image source: Mr Spike/YouTube
Gaming racked up over 100 billion hours of watch time in 2020 and accounted for half of last year’s most-subscribed creators and breakout creators. In other words, it’s inarguably had a massive influence on the culture and creativity of YouTube. Part of gaming’s growth has been fueled by the rise in competitive mobile gaming, and as mobile gaming continues growing in participation and importance, we’re seeing its influence exhibited on YouTube with the emergence of handcam videos.
In the handcam format, gamers aim their cameras at their hands to capture their movements as they play a video game. Although the idea of using a camera to showcase what hands are doing could be applied to a variety of types of videos -- recipe videos, for example, often feature just hands putting ingredients together while preparing food -- videos with “handcam” in the title are almost exclusively gaming videos, and they appear to be primarily mobile gaming videos. Seventy-five of the 100 most-viewed videos with “handcam” in the title in 2020 were mobile gaming videos.
Videos with “handcam” in the title topped 1 billion views last year, an increase of millions of views more than the year before. This growth appears to be clearly linked with the growth of viewership of mobile gaming content on YouTube.
Views of handcam videos rise with popular mobile games viewership
Rolling 7-day average of handcam videos and PUBG mobile, COD mobile, and Garena Free Fire videos
Source: Global YouTube views, 1/1/2017 - 1/26/2021
But this video format can also be applied to console gaming, where the camera focuses on the gamer’s manipulation of a video game controller, or PC gaming, where the camera’s subject is the gamer’s mouse and keyboard. In fact, the earliest existing handcam videos on YouTube predate the boom in competitive mobile gaming and have PC and console gamers as their subjects.
In a personality-driven medium like YouTube, one might wonder why anyone would even want to use a handcam rather than a facecam. Speaking with mobile gaming creator iFerg, we learned there were three uses where handcams were more beneficial than facecams:
- Demonstration: By showing the hands as they move across the controls, a creator can demonstrate exactly how to accomplish a feat in a game that might require a complex set of motions. iFerg also found this useful, saying, “I ... wanted to give the scene direct access to my gameplay so that they could copy my movements and finger placements.”
- Verification: iFerg told us “My audience and the broader mobile community did not believe that what I was doing was real. They legitimately thought I was cheating. Even though that was a huge compliment in itself, I knew I needed to actually show them that what I was doing was legit.” As the stakes increase in mobile gaming and esports, accusations of cheating can take a toll on a gamer’s popularity. A handcam can act as proof that a gamer’s actions were unimpeachable.
- Validation: As esports become more popular and gain mainstream exposure, one question that is often asked is “Is this actually a sport? Are these actually athletes?” Handcams are one of the few illustrations gamers have that demonstrate the manual dexterity and prowess required to play at the highest levels. iFerg definitely wanted people to see his talents, telling us “The community thought I had to be using a keyboard or controller but by being able to see my fingers gliding across the screen they knew what I was doing was truly special.”
Handcam videos demonstrate how YouTube and gaming continue to influence each other. YouTube provides an avenue for mobile gamers to build audiences and celebrate their skills on the same footing as PC and console gamers. Mobile gamers, meanwhile, are popularizing innovative new formats and genres of video, contributing to the creative ecosystem of the video and gaming worlds. And we should expect this to continue because, as iFerg told us, “Even though the impact on YouTube is already massive, [mobile gaming] is still nowhere near to how big it will be in the next few years. A generation of kids growing up with games on their phone rather than playing console or PC is driving this impact and it will only continue to scale.”
GENJ1 Gaming Among the most prolific and popular handcam creators is Japan’s GENJ1 Gaming-ゲンジ. GENJ1’s first upload, posted in January 2019, was a handcam video -- though it wasn’t titled as such. GENJ1 has built an audience of over 1.4 million subscribers on his output of what is primarily handcam footage of mobile games. In fact, this channel hosts 20 of 2020’s 100 most-viewed videos with “handcam” in the title.
iFerg With over 1.75 million subscribers, iFerg shares mobile gaming with a large audience. He believes that mobile is the future of gaming, for him, handcams were "a way for me to innovate in the mobile space as no one else was really doing this on a regular basis and at the same scale."
FaZe Sway Not all handcam footage comes from mobile games, and FaZe Sway shows that there is an audience for non-mobile handcam footage, too. FaZe Sway uploaded seven of 2020’s 100 most-viewed videos with “handcam” in the title. FaZe Sway uses the format to showcase his skill at Fortnite on PlayStation’s consoles. With over 3.9 million subscribers, FaZe Sway’s use of the format gives it broad mainstream exposure.
MUNNO Gaming MUNNO began uploading handcams of mobile Fortnite gameplay just nine months ago, and the channel has gained over 700,000 subscribers since.
Jarvy Jarvy has two channels, Jarvy and Jarvy Plays, both of which host his handcam videos. Jarvy’s PS5 handcam videos, led by Arena Win with Ps5 Controller Handcam (Non Claw No Paddles), were among January’s most-viewed videos with “handcam” in the title.
Mãozinha PB Brazilian creator Mãozinha has just one hand and uses his handcams to inspire others. In his words, "I had never seen anyone playing with one hand. I wanted to use my story to inspire others, seeing me could inspire them to not give up from the obstacles that life gives us and [to run] after our dreams."