This Hollywood influencer company helps internet stars

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

They lined up outside the Hollywood headquarters of its parent company, FaZe Clan, a line that wound around the block: eager teenagers, high schoolers in street clothes, and beleaguered parents slowly making their way down Melrose Avenue.

Many waited for hours to watch the vlogger, who regularly entertains an audience as large as the population of Sri Lanka.

Standing on stage inside a warehouse-like office, Avadis told fans already inside, “I’d like to meet every single person.” “My team tells me it’s impossible.”

Those outside Awadi’s orbit may wonder how he can draw such a large crowd. With several credits on IMDb – all as himself – he’s hardly your standard celebrity; After a brief stint in Los Angeles, the 26-year-old San Diegan returned south to be closer to home.

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

It was this sandwich partnership that brought him and his fans in droves to meet and greets in Hollywood.

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

There’s a lot of money in all of this—both from fans who loyally wait for hours on the sidewalk hoping to get a shot at their favorite YouTube star, and from brands looking to get in on Awadis and other big soapboxes, as with DoorDash. Big name social media personalities enjoy.

Enter FaZe Clan, the extensive web content and lifestyle brand hosting this summer’s event. It is among many companies trying to take advantage of the huge demand. This summer firm went public In a reverse merger worth $725 million – with mixed results.

That number blew past the $1 billion forecast, and the company’s stock price has since plummeted. After FaZe Clan made his debut around $13 a share, but on a larger scale the decline of the tech sectorthe price fell significantly and closed at $2.44 on Friday.

Donald De Le Haye aka FaZe Destroying, Alex Prynkiewicz aka FaZe Adapt, Kaysan Ghasseminejad aka FaZe Kaysan and Rani Netz aka FaZe Ronaldo at FaZe Clan HQ in Los Angeles.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

“Going public gave us the balance sheet we never had before… to really invest in the current business [and] build the future,” said CEO Lee Trink.

Sitting at the intersection of a management agency, record label and artist collective, FaZe is built around influencers, streamers and web personalities with connections to the world of video games. The company also creates esports teams and makes money by signing sponsorship deals with brands.

FaZe regularly covers hip-hop, professional sports and fitness, and is considering ventures in gambling and cryptocurrency. Although it’s still heavy on players, Lil Yachty has been added, LeBron James Jr. and Snoop Dogg as affiliates. The last wore a FaZe branded chain during the Super Bowl halftime show earlier this year.

It’s all part of a company-wide pivot from player to youth culture—a broader but less defined market—that has permeated FaZe since its early days.

FaZe started in 2010 when a group of teenagers started posting “Call of Duty” cheats on YouTube. It grew from there, making a name for itself among video game fans and branching out into esports teams, influencer “content houses” and other ventures. Today it has about 100 employees.

Awadis was hired for his skills in gaming, but like some of his colleagues, his lifestyle has expanded into vlogging and other personality-based content.

The result was a company that defied the pigeons. In its 2021 investor presentation, FaZe proposed that it combines the generational appeal of MTV, the cross-platform reach of Disney, the celebrity cachet of Roc Nation and the fan loyalty of the NBA.

The company generated $14 million in revenue in the third quarter, up 12% year-over-year (about half of brand deals). The firm also reported a pretax loss of $12 million this quarter, reflecting costs related to hiring and going public. The same loss was $4.1 million a quarter ago.

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

Some started their own retail brands. Others “content houses” so they can live and work together under a common identity. More are tied for structured creative collaboration, such as “Saturday Night Live”—mostly TikTok comedy revue. FaZe isn’t alone in mixing gamer culture with social impact: LA-based brand 100 Thieves something similar.

It’s an industry that relies heavily on the unique charms of specific web personalities. This can make it profitable as well as risky; If these identities burn out, get cancelled, or just slowly start to lose the internet’s fickle interest, most of the value and reach they offer goes with them.

“[FaZe Clan] Of course, there are many influencers and creators, but Twitch, YouTube and TikTok are bigger and none of them have the answer to how to monetize and scale,” said Michael Pachter, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities. portfolio gaming and digital includes entertainment.

Disputes with influencers may also arise. Influencer Alyssa Marie Violet Butler sued FaZe Clan said last year that it was owed money for company shares (the firm denied its complaints). FaZe in the same year removed three members allegedly promoting a cryptocurrency “pump and dump” scheme; the fourth was suspended but later invited back. And in 2020, streaming personality Turner Tenney settled contract dispute with the company after he claimed they were exploiting him.

In a 2021 investor presentation, FaZe cited “a limited number of esports professionals, influencers and content creators that have historically accounted for a significant portion of our revenue” as a risk factor.

A man in a dark hoodie sleeps on a red-covered sofa at FaZe Clan's headquarters in Los Angeles.

FaZe Adapt is available in the FaZe repository.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

A big part of FaZe’s focus on new talent is its logistical support. It offers affiliate creatives help with contentious sponsorship deals and access to internal management, publicity, legal, merchandising and sales teams, and it bills itself as an incubator for emerging creatives.

“Any business like this, if you’re going to be on the cutting edge of youth culture, you better have the people closest to the ground,” Trink said.

Among these new voices is Gabriel Gélinas, a Canadian broadcaster from Quebec who entered the roster earlier this year as FaZe Proze after winning a recruiting competition.

“FaZe is doing a great job of trying to improve and innovate,” Jelinas, 24, said. “So I feel like they’re always looking for new people.”

Another recent addition – Donald De La Haye, or FaZe Deestroying – said the company has everything it could ask for in a partnership: “infrastructure, business acumen, capital, knowledge.”

De La Haye was a former college soccer player considered inappropriate for the NCAA in 2017 after refusing to stop earning ad revenue from its YouTube channel. These days, he makes videos about football and sports culture with the logistical support of FaZe.

A man in a hat rides a scooter.

FaZe Destroying drives a scooter.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

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

It’s not always clear how much of FaZe’s popularity stems from the core brand and the star power of individual members.

“I don’t really watch FaZe — I just watch FaZe Rug videos,” 13-year-old Kevin Isais said while waiting in line at a DoorDash meetup.

Indeed, FaZe Clan’s corporate YouTube channel has less than 40% of Awadis’s personal following.

Awadis is one of the most followed creators on the company’s roster, so he’s not necessarily representative – and FaZe still has more fans than him on Instagram and Twitter. It still begs the question: who needs more?

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

But keeping the larger entity stable can sometimes mean shifting around its composite parts.

Yousef Abdelfattah, known online as FaZe Apex, was a member of the brand when he was just a few teenagers posting “Call of Duty” cheats online. But as FaZe grew, Abdelfattah began to handle some of the day-to-day management.

“I was always kind of busy — I don’t want to say boring, but less interesting stuff,” he said. “In 2016-17, when the business was more mature and we had an office, we had employees, I started balancing content creation with … decision making.”

These days, much of Abdelfattah’s time is spent mediating between the firm’s management and talent—the resident player whisperer, as it were.

Four men are resting.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

“Creating content is very demanding,” he said, “and that spark, I think, kind of went out. … I was fortunate enough to be able to be very involved in a company that I love when I hit that wall.”

The 26-year-old has also mastered the role of mentor among recruits. One of the teenage members calls him a “boomer”.

Internet culture is changing fast, and 12-year-old FaZe is practically an old brand at this point. Yet it continues to change—even if that means evolving beyond the people and ideas with which it began.

“It’s more of a group effort now,” Abdelfattah said. “All of us [early members] We brought in people who understand the Internet, who understand this world, who can help us stay on track. … We’re just constantly trying to build a monster team of internet geniuses.”

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