WTF is... TotalBiscuit?

Alex Calvin
WTF is... TotalBiscuit?

There are many ways to measure the influence of John Bain, but recently MCV stumbled across a new one by accident.

He was one of the hundred entrants in our Brit List. Bain tweeted out a link to the magazine, which instantly more than doubled our typical readership. And this should not come as a surprise – on Twitter he has near 288,000 followers, while he commands an audience of 1.7m people on YouTube.

Bain started life in podcasting, something that worked well due to his authorative, baritone voice he has become famous for. Between 2005 and 2010 he ran World of Warcraft Radio before the group behind the site went their separate ways. He then started Cynicalbrit.com where he continued to post more general gaming content.

It was around this time that Bain was made redundant from his low-level admin position at a financial advisory. Luckily for him the World of Warcraft Cataclysm expansion – something he had access to pre-release – was released and while job hunting he started making videos about the new MMO content.

“Those videos blew up very quickly and were pulling in huge views,” he explains. “I was given an offer to join a new YouTube network called the GameStation – now named Polaris – and monetise my content. They were just videos to push people to my website so I could make a tiny bit of ad revenue to maybe pay the rent.”

And almost overnight Bain went from worrying about where his next rent payment was coming from to having more money than he knew what to do with.

“The first pay cheque came in and blew a year’s worth of salary from the financial advisory,” he says. “When this cheque came in and said that I had x million views and how much that was worth I was like: ‘Wow. This is becoming a thing, let’s not mess this up. Don’t throw this opportunity away,’ because a chance like this only comes along once in a lifetime.”

“The first pay cheque came in and blew a year’s
worth of salary from the financial advisory. When
this cheque came in and said that I had x million
views and how much that was worth I was like:
‘Wow. This is becoming a thing, let’s not mess
this up. Don’t throw this opportunity away,’
because a chance like this only comes along
once in a lifetime.”

TotalBiscuit


Bain believes that his personality has been the key to his success on YouTube, and that his brutal honesty sets him apart from many of the other big gaming channels.

“Cult of personality is super-important on YouTube. All of the popular channels are very much founded on that,” Bain explains. “PewDiePie – the most popular channel right now – has built an army of millions of viewers entirely based on his personality.

“In terms of critique you can make that work as well. I try to stick to truthfulness more than anything else. It was interesting to exploit the idea that more traditional game reviews are lacking trust from the modern gaming consumer and people are starting to move away from that format. So being a personality driven commentator that has been able to build up credibility and trust has been key to the business.”

Being independent of any games media organisation and lacking any formal training are things that he sees as advantages. He can be very open about his biases unlike the neutral stance that journalists are meant to take. “I view a review as a more formal – almost academic – piece of critique. My content isn’t as smart as it could be,” he explains.

“It’s more of a stream of consciousness, off the cuff commentary based on my own personal biases. A journalist has to be very neutral when it comes to covering something than I do. I can inject more personal bias into it.”

His most popular videos are his WTF is..? uploads where Bain plays a new game and gives his thoughts. This content – inspired by gaming website Giant Bomb’s Quick Look previews – can extend up to an hour, something Bain says flew against the conventional wisdom of people wanting bite-sized content.

“I looked at Quick Look and saw that people were able to watch an hour of general commentary to learn about a game by watching raw gameplay, warts and all, without the heavy editing,” he says.

“I will talk for as long as I feel is necessary, even up to an hour. The traditional wisdom was that you couldn’t get people to watch more than five minutes but my channel has proven that to be incorrect. There is a large market for lengthy gaming commentary in general.”

But in spite of his huge influence many companies do not give him pre-release versions of titles as they would to other gaming media.

“Most companies view YouTube as a very important component of their marketing strategy but not of the review cycle. I have a feeling that there is a degree of fear involved in it,” he says. “They believe that if you give too much power to someone that has a large audience and enable them to say whatever they want and do so in a way that is very lengthy and will show your game warts and all, you could take some fairly severe PR damage from that and sell fewer copies. If you’re not confident in your game it makes little sense to give your game to a YouTuber and allow them to hit an embargo on or before release because you want as many pre-orders as possible.”

“Starcraft 2 was the first and only game that I really
loved watching just for the sake of it. I was a kid who
grew up not liking football, which growing up in the
UK doesn’t get you very far. I found the excitement of
sports in Starcraft 2 and I finally understood what
people got out of sports. That is my sport, it’s the
one I get really excited watching and gives me those
heart in the mouth moments. It’s enjoyable to watch
and it’s very strategic.”

TotalBiscuit


But though he is best known for his critiques and commentaries of PC games, Bain is also a big name in eSports.

His second channel is focused almost entirely on Starcraft 2 and is one that he admits is nowhere near as popular as his main channel. To compare; his primary channel has 1.6m subscribers and videos regularly have viewerships in the hundreds of thousands. His eSport channel has a mere 156,951 subscribers at the time of writing and videos only get tens of thousands of viewers.

“Starcraft 2 was the first and only game that I really loved watching just for the sake of it,” he explains. “I was a kid who grew up not liking football, which growing up in the UK doesn’t get you very far. I found the excitement of sports in Starcraft 2 and I finally understood what people got out of sports. That is my sport, it’s the one I get really excited watching and gives me those heart in the mouth moments. It’s enjoyable to watch and it’s very strategic.”

eSports is not just something Bain wants to watch. He runs his own team. In 2012 his wife Genna created Axiom, a professional Starcraft 2 team run out of South Korea following the couple’s sponsorship of local player CranK in a series of MLG events. Bain now runs and manages the team.

“We found these players were getting very little for what they were doing. They weren’t being paid at all. We were able to promote these people who weren’t necessarily huge personalities to a Western audience and say ‘these guys aren’t just robots, they are great people.’ From a business standpoint it’s silly because it costs us a lot of money but it’s a passion project.”

But Bain mourns the lack of support for eSports around the world, but is happy that it is growing in popularity; something he praises live-streaming service Twitch for.

“Twitch is essential. Before that it was quite hard to watch eSports events,” he says. “You used to need TV for sports to be successful. Now you don’t because you have live streaming and that is what has brought eSports to the wide audience.”

He concludes: “Twitch has been so essential in allowing that to happen. There is no question about that.”

Subsequent to giving this interview John revealed in a video that he is suffering from "either a pre-cancerous or already cancerous mass" inside his colon. MCV wishes him all the best.

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