This Hollywood influencer company is helping internet stars

More than 1,000 people came to see Brian Oades.

Lined up outside the headquarters of its parent company, the FaZe Clan, in Hollywood, a line wraps around the block: a group of excited teens, street-dressed high schoolers and parents slowly besieged on Melrose Boulevard.

Many have waited hours to catch up with the vlogger, who regularly entertains an audience equivalent to the population of Sri Lanka.

“I would literally like to meet every single person,” Al-Awadi said, standing on a platform inside a warehouse-like office, to the already-arriving crowd. My team told me it was impossible.

Those outside of Awadi’s orbit might be puzzled as to how he could attract such a large crowd. With a handful of IMDb credits — all to himself — he’s hardly your standard celebrity; After a brief stint in Los Angeles, the 26-year-old San Diegan moved back south to be closer to home.

However, on the internet, or at least in certain corners of it, he’s a pretty big deal. Twenty-two million people follow him on YouTube, his platform of choice, where he posts high-concept pranks and lavishly funded stunts. Still more kept up with his life on TikTok (9.6 million), Instagram (6.6 million), and Twitter (2.6 million). Under the handle of the FaZe Rug, he’s funneled all that online clout into a dedicated energy drink, a short-lived podcast, and most recently, a signature DoorDash sandwich called the “Rugfather.”

It was this sandwich partnership that brought him and his legions of fans in droves to attend the Hollywood meet-and-greet.

“I love him,” said Ethan Comingore, 15, of San Bernardino. “I watch it day and night.”

There’s a lot of money in all of this — both from fans who dutifully wait for hours on the sidewalk hoping to bump their favorite YouTube star into a fist bump and brands that, as with DoorDash, want access to big soapboxes Awadis and other social media personalities with a The big names.

Enter FaZe Clan, the sprawling web content and lifestyle brand that staged the event this summer. It is among the many companies trying to capitalize on the massive demand. This summer, the company audience gone in a reverse $725 million merger – with mixed results.

That number is lower than a previous forecast of $1 billion, and the company’s share price has since fallen. After FaZe Clan for the first time At about $13 a share, but in the midst of a wider range The decline of the technology sectorthe price fell significantly to close at $2.44 on Friday.

Three men sit and another man stands at FaZe Clan headquarters in Los Angeles.

Donald De Le Hay, aka FaZe Deestroying, Alex Prynkiewicz, aka FaZe Adapt, Kaysan Ghasseminejad, aka FaZe Kaysan, and Rani Netz, aka FaZe Ronaldo, at the FaZe Clan headquarters in Los Angeles.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

“Our going public gave us a budget that we didn’t have before… to really invest in the existing business [and] “We are building the future,” said CEO Lee Trinc.

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Located somewhere at the intersection of management agency, record label, and artist group, FaZe is largely built around influencers, streamers, and web personalities with ties to the world of video games. The company also builds esports teams and makes money from sponsorship deals with brands.

FaZe regularly tours hip-hop, professional sports, and fitness, and has considered ventures in gambling and cryptocurrency. Although it’s still heavy on players, Lil Yachty added, LeBron James Jr. and Snoop Dogg as subsidiaries. wore the latter FaZe branded series during his Super Bowl halftime show earlier this year.

It’s all part of a company-wide pivot from gamer to youth culture — a broader, if less defined market — that’s been creeping in since FaZe’s early days.

FaZe started in 2010 when a group of teens began posting “Call of Duty” hoax footage to YouTube. It grew from there, making a name for itself among video game fans and branching out into esports teams, influential “content houses” and other ventures. Today, it has nearly 100 employees.

Awadis was recruited for his gaming skills but has expanded into lifestyle vlogs and other character-driven content, as have some of his colleagues.

The result was a company that defies categorization. In a presentation to investors in 2021, FaZe proposed that it combine MTV’s generational appeal, reach across Disney platforms, iconic Roc Nation personality and fan loyalty to the NBA.

The company reported $14 million in revenue in the third quarter, up 12% from the year-ago period (about half from brand deals). The company also reported a pre-tax loss of $12 million in the quarter, reflecting costs of hiring and going public. That same loss was $4.1 million in the prior quarter.

It’s not the only company trying to turn “likes” and shares into a sustainable business model. In fact, with so much money flowing around the creative economy, there are plenty of financial incentives to break down individual influencers into larger business ventures.

