No-one knows who they are in the ‘real world’, but the members of Viva La Dirt League are famous in the only place it counts: the Internet. They tell Hayden Donnell how to walk their path to success.
Until six months ago, Alan Morrison, Rowan Bettjeman and Adam King were just workaday losers like you or me. They had nothing to recommend them to the world; nothing to set them apart from other members of the dead-eyed mob miserably busing between work and home.
Today they’re the owners of one of New Zealand’s fastest growing YouTube channels. Their videos are routinely viewed more than 250,000 times. They have New Zealand On Air funding, more than 115,000 Facebook fans, and a bounty of that most coveted commodity: web clicks.
But how did they transform from schlubs to Internet stars? I sat down with them in a crowded bakery outside the NZME headquarters, where Bettjeman and Morrison make a living making the show MediaOcre for WatchMe, in an effort to uncover their secrets. Their story revealed an easily replicable six-step guide to YouTube fame.
1. Start off making a lot of Starcraft II-themed parody music videos
Viva La Dirt League started out four years ago after finding an untapped gap in the market: Starcraft II-themed pop parodies. All of them were professionals spending their few pleasurable hours each day playing deathmatches online. One day they had an epiphany that changed their lives: nobody else was re-imagining pop anthems as explorations of the most aggressively nerdy aspects of Starcraft culture.
Their first video covered a hated tactic employed by Zerg opponents: the 8 Pool.
It got nearly 500,000 views after finding favour with the tormented locals in the vast hellpits of Reddit.com. The team went on to make several more videos about busting through base defences, going on emotionally devastating losing streaks, and obscure Starcraft strategy.
Bettjeman and Morrison look back on the videos with a growing sense of humiliation and despair. “We were having a discussion the other day like: should we delete some of these videos?” Bettjeman said. For the record, they’re most embarrassed by ‘What Does the Drone Say’, which you can watch here. However their success proves that old axiom: every successful YouTube star starts off dressing in a tanktop and singing about Starcraft.
2. Have some kind of terrible falling out with your collaborators
Money. The root of all evil. Or in the case of Viva La Dirt League, the root of a dispute that reduced their core team from five to two members. When the Starcraft videos took off, ad money from YouTube started coming in, and the team argued over how to split it. Bettjeman was vague on the details, only ruefully advising up-and-coming YouTubers to split their money evenly. “The moment money enters – and I’m just as bad as anyone – everyone turned into Gollum. Even though on paper stuff might be fair, it just divides the group,” he said.
However, if you want to follow the Viva route to success, split your money unevenly and wait for the wailing to begin.
3. Continue making videos for two years without any real encouragement or success
After the dust cleared, Bettjeman and Morrison trudged on through the sludge of the internet swamps alone, eventually adding King to the core team. For two years they kept making videos, seeing little-to-no growth in traffic to their channel. “There was at least a year there where it was just me and Alan,” Bettjeman said.
“There were no additional subscribers,” Morrison said. “If you see our graph, it goes up, up, then flatlines for two years.”
They wanted to prove their old team wrong.
They didn’t prove them wrong for two years.
Only a weird kind of insistent, unjustifiable perseverance kept them going.
“Have an enemy. Have a deep resentment for them. Hate someone so much that it pushes you to do things,” King said, most likely as a joke.
4. Have a great idea, let it sit in a Google Drive document for months
The concept behind Epic NPC Man is simple: take characters from role playing games and transfer their behaviour into the real world. It’s also an excellent idea. Morrison thought of it near the beginning of the year.
“For me it was just this one sentence that I wrote down in our draft shared folder: ‘Self-aware NPC dealing with the shit of being an NPC’,” he said.
He wrote it in the shared ideas file. Then he forgot about it.
It sat there for months before King found it. “I just read that one line and thought ‘this is genius’. I wrote seven scripts in a row,” he said. The team filmed Epic NPC Man and released it to moderate acclaim. It wasn’t until they completed one vital extra step that it became truly popular.
5. Make a meme
Want to know the difference between a YouTube flop and a viral video that changes your life forever? Four-to-ten words.
The Viva La Dirt League team had produced a possibly questionable video about a female gamer who immediately becomes a swear-spewing maniac after donning a VR headset. They released it on YouTube to no avail. Then they decided to make it into a meme, shortening the video and writing “Girl Gamers Be Like” on the screen.
It was shared by the likes of Unilad and Lad Bible, and is now sitting on roughly 3 million views. The video’s success drove people to the team’s Epic NPC Man videos, which started to take off.
“That’s what sparked it. That changed everything. But then the momentum kept going because of Epic NPC Man,” King said.
It’s a lesson for all of us: always harness the boundless power of the meme.
That was six months ago.
Today the Dirt League has more than 80,000 subscribers. They release three videos a week, all of which get hundreds of thousands of views, and have thousands of people who fit the definition of “fans”.
Sure, they’re unknown in New Zealand and most parts of the planet Earth. But through this simple four-year process, they’re now within reach of achieving the impossible: making a living off the Internet. If you don’t already subscribe to their channel, do it now.
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