Taking a break from interviewing competitors, we sat down with leading Smash 4 content creator and Panda Global Content Director Alpharad to discuss his role as a gateway to competitive Smash, paying his way through school via YouTube, and why IMT.Anti has the best Twitter in the business.
This interview has been lightly edited for readability.
Justin: So what’s your status? Are you a student right now?
Alpharad: Currently I’m both a full time student, and depend on YouTube as a full time job.
So you’re paying your way through school? The old-fashioned dream?
Yeah, it’s very strange and surreal how it’s worked out.
That’s definitely where a lot of these questions come from—what gave you the push to pursue this, when did you start to think this was possible, etc.
Well, I’ve been involved in film for a very long time. When I was in about fifth grade—this was when YouTube first started becoming the trend—I was already uploading funny videos for my friends. Then I got older, and I started enrolling in classes in high school to learn editing and cinematography and such. And then I got accepted to this program, a prestigious and competitive event that only sixteen high school students in the state are admitted to. It’s a summer camp, and they fly out real-life directors, photographers, and ballet instructors from all over the world to come teach at this camp in Oklahoma. Which is cool—it’s insanely cool. That really put me in a place to strengthen my skills, more than anything else did. So when I came back to my high school, I was—I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I was above everyone else in my skill, based off that camp alone.
And when you say your “skill,” you’re talking about editing and cinematography and so on?
Yeah, well, all of it honestly. It’s just because being in a hands-on environment strengthens your skills more than anything else. And because editing is a tricky subject. It’s one thing to be good at editing, and it’s another to understand why you edit, because whenever I edit nowadays, I have a reason for every edit I make, every cut … like, everything I do has a reason.
So would you say that your goal is to enter the traditional film industry after you get out of school, or is this something where the YouTube route may be your long-term trajectory?
Well, my original goal was to be a director, writer, editor or such, and I realized when I got to college and started signing up for projects and handling real-life film sets, I liked having more say in what I’m doing. For example, if I’m an editor, I’m an editor, and that’s all she wrote. I don’t have any say in what the script says, I can only edit the visuals of said script and change the delivery of things … under the direction of the director.
I like to have creative control, exactly, because the editor and director are very close when they work on a project together, and … I wanted to direct AND edit, and before I knew it, I started tackling my own projects with friends, real short films and so on. I was directing, shooting, and editing it, then I was writing, directing, shooting, and editing it … and then I was like, I can’t do this, I’m not gonna be satisfied, I don’t have the self-control to sit back and watch a whole film go by without wanting to be involved with it. So I withdrew from my film classes to focus on business and such. And I said, you know what, I still love editing, it’s my one true love, I’m gonna continue editing in the background, and I was like, oh, I’m just gonna edit silly gameplay videos, because I get to do it all on my own. So, that’s how it started for me.
At this time, I was the head of sales and marketing at a regional photography company, so I definitely had a good job to keep me through college, and YouTube didn’t become a reality of a full-time job until it was a reality. Because I didn’t want to chase it knowing that it’s not guaranteed, so I kept my job until I was making the same amount of money on YouTube.
What do you see for the future? Are you going to chase this as long as it’s there, or do you have plans to switch over to something else after college?
I’m currently getting a degree, and I can’t say that even after I get a degree, I might not even immediately find a job, because I’m perfectly happy and content doing this, and I’ll do this as long as people will let me, honestly. (Laughs)
The other thing that’s really interesting is your role with the esports team Panda Global. What’s your experience there? What are your responsibilities?
My experience with Panda Global has been incredible so far—the owners and other members are absolutely incredible people. I’ve gotten to meet so many great people … my role consists of maintaining all the content and making sure people do what they’re supposed to. And right now, since I’m still fairly new to Panda, my responsibilities aren’t set in stone yet. We’re constantly finding new things for me to do, because honestly, I want to hold more weight in the organization, and I want to be a bigger part of what they’re doing. And they’re letting me—that’s not the problem. It’s that we have to find where I fit in the most. You know, because, it’s one thing to say you want to do something, it’s another to find out what your niche is in this community.
Yeah, I’m looking at their YouTube channel. Are you the one uploading these videos, editing them all together?
Oh, no, no. Panda Global’s very own Fyazko—he’s the main editor behind Panda Global. I kinda do more of the managing side of YouTube since I know how YouTube works. I’m the one who goes through all the ads, the tagging, and the optimization of scheduling. I’m more of the managing side of YouTube rather than the editing side.
Do you see your content as aimed more at an esports audience or a casual audience?
