Toronto man draws millions playing games on YouTube
Evan Fong, 22, thought to be making about US$300,000 per month
Twenty-two-year-old Toronto native Evan Fong is about to crack the Top 25 list for most YouTube subscribers, passing Ellen DeGeneres and Justin Bieber.
And he'll do it by playing video games.
Approaching 11 million subscribers and two billion views, Fong's YouTube channel VanossGaming is part of a massive trend: a subculture of young people are tuning out of TV and are instead going online to watch other people play and talk over video games.
A source with knowledge of YouTube's payment structure estimated Fong could be making in the neighbourhood of US$300,000 a month from his videos.
"If you're really into gaming there's not really anything on TV," says Fong, who typically gets between four to 14 million views for his content daily.
"Viewers really like the authentic type of content from regular people just playing games because they can relate to that.
"And I think that's a huge reason why people prefer to watch YouTube videos. It really is a totally different experience and it's something you can't find on TV."
In a typical VanossGaming video, Fong and a group of friends chat, laugh and make jokes over gameplay from popular titles such as Grand Theft Auto V or Call of Duty: World at War.
The trend was recently lampooned in a South Park episode, which featured Swedish YouTuber Felix Kjellberg, who uses the alias PewDiePie online. Kjellberg has the most-viewed channel on all of YouTube.
When something is targeted by South Park you know it's a very big deal culturally, says Joshua Cohen, founder of the industry news outlet Tubefilter.com.
"It's a very good testament to how viewing habits have changed for younger generations, what's appealing to them and what makes sense for them to watch," Cohen says.
"Gamers have developed one of the most massive and ardent fan bases in the world on YouTube. It's pretty impressive."
Never expected success on YouTube
Fong dropped out of university in his second year as his YouTube channel began exploding in popularity. He says he never expected to get paid to play video games.
He launched his channel back in 2011 but didn't spend much time on it at first. He was focused on playing junior hockey and chasing a U.S. scholarship.
"In the early days I remember maybe 1,000 views was something that would be off the charts for me," Fong recalls.
"It took, I would say, about a good year and a half (to start becoming popular). It started really slow and I didn't take it really seriously. It wasn't something that I strived to do to the best of my ability like I do now."
When his hockey dreams didn't pan out he went to school full-time. His parents were understandably concerned as his YouTube channel stole more and more time from his university studies.
"It was something they weren't always fully supportive of. Even though there's a lot of potential for somebody starting a YouTube channel it's obviously not a guaranteed path. They just basically wanted to make sure I was still taking school seriously," Fong says.
"But I was very conservative. I never wanted to stop university and risk that opportunity. So what I did was I made sure I was successful enough on YouTube before I (dropped out). I probably stopped school a lot later than most full-time YouTubers did."
While his channel's growth is still meteoric, Fung is level-headed enough to know it could stall — or crash — at any time.
"Anything on the Internet can blow up and go away," he says.
"You're only as good as your last video on YouTube."