Recently, I entered a massive warehouse—technically, three warehouses combined into a shiny concrete-floored corporate campus with a 20-foot Astroturf staircase—in Los Angeles. Although it is now the headquarters of the gaming and esports conglomerate FaZe Clan, the building was once home to a Hollywood props warehouse and traces of its former tenant were still visible: 30-foot vaulted ceilings, huge doorways, an open-air elevator with a huge metal hook. But for FaZe Clan co-founder Richard Bengtson, this complex reminded him of something else: “It looks like a Call of Duty map, bro!”
It was fitting: Under the pseudonym FaZe Banks, Bengtson made a name for himself in the early 2010s by making videos of his exploits in the first-person shooter Call of Duty. When he started, the idea of playing video games for work seemed far-fetched. “It was like telling me that I could make a living as a professional sip of water,” Bengtson said. “It does not make sense. How the hell are you going to do it?”
We sat on a huge sofa in the company’s luxurious new office. Two employees skateboarded lazily on the polished floor; a few weeks later, a 20-foot mini-ramp in FaZe colors will be built in one corner. Bengtson, along with his friend and FaZe co-founder Thomas Oliveira (better known as FaZe Temperrr), explained to me how a group of video game streamers, YouTube creators and social media personalities grew overnight into a multimedia enterprise with 130 or so employees, many of whom were hired from The CAA, the NFL and the music industry are headed for a billion dollar stock market debut.
Bengtson and Oliveira started from the beginning. After meeting online, they joined a nascent collective of Call of Duty gamers called the FaZe Clan. FaZe gained momentum with a series of videos called Illcams – “KillCams Without TO,Oliveira explained the heavy montages of violent deaths captured by the “KillCam” game. This was not a competitive game; it was sort of a punk-inspired way of working in the Call of Duty universe. Oliveira liked completely different sports. “It has a skateboarding dynamic of tricks and complications,” he said, along with “the humiliation aspect of dunking into someone,” all neatly packaged in skateboarding-inspired videos. By 2012, the group had a million YouTube subscribers.
For FaZe members, success was less about technical excellence inside Call of Duty and more about YouTube entertainment value: they had to be exceptional in the games they chose, but also charming and compelling in the videos they created, some of which didn’t even include gameplay. . The group came of age online and grew up on social media. Showing their faces outside of game videos felt natural. The audience couldn’t be happier.
In 2017, as FaZe’s collective of gamers and content creators grew into professional esports teams, the group moved into a series of Los Angeles mansions that they repurposed as “content houses.” They fit perfectly in Hollywood: these days, Bengtson is more likely to post a nightclub video to Instagram than his gaming rig. He attributed FaZe’s initial popularity and staggering growth in part to the fact that they didn’t look like stereotypical players. “It’s that hunched over, super antisocial, overweight kid – a nerd, right?” he said. “Obviously Tommy and I are both six or five years old, tattooed, fucking girls and having fun and all that shit. The kids we lived with were less cool than us, but they were still cool.”