I think my channel holds a really interesting role in the community right now. The thing about Smash is that you can be 15, 16, play this game every day with your friends, and you can have no idea that the competitive scene exists. And, even though I don’t enter all the nationals and things like that, I’m still very close with a lot of the top players, and have very good friends who do enter religiously, and so it kind of creates this strange form of cross-promotion where people who play this game very casually will look up silly videos of Smash, and they find my videos, and I sit on the weird line of being involved in the competitive esports community while appealing to a casual demographic. So when you see other Smasher YouTubers, like Zero or Esam, they appeal to the competitive demographic, but I have this very strange area that appeals to both the casual and competitive demographic, which kind of creates a crossover. I’ve met fans at SmashCon and EVO who, even though I’m not the biggest affiliate with the esports scene, they’ll come to me and say, hey, I found your videos, and then I found my local scene, because of you, which is very crazy to me, but it’s made me realize that my videos kind of hold this weird role in the community.
Have you had any aspirations of competing in Smash? Do you enter tournaments?
I did for a while. The thing about competing is—I’m very strange about it. People overestimate or underestimate my skill level drastically, and I’m kinda like—I’d say I’m average. Like, I think could get out of round one pools, but I don’t think I’d ever get out of round two pools, you know what I’m saying? My skill level is nothing I brag about, I know where my skill level is and I don’t try to oversell it. It’s just that I don’t have the time to sit down and try to play this game seriously, to the top level plays that people expect or want me to play at, simply because being a full-time student, on top of YouTube, maintaining my relationship, and social life—it’s already hard enough as it is, because training for any esport is honestly like picking up a second job. It’s very time-consuming, it’s not like you can just sit down once a week and expect to do well—it’s very demanding, and I really don’t have that amount of time left in my life.
It sounds like you’re happy with where you are, the priorities you have.
Yeah, I’m very happy with where I am in the community right now. Some people do write me off because my videos were a little terrible, I have to say, in about early 2015, mid-2015. And looking back, I’m not really proud of the content I was making, and I’ve had to grow as a person and a content creator since then. That’s the only thing I have a real problem with—my reputation with some people, most notably Reddit to some degree.
You object to labels like “memelord.” Would you like to defend your content against that label? Do you see your videos as purely comedic, or are you aiming for something more?
I mean, my videos do hold comedic value, that’s the intention of them. But I think it’s different per person, some people might want to embrace the label “memes” and things like that—but personally, it’s kind of grown to be an insult to me, because when you think of memes, you think of very low-effort content, very low-effort jokes, and when you slave away day-by-day trying to make a new video that thousands of people might enjoy, it’s just … I dunno, it just makes me feel bad when people degrade all that work and effort into just—that’s a meme! Or something like that. And I understand what the word is on the Internet, and I know that some people will take my content and make it a meme, but it’s just—when I try to put out original content that has no other source outside my own, it just kinda sucks sometimes. That’s all it really is.
That makes sense—a meme is based on repetition, it’s recycling, it’s old, it’s the same. Your intention is to make something new.
Yeah. And that’s all I really want to do. I just want to make a new video, I want to make someone laugh or maybe a new person laugh, and I just want to be original. That’s all I want to be. So when I realized my content was in a very “meme”-y direction, and I went through this very strange depression cycle of hating everything I was doing, and honestly debating quitting YouTube as a whole. I just wasn’t happy with where I was, and I think… I don’t know exactly when this change took place, I’m gonna probably say, like, December 2015, so last year. I just wanted to rework my content completely, and I feel really good about where my channel is now—it’s a lot more open, it’s a lot more broad, and I think it has a lot more personality on my channel overall than when it was featured on the subreddit. I’m very happy with where my channel is currently.
Is there anything that you’re still trying to improve? Any goals?
Yeah, I think I have one kind of ongoing goal. I’ve always wanted to have consistency. Not in terms of upload schedule, but in terms of quality. I felt like I had good videos, then I had bad videos, and I had average videos, because I was trying to get them out as fast as I could. But recently I stopped uploading as frequently. I do it when I feel like the video’s good enough. Because YouTube rewards quantity over quality, and it sucks because that’s how it is, but I really want to try to be the black sheep in that and try to put quality first in every video. There are a lot of arbitrary goals I could list—at the end of the year, I’d feel very happy having 250,000 subscribers. That’d be awesome to me. My whole overarching goal is to one day have a million subscribers, because this channel, I’ve put my life into it, honestly, over the past two years, and just to see a, like, gold plaque hanging in my room—that’d be a milestone that would make everything feel so surreal, that I finally made it, if you will.
Is part of that branching away from Smash 4? What do you think about Smash 4‘s future? With the size of the playerbase, is one million subscribers a reasonable goal?
I’d say at the core, I’m a Smash 4 channel, but if you look at all the videos, I never really upload the same game twice in a row. I have a lot of other videos, I have a lot of Overwatch, I’m currently working on a silly Paladins video, and there’s definitely a lot more variety. A lot of Smash players just write it off as Smash, but there are more videos, I promise.
