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UPDATED May 31, 2017 — Given the popularity of this list (originally written in the beginning of 2016), we’ve updated and expanded it for 2017. YouTube is growing quickly and recently announced that the number of channels on the platform with 1 million or more subscribers is up 75%. Though all of the YouTubers who made the original Top 10 list still remain in the Top 20, the rankings have changed. The original content has been preserved, but we’ve adjusted the rankings, added ten new personalities and clearly noted any shifts within the top list placement. To learn more about YouTubers, see our post on the richest YouTubers or check out our guide to influencer marketing with YouTubers.
The growth of the international gaming industry shows no signs of slowing down. According to the most recent Global Games Market Report, worldwide revenues are projected to reach $107 billion in 2017 and eclipse $118 billion by 2018, with the United States gaming industry alone poised to grow 30% to $19.6 billion by 2019.
The nature of how gamers interact is also evolving, closely paralleling the explosion in gaming lifestyle and culture popularity. Whereas gaming was once considered a solitary activity, the burgeoning gaming community now relies on video platforms like YouTube to communicate, learn, and share virtual exploits. Gaming YouTube videos can take on a variety of formats, including “Let’s Plays” (gameplay accompanied by commentary), walkthroughs (instructional gameplay and commentary), machinima (movies created from gameplay), and reviews. With an ever-growing number of loyal followers, top gaming YouTubers and channels are capturing the attention of millions with top subscribed channels and highly-viewed video content.
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Infographic courtesy of Newzoo
With over 1 billion active users and 300 hours of video uploaded every minute, YouTube is now the world’s second-largest search engine after Google. YouTube’s ubiquity and endless hours of free, user-generated content have made the platform extremely popular among Millennials (18- to 34-year-olds), and though the age group now outnumbers Baby Boomers as the most populous in the United States, marketers find Millennials an elusive demographic to target. For brands seeking to capitalize on YouTube’s expansive reach, marketing with top YouTube influencers may hold the key to winning over future generations.
[Tweet “The global gaming market has grown at an annualized rate of 9%.”]
Within the gaming sphere, videos are so successful that YouTube has even developed its own dedicated gaming platform. Launched on August 26, 2015, YouTube Gaming features a “live-content” site which facilitates real-time interaction between the viewer and YouTuber. Brands can easily leverage influencer partnerships on livestream sites because the content is unfiltered and authentic, which increases credibility among audiences.
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YouTube’s popularity has completely transformed the entertainment, media, and publishing industries, with top YouTubers outranking mainstream celebrities among teens and Millennials. Many of today’s most popular social media stars produce gaming-related content, a genre that accounts for 80% of YouTube’s top trends. Some of the most popular gaming YouTubers include:
Felix Kjellberg, better known as Pewdiepie, is a gaming YouTuber popular for his Let’s Play videos, many of which focus on horror-themed games (Silent Hill, Dead Island), Minecraft, and a myriad of flash games. Recently, the Swedish internet sensation has leveraged his fame to develop the YouTube Red series “Scare Pewdiepie,” which places the YouTuber “inside” the terrifying games he plays, and launched his own MCN, Revelmode. The first YouTube star to exceed 10 billion video views, Pewdiepie commands the attention of over 46 million followers (dubbed the “Bro Army”) and, according to the Washington Post, his popularity has led to an “Oprah Effect” wherein games he plays receive a boost in sales.
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Canadian gamer Evan Fong is a YouTuber whose channel, Vanoss Gaming, is best known for Let’s Plays of Grand Theft Auto V, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Skate 3, Dead Rising, and Garry’s Mod, as well as videos that feature funny moments and/or remixes from Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and Dark Realm gaming sessions. In 2014, Fong was nominated for a “Trending Gamer of the Year” award, and the Vanoss Gaming channel currently has over 20 million subscribers.
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Mark Edward Fischbach, also known as Markiplier, is a Hawaii-born gaming YouTuber who specializes in Let’s Play videos of survival horror and action video games (Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Never-Ending Nightmare, SCP Containment Breach, and Slender), comedy sketches (“Drunk Minecraft,” wherein Fischbach plays games intoxicated), and machinima parodies. With over 11 million dedicated followers, Fischbach is one of the most notable gaming YouTubers on the platform today.
