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Four professional gamers sit at tables on a stage, all facing toward a screen opposite them. The game is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Host and “YouTube superstar” Toby Turner kicks off the match with dramatic flair, and the players begin to shoot at one another.
This isn’t a white-knuckled deathmatch among the best Counter-Strike players in the world, though. In fact, it seems like half these players have barely played the game at all. This is Legends of Gaming, and although all the players are popular gamers on YouTube, Twitch and elsewhere, they’re not necessarily playing to their strengths here. The results are pretty funny.
“We don’t know what games we’re going to play until we walk in here,” a gamer called “Terrorizer"—real name Brian—said. "It’s not so much about playing well—though I wish I could…it’s more about a concoction of entertaining people trying to show the more lighter side to competitive gaming.”
I chatted with Terrorizer and several others who are on the show, including Turner and coaches Carl “Perfect Legend” White (a champion of fighting games) and Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel (often billed as the world’s first professional gamer), while on set with a couple of other journalists at YouTube Space LA. The warehouse-like space (which in fact used to be an aircraft hangar) is home to professional studios, green screens and more that are available to YouTubers with certain subscriber numbers.
Legends of Gaming is based on a UK series of the same name, although the US version focuses more on team play than on individuals. It’s the debut show from a network called SMASHER, which for the past week has been putting up brief profile videos of the gamers who will compete on the show, plus a trailer meant to introduce viewers to the show’s premise.
That’s the premiere episode above. It debuted today. The thing that struck me about it was that if no one explained the premise to me, I’d have absolutely no idea what was going on. Who are these people? Why are they playing Doom 3, an 11-year-old game, if half of them apparently have no idea what they’re even doing? Why are there massive Pizza Hut logos up on the wall for a quarter of the episode?
As far as I can tell they’re relying entirely on star power to get people watching this; the show’s fact sheet brags of the cast’s collective 43 million subscribers across the internet (YouTube, social media etc.). I checked out Turner’s channel and realized pretty quickly that I’m not the target audience—the dude is frenetic, and like many other YouTubers, his style involves lots and lots of quick, jarring cuts. Plus, his latest video, titled “THE FOREST IS SCARY,” is nothing more than a barely disguised and cheaply produced advertisement for The Forest, a horror film coming out in January. I can say definitively that I don’t get it, and in this case I don’t feel too much like the 27-year-old curmudgeon that I am for saying so.
But Turner alone has over 6 million subscribers on his main YouTube channel and 2 million on his secondary channel, called “Lazy Vlogs.” This is what the kids are into, apparently, and SMASHER and YouTube are hoping they’ll flock to Legends of Gaming to watch Turner make weird faces and see some big-name pro gamers and YouTubers flounder in games they’re unfamiliar with—and have fun. And develop valuable brand synergy with Pizza Hut.
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Gaming Editor, in charge of all things video games but mostly concerned with fretting over why he never made it big on YouTube. He lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend and two dogs. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.
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