An Editorial By John Camarena
There are so many different types of YouTube channels out there, from the broad to the scarily specific. Some real gems may get passed up if you don’t sometimes search for things outside of your regular interest zones or feel adventurous on a thumbnail. But I’m here to dig through the dregs of content to filter out some unique or otherwise good channels that don’t get the attention they deserve. All of these that we’ll be looking into are channels I too am a fan of, and therefore can also serve as an insight into my inner workings.
Classic horror film and retro gaming enthusiast James Rolfe’s “Angry Videogame Nerd” character actually predates Youtube itself. Making videos since he was a child and posting online since 2004, he created a unique brand of comedy videos focusing primarily on criticizing retro games from the 80’s that were known for their ridiculous difficulty. Games like Back to the Future, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Karate Kid, Castlevania 2 and Legend of Zelda 2 were all on the Nintendo Entertainment System, which is due to the character originally being called The Angry Nintendo Nerd; the name was modified to avoid copyright later on. Not long afterward, the Nerd covered other consoles and games as well as accessories like the Powerglove. The Nerd made his mark by having a unique way of reviewing games in which he will become increasing agitated by the games’ difficulty, drink beer, and eventually unleash a colorful stream of imaginative expletives. It’s a style that has since been copied with varying degrees of success, but there’s nothing like the original. The Nerd is still going strong to this day, and James will also appear as himself in some offshoot videos like Rental Reviews and James & Mike Mondays, and a personal favorite of mine, Monster Madness, in which he’ll give a short review on horror movies new and old, and themed runs such as the complete Godzilla series or every Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. There was even a movie in which he reviews arguably the worst game of all time: E.T. Some notable reviews that I love to revisit include his review of the Atari, NES and SNES Star Wars games, his review of the Virtual Boy, and the Wish List episodes 1 & 2, which was like a time capsule from the 80s.
2. Red Letter Media:
Now, shifting focus from retro games to popular movies, we have Red Letter Media. First rising to almost overnight prominence after the likes of Simon Pegg and Damon Lindelof tweeted about it, their 70 minute Phantom Menace review broke down all the things that I subconsciously hated about the Star Wars prequels but lacked the general understanding of the language of cinema at the time to truly articulate. The narrator, a Mr. Harry S. Plinkett, speaks in what can only be described as a homicidal maniac’s voice and his choice of things he finds funny would corroborate that. That being said, the man behind the voice, Mike Stoklasa, is a former film student who has written and directed several projects under his own production company now known as Red Letter Media, and is well versed story structure, shot composition, and possesses a sharp wit when pointing out inconsistencies and gaps in the logic of the screenplay. The Plinkett reviews actually started with reviews of the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies, in which he points out that the character of Picard was written almost as an exact opposite of his TV character for the sake of making the movies more action-driven. From there, we have gotten all the prequels, 2 of the 3 Disney sequels, and an assortment of other films such as Titanic, Avatar, Baby’s Day Out and Cop Dog. With their newfound success and attention, the channel began to branch out to some less scripted fare, from Half in the Bag, where they review one or two movies that are currently still in theaters, to RE:VIEW, where they do an in-depth analysis and praise some of their favorite classics movies such as The Rocketeer, Tremors, and Ghostbusters; and The Nerd Crew, where they essentially make fun of nerd culture in general. There’s also Best of the Worst, in which they will randomly, and sometimes creatively, choose from their massive collection of VHS tapes and have a roundtable discussion about them, ending with them destroying whichever they vote was the worst viewing experience. If you love film and want to listen to a bunch of interesting characters making fun of each other while also making some great observations about the movie industry, you can’t go wrong here, just be warned that they won’t shy away from joking about inappropriate things or events.
3. Girlfriend Reviews:
The most recent entry into my regular video rotation is a cute video series by early twenty-something Youtubers Matt and Shelby, better known as Girlfriend Reviews. The gimmick here is that Shelby was a backseat gamer that decided to start commenting on the games her boyfriend would play from her own unique point of view; not being an avid gamer herself, she brings some interesting and humorous insights into video game tropes that are normally taken for granted. Things such as overly convoluted storylines or play mechanics come under her scrutiny as she questions why they have to be the way they are. Eventually she started joining in and getting some first-hand experience, and also branching out into other media such as one of my favorite videos: watching Star Wars: A New Hope for the first time as an adult. Their videos are funny, well-edited, and very entertaining. So much so in fact, that there were rumors on the channel’s subreddit page that Matt and Shelby were just actors and the videos were actually being professionally produced by some marketing company. This is doubtful, although there is a suspiciously clean level of polish to their videos, they are not outside the realm of a couple of plucky kids with some video editing software and a razor sharp eye for meme humor. Three good videos to watch are the Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening review, in which she stops three-quarters of the way through and just plays the Untitled Goose Game; Doom, where she realizes her potential for enjoying bloodshed; and Bioshock, where she really goes into detail about the setting and art deco design juxtaposed with the horror of the story.
These are great primers for some good pop culture consumption, all from very different yet highly entertaining points of view, and really just the tip of the iceberg for deep-diving into the depths of my own geekdom. And no, you’re eyes are not tricking you, Macauly Culkin has appeared two of the three channels discussed today, since he is branching out and embracing the Youtuber culture with channels that he also finds entertaining.