Right. I’m looking at your videos, sorting by most views, it’s almost all Smash…
Oh yeah, the most views are definitely for Smash, but as you said about Smash 4‘s future… Smash 4‘s a weird place, because I think the game will be around until Smash 5 comes out. I feel like Melee players are there to play Melee, and Brawl/Smash 4 players are there to play the newest Smash game. That’s just with how drastically different the mechanics are in those two styles of games, it’s just kind of like, there are Melee players, and then there are Smash players, you know what I mean?
Yeah, it makes sense, you had all the Brawl players switch over when Smash 4 came out, I think it makes a lot of sense to expect that to happen again.
And then when Smash 5 comes out—or you know, if it does, because nothing’s been announced. But it’d be really interesting because I assume there’d be a huge influx of new players, just like there was with Smash 4, and it opens up the community so much more, because Smash is growing at an exponential rate. It’s honestly a little insane, how much it’s grown.
Who is your favorite competitive player to watch?
Oof. Uh… hmm… I need to think about this. (Long pause)
What was the first name that came to mind?
I have a few … okay… man, it’s just that every player has interesting aspects of themselves.
So you’re talking about the whole shebang, the person, not just the gameplay.
Yeah. Okay, I’m going to have to give you a few. I love watching Nairo play, because he is one of the most aggressive Smash 4 players, and watching him control the stage is very interesting. And it’s a lot you don’t see at the top. I love the whole persona behind Anti, and watching him play. If I had to boil it down to the whole personality and playstyle, I’d put Anti at the top, honestly. He’s an incredible player to watch, and he has the best Twitter account in all of Smash 4.
He does—that is a fact! That is a fact.
That is absolutely a fact, and for the exact reason I have to put Ally right below that.
Anti and Ally, both Mario players. Does that mean you’re a big Mario fan?
Surprisingly no! It’s less of me liking the character they play and more of their personality. Because the interesting thing about Smash is, if you watch any player’s stream, you get to know their personality, and every single player’s personality matches their playstyle. It’s very interesting how that works.
Do you watch Melee?
Oh, yeah, I come from Melee… well, the thing about Melee versus Smash 4 is that, the demographics are drastically different. I feel like my comedic plays would not do well in Melee; I feel like it’s better in Smash 4. But I can’t say I watch Smash 4 Top 8 more than I watch Melee Top 8. Like, I got into Smash through Project M 2.6, and after that I watched PM, played Melee, stuff like that. When Smash 4 came out, I got an HD capture card and I was like, oh, Melee‘s not HD, I’ll just do one over Smash 4. And so I made a video about Smash 4, and that video took off! But I was mainly playing Melee and PM prior to that.
Cool, so you kinda just followed the market in that way. Do you still play Melee?
I mean, for the longest time I was like, oh yeah, I’m still a Melee/PM player, and then I came to realize I hadn’t played either of those games in months, just because I’ve become so busy. But I still love both of those games; I still watch all the PM nationals I can, because that game’s so important to me, honestly.
So how do you feel about it getting shut down?
I think it’s upsetting—not for the reason that development has ceased, and not for the reason that I’m not personally getting any more content. I think I’m only upset because I don’t think that’s how the project team wanted to end development.
How do you feel about Nintendo’s whole position towards esports? Sometimes it just seems they’re pretty anti-esports, they don’t like or understand it—they don’t like how Melee went in that direction, they tried to stop it from being streamed at EVO.
The whole, like, EVO fiasco … that was a while ago. And nowadays, they at least tweet out the fact that we have Top 8 at big nationals. So, being acknowledged is one thing, it’s just … it would be nice to have more support at nationals, mainly like pot bonus to really grow the scene more, because Nintendo does really sponsor our biggest events, and you have to give them credit where it’s due. It’s just when you see how involved Capcom is in Street Fighter with the whole Capcom Cup and circuit, it’d be nice to have something like that for Smash.
Do you think that Smash 5 will be closer to Melee than Smash 4? The mechanical complexity came back a bit with Smash 4. Do you think Nintendo’s headed in that direction?
What do you mean by “the complexity came back” with Smash 4?
Well, I thought Smash 4 was generally considered to be less casual-focused than Brawl—they got rid of the tripping, there’s a little bit of dash-dancing, stuff like that?
Well, the thing about Brawl and Smash 4 is—Brawl had tripping, and yeah, tripping sucked, but Brawl still had a lot of depth to it, and it had a lot of tech that Smash 4 doesn’t, and that’s kind of why people liked PM a lot, because it’s a nice median between all the Brawl tech and all the Melee tech in unison. It is a little bit upsetting that they didn’t carry over all the Brawl tech into Smash 4, but there’s a lot of stuff in Brawl. And there was a lot more consistency in Brawl than there is in Smash 4 right now, although also the meta was older.