Some started on their own retail brands. Others moved tocontent homes“So that they can live and work together under a shared identity. Still more are connected to structured creative collaborations, such as”Saturday Night Live” – neat Tik Tok comedy. FaZe isn’t alone in trying to blend gamer culture with social impact: Los Angeles-based brand 100 Thieves has tried something similar.

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It is an industry that relies heavily on the unique charm of certain web personalities. This can make it profitable but also very risky; If these characters drain, get scrapped, or slowly start to lose interest in the internet’s fickle, a lot of the value and reach they had to provide goes with them.

“[FaZe Clan] We have a group of influencers and creators, of course, but Twitch, YouTube and TikTok are much larger, and none of them have an answer on how to monetize and scale,” the portfolio covers gaming and digital entertainment.

Conflicts can arise with influencers as well. Influencer Alyssa Marie Violet Butler lawsuit FaZe Clan received last year shares of the company it said it was owed (the company dismissed her complaints). In the same year, FaZe Removal three members for allegedly promoting a cryptocurrency “pump and dump” scheme; A fourth was suspended but later invited. And in 2020, Turner Tenney’s character is streaming Settlement A contract dispute with the company after claiming to have exploited it.

In a presentation to investors in 2021, FaZe cited as a risk factor how “historically a limited number of esports professionals, influencers and content creators account for a significant portion of our revenue”.

A person wearing a dark hoodie lies on a red-covered sofa at FaZe Clan headquarters in Los Angeles.

FaZe Adapt is suspended in the FaZe repository.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

A big part of FaZe’s offer of fresh talent is its logistical support. It offers affiliate creators help with sponsorship deal disputes and access to in-house management, publicity, legal, merchandising, and sales teams, and thinks of itself as an incubator for budding creators.

“Any business like that, if you’re going to be at the forefront of youth culture, you better have the people who are closest to the ground,” Trink said.

Among those new voices is Gabriel Gelinas, a Canadian streamer from Quebec who was accepted into the list earlier this year under the name FaZe Proze after winning a recruiting contest.

“FaZe has been doing a great job of trying to evolve and innovate,” said Gelinas, 24. “That’s why I feel like they’re always looking for new people.”

Another recent addition to the list — Donald De La Haye, or FaZe Deestroying — said the company had everything he could have asked for in a partnership: “infrastructure, business brain, capital, and know-how.”

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De La Haye was a former college football player deemed ineligible in favor of the NCAA in 2017 after he refused to stop earning ad revenue from his YouTube channel. These days, he makes videos about football and the culture of the sport with the logistical support of FaZe.

A man wearing a hat rides a motorbike.

FaZe Destroying rides a motorcycle.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

“They definitely helped me get things off my plate,” said De La Haye, 25.

It’s not always clear how much of FaZe’s popularity comes from the overall brand versus the star power of individual members.

“I don’t really watch FaZe—I just watch FaZe Rug videos,” Kevin Isis, 13, said while standing in line to meet DoorDash.

In fact, FaZe Clan’s YouTube channel has less than 40% more followers than Awadis’ personal channel.

Awadis is one of the most followed creators on the company’s roster, so he’s not necessarily an actor — and FaZe still has more fans than him on Instagram and Twitter. However, it raises the question: who needs whom more?

“I’m like the CEO of my own company, but then I also became part of FaZe,” Awadis said. “So my stuff helps FaZe and vice versa.”

But maintaining the stability of the larger organization can sometimes mean shifting around its component parts.

Youssef Abdel-Fattah, better known online as FaZe Apex, was a member of the brand when a few teens were posting “Call of Duty” shenanigans online. But as FaZe grew, Abdelfattah began to handle some of the day-to-day administrative work.

“I always did — I don’t want to say unpleasant work, but less exciting things,” he said. “In 2016-2017, when the business was more mature and when we had an office, we had staff, I started balancing content creation with…decision making.”

These days, Abdel-Fattah spends much of his time mediating between company management and talent — the resident player whispering, as it were.

Four men rest.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

He said, “The content industry is very demanding, and that spark, I think, has kind of fizzled out. … I got very lucky that when I hit that wall, I was able to continue to be very involved in the company that I love.”

The 26-year-old has adopted a mentoring role among the recruits. One of the new teenage members calls him “Boomer”.

Internet culture is changing rapidly, and 12-year-old FaZe is considered an old brand at this point. However, change continues—even if it means evolving beyond the people and ideas you started with.

“It’s a team effort now,” Abdel-Fattah said. “all of us [early members] It brought in people who we know understand the internet, who understand this world, and who can help us stay on the right track. … We’re constantly trying to put together a monster team of internet geniuses.”


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