Known for his irreverent sense of humor and gameplay commentary of popular EA Sports console game FIFA (and, to a lesser extent, Grand Theft Auto), Olajide “JJ” Olatunji, or KSI as he’s known in the gaming world, has developed an impassioned following of over 13 million subscribers and accrued an impressive 2 billion video views. Recently, KSI expanded his channel content to include soccer-related real-life challenges, pranks, and comical shorts/skits, though gaming remains the cornerstone of his content. In a July 2015 article, Variety ranked KSI the most influential social media personality among teen audiences, besting even Taylor Swift and fellow top gaming YouTuber, Pewdiepie.
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Dan Middleton (TheDiamondMinecart) is an English gaming personality and, with over 14.5 million followers, one of the top YouTubers in the United Kingdom. Though he began his YouTube career with Pokémon, he’s now most notable for his Minecraft videos, which make up the bulk of the content on his channel. That said, he also covers other games, such as Plants vs. Zombies and Garry’s Mod, and occasionally does vlog-style videos.
Also known as Adam Dahlberg, YouTuber Sky Does Minecraft developed a cult following after his use of peculiar terminology (he calls Minecraft gold “budder,” for example) and hatred of Minecraft squids began resonating with gamers. As the channel’s name suggests, Sky Does Minecraft is devoted almost entirely to videos of Minecraft Let’s Plays, machinimas, and role playing, though Dahlberg’s other channel, Sky Vs Gaming, features Let’s Plays of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, 5 Nights at Freddy’s 4, Grand Theft Auto, The Walking Dead, Dragonball Xenoverse, and other popular first-person shooter, third-person adventure, and fighting games. Dahlberg’s followers, who called themselves the “Sky Army,” now number over 12 million subscribers.
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Created in 2010 by British national Tom Cassell, The Syndicate Project originally focused on Halo and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Let’s Play gaming videos, but soon expanded to include Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies, Minecraft, unboxing videos of popular first-person shooter games, reaction videos, and real-life adventure videos (like skydiving). In November 2014, Cassell partnered with Adam Montoya (SeaNanners) and 3BlackDot (former Machinima executives) to launch Jetpak, an MCN (multi-channel network) dedicated to representing top gaming YouTubers fairly. Today, The Syndicate Project’s videos reach over 9.7 million subscribers.
Though Jordan Maron’s YouTube gaming channel Captain Sparklez has dabbled in Let’s Play videos of Happy Wheels, Left 4 Dead 2, Portal, and Call of Duty, Maron’s success has come largely from his Minecraft machinimas—specifically, machinimas that “cover” pop songs using Minecraft. To date, the YouTube gamer’s breakout video, “Minecraft Style” (a rendition of Korean artist Psy’s hit “Gangnam Style”) has earned more than 14 million video views, and Captain Sparklez now commands the attention of 9.4 million subscribers. Like many top YouTubers who launch brands of their own, Maron partnered with Activision and Acclaim Games in 2015 to form XReal, a mobile game development company.
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A part of The Sidemen, a group of popular YouTubers who focus primarily on gaming, W2S (wroetoshaw) was created by Harry Shaw. Though his FIFA videos catapulted him to YouTube fame, his channel also includes IRL football videos, challenges, and vlogs. With over 9 million subscribers, W2S is the second most popular channel of The Sidemen group. The first is KSI (Olajide “JJ” Olatunji, #4 on our list), who’s also known for his soccer and FIFA videos.
Best known for his Call of Duty games, Ali-A plays on a variety of systems and consoles and shares his content with over 8.7 million subscribers. Most of his videos focus on Call of Duty, but he branches out into other content types (like reaction videos), and sometimes plays other games — most recently, Overwatch. He’s particularly adept at digging into the minutiae of a game, analyzing different guns and weapon sets to copious amounts of downloadable content (DLC).
