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PewDiePie. © BBC

The Internet makes it easier for people to get their name across and many celebrities are born virtually overnight. On YouTube, anyone can make a name for himself and the story of PewDiePie is quite inspiring for those who want to walk in his footsteps. With little to no support, he managed to become a celebrity and is now the most successful YouTuber in the world, surpassing Hollywood celebrities and the best paying singers.

Passion for video games made PewDiePie famous

Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg was born in the city of Gothenburg Sweden and as a kid showed a lot of interest for horror video games. This passion grew stronger in high school and he spent a lot of time playing the most popular video games of those years with his friends in Internet cafes. He was supposed to get a degree in Industrial Economics and Technology Management but left the Chalmers University.

His parents, both chief executives of Swedish companies, didn’t approve his decision to drop out of university to focus on the YouTube career. Driven by his enthusiasm for video games and animated by the dream of making his YouTube channel the best around, PewDiePie never faltered. He started to sell hotdogs to fuel this newfound career and focus on making gaming videos, after developing a steady fan base. In less than a year, he crossed the psychological threshold of 1 million subscribers.

The original PewDiePie YouTube channel

Unlike professional reviewers, who would focus on the technical issues and highlight the pros and cons of purchasing each video game, PewDiePie has a more personal approach. The purpose of his YouTube channel is to share gaming moments with followers, that he affectionately calls bros. Without the constraints of a day job and enjoying total freedom with his video reviews, he was able to present all the video games in a truly original manner.

The introduction to all his gaming videos is easy to recognize and acts as a brand, as well as the “brofist” performed at the end of every session. PewDiePie didn’t hesitate to tackle different subjects and in addition to commenting on video games, he started to upload animated comedy shorts.

A godsend for Indie videogame producers

Indie developers found him to be very accommodating, as he wouldn’t hesitate to play the video games produced by them, as a sign of support. By comparison, he paid less attention to blockbuster video games and franchises such as World of Warcraft, Diablo III, Fallout 4, Gears of War 4 or F.E.A.R 3.

PewDiePie was initially criticized by some people for having content that includes profanity and words that are not readable to a broad audience. However, the genuine and unfiltered remarks made him very popular among YouTube browsers. While he plays video games, he makes plenty of astute observations about the highlights and shortcomings of the games, but is better known for his blurted jokes. Political correctness is not what defines his channel, but that’s exactly what the fans grew to love.

Every now and then, PewDiePie changes his attitude, particularly when the video games played are emotional. Overall, his YouTube channel feels like a roller coaster of emotion, sometimes raw, but always authentic. Instead of carefully building an Internet persona, he chose to keep things simple and the resulting online personality is 100% genuine.

PewDiePie goes from rags to riches

When the Swedish teenager embarked on this epic request, he had no idea of how far this adventure would take him. He registered the account under the name PewDiePie and uses the money made from selling hotdogs to fund his videos. Unaware of the fact that one could actually make a lot of money from video gaming, he pursued this as a hobby, rather than a career. As the number of subscribers grew at a steady and accelerated pace, he no longer had to sell hotdogs for a living and could rely on online income.

By the end of the year, his channel had crossed the limit of 60,000 subscribers and six months later, he had 1 million people watching him constantly. The major breakthrough came in 2012 when PewDiePie had the number one channel on YouTube, which prompted him to sign a contract with Maker Studios. From this point onward, it was obvious that the popularity of the channel will only increase and important milestones were set in early 2013.

PewDiePie won several prestigious awards, including the Most Popular Social Show and soon after he leapfrogged Toby Turner, Smosh and Jenna Marbles. Swedish people now represent only a small percentage of his subscribers, but this is where his most loyal fan base still resides. His channel set multiple world records, reaching 15 and then 20 million subscribers while only being surpassed for a brief period of time by YouTube’ Spotlight account.

The recipe for success

One of the things that made the PewDiePie channel great is that the number of subscribers grew organically, as word got out. Instead of investing heavily in advertising and marketing, he kept producing the same quality content that made him popular in the first place. Even though the frequency of uploads decreased in 2014 and he chose to disable comments on his channel, people were still flocking to his gaming videos.

He stays in touch with his fan base via Reddit and Twitter, while also setting up a website that goes by the name of broarmy.net. In 2014, he started to stream videos that also featured his co-host BroKen, with comments returning briefly to the channel. 14 million new subscribers were acquired and the number of video views surged past 4 billion, an unprecedented number for any YouTube channel. The latest record was set in 2015 when 10 billion viewers were recorded.

The inexplicable PewDiePie phenomenon

PewDiePie didn’t bother to cultivate a public image, but the popularity of his channel inevitably brought him in the spotlight. Responses to his content are mixed, with many praising his originality and ability to stay fresh after all these years. The fans loved the manner in which he bridges the distance between people playing video games on their own, mostly alone in front of a monitor. Making fun of the games reviewed, as well as real and fictional people makes time passes much faster for them.

Meanwhile, criticism was caused by the manner in which certain words were used with greater liberty than political correctness would allow. PewDiePie never claimed to be a role model and when asked, he goes to great lengths to express his intention of having fun, rather than inspiring people. Having said this, many surveys have highlighted the fact that he is regarded to be more popular and influential than many of the mainstream celebrities.

PewDiePie takes no pleasure in being called famous and doesn’t like to be treated like a celebrity, despite the obvious success. When interacting with the fans, he prefers to greet them personally, regardless of what the security staff recommends. The rise to fame was so fast, that he confesses that he didn’t have the time to adapt and plans on conducting his activities just as he did over all these years. The fact that he was included on the list of 30 most influential people online by Time magazine didn’t change that either.

PewDiePie income and charity work

As his YouTube channel surged to new highs, so did his income and PewDiePie has earned a cool $4 million in 2013 alone. All the comments made on the video games have an important impact on these titles as well, positively impacting the sales. He frequently stated that this is an unintended consequence, because his only goal is to have fun and spend some quality time with those following him.

Unlike other YouTube creators who are very careful when talking about their earnings, PewDiePie had no problem in discussing the matter with the fans. Unlikely as this sounds, the interest for the topic was significant and the fans were impressed, but happy to hear that he made in excess of $12 million in 2015. Looking back at the humble beginnings, it is impossible not to be impressed by how far he came and appreciate his perseverance and dedication.

Money doesn't change PewDiePie

PewDiePie apparently doesn’t care too much about money and was even annoyed by the fact that the media was so interested in his network. Meanwhile, he spends a lot of time to support fundraising for various charities and apparently he’s very successful at it two. The World Wildlife Fund and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital were two of the beneficiaries of his fundraising events, well before his channel became the most subscribed one on YouTube.

The “Water Campaign" charity remains one of his most important projects, with his goal of raising $250,000 being exceeded by a great margin. The same happened with the future campaigns and the most successful up to date remains the "Save the Children" which rose over $630,000. PewDiePie has both the means and the desire to give something back to society and he promised that more similar campaigns will follow. He also makes unique videos for charity that are bought by game developers and advertisers.

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