Over the past few years, a new model of celebrity has come to the forefront of social media, the YouTube celebrity. These individuals embody the idea of “self- made” fame. Not only do they have to create new and engaging content for their viewer; but in many cases, they act as their own publicist, and marketing agent. Their celebrity status comes from the number of subscribers to their channel, and the number of views they get on their videos. Many YouTuber’s hold meet-and-greets, attend various conventions like PAX and Vid Con, and update their subscribers with daily vlogs to stay in touch with their viewers. Along with using their celebrity status to raise money for various charities. These creators understand that without their viewers they wouldn’t be able to do what they do. They make the conscious effort to maintain a relationship with their fans, and the payoff can be massive. The rise of these content creators, seems to coincide with the increasing popularity of the global gaming industry, along with the increasing number of people who are switching to online forms for entertainment. In fact many of YouTube’s top performers are “Let’s Players.” Felix Kjellberg, more commonly known as Pewdiepie, the Swedish Let’s Player, brings in 963.8K-15.4 million dollars annually and has a current subscriber count of 51,681,053. Felix’s daily income ranges from 2.7k-42.8k, and his average number of daily views tops out at 10,709,200. Other big earners in the gaming community are Markiplier, Jaksepticeye The Game Theorist, and VanossGaming. With these channels holding more than 10 million subscribers each, it is difficult to imagine anyone else being able to rise to the forefront.
Yet despite the challenges, some new and successful YouTube celebrities have emerged; and on December 27, I was able to meet one of them. I journeyed up to Portland ME, to attend a meet-and-greet for the YouTuber Ethan Nestor-Darling, a.k.a Crank Gameplays. This 20 year old has been on YouTube for five years, but his popularity increased after becoming the newest editor for Markiplier, and making several appearances in Mark’s various videos. In comparison to other channels, Ethan brings in around 860-13.8K a month, and his videos reach an average of 114,720 views each day. At Christmas of 2015, his channel had 1,000 subscribers; a year later he now has 185,510 subscribers who he affectionately calls his “Cranky Crew.”
Ethan announced his meetup on December 23rd, on his YouTube channel and on Twitter. Most of YouTube’s top creators live on the west coast, and in Europe, so it’s extremely rare to meet a creator who lives near me. I drove up to Portland out of curiosity, and stayed due to the amount of people who showed up. Ethan himself seemed to be overwhelmed by the 200 fans who arrived. Many of them were young girls, who were screaming and crying. The original location was the Maine Mall, but after Ethan arrived and his shocked reaction subsided, he quickly had to select another location. After tweeting out the second location, everyone flocked to the East End Park and waited for him to arrive. Aside from the parents who had driven their children to this event, I was the oldest “fan.” The ages of those attending ranged from 12-18, while I, at 21, was the outlier.
Throughout the entire event, I found myself explaining the popularity of YouTubers to the parents. Even though they did not understand the phenomenon, the parents understood the importance of Ethan to their children. One mother said “Growing up we never had ‘awkward celebrities,’ and my daughter feels like she can relate to Ethan. She constantly refers to him as an ‘awkward celebrity.” These kids, displayed a genuine passion for Ethan, and in return, he expressed a genuine gratitude to everyone who came. After filming a short video aptly titled “Reading Your Comments IRL” (in real life), he had everyone get in line around 4:15, so he could say hi to all who came.
During the signing, I was able to speak with Ethan’s mother, father, and a close family friend, all of whom expressed their support and pride for what he was doing. Mike Kerch, the family friend, stated “I’ve known Ethan since he was a little kid, and what he is doing right now is his dream job. It’s fascinating to watch, and he’s crazy passionate about what he is doing.” I asked Ethan’s mother Annie Darling what she thought about this whole YouTube thing. Her response mimicked Mike’s. “It’s really amazing that his channel has grown so much since moving to LA. He was only expecting 10-20 people to show up [here]; he may be really overwhelmed right now, but he’s really happy. His channel is about connecting with people and helping them.” His mother went on to say, “[Ethan] likes being in touch with his fans and encourages them to come up and say hi when they see him. He’s participated in several live streams to raise money for Bipolar Disorder and Suicide Awareness. When he got the offer in October to go out and work with Mark, he wanted to take a week to think about it. We told him to go for it and about 24 hours later he had accepted.” I asked her how Ethan got the job, and she said that Ethan and Mark got to know each other over time, and they just clicked.
This experience was an interesting one for me. YouTube celebrities have a level of accessibility and relatability that movie stars do not have. They make an effort to interact with their fans, and are genuinely surprised and touched at the response. During his live stream on December 28, Ethan continually expressed his disbelief, but also his happiness at the number of people who showed up. Therein lies the popularity of these YouTube celebrities; they are seen as relatable, and even though they may bring in thousands of views, they are really just somebody having fun and creating a community that their viewers can feel a part of. These YouTubers, could be your next door neighbors, your childhood friends, and even you…