University alumnus turned YouTube sensation talks about his Internet fame

By Elyssa Kaufman

Video personality and University alumnus Josh Wittenkeller currently has more than 1 million subscribers on his “TheJWittz” YouTube channel. Fans of Wittenkeller’s tune in every one to two weeks to hear about his gaming reviews and opinions on Nintendo games and Pokémon strategies. He graduated in December 2012 with a degree in media and cinema studies. Through the College of Media, Wittenkeller was able to learn multimedia skills that now allow him to be a YouTube celebrity and will continue to help with his new career at Twitch.tv, a live streaming video platform for gamers, in San Francisco.

How did you first get involved with YouTube?

I think a lot of people didn’t really like high school that much or felt that high school was just going through the motions, and they really opened up when they get into college. I kind of went backwards; I really strived, and I loved all the programs my high school had, but I got bored really easily in college, so I started using YouTube. I have always created stuff in my free time, and I have always loved experimenting with video. It was around 2009 when the idea or word YouTube started (circulating). Before that, most people knew about YouTube because it was about three years old, but it was around this time when I started recognizing specific uploaders who kept making content versus just going to YouTube to watch videos. It looked like a lot of fun, so I decided to make content about something I like. At the time, it was the Pokémon trading card game.

What are the topics of your videos?

I started my videos by talking about (the) Pokémon trading card game strategies and talking mostly about different types of decks and strategies. In 2011, I began to talk more about Pokémon and the series as a whole. I talked about anything Pokémon, between the anime, the different forms of media and the video games. Pokémon has a long varied history, (and) I really liked being able to share more than just the cards. After, I felt like I had exhausted the topic of Pokémon, from 2014 onward, I made videos talking about various aspects of Nintendo.

Does anyone help you with the videos or with edits?

For about six years, I did all the editing myself, and I was pretty adamant that I would always be doing all the editing. Things are changing, and in 2015 I finally caved and decided that there are a lot more things I want to explore in life. While I actually do like editing, I am one of the few YouTubers that likes to edit. Unfortunately, editing does take a massive amount of time, so I do work with another YouTuber who edits for me. I storyboard, script, get all the footage and he puts it together based on my notes.

As a YouTube celebrity, do you get recognized for your YouTube channel?

You know, I do. It’s funny because it’s more than you would expect. In general, a couple times a month, someone might recognize me in public. Just the other day at a local barbecue restaurant, someone recognized my wife and I. We both make content. It’s still not something I’ve gotten used to. It is pretty crazy that people all over the world have been able to watch the videos, and it’s really flattering. It’s a small bit of fame where you feel famous and important, but it’s not quite on the Hollywood level where I can’t even go out in public, which is good. The gamer conventions have been more frustrating because a lot of people recognize me. It’s hard to attend some conventions as a regular fan anymore. Another thing that doesn’t help is that I’m taller than the average person. If I’m at a convention, I am found pretty easily.

What impact do you think your videos have had on the viewers?

Today, I think there’s still that stigma of “Oh, man, he still plays Pokémon”; they just play video games all day or something like that. I want to let people know that you can enjoy a healthy lifestyle and still really love the things that you like and follow your passions. I’ve heard from a lot of people that after watching the videos, they’ve become a little more passionate or prideful in the thing that they love. They try and not worry about people making fun of whatever crazy thing that they love.

What are some of your favorite videos you have uploaded?

One that I am especially proud of that we were just able to do in March, it’s certainly not one of my biggest videos, but it’s one of my biggest accomplishments. I got to talk with, very arguably, the greatest or at least most recognized video game developer of all time. He develops all kinds of Nintendo games that are household names like Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. I got to interview with him, and that was really fantastic. Even to talk with the guy was a big high point for me.

Where do you get your inspiration for your videos?

A lot of it comes from my childhood. A lot of the times when I was younger, I ended up playing video games, and it’s funny because I never realized it could become part of a career. Now that I’m grown, people are so interested in hearing facts about games, so a lot of the times, I just sit down and try to remember to them. I played a lot of video games, so finding a way I can convey this into a video is important. Inspiration comes out of places or suggestions from fans, whether that be through email or Twitter. Other times, I will do a video where it is a collaboration between myself and another YouTube creator. That’s more of a collaborative process, where we think of a topic that both of our audiences would enjoy.

How did the University of Illinois prepare you for your current YouTube position?

One thing that was helpful about the University was that there were a lot of resources and programs that are normally pretty expensive at a hobbyist level to use. I would also say that a handful of different classes I found really helpful in preparing by learning various editing skills. One of the classes was called “Writing with Video.” I felt it was helpful to have a wide variety of different classes to work with.

What are your plans for your future years? Do you see yourself continuing with this YouTube station?

Just yesterday, I released a very big update video. I’m going through a lot of changes in my life right now. I am still making YouTube videos, but actually for the first time in five years, I am getting a “real job.” It’s a traditional job, and I am moving to San Francisco, where I’m working for a company called Twitch.tv., which does a lot of big video streaming similar to YouTube. I’ve actually met a lot of the people from the Twitch company through different projects. Being a content creator is definitely fantastic, and we’ve had some really great years. I really can’t believe how many subscribers and people are watching the videos. I’m trying to have a secure future with the family one day, so I decided I would take up this job. Thankfully, it’s a company that I’ve worked with a lot, and Twitch definitely is a big portion of my job now. I have already been streaming on Twitch.tv while also uploading videos on YouTube. Working with the company is a nice way to still live out my passion without worrying about the financial issues that come with working with YouTube. Thankfully, Twitch.tv has said I can still continue uploading videos to YouTube. It’s a big turning point.

Elyssa is a student at the University of Illinois.
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