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

Men's Health (Australia) - - Mhboss - By Ben Jhoty Pho­tog­ra­phy by Ja­son Lee

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


Key­board War­rior: Watkins works hard, plays harder.

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