A Look Into a Modern Sports League Debacle
By Michael Santos
The Alliance of American Football was a promising amateur football league that was supposed to complement the NFL during the NFL offseason. It instead turned into “the Fyre Festival” of spring football leagues as it would fold before its first season ended. This is a story of a failed secret tech company, the hazards of trusting in shady investors, and a white-knight investor that went rogue. This is the story of what happened to the Alliance of American Football.
In order to understand the true nature of the AAF, it’s important for us to rewind 20 years to the year 2000, when the formation of a new spring football league was announced to run during the NFL offseason and not only serve as more sports-fodder for football-craving fans, but also to compete with the NFL. They would call this new league the “XFL” and it was co founded by the World Wrestling Entertainment’s own Vince McMahon and Chairman (at the time) of NBC Sports, Dick Ebersol.
The XFL was promised to be a unique league that would revolutionize the sport compared to the NFL, that Vince McMahon had snubbed as the “No Fun League.” Instead, during its inaugural season in 2001, football fans got a spectacle of the sport they knew and loved.
- The rules were different
- The sportscasters (much like the WWE) behaved more like scripted characters
- Players, coaches, cheerleaders, and even game officials had complex (or not-complex) story lines.
- Scantily-clad cheerleaders were encouraged to date players for reality-show-like content.
- Most importantly, the football sucked.
Because XFL rosters were limited to about 38 players per team, as opposed to the NFL’s 53-man rosters, teams lacked depth at key positions, which led to fatigued players offering up poor play with many suffering injuries as a result. All of these factors led to the complete ridicule of the league by sports critics and fans, resulting in the complete folding of the league after only its first season. This brings us to March 20, 2018 when the launch of a spring football league was announced that would rival the NFL, and revolutionize the sport. This time around, the league would be called the Alliance of American Football.
The AAF was the brainchild of filmmaker Charlie Ebersol. Does the name sound familiar? He’s the son of XFL co-founder, Dick Ebersol. In 2016, ESPN aired a short documentary Episode of 30-for-30 titled ‘This was the XFL’ written and directed by Charlie Ebersol. The film broke down the creation of the XFL, as well as it’s eventual collapse. One of the main themes of the film was the question “could spring football work,” to which much of the mistakes of the XFL were listed as warnings.
Around this time, it was rumored that Vince McMahon was going to take another shot at spring football. Meanwhile, Charlie Ebersol also wanted to create a successful spring league. The problem was that Ebersol knew McMahon had the advantage in funding. The only way for him to compete was to beat McMahon to the punch, so he set out to do just that.
Working with former Buffalo Bill’s hall-of-fame GM Bill Polian, Ebersol created an idea for spring football that had so much promise for fans, players, and the game itself. The overall dream was not to compete with the NFL, but to complement it. The league would serve as a way to develop players into NFL-ready stars, and provide an interactive app for fans that would provide up-to-the-minute stats on players and give transparency to game-calls and coaching decisions. This app would ultimately be used for a never-before-seen platform for sports betting. The initial investment goal was for $300 million to get through the first three years, and provide return on investment after three years. They now needed to attract the investors.
“Look, you can’t raise money to launch a football league. Anyone who tells you they can is lying, unless you’ve got a quixotic billionaire who just wanted to spend all of his money,” -Charlie EbersolThe Philadelphia Inquirer Feb. 2019
To attract investors, Ebersol concentrated on his interactive sports app, first raising funds as a tech start-up that ran an entire football league. He gained the backing of Silicon Valley giants like Founders Fund, Keith Rabois, and Peter Chernin. Eventually, Ebersol would get in contact with Reggie Fowler, an investor and former minority owner of the Minnesota Vikings who offered $25 million to be the league’s initial investor through year one of operations. With the cash in hand (for at least the first year), Ebersol announced the formation of the AAF on March 20, 2018 with the first game to air on CBS on Feb. 9, 2019, the weekend after the Super Bowl, and more importantly in less-than a year. The start-up was ready to launch, though it was already on weak footing.
To build the app, Ebersol spared no expense and hired engineers from tech giants like Tesla, Google, Intel and Bitcoin to name a few. The initial intent was promising. During a demo, a smart phone was displayed to the new engineers via video conference. It showed a football game in the center of the screen with tiles on the side of it that zoomed in on a different player on the field. Touching that player’s tile would display that player’s stats, fatigue level, and also allow a user to bet on if that player might be crucial to the next play. From this demonstration, newly hired employees knew the scope of the project ahead, and it needed to be ready before the first game aired in less than six months.
Their challenge was building machine-learning programs from historical football data, that would encapsulate the app’s predictive capabilities; a feature Ebersol coined as “Stats 2.0.” They also needed to develop wearable sensors that players could wear in-game so the app could send biometric data to users so they can track a player’s heart rate in real time.
