an inherently negative thing. If you attribute anything to mere happenstance, it somehow invalidates the hard work you’ve put in. Truth is, a lot of successful people were simply born into it, or “knew the right person”. That does not mean that they don’t work hard to maintain that position, but the concept of pulling one up by their bootstraps and achieving without any assistance is somehow seen as the ultimate barometer of human value. If you happened to be at the right place at the right time, you deserve it less, somehow, ignoring that work ethic and persistence are often contributing factors to that opportunity presenting itself in the first place.
Luck is not some completely isolated force outside of our influence, though it’s still chaotic enough that we can’t bear the thought of attributing any credit to it. The opposite is true for any competitors in our field – an undeserving person lucking into a position or an untalented creator growing a fanbase. From our perspective, these things are common. Luck is a terrible thing that happens to everyone but us.
As a creator, this is a cancerous mentality that has the potential to destroy you. Most of us recognize this and maintain that outlook even when success eventually does come our way. ‘It’s different for me’, we tell ourselves, ‘I made it strictly because of my hard work’.
Why can’t it be a combination of both? This is a question we don’t ask ourselves as much, and I’m left to wonder how it would change the expectations of smaller content creators if those up high expressed that more often. Sure, many would likely continue to use that information to further justify their bitterness and jealousy, but what about that frustrated artist on the ground level that can’t quite figure out what they’re doing wrong? Would they continue to be frustrated if someone told them the answer was “nothing”?
I often think about what I would do if I was in Jack’s position. “Just wait and hope to get lucky” isn’t a valid answer, obviously, especially to a person struggling. As someone that still identifies as that frustrated creator, what is the advantage to letting me know how important luck can be? What would help me? What would I want someone to say to me, right now?
“Your lack of success is not due to a lack of effort. Your opportunity simply hasn’t arrived yet. Be there when it does.”