Interview: FaZe Swagg talks diversity in eSports and YouTube stardom

The FaZe Clan has dominated YouTube for roughly a decade now. They went from traditional Call of Duty montages to owning mansions in LA. This union of YouTubers have created all sorts of lavish opportunities for themselves just by playing a first-person shooter. As their clan grows, 24-year-old Kris “FaZe Swagg” Lamberson is one of the newest members who has already made a name for himself on YouTube.

I got to sit down and speak with Lamberson ahead of his Call of Duty: Warzone invitational on August 17th at 1PM PT. We talked a lot about his rise to YouTube stardom as well as representation in eSports.

The Origin Story

FaZe Swagg

One thing that was pretty evident is his discipline, from the start of our conversation, he told me about his routine which consists of a consistent diet and workout regimen. He makes the same thing for breakfast everyday, one might call it a breakfast of champions: Steak and eggs. This is what he’s been eating every day for the last six months, he then works on whatever he needs to do for YouTube and hits the gym afterwards.

This lifestyle is likely a carry-over from Lamberson’s basketball upbringing. In high school, he juggled his early days as a YouTuber with a basketball career where he went to three state championships before winning in his senior year. This allowed him to play college ball where he suffered an injury that put him on the bench for eight months. That’s where YouTube really took off for him.

“I was playing basketball in college and then I tore my labrum and I was out for eight months. Then, I met a couple of friends who were doing YouTube seriously and they were making a couple hundred bucks and I was just like, ‘Damn, like doing videos?!’ I was doing a part time job getting like $60. So, I consistently just started doing YouTube videos and then like months and months and the income will come up a little bit more and I started realizing how serious it could be. I just put more time into it.”

His parents, despite being incredibly loving and massive supporters now, weren’t too sure of his career choice at the start. Given careers playing video games were only just starting to take off, it’s hard to blame them.

“They were definitely on the like, ‘Yo stop playing video games’ type stuff, because back then, it just wasn’t a trend, it wasn’t a thing. No one really thought that I could go somewhere. So I don’t blame them for that. Cause it’s parents, you know what I mean? From their perspective, you want to do what’s best for your kid. But I mean, now the perspective and, you know, the way people think has definitely changed.”

Lamberson recalled some anecdotes of his family learning to cope with a future YouTube star.

“Back then, my dad would always yell at me because I would scream at like at eight o’clock at night. My mom would be mad at me when I played during the day because she does the graveyard shift. So she tries to sleep in the day, but my mom was the first one I think to really like, let me do something with YouTube. Like fully trust me and yeah, I’ll be forever grateful.”

As for how he really found his niche with Call of Duty, it was originally a matter of showing off to his friends more than anything.

“I started doing YouTube back in my junior year of high school. I was introduced to Call of Duty a year before and I wasn’t a very good player. And then I started getting really good and going for nukes [25 kills without dying in MW2]. That was like one of the biggest things and all my friends used to get them. And then I started chasing them a lot and started getting them. My friends never believed that I would get them when I wasn’t playing with them. So I would upload them to YouTube, to prove that I actually did it.”

Now, Lamberson is one of the best and despite all these years of mostly playing the same franchise, his passion for Call of Duty radiates. We had a conversation about our memories with the series, reminiscing on the glory days of Modern Warfare 2 and how much of a game changer it was. The series still scratches an itch for him.

“Even though every year there’s a new Call of Duty, playing the new CoD for the first time always has that same feeling. Every time there’s a nuke in a Call of Duty, I get that same adrenaline rush when I get the first nuke, you know what I mean? It just keeps bringing me back. And then with the addition of Warzone, it’s incredible. Call of Duty is at an all-time right now.”

The Big Time

FaZe Swagg

After years of grinding, Swagg sits at an impressive 1.78 million subscribers on YouTube. Of course, with such a big career, bigger and bigger opportunities start to roll in. Lamberson still remembers that feeling of success when he got his first brand deal.

“I can’t remember what the specific company, but I do remember the feeling of getting approached by brands to do something for a YouTube video and that made me feel like I was actually doing something. You know what I mean? I was making enough noise for someone to approach me to be like, we want to use you as like advertising. So I think it was just, it reassured me that I was doing the right thing.”

To date, Lamberson has worked with brands like Beats by Dre, Nissan, and even the chocolate milk company, Nesquik, a company you may not expect for a Call of Duty YouTuber. Lamberson noted how the world as a whole is starting to incorporate gaming and gamers into the mainstream, especially amidst a pandemic.

“We’re starting to see how big gaming actually is and the impact that it has. When the [COVID-19] pandemic happened, I can’t tell you how many athletes were wanting to play Call of Duty. I was like ‘Uhhhh, yeah, maybe, yeah, we’ll play one day.’ But they’re not very good. When me and Nick Merkley talked about it, we’re like, you know, they’re bad. Like they’re bad players.”

Chocolate milk sponsorships and Nissans wasn’t the end of these great opportunities, though. Lamberson was approached earlier this year to join what is arguably the biggest gaming clan: FaZe. The clan dominates the FPS scene, particularly in Call of Duty and heavily inspired Lamberson. Now, he’s one of them as “FaZe Swagg”.

The opportunity came after Lamberson started making videos focused on Call of Duty’s battle royale mode, Warzone. FaZe members started using his recommended class set-ups and, on top of some existing relationships, it led to a valuable partnership.

“I was like a little kid in a candy store, I was so excited,” he said. “I think they were the first ones to make gaming cool. Like for everyone to go be in a house and play video games, that was dope. And that was never been done before.”

Now, it’s something everyone has quickly aimed to replicate. TikTok stars now have their own mansions where it’s a content factory. Other YouTubers have also followed in the footsteps in FaZe.

Making A Change

FaZe Swagg

One of the things that Lamberson is really passionate about is getting more diverse people in gaming. While some eSports communities have a pretty diverse group of players, the Call of Duty scene does not. While there are some, it’s a minority and it’s especially obvious with it being such a juggernaut of a franchise.

“I think it’s the stigma, like for young black Americans, they can be rappers or athletes and you know, like [NBA 2K] is mad popular, because like you’re an athlete in sports games and stuff like that. I think it’s just showing people with Call of Duty and a lot of these games, you can have a career in them. You don’t have to just be a rapper. You don’t have to just be an athlete. There’s definitely other avenues you can take. But I think that you’ll definitely over the next couple of years, a lot of big black, African American gamers in Call of Duty and whatever other games come out. It’s just getting it known out there that this is another avenue that you can choose as a career path.”

Lamberson plans to highlight some of that much desired representation in his Warzone tournament as well.

“My best friend, JSmooth, I have one of my really good long time gamer friends, TCleanTV, I have another popular black streamer Tourva, he’s a really cool dude. So yeah, there’s going to be more representation than you’ve seen other tournaments. So I’m definitely excited for that.”

It became clear throughout our conversation Lamberson has a big heart and a strong drive, he aims to use all of that to bring some change to the industry.

“I’m just trying to just be an inspiration, that’s the biggest thing that I can do and just use my platform to inspire people.”

Thank you to Kris “FaZe Swagg” Lamberson once again for his time and thoughtful answers! You can find him on YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, and Instagram.