The end-product, however, was a shadow of what was initially demonstrated to the early-hire employees. The majority of the features originally demonstrated were missing, including the player-tracker feature. The player fatigue tracker was also missing because the sensors they wore kept breaking. There was also no way for the programmers to synchronize the app feed, which ran an impressive 200 milliseconds behind real-time action, to television broadcasts which averaged around 12.5 seconds behind. Early complaints about the app was that it would constantly spoil the game for viewers at home.
On the tech-side of the league things could not get any worse, while business was running smoothly for the football side of the operation. They had managed to attract some big fish from the NFL like Johnny Manziel as QB for the Memphis Express, and Mike Singletary as coach for the same team, attendance for the first two weeks averaged in the tens of thousands, but didn’t drop from one week to another, viewership at home rivaled some NHL and MLS games. Things on the football side were going great, but then the investment money staggered.
Behind the scenes at AAF corporate operations, Ebersol had been struggling with the investment capital from Reggie Fowler. The disbursements weren’t coming in as promised. They would frequently come in short of the initial $15 million installments, late, and from multiple bank accounts. They would soon be in arrears $13 million to start their training camp, and Ebersol and Polian did not know why. The answer would come months later when Reggie Fowler, the league’s sole investor, was arrested on bank fraud charges. According to prosecutors, he and Israeli businesswoman Ravid Yosef (who remains at large) ran a money laundering operation that involved setting up multiple bank accounts to route money into an obscure cryptocurrency app. They also lied to banks to bypass anti-money laundering laws.
Like an episode of ‘Silicon Valley‘, Ebersol’s initial funding had become so unreliable that he needed to chum up another investor, and fast. Through a personal contact, Ebersol was connected with billionaire Tom Dundon, owner of the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL. Dundon had been interested in starting up a spring football league, and the AAF was particularly attractive because all the trouble of starting up was already done by Ebersol and Polain. Dundon came in with an investment of $250 million to fund the league through three years, and to buy out both Charlie and father Dick Ebersol’s voting capacity on the league board. On Feb 22, 2019, less than a month from their inaugural games, Ebersol announced via company-wide email that Tom Dundon would serve as the chairman of the AAF’s board of directors. Dundon now owned exclusive decision-making powers for the league, and for Charlie Ebersol, his dream of a successful AAF remained alive.
Shortly after the acquisition, Dundon had determined that the league was spending as if it were the NFL, just without the budget. He immediately ordered the league’s expenses be dropped from close to $100 million to $50 million.
“We would have to cut the players’ salary…”
Polain told him, attempting to stay true to their promise of player empowerment.
“Yeah, but if we don’t, we don’t have a business…”
Dundon made cuts to the budget wherever he could. Engineers on the interactive sports-gambling app soon found themselves without jobs, as Dundon found the app to be non-working. Players and coaches traveled to games on planes much smaller than what they were accustomed to, similar to a scene from the movie ‘Major League’. Their hotels were also inadequate, as the coaching staff that once used to conference rooms for holding meetings and walk-throughs, would now be holding them in parking lots.
It was Dundon’s assessment of their TV broadcast expenditures that may have ultimately spelled the demise of the AAF. In an effort to cut expenses on television broadcasts, Dundon attempted to negotiate with CBS executives, where they would “chip-in” part of the costs, but the revenue from the AAF wasn’t enough to garner more than a pay-your-way deal. Dundon felt he had only one option left, and it was to partner with the NFL.
His plan was to borrow third and fourth string players from the NFL and solidify the AAF as a developmental league instead of as a tech start-up. He even shared ominously in an interview with USA Today that the league would fold if the deal with the NFL failed. On April 1, 2019, Dundon met with executives of the NFLPA to negotiate his plan, and failed. The very next day, he suspended operations.
For players and coaching staff, the next few days would be chaos. The hotels they had been staying in had no way to be paid, so players and coaching staff were ushered out. Many of them had left other jobs and traveled clear across the country, and now many had the feeling of being stranded with no way to get back home. Some players had brought their family with them, and had to scrounge the cash to get hotels for them and their children. Injured players would be left wondering who would be taking care of their medical expenses. On one side of the country, a player sent a text to his friend on the other side asking if everything was okay.
“This feels like the Fyre Festival,” was the message he got back.
Weeks later, the AAF would file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
In the aftermath of the crash, none of the principal executives were left unscathed. A large number of players and coaches, disgruntled and feeling misled, sued the league. Charlie Eberson, Tom Dundon, and Bill Polain were all named as defendants. Reggie Fowler was arrested in April of 2019 for his shady banking practices. He faces up to 70 years in prison, and a plea deal for dropped charges has recently fallen through.
For Eberson, he had answered the thematic question on his short film for himself. Spring football could work, but he managed to find all the ways for it to fail. For the fans, the football product worked. It was just the app that didn’t, but much of that was due to an impossible deadline. For the players, the league was an opportunity to achieve their dreams of playing professionally, that didn’t pan out. To Eberson’s defense, his effort joins the ranks of every other failed spring football venture, and his might not be the last. Vince McMahon’s new XFL season starts Saturday February 8th at 2pm ET on ABC, and only time will tell how spectacular that debacle will be if it fails too. Though not completely his fault, Ebersol for now has set the spectacle bar pretty high.