Famous for his distinct ‘delirious’ laughter and exaggerated reactions to in-game moments, H2ODelirious is something of an enigma, even to his 8.7 million subscribers. He never shows his face on camera, instead choosing to dedicate the entire screen to the game (rather than have a small inset video feed of himself playing). H20Delirious is associated with Vanoss and has done Let’s Play videos for a wide variety of games, including Grand Theft Auto, Garry’s Mod, Resident Evil, Rocket League and more.
From the mind of Matthew Patrick (MatPat), The Game Theorists exists to, in MatPat’s own words, “overanalyze” games. From Overwatch and Dark Souls to Zelda and Super Smash Bros., The Game Theorists channel has shared videos a bevy of games with nearly 8 million subscribers. Outside of theories, The Game Theorists channel also covers the history of games like Life is Strange, Spyro, and Chrono Trigger, as well as Break Down videos, which highlight the background and context behind popular games like Minecraft and Pokémon Go.
A part of Machinima’s network of gaming YouTubers, Bradley Colburn (better known as theRadBrad) has over 7 million subscribers. He’s well-known for his walkthrough videos and for his personality, which is often described as positive and funny. He’s played dozens of games, including Mass Effect, Call of Duty, Resident Evil, and more.
Developed by Smosh’s own Ian Andrew Hecox and Anthony Padilla, the Smosh Games channel features all types of YouTube gaming videos—Let’s Play, walkthroughs, reactions, reviews, machinima, and “Honest Game Trailers”—but specializes in Let’s Plays of popular console games like Grand Theft Auto, Slender Man, Assassin’s Creed, and Halo. Though Smosh’s founders appear infrequently on the channel, Smosh Games has garnered over 6.8 million subscribers and 1.9 billion video views to date. The channel’s mantra, “We’ve always played with ourselves. Now we want to play with you!” perfectly encapsulates the silly style of Smosh Games.
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One of three popular YouTube channels created by blogger and comedian Toby Turner, Toby Games features Let’s Play videos of Toby playing Skyrim, Walking Dead, Happy Wheels, Slender, and Minecraft. With over 6.9 million YouTube subscribers on Toby Games and over 14 million subscribers across all three channels, Turner’s popularity has led to collaborations with HarperCollins to create a children’s book based on his cartoon series, “Tobuscus Animated Adventures,” and an influencer marketing campaign with Paramount Pictures to promote the film Terminator Genisys.
Known for his humorous (if sometimes crude) gaming videos, Speedyw03 has amassed a following of over 6.5 million subscribers. Many of his videos are of the “Funny Moments” variety, but also include Gameplay videos and vlogs. He plays a number of different games, including Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Titanfall 2.
Mitch Hughes (TheBajanCanadian) is best known for his Minecraft gameplay videos, particularly the mini games within Minecraft. He has nearly 6 million subscribers and averages around 100,000 views on his videos. Some of TheBajanCanadian’s recurring mini game servers are Bed Wars, Skybounds, Money Wars, and Minecraft Hunger Games.
Best known for his FIFA videos, miniminter is Simon Minter, a British YouTuber. Another one of The Sidemen (See also: W2S and KSI), miniminter often collaborates with other YouTube creators and personalities. He’s also branched out into short skits and vlogs that live on his channel alongside the FIFA gameplay videos that catapulted it to fame.
Adam Montoya is a video game commentator whose channel, SeaNanners Gaming Channel, focuses primarily on Let’s Play videos of first-person shooter games like Call of Duty, third-person adventure games like Grand Theft Auto, and strategy games like Minecraft. A mainstay in the gaming world for years (Montoya previously worked at Machinima in Los Angeles), SeaNanners often treats his 5 million subscribers to collaborations with fellow top gaming YouTubers like Captain Sparklez and, along with Tom Cassell, is one of the founders of the gaming multi-channel network Jetpak.
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The online entity of Tiffany Garcia, iHasCupquake started with gameplay tutorials for World of Warcraft (WoW). Moving into speed art videos and covering other games like Minecraft, Tiffany grew her channel to nearly 5.5 million subscribers. She now uses her channel for DIY, art, challenge, and react videos along with gaming videos.