Staff editor Amanda Sanchez contributed to this article.
It’s 2010. You’re hopping into an online lobby of Team Deathmatch on “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” with your Xbox 360 microphone headset on and controller in your hands. You can already hear the muffled yelling and recycled insults in the game chat.
It was eat or be eaten in these public matches, and to survive you either had to be A.) good at the game or B.) good at entertainment. Many were good at the game, but for veteran YouTuber Deluxe 4 and his group of friends, they were good at entertainment.
Deluxe 4, also known as D4, is one of the millions of people who showcase their gaming and entertainment skills on YouTube and Twitch. And with new consoles — like the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X and S — and video games — like “Call of Duty: Cold War” — set to release in less than a month, YouTube gamers and Twitch streamers will be fighting for fresh content — something that hasn’t changed since 2011, but there’s much more to come..
D4, of South Carolina, has been posting on YouTube with The Crew — the name of his gaming/friend group — since 2010.
There’s more than just gameplays
During the early years of “Call of Duty,” “Halo,” “Gears of War” and other multiplayer shooter games, D4 said the gaming community was pretty small. He’d watch YouTubers like Blame Truth and Hutch who did commentary over their gameplays, which he said was insane to think about doing at the time.
But he thought, he could take it up a notch.
“I had looked up to those guys and (The Crew) started making content, and when we did we were the only people putting comedy-gaming content together,” he told Slice of Culture. “Literally Speedy and I were like one of, maybe, five that I can remember that did anything (like that).”
“It was a small space, but there was a huge need for it,” he added.
Today, viewers can find “Funny moments” gameplays within seconds for almost every game out there. But during the early 2010s, that was rare, so D4 said The Crew came together and ran the forefront of that era.
The Crew consists of seven active members: KYR SP33DY, SideArms4Reason, G18, Deluxe 20, ShadowBeatz, NobodyEpic and Deluxe 4. Each member has at least over 600,000 subscribers; the most have between 1 and 2 million.
“Call of Duty” is a first-person shooter video game franchise published by Activision. First releasing in 2003, the game was set in World War II. Over time, the locations were based in futuristic worlds, outer space and now, on Nov. 13, it’ll be set during the cold war, which happened in U.S. history from 1947 to 1991.
Of the seven crew members, D4’s shoutcast series and Speedy’s ninja defuse series exploded on the internet — racking between 100,000 and 400,000 views — during the “Modern Warfare” era. Later, Nobody Epic started his “Sh*t From Last Week” series.
D4 would provide witty commentary in a comedic voice while Speedy would show the failures and reactions of ninja defuses; these clips were between 50 seconds to 2 or 3 minutes max, and people kept going back for more.
Around 2013, The Crew started making funny moments videos and caught killcam reactions, which now had nothing to do with a player’s kill-death ratio.
Comedy-gaming was born.
But not everyone was reeled into the gaming world by first-person shooter games, some stepped in when they caught their first Pokémon.
You can’t stick to one game
Adrian Plasencia, of West New York, said “Pokémon Crystal” is what got him into gaming. He said he got into everything the franchise had to offer.
“Pokémon Crystal” is a 2000 role-playing video game, developed by Game Freak and published through Nintendo for the Game Boy color. This version is the second generation of the video game series and is based on “Pokémon Gold” and “Pokémon Silver.”
“For a kid, battling Pokémon serves as a lesson in self-betterment,” one person commented on a Reddit post, according to HuffPost. “… The game fuels you to do better…”
But with different games, comes different outcomes, lessons and relief.
Video games were first introduced around 1978 through classic arcade games like “Space Invaders,” “Pac-Man” and “Mortal Kombat.” But the trip to the arcade eventually turned into a trip to your living room, especially during the early 2000s when Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft started their thriving line of their own consoles.
Between Nintendo’s consoles — N64, Game Boy, Nintendo DS; Sony’s Playstation line — PS1, PS2 and PS3; and Microsoft’s Xbox series — Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One — gaming was growing at a rapid pace, and there was no way of stopping it.
“What got me branching out into other games — like shooter games — were my friends at the time,” Plasencia said. “I would go to their houses and spend hours playing shooters like ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Medal of Honor’ with them.”
D4 agreed and said playing games was just something he did with “the boys.”
For D4, he started out playing “Duck Hunt,” a 1984 shooter game published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Entertainment System. He said he was really bad at it, but he got so into it that he’d bang his controller against the TV trying to kill the fictional ducks.
But because D4 played on sports teams growing up, he didn’t really get into gaming until he was around 15 years old.
“It was kinda like what me and the boys did between (football) games,” he said. “We would go over to someone’s house and just relax and chill and be competitive.”
“I had different friends who were into different genres of games so they introduced me to different stuff,” he added. “But then I figured out I really like competitive games.”
