Welcome to Creators Going Pro, where in partnership with Semaphore — a creator-focused family of companies providing business and financial services to social media professionals — we profile professional YouTube stars who have hit it big by doing what they love. Each week, we’ll chat with a creator about the business side of their channel, including identifying their Semaphore Moment — the moment they truly went pro.
Swiftor may say he’s just “that cranky bald guy in the corner of the screen,” but to his millions of followers across YouTube and Twitch, he’s at the heart of a positive, collaborative community.
Like many gaming creators on YouTube, Swiftor (real name Joseph Alminawi) mostly plays the massively popular online multiplayer Fortnite. But unlike many creators, his main fare isn’t Fortnite’s player vs. player modes like ‘Team Rumble’ — where two teams of players with endless respawns compete to see who can get to 150 kills first — or ‘Solo,’ ‘Duos,’ and ‘Squads,’ where players have only one life and try to be the last person, pair, or four-player team left standing.
Instead, Swiftor’s bread and butter is Fortnite’s ‘Creative’ mode, which was introduced in December last year. In the game’s player vs. player modes, users can use four basic structures (walls, stairs, roofs, and floors) to create basic buildings, ramps, and shelters. But in Creative, Fortnite gives players even more capabilities. They can drop in everything from prefabbed buildings to specific supplies like weapons and healing potions, and create their own full-scale playable environments and minigames.
Creative is where Swiftor thrives. He outright admits he’s not the best in a shootout, but when it comes to bringing masses of players together to play together in Creative, he’s a wizard.
Here’s how it works: most evenings, he fires up his Twitch channel and invites his 1.1 million followers to join in the action or watch. Over on YouTube, his 3 million subscribers get next-morning uploads to see the action. One of Swiftor’s most popular series is Swiftor Says, where he masses players together in Creative and commences a do-as-I-say.
Swiftor generally uploads one video per day, and as you can imagine, putting out that much content is a full-time job. When he joined YouTube in 2006, way back in its fledgling days, he didn’t ever think it could be a full-time gig. But in 2012, he realized his videos were raking in enough views for him to bring in four-figure AdSense checks. And when the gaming company he worked for, OMGPOP, was effectively shuttered in 2013, leaving him without a traditional paycheck, he decided to take the plunge and make YouTube his new career.
Check out our chat with him below about building his audience, the logistics of playing with hundreds of his followers, and the branch of gaming he’s looking at expanding into next.
Tubefilter: Tell us a little about you! Where are you from? How did you get into gaming? What did you do before YouTube?
Swiftor: First off, I’m OLD! Compared to most of my audience, anyway. I’m 37 and was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. My siblings and I grew up playing video games together — the first video game system we begged our parents for was an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Video games were a huge part of my life growing up. When going to college, I got my first job as a computer technician, and that eventually became a full-time job after I graduated. Eight years later, I got lucky and became a community manager for a gaming company, OMGPOP, and through that and many other amazing events transitioned into becoming a full-time content creator.
Tubefilter: What made you choose YouTube as the place to share your content? It was a baby platform when you first joined–did you ever think it could become a full-time career for you?
Swiftor: I first started uploading gaming videos in 2008. Around then, I streamed myself playing video games on Justin.tv (which is now Twitch). I uploaded video clips from my show in the hopes that more people would come watch live. My show eventually evolved into us doing cool things together, like Simon Says in Call of Duty. I knew what we were doing was cool, but never expected YouTube to be the place where it would get momentum. It was absolutely a surprise, and I definitely didn’t expect it to be such huge part of my life.
Tubefilter: When did you know Fortnite was going to be a hit, and a game you wanted to feature on your channel?
Swiftor: I had played Fortnite even before they introduced the Team Rumble game mode, BUT I was very late to the game of getting Fortnite on my channel regularly. The battle royale version of Fortnite was a lot of fun, and lots of content creators were having huge success with the game creating exciting videos. But as someone who is generally terrible at any game that needs aim and decent reaction time, my attempts at playing the game just were just pretty sad to watch!
It wasn’t until Playground mode and Creative mode were introduced that my type of content could shine. In those modes, you can organize fun minigames without the stress of someone trying to shoot you or a killer storm closing in on you. For years, my community and I focused on bringing players together to do custom minigames — and when those modes let us take advantage of that, I finally got a chance to share Fortnite content that really reflected the kind of videos we made.
Tubefilter: When did you get your first check for online video revenue? How much was it for? What about your first check outside of AdSense $?
Swiftor: This was around the summer of 2012. For a long time, I was never that interested in turning on ads for my videos. I had a great job already, made videos for fun, and was thankful people watched them.
Then, in May of 2012, I went to Atlantic City with friends and felt bummed about losing around $60 at the casino. It wasn’t a big deal, but I wondered if I could recoup my defeat at the casino by maybe monetizing a video or two. After talking with fans in the comments to see how they felt, they all seemed happy to see ads if it supported me (bless their souls!), and they were apparently already used to it with other gaming creators.
