YouTubers hungry for a quick inflation to their subscriber base are turning to Fortnite in the latest bloody bid for attention. Fortnite is played by people of all ages, but it's undeniably designed to appeal to younger people. It's a violent cartoon in a bright world where a new villain arrives with every season on the back of an in-game event to spawn an evil purple cube or cover the map in snow and ice. Fortnite is 2019's most popular Saturday morning cartoon and it's free to play and watch 24 hours a day.
It's these very in-game events that YouTube livestreamers are using to manipulate young and/or naive viewers in order to boost subscriber numbers and donation totals, resorting to tactics so transparently misleading and exploitative that the videos, for anyone over the age of six, are borderline unwatchable.
And yet, the viewers pile in on the most believable and—or maybe the most unrelenting—of the pack, pulling in thousands of viewers at a time amidst a pack of thirsty, lying thumbnails in the Fortnite YouTube search results.
Open an new tab and go to YouTube right now. Type "Fortnite event" in the search box and then filter the results so only live videos show up. Welcome to hell.
While it's true that a massive eye has split open on the side of Fortnite's Polar Peak, and it is true that cracks have formed in the ice and are slowly spreading over time, nothing of importance is actually happening at all. Epic builds toward major changes in map design and theme over the course of entire three-month seasons, clearly telegraphing via social channels and the in-game news bulletin when players should log in to witness the turning of the page themselves.
For these livestreamers, that messaging doesn't matter. They play stupid to get around YouTube's guidelines, phrasing their stream titles as questions or vague statements that, while technically true, communicate a brash sense of urgency, especially in tandem with garish thumbnails that scream even louder. "LIVE EVENT!" and a chunky red arrow are near guarantees, while the more ambitious streamers photoshop cracks on the eye itself, or throw a godzilla in for good measure—something to really get a kid's mind turning over.
That's not even the worst of it. The theatrics required to trick an audience into thinking something big is about to happen boggle the mind.
First, a short montage. You'll want to turn the volume down.
Wow, that sure sucked to hell. Which is why I'm sorry to say we're going to take a closer look at exactly how it sucked to hell.
Forever-looping countdown clocks. The ultimate fuck you. We're all suckers for a countdown clock. Don't lie to yourself, it's true. And these channels all feature a countdown clock, each counting down to nothing, largely ignored by the streamer and 100-percent of the time as it resets.
Shaking the mouse and attributing it to 'something' happening. That's not programmed screenshake, my dudes. Chunky lie right here.
Erratic character movement and emote use to maintain a sense of urgency and avoid viewerside inspection of the scene. Even the most savvy children don't have time to truly investigate the truth of the matter. Streamers use it as an excuse to claim they saw something happen related to the event so quickly that it was impossible to perceive for the average viewer. It also makes focus impossible.
Ohmygodohygodohmygodohmygod, you guys. Ohmygodohmygod. Guys. Ohmygodohmygodohmygodyouguysohmygod, you guys, ohmygod. You guys: Oh my god.
Fixating on days-old map changes, like a crack, and saying they've grown or changed when they clearly haven't. Epic isn't making these cracks move by the centimeter, guy. Scream about it long enough and it starts to feel real.
Parroting common livestreamers phrases as a means of appearing earnest. F's in the chat! Let's get a sub-bomb in three, two, one! I love you guys, appreciate the support, loving these blood oaths!
Mod and Fortnite skin incentives. The promise of your first taste of authority is tough for a plugged-in kid to turn down. And hell, if someone offered me a Beast War figurine (the '90s equivalent of a Fortnite skin) to sub to their YouTube channel, I'd have a hard time saying no.
The evidence doesn't need a complex corkboard and yarn map to understand what's going on. These are digital scam artists vying for time and attention, the most valuable capital on Youtube. YouTube's content policies only explicitly address scams and deceptive practices that exploit users for money, not necessarily for likes and subscriptions. The policies do mention misleading metadata and thumbnails are a no-go, which I'm convinced most of these streamers are in clear violation of—but a cursory glance at the biggest YouTubers in the world shows that garish, exaggerated titles and thumbs are just accepted YouTube culture now.
I mean, Twitch took its sweet time removing actual porn streaming on the Artifact channel, so I'm guessing the shrill, sustained screams of budding scam artists are a relatively low priority for YouTube, assuming they have dozens of their own Artifact channels to stamp down.
Even so, complacent attitudes towards content that clearly capitalizes on children should not be the norm. I worry about catching up with my toddler nephew one day, finding that he's ditched Jay Jay the Jetplane because a person they don't know but trust said something is happening in Fortnite right now and forever into eternity. Terrible viewing material built on the back of a parasitic relationship that abuses the trust and interests of young people—it's gross! But it's also very normal. Will YouTube do anything about it? Probably not.
But even if it does, long after the Polar Peak event actually takes place, the streamers will be back with garish thumbnails and home-brewed screenshake in tow, blabbering on about the return of old Tilted or the return of the cube or a tiny blade of grass catching the light in such a way they'd never noticed before. It can only mean one thing, after all: LIVE EVENT!!! INDIVIDUAL BLADE OF GRASS CATCHING LIGHT IN NEW WAY RIGHT NOW??!