EpicMealTime, FPSRussia and the Secret to Mass Appeal on YouTube

How do you get famous on YouTube? It’s a question that many new YouTube users have asked themselves at some point. How do you make videos that inspire million-strong audiences to return to your channel on a regular basis?

Experienced YouTube viewers probably recognize the two usernames in the headline. EpicMealTime and FPSRussia have both built large online audiences and pull in millions of hits every week. To do this, the two channels have unknowingly tapped into a sure-fire formula for online success. They each take a simple, hedonistic pleasure (food and guns, respectively) and package it up for viewers to enjoy.

Normally, I’d write up a post on each of these channels for my YouTuber Spotlight series. I found, though, that EpicMealTime and FPSRussia climbed to the top tier of YouTube content in surprisingly similar ways.  Specifically, they cover topics that appeal to a key demographic: 13 to 35-year-old males. Since a majority of that demographic likes food and likes guns, it’s not hard to understand why these channels are so popular.

Harley Morenstein (right) hosts Epic Meal Time on YouTube

EpicMealTime started one year ago today as a couple of guys from Canada who decided to create a pizza topped with a mountain of fast food: hamburgers, French fries, onion rings and melted cheese. They filmed the entire experience, including shots of them stuffing the creation into their mouths.

The video took off, and more installments followed. More friends joined the EpicMealTime crew, leading to new characters for the show: the sunglasses-wearing Muscles Glasses and the dim-witted Tyler, both accompanied by the host, Harley Morenstein. Each video features a crazy new food creation, while the dizzying numbers about its calorie and fat content flash on the screen. Here’s an example:

Now, EpicMealTime has corporate sponsorships, a line of merchandise and requests for live appearances. It might be hard to believe, but it’s all because the show is based on food. EpicMealTime’s glorification of food simply clicked with viewers. The men behind EpicMealTime only have to dream up a new meal, film how it’s made and how it’s eaten. Instant YouTube hit.

FPSRussia’s channel works in the same way. Also known as Kyle Myers, FPSRussia started out posting footage of himself playing a number of first-person-shooter style video games. Myers, an avid gun enthusiast, wanted to take his videos a step further. He wanted to show how real guns work, compared to their portrayal in games.

Kyle Myers tests real firearms on his YouTube channel FPSRussia

Myers began posting videos of himself testing out a number of different firearms on his family farm in Georgia. He created a character called “Dmitri” to play in the videos, an over-the-top Russian with a set of funny catchphrases, like “Let’s f*** some sh** up!” and “I think the target is going to have a very bad day.”

The FPSRussia channel expanded to include videos with bigger guns and bigger explosions. In a weird coincidence, Kyle Myers guest starred in two EpicMealTime videos (here and here), pairing his firearms routine with the wild concoctions of the EpicMealTime crew. Unsurprisingly, both collaborations saw a spike in viewers, and it cemented how alike the two channels are in their approach and fan base.

Just like EpicMealTime, FPSRussia’s videos exploited a topic that a wide range of (male) YouTube viewers would like. It’s translated to some impressive audience numbers: 1.7 million channel subscribers and 287 million all-time video views.

The fact that EpicMealTime and FPSRussia have taken off as YouTube brands reflects something about the site as a whole. When you think of other videos that went viral on YouTube, it’s always because the video plays to simple human emotions. We all melt when we see cute cat videos, or tender marriage proposals. We gasp in horror when tragic events are recorded by bystanders and pop up on the site.

By the same token, EpicMealTime and FPSRussia allow viewers to indulge in their most basic instincts: food and violence. Fans laugh at and eventually look forward to the excess on both channels. EpicMealTime showcases ridiculous meals that only serve to shock and amuse. FPSRussia fires weapons just to see what happens.

EpicMealTime built an audience by glorifying food

It might sound unfair, but EpicMealTime and FPSRussia’s videos unconsciously bring viewers back to their primal origins, sitting around a fire and digging into a messy piece of meat or trying out a new tool. I’m not saying these YouTubers are cavemen, but their success is tied to the kinds of deep-rooted instincts that have been with us since prehistory.

It’s notable that neither channel uses any camera tricks or fancy presentation. EpicMealTime and FPSRussia don’t compete in the category of artistic YouTube videos, by the likes of Julian Smith or MysteryGuitarMan. The nature of EpicMealTime and FPSRussia’s videos demands a raw, in-your-face style, and that’s exactly what the two channels deliver, week after week.

Kyle Myers' gun displays play into another primal interest

Even when EpicMealTime posted a zombie-themed video with longer storytelling sections, their audience rebelled with thousands of “dislikes” and negative comments. The average EpicMealTime fan wasn’t interested in longer-format creative material.  They wanted classic EpicMealTime: pure entertainment.

If the reception of EpicMealTime and FPSRussia is any indication, there’s potential for any number of up-an-coming YouTubers to build their own audiences based on this “pure entertainment” model. If that happens, these channels would be like the Spike TV of YouTube, appealing to the basic instincts of viewers. While it won’t win many awards, material like this ensures that YouTube will always be a place where anything can be broadcast, and where anyone can find an audience.

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What do you think of these YouTube channels? Are you a fan, or do you feel they’re harming YouTube’s credibility? Would you describe the videos as crass or entertaining? Sound off in the comments, and check out some of my other articles about prominent YouTubers:

YouTuber Spotlight Archive:

Philip DeFranco | Freddie WongToby TurnerJulian Smith | MysteryGuitarMan

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10 responses to “EpicMealTime, FPSRussia and the Secret to Mass Appeal on YouTube

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  7. To reply to your final point – Are these two entrepreneurs harming Youtube’s credability? Not really. To be honest, I don’t think Youtube has any credability to be harmed.

    As you point out, the teams involved in making these videos have tapped into their target audiences very astutely. They deserve the success they are experiencing – Let’s face it, videos of the quality these guy are producing don’t make themselves: this is a lot of hard work (And considerable fun as well I’m sure).

    They almost certainly won’t last forever, but everyone is entitled to try and we should applaud those who do!

    • You’re right, the two channels aren’t harming YouTube’s credibility, but I disagree that YouTube doesn’t have any credibility to be harmed. The platform has almost infinite potential to spawn new content creators and help them distribute their work. Before YouTube, it was very difficult for filmmakers, comedians, etc. to break into the business. There’s freedom there, and yes, lower standards than on television.

      That doesn’t mean, however, that anything goes. YouTube isn’t a place for pornography, uber-violence or other less tasteful genres. In fact, compared to those types of content, FPSRussia and EpicMealTime are saintly. The two channels simply represent a small fraction of more “primal” content on YouTube, a site I think will slowly become more professional and institutionalized as time goes one, accumulating credibility as it goes.

      • While I agree with your comments about the part Youtube can play in giving a first foothold for those wanting to reach a wider audience, that’s not the same a Youtube having any credability itself.

        As for Youtube not being the place for certain types of content, I don’t know which Youtube you’ve been searching… I’ll not spoil this blog with the kinds of things you wouldn’t want your children seeing, but suffice it to say, were the UK government to go ahead (as has been suggested) with blocking sites containing child unfriendly content, Youtube would be in the bit-bucket along with all the rest. Think of a word you don’t want your children searching for, type it into Youtube’s search bar, then see if you can remember how to activate the site blocker on your broadband…

        Fundamentally Youtube is an advertising vehicle. The videos people supply are simply the bait in Google’s trap. If some of the bait is particularly good (as is the case with these two examples) then that’s a bonus, but that’s not why Google bought Youtube. The credability extends only that far… i.e. The distance between the download starting and the first ad…

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