A teen drama centered on privileged high school athletes is starting to develop a serious cult following on the Web. But this show is a long way from Friday Night Lights.
Video Game High School, the product of YouTube/gaming stars Freddie Wong & Brandon Laatsch and writer Matt Arnold, has generated over 30 million views since debuting on May 17. The scripted series, which depicts a high school where the popular jocks are stud gamers rather than quarterbacks, has seen most of its nine episodes exceed 2 million views (episode 9, posted on July 12, is already up to 863,000 views as of Thursday (July 19) while episode one is closing in on a whopping 4.8 million streams).
So much for scripted originals not working on the Web. Though it surely helps that Wong and Laatsch are well-established YouTube veterans—their gaming-themed channel FreddieW boasts of close to 3.4 million subscribers and has generated a stunning 667 million views. That volume has enabled FreddieW to attract gaming advertisers like Ubisoft and EA.
“Video game high school has just been a massive success. It’s exceeded expecations,” said Alex Angeledes,
chief revenue officer at Collective Digital Studios (CDS).
CDS is a division of the production and distribution firm The Collective, which is behind such YouTube phenomena as Fred, a tween-beloved star who’s graduated to film and Nickelodeon, and The Annoying Orange, which has recently made the successful jump to a Cartoon Network series.
In the case of Video Game High School, “that speaks to the power of Freddie and Brandon and how loyal their audiences are. They are part of a new generation of digital influencer.”
Wong and Laatsch are twentysomethings who describe themselves as a part of a new breed of filmmakers who have grown up on video games and on YouTube. The pair built up a following on the FreddieW channel by cranking out a video once a week.
Now, they’re putting their talents and popularity to the test with Node, a new standalone YouTube channel focused on—what else—gaming. Node will initially feature four weekly series, including Lan Party and Tagged.
But wait, between VGHS, Freddie, IGN’s START and Machinima, does YouTube need more gaming content? Wong says absolutely.
"While there’s been a huge rise in gaming content over the past few years, typically it's about trailers and gaming strategies,” said Wong. “But it’s never encapsulated our first recollections with gaming: friends getting together, hooking an Xbox up in two different rooms and getting after each other. With Xbox Live you don’t have to get together any more to play games, and that’s the dynamic we’re trying to recapture.”
Node, like FreddieW’s existing channel, will feature both pre-roll ads sold by YouTube and The Collective, as well as branded entertainment offerings (VGHS featured a prominent integration from the energy drink Monster). Besides expanding their YouTube footprint, Wong and Laatsch are trying to pull of a tough trick—using hits like VGHS to help launch their own content destination, RocketJump. One might wonder, given YouTube’s video dominance, why bother?
“We’ve always wanted to control the video player for our videos,” said Wong. “We really want to evolve how comments on videos work.”
In the meantime, Wong and Laatsch are set to work on season two of VGHS, which is set for 2013. Angeledes wishes they could move even faster. “From a sales standpoint, I would love to see it in fourth quarter of this year. There’s that much interest.”