Millions of gaming enthusiasts tune in to YouTube videos of Wartek's live commentating on the gaming hit Call of Duty. Meet a new kind of Internet celebrity.
PARIS — "Hi gamers, it’s Wartek." The introduction is meant to be understated, but for those who know him it sounds like a battle cry. Each of the 350 videos Anil B. published on YouTube these past four years starts with this message.
The 24-year-old Swiss man, who also uses the pseudonym Wartek, prefers not to reveal his real name, for fear of being harassed by his groupies. “It’s never mean, but some can be insistent.”
Anil has 1.2 million subscribers on Google’s video platform, for almost 100 million views. He also has some 375,000 followers on Twitter, 294,000 fans on Facebook, 229,000 subscribers on Instagram… Numbers that will make your head spin.
Wartek is the star commentator of “Call of Duty,” one of the planet's most popular video games. Various versions of the war game have together sold 175 million copies and earned its publisher, Activision, $10 billion.
A walk in the aisles of the Paris Game Week exhibition shows the extent of the craze. Wartek is cheered by hordes of teenagers. “He’s very respected by "Call of Duty" fans and the gaming community,” confirms Julien Brochet, the head of the Electronic Sports World Cup.
It’s true that, with a controller in his hand, the young man displays an excellent set of skills. Falsely modest, he admits he was, for some time, “among the best sniper layers...but now, my level has dropped, I’ve grown older and my reflexes aren’t as good.”
Turning passion into a profession
His hair neatly styled, a three day’s stubble adroitly trimmed, a stylized tattoo of a “W” on his wrist, Anil doesn’t fit the usual image we have of the gamer. A conversation with him shakes up the stereotypes of the pimply-faced teenager glued to his screen, even when he admits he had an “addict period” around the age of 14, when he played about 15 hours per day to prepare competitions of the game “Gears of War."
Today, his days are much more diversified: two to three hours of gaming, often recorded, video editing, commentaries, community management on social networks, contacts with brands and sponsors, trips around the world to attend exhibitions. And a presence during the major events dedicated to video gaming, like on May 2 and 3 at the “Zénith” in Paris, where he commentated the “Call of Duty” World Cup.
“My life revolves around video games, but in a more professional way. YouTuber is a new job that requires various skills. A kind of video control room synthesized into one single person," he says.
For the past two years, Anil has been making a living from his online activity. He won’t talk about his pay — “confidential”, according to term in the salary contract signed with Google. “It’s a shared salary to the consumer’s advantage,” the American giant limits itself in revealing.
On average, YouTubers earn 1,000 euros per million views. Wartek says only that his revenues are “very far” from those of his Swedish counterpart PewDiePie, a major video game commentator on YouTube, who claims to earn 3.6 million euros per year.
“It’s a passion that became a profession,” says the young Swiss man, who receives his pay through his company, Smooth, based in Geneva.
[rebelmouse-image 27088979 alt="""" original_size="430x624" expand=1]
Wartek with his fans at the Paris Game Week — Photo: Wartek
Anil realized the extent of what he does when Microsoft invited him to attend the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the E3, three years ago. “My dream of being part of this world was coming alive.”
Love in the time of YouTube
Early on he thought about doing game development studies. In the end, though, he decided to stick with the two things that fascinated him most: the game controller and the camera. His parents — his father, Italian, works in a nightclub; his mother, Indian, in marketing — didn’t approve, but they came to terms with it and show reasoned support for their son.
Wartek mostly counts on his girlfriend, Marie, to encourage him on his path to Internet stardom. The two are quite a match: the pretty blond is also fairly important on YouTube, where she posts videos dedicated to beauty and fashion, with the pseudonym EnjoyPhoenix. They're like the “Brangelina” of YouTube.
For the past eight months, the lovebirds have been putting on a performance in their respective videos and via soppy pictures on social networks. Wartek explains: “We want to live exactly like any couple of our age that shares its happy moments. But we carefully choose what we want to show.”
The two YouTubers say they distinguish what is real and what is virtual. In this sense, their story sounds ordinarily pre-Internet: Anil “spotted” and tried to get in touch with Marie two years ago, but it was only when a common friend introduced them to each other “IRL” (in real life) that the attraction become stronger than pixels. They now live together in Lyon, France, where they help frame and edit each other's videos. “We have the same job: I’m paid to play and she’s paid to put on makeup,” smiles Anil.
On YouTube, gender doesn’t determine the pay. Quite the opposite, in fact. Wartek won’t provide figures, but he says beauty videos are more lucrative. “They’re viewed by a much larger audience and attract more varied sponsors,” he says. During the latest YouTube Brandcast, the annual event of the Google branch dedicated to advertisers, EnjoyPhoenix made an appearance on stage along with L’Oréal representatives. Has Wartek found someone stronger than him?
The young man says he “won’t do that his entire life.” In addition to declining reflexes, the link with the angry viewers isn’t always easy. During the summer 2013, Wartek was intensely criticized after he recorded videos for a branch of Endemol, a Dutch entertainment company. “It was a very negative experience,” he says modestly today. “Comments are the first form of feedback of the subscribers. Some can be very harsh and hurtful.”
The master of virtual war reveals himself. “You have to learn to put distance in your work.” Even if he claims to be “still as happy” making videos, Wartek is now considering a career in digital marketing, “if possible, in video games.” The question now is, will Activision, the publisher of “Call of Duty,” get the hint?