I signed up with an MCN, Fullscreen, since at the time that was the only way to actually get the tools to monetize videos. I turned on ads for my first video to find out the next day that I earned $7. I was blown away. One video did that in a day — and I had over a thousand videos at the time. I spent the next night enabling monetization on every video I had, and was thrilled when I got a check for around $2,000.
As a content creator, my first check outside of AdSense was a promoted stream I did on my livestreaming channel on Twitch. I don’t recall the exact amount, but it was very significant to me at time!
Tubefilter: Have you had any sponsorships or brand partnerships for videos? How did those come about?
Swiftor: I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to represent some great brands in sponsored videos and streams. Some were from food industry, others were gaming hardware, and games, of course. The YouTube brand deals almost always came from my network Fullscreen, which has always been awesome in supporting me and my channel. On Twitch, for my livestreaming, those almost always come from the Twitch sales team. And then others sometimes come from me just messaging brands I like. Most brands didn’t reply early on, but now it’s a lot easier to get a conversation going. It’s great to see how far gaming content has come in being valuable to brands.
Tubefilter: Do you have a content strategy? How do you decide on topics for your videos, and how do you keep your Fortnite content unique amongst a whole slew of other Fortnite videos?
Swiftor: My strategy, especially with Fortnite content, is just to focus on keeping it fun to watch and involving the community as much as I can. At the end of the day, what makes the videos unique is the community members in them, and I think there’s also appeal in that anyone watching could be in a future video. There’s a different mix of community members in just about every video, and I think that really makes each video even more interesting. What personalities will be there and how will they mix? I certainly would not be where I am now if it was always about this cranky bald guy on the bottom corner of the screen.
Tubefilter: What was that Semaphore Moment for you—the first time you realized you were a professional YouTuber?
Swiftor: Up until 2013, my expectation was that I’d generally have a normalish day job. And I was really fortunate to work for OMGPOP. OMGPOP got acquired by Zynga, and because of that, when Zynga closed down our NYC office, I had the opportunity to give making content a shot full-time. I wasn’t sure how that was going to work out, but I wanted to give it my absolutely best effort. I was tremendously lucky and excited that fans and the community watched and supported it what I did to a degree where I could do it for a living. There’s nothing more motivating than having people truly love what you do.
Tubefilter: What’s your production schedule like? Do you have a set filming and uploading schedule?
Swiftor: Most of my content is recorded live on Twitch during the evenings, and then edited the next morning for YouTube. I like to think of my live stream as my behind-the-scenes recording session, and the YouTube upload the finished cinematic release.
Tubefilter: Have you ever experienced creator burnout?
Swiftor: Absolutely. I’d be surprised if anyone in this arena hasn’t. It’s generally not from the content creation itself — I love what I do. Even when I go on “vacation,” I quickly get the feeling that I want to go back home and get back to cranking out fun videos. It’s only when it feels like I don’t have enough variety that I get the burnout vibes.
What I’ve found has worked best for me is to occasionally try something completely different to keep things interesting — maybe a different game genre, or a maybe a cooking video. That generally keeps me in pretty good shape, and sometimes I get surprised with an outstanding community response!
Tubefilter: You mentioned Fullscreen is your network. Do you have any other folks working with you behind the scenes? An editor or assistant? What about a manager?
Swiftor: For the most part, I’m a one man show. And a smarter me would probably hire a full-time editor, thumbnail artist, and even an assistant. But it’s hard for me to let go of the way I like things done. I also have a very large of team of volunteer moderators who help make a lot of the game-organizing logistics work. Getting lots of people into a game and organized isn’t always easy.
One very fortunate recent development, though, is that my fiance Candy has jumped into the video editor role. She manages her own architecture projects, but being the wonderful woman she is, she has experimented editing a few videos a week for me, which is a tremendous help. And with us living together, it’s easy to just swing by her desk and discuss different approaches. We’ll see how long I can retain her as a team member, since it seems fans like her edits better than my own, haha.
Tubefilter: What do you think is the most vital skill you possess as a creator?
Swiftor: I think every successful creator has superpowers and talents they apply to their content to help them excel. For me, I think it’s my ability to organize people and community members. Practically all my content revolves around my community and doing cool things together — and we’ve done some great things!
Tubefilter: What’s next for you and your channel? What are you building toward?
Swiftor: I’m really excited for augmented reality (AR) to have bigger roles in our lives and in gaming — and I want to be a part of that as a content creator. The idea that glasses can add an overlay to the world we’re looking at will change a lot — in games and otherwise. I think phenomenons like we’ve seen in the past with Pokémon GO will emerge again with gaming outside our homes. Imagine a game where you’re in Central Park with others fighting a giant robot. You’ll actually be in Central Park, and the robot will be something everyone sees through their glasses. Anyway, my mind is just nerding out now. It’ll take a while for AR to get there, but it will, and I’m working hard to make sure I’m ready to take that content and share it with the world.
Swiftor is a Fullscreen client.
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