When four creators come together with the promise of hosting the biggest YouTube event in the world, how long does it take for the company to literally buy into the hype?
That’s the position YouTube has found itself in. Two of YouTube’s most notorious, cartoon villain-like creators, Jake Paul and Logan Paul, will take on brothers KSI and ComedyShortGamer (better known as Deji) in a boxing match later this year. While YouTube currently isn’t involved in the fight, the amount of money each YouTuber makes off their call-out videos and likely the fight itself may encourage them to reconsider staying on the sidelines.
The fight was teased after KSI’s first boxing match with British YouTuber Joe Weller earlier this month. KSI called out the Paul brothers at the end of his fight, threatening to take them on next after his victory.
Jake, Logan, KSI and Deji released numerous response vlogs for the next few weeks, taunting each other and keeping their combined 56 million subscribers updated about their potential meetup. Deji flew to Los Angeles to meet with Clout Gang, a group of vloggers that Jake feuded with previously, and Jake at a local park armed with boxing gloves and fiery disses to hype up the fight even more.
It wasn’t until this weekend, however, that KSI and Logan confirmed they would actually, physically fight, with Deji and Jake announcing their match just after.
The money and views these fights stand to take in are huge. KSI and Joe Weller’s fight has amassed more than 20 million views since it was livestreamed on Feb. 6, when an estimated 1.6 million people watched. Eight thousand people crammed into a boxing arena in London, England, spending an average of $92 on each ticket. That works out to be just over $736,000 in ticket sales alone, which doesn’t include how much each YouTuber made in merchandise and advertising.
But neither KSI or Weller are as popular or relevant as Jake and Logan Paul are right now. Logan Paul gained global criticism after uploading video that contained the body of a man who committed suicide. YouTube then doled out a series of punishments, including removing Paul from Google Preferred, the company’s top-tier ad group and canceling Paul’s YouTube Red projects. Paul was also removed from YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, the front page and its Trending section. It also removed ads from his videos for a time.
YouTube can’t, however, stop Paul from uploading videos. The company’s CEO, Susan Wojcicki, told Recode that he doesn’t deserve to be banned, as YouTube “can’t just be pulling people off our platform.” The company also can’t stop Paul from growing (he’s gained almost a million subscribers since the original incident) or from selling merchandise, which he’s been shelling out more consistently in wake of his demonetization.
YouTube also can’t stop four YouTubers with almost 60 million total subscribers from getting together in an arena — think of London’s massive O2 arena or Madison Square Gardens in New York, which can seat 20,000 people. Advertisers will certainly buy into the fight and sponsor creators, who will sell truckloads of merchandise.
What YouTube can do, however, is directly get involved; the question is whether or not the company will.
The problem is that YouTube has found itself in a bit of a pickle. YouTube is a company at the end of the day, and that means it wants to generate revenue. But YouTube is also under scrutiny from just about every corner of the internet, as critics demand why this type of content is allowed. The last thing the company needs is to be seen as a proponent of a violent sports match.
Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s chief business officer overseeing creators and content, told popular creator Casey Neistat that no one at YouTube wants creators putting out sensationalistic, view-chasing content.
“We’re thinking very deeply — and every single day — on how do we create the right incentives and disincentives for creators to do the right thing on YouTube,” Kyncl said. “That means a lot of different things. That means do the right thing for advertisers, do the right thing for their users — for the platform organically — and not chase sensationalism; not chase views for the sake of views, and not chase drama for the sake of views — and not use drama at our expense for the sake of views.”
But the truth is that the success of these boxing events is predicated on months of drama-filled vlogs that preceded the actual fights. There have been more than 20 videos in the past few weeks alone from Jake, Logan, Neji and KSI, all dedicated to talking smack.
The drama-fueled vlogs that lead up to the fight are how these vloggers and creators are gearing up hype. The drama is how they’re selling merch and tickets and building subscribers. It’s how these creators let advertisers know just how in demand they are — someone like KSI or Jake Paul can point at the number of people watching their videos to argue that Red Bull or Adidas should buy a banner at Madison Square Garden.
Although the drama is something YouTube doesn’t want to endorse or talk about, live events like controlled boxing matches very much are. Wojcicki announced on Feb. 1 that YouTube was looking into methods to support creators outside of traditional monetization practices.
“We’re testing new ways for creators to earn revenue or raise money right on your channel through donations, merchandise and ticketing sales,” Wojcicki wrote.
But selling merch and tickets is exactly what creators are doing at these matches. It’s hard for YouTube executives to argue that it’s doing everything in its power to discourage this type of crude content, when the company is also helping creators indirectly fund this type of behavior.
Whether or not YouTube officially gets involved by promoting the fight through social media platforms, or sending an executive to sit ringside while Logan Paul gets hit in the face, the company is helping to make these events happen.