Oh, that’s a really interesting point. What do you think about the lack of consistency in upper-echelon Smash 4? Is the meta not settled yet, or is there a lower skill ceiling?
I think there’s a high skill ceiling in Smash 4, but I also think the skill floor is a lot lower. Let’s talk about Melee—if you L-cancel, and your opponent doesn’t, you’re automatically in a better spot than your opponent. In Brawl, if you’re going to momentum-cancel every time you get sent off-stage, and your opponent isn’t, you’re going to live longer, and therefore have a better shot at living. Smash 4 doesn’t have any technical boundaries like… they don’t have any introductory boundaries, technical boundaries that Melee and Brawl do, which—I mean, my opinion isn’t worth much, because I’m just a content creator in this big community. But that’s a reason why I think the consistency isn’t as potent as it was in previous iterations in the game.
The highest-upvoted question submitted by the community was “Tell us your embarrassing story Alpharad.” What’s the context here?
I have second channel called “Friends Without Benefits,” and it’s just a Let’s Play channel, and one time I mentioned I had an embarrassing story—I don’t remember what episode it was on, nor do I remember what the context was. So I’d tell you the story right now if I remembered it, but I honestly don’t remember it at all.
How about something else, the most embarrassing thing that comes to mind? We gotta please the people.
I feel like a lot of my embarrassing stories are highly inappropriate, and I already mentioned my team Panda Global, and to keep them happy, I’m going to keep the name happy.
What happened to Mad-Dawg? Who is he, what does he do?
Mad-Dawg is an infamous player that I played against in one of my For Glory episodes. He is known as the worst Smash player to ever have existed, and there was kind of a facetious movement I started that caught on a lot—I thought this was going to be an average episode of me playing For Glory, but this became one of my highest-viewed videos, of me just playing against this guy named Mad-Dawg. It grew a lot bigger than I expected, and we never found Mad-Dawg, as far as I know. I mean, people have tweeted me with pictures, but there could be other people going on For Glory with the tag Mad-Dawg, so … he might just be wandering around there in the cyberspace, being bad at the game, so who knows?
I mean, how bad are we talking? “Just picked up the Wii controller for the first time” bad? Or a player who knows how to control the character, but they’re just awful?
He could control his character, so … Smash is a game of decision-making, and let’s say in every situation there are ten different decisions, and you have to choose one to commit to. On a scale of one to ten, he picked the one, every single time, the worst possible option, and that was just how the game went.
In a number of your videos, you make references to anime! Do you like anime, and if so, what are your top five shows of all time?
You know, I should have studied up on these questions prior, because this is a list…
I mean, you’re not supposed to have seen these at all. (Laughs)
(Typing; speaking as he types) My-Anime-List-dot-net…
Oh, you’ve got a list? Can we stick that in the piece?
Ah, no, because that reveals the shows I’m watching, and I don’t want anyone to spoil it for me, I never tell anyone what anime I’m watching, because they will spoil it.
Okay, but you can at least give us your top five.
Well, I can’t log in but I can still make a list… Gurren Lagann is still my favorite. Assassination Classroom. Sailor Moon, gotta put that…
Yeah, Yu-Gi-Oh! I have a lot of references to that. So, let’s say the list would look something like:
4. Ouran Koukou Host Club
3. Sailor Moon
2. Assassination Classroom
1. Gurren Lagann
What is your favorite game of all time?
Thousand-Year Door—Paper Mario, for the GameCube.
Great game. What’s your favorite character from that?
I gotta go with Ms. Mowz, because she was so damn cute.
Anything else you like to do in your spare time? Books, movies?
I used to be really big into reading, and it’s really upsetting to me that I have not had the time to do it as much lately. But as far as books go, something I did read a long time ago was called Ready Player One, it was interesting. And I think one of the most interesting series I’ve read was actually Darkly Dreaming Dexter, which is the book series the TV series Dexter is based off of. Each season is wrapped around one book.
Do you like the books or the TV show more?
Well, the thing is about it is, I liked the first two books and the first two seasons of the TV show, and when I think about Dexter, I like to pretend only those two exist, because the rest of the series is not that good. But I do think the first and second seasons of Dexter are the best television I’ve ever watched, and the first two books are, like, the best two books I’ve ever read.
Yeah, Doakes for life, man. I think he was Sergeant Doakes?
When he died, a huge character foil of Dexter died.
Thanks to /r/smashbros users QueenMeteor, THE_Navier_Strokes, dsmith8697, RamboZelda, Pumbloom76, Rhodesm96, ArmorytheIceberg, ChessandSalem, megamooseman, BL_Scott, digdugchamp, TheFriendlyFire, kurslash, TheLegendOfLaser, and others for submitting the questions that formed the basis of the interview above.