Student finds his audience on Web

By Adam Earnheardt

At age 14, Tyler McVicker of Vienna, created Valve News Network (VNN), a YouTube channel devoted to news and information about video games.

More than six years later, McVicker has amassed over 240-thousand subscribers. Subscribers are the lifeblood of video creators who use YouTube channels to earn income.

One of McVicker’s most recent videos, a story related to the first-person shooter game Half-Life, received more than 680-thousand views.

McVicker, now a student at Youngstown State University majoring in computer science and journalism, talked with me about VNN and his success on YouTube:

Q: What’s VNN and how did you get started?

A: VNN is a hub where fans can find game information quickly and easily.

When I was 10, I played a video game called Portal. I fell in love. It was completely different from anything I'd ever seen, and I wanted to know as much about it as possible.

When I wasn’t replaying the game, I was trying out levels other players made, or I was reading about Valve Software, the company that created Portal.

I wanted to know everything about (Valve). I figured out the majority of places hardcore fans would discuss news about the game and Valve, and I wanted this share this news with mainstream fans.

So, I started VNN in July of 2011.

Q: VNN has an impressive number of subscribers. What strategies did you use to build your fan base?

A: My subscribers are a surprise to me as well. I don't think I have a real strategy. My entire purpose is to create things that I’d want to watch if I were in the audience.

I love Valve games. I love game development and things cut from games. I love the communities that surround these games, and that result in incredible art and mods (i.e., game modifications). So I make videos that hit on these passions. I feel that the emotion behind the words comes through when I make these videos.

I tend to be as personable as possible. I’m very upfront about who I am, what I do, and what I feel. This does mean people can easily attack me when things aren’t up to a certain standard. But it also allows anyone to be part of the content, to be part of a real community.

Q: What’s your strategy for marketing new VNN content?

A: I don’t promote much. I don’t find I need too. I try to be a real person as much as possible, meaning whenever someone sees my logo, they know exactly what they’re getting when they click it.

Everything has to do with adding as personal of a touch as possible, to allow people to feel welcomed, respected and appreciated.

Q: Do you follow other successful YouTube users? If so, what have you learned from them?

A: Before I started VNN, I watched YouTube everyday. And I still do.

My main inspirations are Ross Scott, LGR (Lazy Game Reviews), Jim Sterling, Jon Jafari, Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw. More recently, I’ve been watching Joseph Anderson.

I can’t nail down what I've learned from these creators. It’s safe to say that my own format is an amalgam of them all.

Q: My kids are young, but they claim they’re going to “major in YouTube” when they get to college. Do you have any advice for people who want to start a YouTube channel?

A: Success on YouTube is completely based on luck more then anything else. Also, I feel like the platform itself is slowly dying.

Earlier this year, many major corporations that bought ad space before and during videos pulled out. YouTube tried to remedy the situation with an automated process for flagging any video considered “inappropriate.”

The problem is, the bot doesn’t work as intended, and is based on machine learning. It was created too quickly, and the bot wasn’t given enough time or training data. So they instead let the bot lose to make mistakes in public. These mistakes resulted in any video being uploaded having the possibility of being flagged, resulting in little to no earnings on that work.

The worst part is, YouTube can’t tell the creators what they did wrong, due to the bot’s operations.

Great example: I put out a video last week, getting close to 700,000 views, and it was flagged about 20 hours into its life. I wasn’t alerted via email or any other form of communication, and I wasn’t told what I’d done wrong. So that day I put out a video announcing the flag, and even though the community support was amazing, in about an hour, the announcement video was flagged.

I made another video, as the situation seemed to get a little crazy, and immediately, the third video was flagged. No alerts, no reasons given, and no official way to contact with people who actually work at YouTube. The content creators are forced to request a manual review, and sit there as their videos receive attention and views that will go unpaid. These manual reviews can take upwards of a week.

This is one of many blunders that YouTube and Google have pulled over the years affecting creators, and there’s no easy way to connect with YouTube support.

It paints a picture of YouTube caring more for the companies than the creators, even though it’s the creators who made the site what it is today. My advice for people who want to create their own YouTube channels and content is to wait for YouTube to fix their site, or for a YouTube competitor to rise up.

Q: What's next for you and VNN?

A: My dream is to work at Valve. That’s no secret, and why I get so much criticism.

However, in the short term, my goals are simple: more growth, more videos and more topics.

I have other unused channels with decent subscriber numbers, and I intend to use those soon. Other than that, I plan on finishing degrees in computer science and journalism, and continue making a name for myself in the games journalism industry.

To watch McVicker’s videos, search for “Valve News Network” on YouTube or Google.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn. Have a column idea? Email him at

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