Play To Your Strengths
Youtube phenomenon Elliott Watkins – aka Muselk – has made a small fortune playing video games in his bedroom. Use his secrets to turn your passion into a payday
ELLIOTT WATKINS’ right forearm is tensed and his voice animated as he provides running commentary on the final frantic movements of a character called Roadhog in class-based shooter Overwatch.
As Roadhog meets an untimely demise, Watkins’ voice escalates in pitch before trailing off. He turns from the screen and smiles. Such good-humoured calamities characterise the Youtube videos that have made Watkins – or at least his online moniker “Muselk” – a household name among gamers from Sydney to Seoul.
With 1.9 million subscribers and around seven million views per week, Watkins’ Youtube figures are eyepopping but also typical of an industry that’s starting to leave traditional sports and entertainment in its tracks. Last year’s prize pool for e-sports tournament DOTA 2, for example, was over US$20 million, larger than that for the Superbowl and the US Masters.
The thing about Watkins, though, is that’s he’s not even that good at Overwatch. What’s made the likeable 22-year-old old an online pin-up is his infectious enthusiasm for sharing the joys of gameplay and a sense of fun that can’t be faked. “He’s super charming and he knows how to talk to his audience,” says Nich Richardson, co-host of 7Mate’s new gaming show screenplay. “He makes you feel like you’re hanging out together.”
Comfortably dressed in what you might call his work attire, barefoot in jeans and a dress shirt, Watkins is both humble and astute about identifying the roots of his success. “The thing about Youtube is that people either watch you because you’re really good or because you’re really funny,” says Watkins, as he chats to MH from the lounge room of his inner Sydney apartment. “I’m hopefully somewhere in the middle.”
Whether your passion is gaming or golf tees, if you want to share it with others authenticity is your biggest selling point. And if you’re keen to take it further, to turn a sideline hobby into your main meal ticket, Watkins’ hard-won lessons on the digital playing field can help you (let’s call you “player one”), get to the next level. PASSION PLAY Watkins can’t remember a time when he wasn’t playing video games. Starting out with Bob The Builder aged six, he graduated to Call Of Duty on Xbox before becoming immersed in class-based shooter Team Fortress 2, something of a forerunner to Overwatch.
Far from the stereotype of the solitary geek playing games in his basement, from the start Watkins was attracted by the opportunities for social interaction offered by multiplayer games. “I love playing with friends and having random interactions with strangers,” he says.
As a kid his heroes weren’t athletes or actors but Youtubers who filmed themselves gaming. He began making his own videos as a lark in 2013.
Crucially, he says, he never went into it with the goal of making money. “If you go into it with the idea that you’re going to make some easy cash you lose sight of what makes good content and that’s the genuine enjoyment for what you’re doing,” Watkins says.
It’s a lesson for anyone looking to monetise a pastime, be it on Youtube or in any other forum. If content, as the saying goes, is king, your passion and enjoyment are royalty. LAUNCH BEFORE YOU LEAP Watkins’ rise to the top of Youtube’s Overwatch charts has been swift. Since he began regularly posting videos in 2014 when he was studying law at university, Watkins is now closing in on two million subscribers.
> The success of gamers like Watkins owes a lot to the
simplicity of Youtube’s financial model. To begin profiting from your channel, Watkins says, you simply click on the on the “enable monetisation” button and complete an agreement. From there it’s largely automated. Advertisers will use their spend to buy 15- and 30- second ads on videos by category. Channel hosts get paid a sum per 1000 monetised views with Youtube taking a 45 per cent cut, although this percentage can vary.
You don’t need to be a maths geek to figure out that Watkins is doing okay, but more gratifying, he says, has been watching the channel grow. “I used to have this ritual where I’d wake up and open a new subscriber email,” he recalls. Until one day there were simply too many to open.
At this point it began to dawn on Watkins that making gaming videos could become a real job. In 2015 he made a deal with his parents that he’d defer uni for a year and see how it went. If it bombed he’d resume his studies. That was two-and-a-half years and many, many subscriber emails ago.
Watkins took a risk, sure. But it was calculated. Your chances of successfully launching a business skyrocket if you’ve tested the waters and your venture shows enough promise that you can leap with the confidence you can stick the landing. At the same time you want to have a safety net in place and then hope, like Watkins, you never need it. DON’T BE A DATA DRONE Watkins’ brightly lit two-bedroom apartment is dotted with the trappings of success in the digital world. A plaque from Youtube commemorating one million subscribers hangs on the wall. There’s a freezer sent to him by Coca-cola and his studio is filled with pop-culture figurines. As geek grottos go it’s pretty slick. As an office, it’s even better.
Which is just as well, because Watkins spends a hell of a lot of time there – up to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. “Law school was like a holiday compared to this,” he laughs.
Beginning at 6.30am his day starts with admin and emails before he shoots around three hours of video, which then needs to be storyboarded, edited and rendered. He also needs to create overlays and make thumbnails before uploading. He’s usually done by 10pm but if he gets ahead he’ll often do another video for days when he can’t shoot.
Videos are uploaded each morning at 6.30 and once they go live, data pours in. “They can tell you how many 16-year-olds in Nicaragua watch this video and what percentage they watched,” Watkins says. The insights are valuable, he adds, allowing you to tailor and experiment with content. But the sheer volume of data can open up a digital rabbit hole that it’s hard to emerge from.
“It’s like a job that gives you an absolutely numerically measured performance review at the end of every single day,” he says. “If you let yourself get lost in that it can become really toxic.” RETAIN THE JOY When you go all-in on a hobby there’s always the danger that it becomes, well, work. Rest assured, Watkins still plays Overwatch for fun. But looking back, he says, in the early days it’s hard not to fall prey to the temptation to overthink and obsess over every last detail of your business.
“When I went full-time on Youtube I thought, ‘this is my job now, I’ve got to step it up,’” he says. Feeling the pressure of competing with more established channels he began planning out videos, sometimes playing certain levels up to 10 times. “Inevitably I knew what was going to happen and I’d have to act like I didn’t,” he says. “It felt like a TV script.”
Watkins was in danger of losing sight of the very thing that had launched him in the first place: his spontaneity and sense of fun. “Putting your genuine self out there has to be the absolute core,” he says.
It’s a further reminder that when it comes to combining business with a pursuit close to your heart, you need to play the game while never losing sight of the fact that you’re playing a game. Catch screenplay Thursday nights at 10pm on 7Mate
LAW SCHOOL WAS LIKE A HOLIDAY COMPARED TO THIS
Keyboard Warrior: Watkins works hard, plays harder.