Teacher turned YouTuber: A conversation with GamerZakh.
Hey there eGGlets we are starting a new weekly series of exclusive interviews where we speak to local and international esports personalities. Through these conversations, we want to hear and share their stories and experiences; taste their high points and low moments.
This week we spoke to Zakhren Yazid - a Malaysian content creator with a following on YouTube and Twitch. He started small but persevered, learning much since he decided to go all in. He shares his journey from being a high school teacher to a full-fledged content creator.
Zakhren Yazid, who goes by the professional name GamerZakh, towers at 189 centimetres. Though cutting an imposing physique, he has a strikingly gentle character. He exudes a humble confidence and is extremely articulate, setting anyone he meets for the first time at ease.
GamerZakh, or as he prefers - Zakh - became a full-time content creator slightly over 4 years ago when he quit his job as a high school teacher to focus on creating gaming content. Preferring this designation over ‘personality’ or ‘influencer,’ he notes that “it succinctly explains what I actually do.”
This is his story: from high school teacher to YouTube content creator.
Zakh was born in 1989. His father was an electrical engineer, and so Zakh grew up with computers and gaming. He reflects that “during that period of time, an adult saying computers are the future was a rare thing.” And he credits his early exposure to games as being a key element in moulding his character.
This foundation meant that towards the end of high school, he had a few options: do something creative like hospitality or the culinary arts, or enter the arena of game development or computer science. He ultimately settled on a multimedia diploma course from The One Academy where he learned the basics of programming, along with some design.
After graduation, he worked in the design industry in various agencies as well as taking on freelancing work, which included projects from designing web newsletters to digital signage. However, Zakh felt that something was missing. He says that “the design industry [back then] was stale, and there was no money in doing something interesting.”
His mother, and grandfather were both teachers, and it so happens that Zakh inherited that educational gene. Thus, with a clear desire to do something meaningful, he combined his love for media and his interest in education to complete a degree in Interactive Media with a focus on education. He talks fondly of his final year project, “it was a digital cloud-based textbook. So I uploaded the Form 5 Science textbook onto a mobile app; and the text came from the cloud, which means you can keep updating it.”
It was also around this time that he completed a playthrough series of the environment simulation adventure game, From Dust, and uploaded it to YouTube, and - in his own words - “just let it sit there.” He mentions that it was while watching the YouTube channels of Day9, TotalBiscuit, HuskyStarcraft and The Yogscast among others, that he realised he had not played a video game in 2 years, citing busyness and uncertainty about his career path as major contributing factors.
However, in March 2012, he resolved to “do things properly.” He graduated, applied to be a teacher at an international high school, continued freelancing and became serious about content creation. This was his plan, “I would work really hard on all three fronts, after that I will figure out what I wanted to commit to. And it needs to pay the bills.” When asked about the difficulties of doing all three concurrently, he candidly remarks, “I had to give up something; for me it was meeting friends and sleep.”
Zakh says, “the freelance design work gradually died off, competition was too high.” Hence, he stuck with teaching and creating content. It was an arduous process, especially on the YouTube front. “Unless you already have connections or are really lucky, expect the first 2-3 years [of creating content on YouTube] to earn $0,” he says with good-natured cynicism. “When I first started, there was no YouTube office in Malaysia, so I literally could not monetise for the first 2 years! And when they turned monetisation on, I earned $1 a month. Furthermore, your first video is going to suck, but you have to make a sucky video so that your next video will be less so.”
Emphasising patience, he talks about turning a profit only after 3 to 4 years of sweat and blood. “It takes time - it might take up to 10 years to be successful,” he remarks. “A lot of successful channels now started in 2007. It has been 10 years; they have been doing it for a decade! I doubt they were successful in their first 4 years.”
One of the ways Zakh perseveres is not missing the forest for the trees. He reminds himself that specific numbers do not matter as much as whether they are increasing or decreasing. Any kind of growth is good, be it major or marginal. The challenge lies in keeping going, despite the lack of a viewership. He acknowledges that it is demanding, “but you have to do that, in order to find out what kind of content you are supposed to be producing,” he adds encouragingly.
And it does seem like Zakh walks the talk. Through trial and error, along with a bit of luck, he found a niche market - what he calls ‘nostalgic gaming.’ His first success was with his Caesar III playthrough, a classic city building Real-time Strategy (RTS) game. He reflects, “so I slowly defined this period of gaming - 1995 to 2002 - which I ended up calling the nostalgic period of gaming. Many games developed during this period were for fun, and there is that charm to them. Back then developers and publishers were concerned about making good games.”
With this perspective as the framework within which he creates his YouTube videos, he is able to branch out to different games while still maintaining this distinctive feature. He remarks, “I approach every game from this perspective. So even when I do Gamer Encounters - which is my series in which I take a one-off look at a new game - I cover it from a nostalgic perspective. For instance, I will play Halo Wars 2 from the perspective of a nostalgic RTS player. I can branch out, but I maintain this perspective.”
Furthermore, his educational background sometimes sneaks into his videos. His videos are known to be very informative as he talks through the gameplay as well as launching into random rants. Here’s a clip where he talks about how to help children find their passion.
Asked if he has come a long way, he modestly replies, “no, it is more like midway. I am not hugely successful, but I can earn a living. I am at the point where I can save for a new PC, but not where I can just buy a new one.”
His next goal is to be able to earn a comfortable living. To achieve that, he has started to diversify. YouTube only generates ad revenue; so he has expanded into Twitch and he has a Patreon page as well. His immediate aim is to solidify his earnings. From there, he hopes to boost the variety gaming scene in Malaysia, exposing Malaysian consumers to try newer indie games. He thinks that the gaming communities in Malaysia are relatively insular; therefore, organising a general gaming convention would be tricky. It would be much easier to host a CS:GO or Dota 2 event.
Why this interest in the local gaming scene? Interestingly, Zakh highlights that most of his viewers are from the West - US, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia - primarily because the games he plays are not popular in Malaysia. Secondly, he admits that he speaks English with a slight accent and enjoys going into the technicalities of the gaming industry - aspects which generally do not cater to the tastes of the majority of the Malaysian gaming population.
Although the gaming scene in the region is developing and growing, many remain skeptical about the value that video games add to society. However, Zakh finds a blanket denunciation of gaming as being detrimental to educating the younger generation unfair. “Games are just as rich as TV shows or books,” he says. “It is such a diverse industry; you can always find what you need, to supplement or complement what you want to do. There are games that teach, help to relax, or get the adrenaline pumping.” He is emphatic that gaming belongs in the same category as books and television - media; therefore there are good and bad ones. “Gaming is a medium that can be used in many different ways, there is always going to be something for someone.” The key is to handle it well, which does take wisdom.
Zakh hopes his passion for healthy games and good quality content spreads, and he works hard to ensure he does his best whenever he embarks on a project. For him, playing games is not just a time-wasting activity. It is “another form of expression,” he exclaims. “And as humans, we like expression. To cut it out completely means that we are missing out on things. You can hate certain things, sure, go ahead, but to hate gaming - it does not make sense to me, you are just taking culture away from yourself.”
GamerZakh might seem an anomaly among YouTubers: he does not chase trends or fads, nor does he aim to be controversial just for its sake. Though young, he prefers games with an old school allure, and strives to create content which is both entertaining and educational. He forged a path down memory lane, leading many of his viewers to relive their childhood games.
Zakh is not a flamboyant YouTuber, it is rather his sincerity and genuineness (on top of good quality videos) which attract his viewers to support him. And he is happy with this persona he has adopted, a champion of nostalgic gaming.
Interested to find out more about him? Check out his website where he showcases the many things that he does!