The South Carolina native said he thought about joining eSports, a form of sport competition in video games that involves leagues and teams, but he said he needed the comedy. So, he went for the latter.
Between 2013 and 2014, The Crew only played competitive games.
On “COD: MW2,” “COD: MW3” and “COD: Black Ops,” it was D4’s commentary, Speedy’s ninja defuses, G18’s uncanny kills, former crew member Jahova’s raging — and the whole group’s shenanigans and odd inside jokes — that made hundreds of thousands of viewers gravitate towards them.
But even they knew, they couldn’t play one game forever.
So they began to play “Minecraft,” “DayZ,” “Red Dead Redemption” and “Grand Theft Auto V,” which are all open-world survival games.
Then, in 2013, “Pokémon” had its own mod — an alteration by players of a video game that changes how it looks and behaves — added into “Minecraft,” creating “Pixelmon.” The Crew started their own series called “Crew Pixelmon” in 2016, which — combined with all seven members — has generated well over a million views.
“Thankfully, all my friends were gamers and I was able to play with them and experience many different games at the time,” Plasencia added. “I find it weird when people stick to one genre of games because they’re missing out on a whole other world of games.”
It’s all about the Benjamins
Business Insider reported that, as an industry, video games generated $119.6 billion in revenue in 2018.
For many video game franchises, they’re released on a yearly basis, bringing in thousands of dollars of income about every 12 months.
Sports games like ”Madden” and “NBA 2K” are notorious for their yearly releases, and a new copy can cost either $60, $80 or $100 — the two latter being a special edition. Meanwhile, franchises like “Call of Duty” release every few years and typically cost $60.
Now, for gamers, the money they get just from playing a video game depends specifically on their viewer count.
For YouTubers, it varies, but Influencer Marketing Hub gave a breakdown on how much one could make:
Deluxe 4 said when he started on YouTube almost 10 years ago, he did it to show his “crazy moments” in “Call of Duty” games to Deluxe 20 — who was a close friend prior to The Crew — because D20 and other friends never believed him. He didn’t think he could ever make money off of it, he said.
“I remember telling Sidearms my first paycheck I got paid $53 from YouTube,” D4 said. “I was like, ‘Dude, all I’m gonna do is spend it on Microsoft Points’ (digital currency used on Xbox).”
“I was like, ‘Do I even pay taxes on this? How does this even work?’”
Though YouTube Partner Programs began in December 2007, it wasn’t until around 2013 when the platform began recognizing its gamers as content creators and expanded their monetization program to them, D4 added.
“If you take what (The Crew) did then and fast-forwarded it to now, we would probably be multi-millionaires, but back then we were just dollar-naires,” he said.
D4 said he and his friends started seeing bigger checks when each of them became part of the Twitch Partner Program.
As a Twitch Partner, streamers can earn cash by channel subscriptions from viewers, Bits (or Cheers, which costs 1 cent per Bit) and ads. Subscribers are given special perks like custom chat badges and emotes.
For Plasencia — who goes by JustABitAngry — he said, since 2016, he’s made shy of $7,000. But he added it’s nothing to live off of and it’s not his full-time job — like D4 and The Crew — Plasencia does it as a hobby.
But for D4, who is a full-time gamer, he gave Slice of Culture a rough estimate of his monthly earnings from Twitch:
“It just seemed to work out better for us to stream,” he said. “It’s instant gratification, instant feedback, the money was better… It’s just way better all together and I feel like there’s always a chance for us to grow on Twitch.”
A gamer’s future
Yeah, there’s a chance to grow on Twitch — unless you’re a newcomer, D4 added.
The 10-year YouTube veteran said nowadays it’s best to start your gamer or streamer career on either Instagram or TikTok. On average, Instagram has 1 billion active users and TikTok has 800 million active users.
“You’re just gonna have to do something different,” he said. “… You’re gonna have to put a lot of time, a lot of effort … You’re gonna learn the ropes; you’re gonna learn what’s good, you’re gonna learn the people — the people are the biggest part of this thing.”
And it’s the masses of people who make a gamer or video game go viral.
“Among Us” was originally released on mobile in 2018, but it blew up around mid-August of 2020 after streamers on Amazon’s Twitch service began broadcasting its games. Just before that, “Fall Guys” was dominating the PS4, PC servers and social media meme accounts.
Like The Crew, other veteran YouTubers like I Am Wildcat, DashieGames and BasicallyIDoWrk have been collaborating with one another for “Among Us” gameplays and funny moments videos, which leaves some space open for new content creators looking for collaborations.
But what’s trending in gaming is always changing, and content creators need to stay with the pace.
As of mid-September, “Phasmophobia,” a multiplayer ghost-hunting game, has been taking some attention away from “Among Us.”
D4 said he’s not sure what the future holds for gaming, but if it’s one thing:
“Gaming isn’t going anywhere.”