Trevor Martin is 21 years old. He recently purchased a home in Iowa City, where he lives with his girlfriend. His income is somewhere in the low to mid six figures. He doesn’t like to be exact about numbers, but suffice to say, it’s ‘enough’ - more than most of us will see in a lifetime.
He’s being smart about his finances, however; in addition to his new home, Martin currently owns three rental properties in his hometown. He’s also in the middle of negotiations to add a 12-unit apartment building to his growing portfolio.
Martin is living the American dream. He is not, however, a doctor, an investment banker, a stockbroker, or any ‘traditional’ employment that would connotate this level of success. Martin is a ‘Let’s Play’ commentator on YouTube, where he earns money on various sponsorship deals and the ad revenue from his subscribers. He makes his living by playing video games, from start to finish, and commenting upon them as he plays.
His income is somewhere in the low to mid six figures. He doesn’t like to be exact about numbers, but suffice to say, it’s ‘enough’ - more than most of us will see in a lifetime.
“I started getting paid in late 2010, but it was a few bucks a month,” Martin says. “In 2011, my channel started getting bigger, and I started to make enough to quit my job as a busboy. It wasn't until late Summer 2011, when I was graduating high school, that things really started to pick up and show potential to make a living off of it.”
Making a living off of playing video games? The popular gamer archetype is that of the slacker burnout - the low-skilled loser with no ambitions, other than to smoke weed and collect virtual income. Martin, however, does not fit this antiquated pre-conception.
“I was a 4.0 GPA student, scored a 34 on the ACT, and had multiple scholarship opportunities to relatively large schools when I was a high school senior,” Martin says. “From all that, I chose to attend a local community college to give me time to focus both on school and on YouTube.”
It was at this point - when Martin was trying to balance his gaming ambitions with his academic life, that he came to a decision.
“A few weeks into my first semester, I had an opportunity to work in LA for a couple of months that I couldn't pass on, so I dropped out,” Martin says. “Since then, life has been a roller coaster. I'm constantly traveling all over the place - usually two weeks out of the month - so I don't even have the option to pursue school. I'd fail simply because I'd never be in class.”
“That being said, I will definitely go back one day. When the traveling slows down, or when YouTube comes to an end, I'll go back and get a degree - most likely in Finance. Although I hope I'm in a position not to need one, it's still an important goal of mine.”
Over 400,000 subscribers now follow his channel, and they have logged over 75 million hits. The numbers continue to grow, and despite his success, he’s not the most prominent game commentator on YouTube - not even close.
That title belongs to PewDiePie, who has over 24 million subscribers and has logged over 3.7 billion views - which translates to millions and millions of dollars per year. YouTube is a big cash pie that many people are trying to eat a slice of, and they go about their self-promotion in different ways - through gimmicks, through sketches, through characters.
Enthusiasm, however, is always a requirement. PewDiePie has a hyperactive, manic persona, whereas Martin’s style of commentary is that of a goofy couch buddy, snickering in your ear and making smart, witty wisecracks as you plough through enemies.
“TmarTn2 is pretty much exactly who I am,” Martin says. “Most of the videos I produce on that channel are simply live commentaries while playing a game, so it's hard to be anything but myself. The only thing I ever change is I leave negativity at the door. If I'm having a bad day, feeling down, sick, whatever, I try not to let it show. Videos are much more enjoyable to watch when the person playing is upbeat/having a good time, so that's the mood I like to be in.”
Martin’s been gaming for as long as he can remember. He started, like many gamers, on the ‘gateway drug’ - educational computer games like 'Math Blaster' and 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' - when he was very young.
“In 1998, for my sixth birthday, my mom got me the original GameBoy and then Pokemon Red/Blue a few months later when they released. That's what truly started my [video game] addiction,” Martin says. “My best friend and I would have sleepovers Friday and Saturday nights every weekend, and stay up until 6 AM playing. I had every Pokemon game and GameBoy system through Ruby/Sapphire.”
Martin got a Playstation 1 when he was seven, a Game Cube shortly afterwards, and a Playstation 2 in 2000. For the most part, he played sports games - his first FPS was Call of Duty 4 for the Playstation 3 in 2007. It was at this point that a high school friend introduced Martin to the burgeoning YouTube scene.
“At that point in time, I was an aspiring competitive Call of Duty player, and had never seen the [spectator] side,” Martin says. “The first person I watched was FPSKyle, doing Call of Duty 4 commentaries. He was getting 4,000-5,000 views per video, which I thought was awesome. I dove in head first. I already had recording equipment and experience with editing programs from my competitive COD aspirations, so it was a pretty easy transition.”
“The first few months of videos that I created were pretty awful - I was very awkward and nervous, and you could tell I was uncomfortable in front of the mic. I had never been much of a public speaker, so it took awhile to get used to. I still go back and watch them from time to time, just to remember what it was like back then. It was definitely cringeworthy.”
The tipping point for Martin came in 2011, when he began posting ‘Let’s Plays’ - his witty, cover-to-cover commentaries on the biggest PS3 and XBox360 hits. It started small - maybe 1-2 videos per day in 2012 - and quickly blossomed as the subscriber base grew.
“A Let's Play channel’s growth seems to be directly related to how often and how consistently you upload; the more, the better,” Martin says. “In 2013, I started posting multiple times a day. I now post 4-5 videos per day.”
Today, Martin continues to build his rep. Martin is not the biggest commentator, and he probably never will be, but that’s not really the point, is it? The point is that gaming commentary is not a freak occurrence - it’s not a fluke, it’s not a ‘get rich quick’ scheme where lightning struck once, but never again. There are many, many people exactly like Martin - who fly under the mainstream pop culture radar, but make an honest, lucrative living off of something that would have been inconceivable five years ago. So long as there are fans who continue to watch and support these videos, there is no end in sight.
“On one of my first trips to LA, when I got off the plane and was walking to baggage claim, I heard, "TMART, TMART!" being yelled across LAX,” Martin says. “I turned around and saw a younger kid running towards me. He gave me this really cool origami ball - he loved my videos and wanted to give me something, so he made this ball on our flight.”
“Everybody always says that if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. I'm lucky enough to find myself in this position in life. Don't get me wrong; there are definitely days where it's a grind. Too much of anything will get old after awhile, and that includes playing video games. I hope it lasts forever, but I know it won't. I'm just going to ride the wave for as long as I can and see where it takes me.”