This Hollywood influencer company is helping internet stars

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

They lined up outside the Hollywood headquarters of its parent company, FaZe Clan, that snaked around the block: a bevy of eager youth, streetwear-clad high schoolers, and harried parents slowly strolling down Melrose Avenue.

Many waited for hours to hook up with the vlogger, who regularly entertains an audience roughly the size of Sri Lanka’s population.

“I would literally love to meet every single person,” Awadis, standing on a stage in the warehouse-like office, told fans who had already made it. “My team tells me it’s impossible.”

Those outside of Awadis’ orbit might be confused as to how he draws such a large crowd. With just a handful of credits on IMDb – all as himself – he’s hardly your standard celebrity; After a brief stint in Los Angeles, 26-year-old San Diego was drawn back south to be closer to home.

But on the Internet, or at least in certain corners of it, it’s something of a big deal. 22 million people follow him on YouTube, his favorite platform where he posts high-profile pranks and well-funded stunts. Even more follow his life on TikTok (9.6 million), Instagram (6.6 million) and Twitter (2.6 million). Going by the FaZe Rug moniker, he’s turned all of that online influence into a bespoke energy drink, a short-lived podcast, and most recently a signature DoorDash sandwich called “Rugfather.”

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

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

There’s a lot of money going into all of this — both from the fans who wait for hours on the sidewalk hoping to punch their favorite YouTube star and the brands that, like DoorDash, have access to the sizable soapbox Awadis and other well-known social media personalities want to enjoy.

Enter FaZe Clan, the sprawling web content and lifestyle brand that organized this summer’s event. It’s among the many companies trying to capitalize on the huge demand. This summer the company went public in a $725 million reverse merger — with mixed results.

That number fell short of a previous forecast of $1 billion, and the company’s share price has fallen sharply since then. After FaZe Clan debuted at around $13 a share, but amidst a broader range Downturn in technology sectorthe price fell significantly to close at $2.44 on Friday.

Three men are seated and another man is standing at FaZe Clan's Los Angeles headquarters.

Donald De Le Haye aka FaZe Deestroying, 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)

“The IPO gave us a balance sheet that we’ve never had before… to really invest in the current business [and] build the future,” said CEO Lee Trink.

Sitting somewhere at the intersection of management agency, record label and artist collective, FaZe is largely built around influencers, streamers and web personalities with connections to the video gaming world. The company also sets up esports teams and makes money through sponsorship deals with brands.

FaZe regularly takes forays into hip-hop, pro sports, and fitness, and has pondered ventures into gambling and crypto. Although it’s still hard for gamers, Lil Yachty added it, LeBron James Jr. and Snoop Dogg as partners. The latter wore one FaZe brand chain during his Super Bowl halftime show earlier this year.

It’s all part of a company-wide shift from gamer culture to youth culture – a broader, if less defined, market – that has been seeping through since FaZe’s early days.

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

Awadis was recruited for his gaming skills but has expanded into lifestyle vlogging and other personality-focused content, as have some of his peers.

The result is a company that defies classification. In a 2021 investor presentation, FaZe suggested that it combines MTV’s cross-generational appeal, Disney’s cross-platform reach, Roc Nation’s celebrity cachet, and the NBA’s fan loyalty.

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

It’s not the only company trying to turn “likes” and shares into a sustainable business model. Indeed, with so much money sloshing around in the creator economy, there is plenty of financial incentive to spin out individual influencers into larger companies.

Some have started their own trademarks. Others have moved in”happy houses’ so that they can live and work together under a common identity. Even more have formed structured creative collaborations, such as a “Saturday Night Live”-esque Comedy revue on TikTok. FaZe isn’t even the only one trying to blend gamer culture with social influence: LA-based brand 100 Thieves has tried something similar.

It’s an industry that relies heavily on the unique charms of certain web personalities. That can make it lucrative but also risky; When these personalities burn out, are laid off, or are slow to lose the internet’s fickle interest, much of the value and reach they had to offer goes with them.

“[FaZe Clan] have a lot of influencers and developers, of course, but Twitch and YouTube and TikTok are much bigger, and none of them have the answer for how to make money and scale,” said Michael Pachter, managing director of stock research at Wedbush Securities, whose portfolio includes games and digital entertainment.

Disputes with influencers can also arise. Influencer Alissa Marie Violet Butler sued FaZe Clan said last year about company shares they owed her (the company denied her grievances). That same year FaZe AWAY three members for their alleged promotion of a cryptocurrency “pump and dump” scheme; a fourth was suspended but later reinvited. And in 2020, streaming personality Turner Tenney done a contract dispute with the company after it was claimed they had exploited him.

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

A person in a dark hoodie lies on a red-upholstered sofa at FaZe Clan's Los Angeles headquarters.

FaZe Adapt is hanging out at the FaZe Warehouse.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

A big part of FaZe’s pitch for new talent is logistical support. It offers affiliated creatives help in negotiating sponsorship deals and access to in-house management, advertising, legal, merchandising and sales teams and sees itself as an incubator for emerging creatives.

“If you want to be on the cutting edge of youth culture in deals like this, you’d better have the people who are closest,” Trink said.

Among those new voices is Gabriel Gélinas, a Canadian streamer from Quebec who made the list earlier this year under the name FaZe Proze after winning a recruitment contest.

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

Another newcomer to the list – Donald De La Haye or FaZe Deestroying – said the company had everything he could have asked for in a partnership: “the infrastructure, the business acumen, the capital, the knowledge.”

De La Haye was a former college football kicker deemed ineligible for the NCAA in 2017 after refusing to stop advertising revenue with his YouTube channel. Today he shoots videos about football and sports culture with the logistical support of FaZe.

A man in a hat drives a scooter.

FaZe Deestroying rides scooters.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

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

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

“I don’t actually watch FaZe — I just watch the FaZe Rug videos,” said Kevin Isais, 13, while queuing for the DoorDash meet-and-greet.

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

Awadis is one of the most followed creators on the company’s list, so he’s not necessarily representative – and FaZe still has more fans than he does on Instagram and Twitter. Nevertheless, the question arises: who needs whom more?

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

But keeping the larger institution stable can sometimes mean moving its composite parts.

Yousef Abdelfattah, known online as FaZe Apex, was a member of the brand when it was just a bunch of teenagers posting Call of Duty trick shots online. But as FaZe grew, Abdelfattah began taking over some of his day-to-day management duties.

“I’ve always kind of done the — I won’t say tedious work, but the less exciting stuff,” he said. “In 2016-17, when the business was more mature and we had an office and employees, I started to balance content creation with… decision making.”

These days, Abdelfattah spends a lot of time mediating between the company’s management and the talent – ​​the resident player whisperer, so to speak.

Four men relax.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

“Content creation is very demanding,” he said, “and I think that spark has kind of died. … I was fortunate that when I hit that wall I was still super involved with the company I love.”

The 26-year-old has also taken on a mentoring role among recruits. One of the newer teenagers calls him a “boomer”.

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

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

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2022-12-05/at-faze-clan-internet-influence-is-an-industrial-undertaking This Hollywood influencer company is helping internet stars

Sarah Ridley

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