Kris Lamberson, better known as FaZe Swagg, started out as many professional streamers do: playing “Call of Duty” with his friends, and eventually realizing he’s much better at the game than those friends, so he took his skills to the internet.
After he injured himself playing sports during his sophomore year of college, he made a pitch to his mom: let him take a semester off to see if he could give this streaming thing a shot. Flash forward a few years later, and it’s safe to say it’s worked out.
Lamberson has managed to rack up an impressive 1.4 million followers on Twitch, regularly pulling in around 20,000 viewers for his “Call of Duty: Warzone” streams. He’s active on YouTube, too, posting videos almost daily for his 2.17 million subscribers that all garner hundreds of thousands of views. And as of last April, he’s a member of FaZe Clan, one of the most popular esports organizations in the world.
In fact, he’s the first Black member of FaZe Clan, and one of the most visible Black gamers on Twitch. With his massive platform, it’s become a passion of Lamberson’s to encourage other Black gamers to join the space, noting that many of the gamers on Twitch’s top-streamed list are not Black.
“An aspiring content creator who’s Black, they see that, and maybe they get a little discouraged,” he says. “So for me, I just try to be that inspiration where they see me having 20,000 viewers and go, ‘wait, if he can do it, maybe I can as well. I can actually make this a career because I really love gaming.’”
Lamberson notes that he has seen improvement in the space over the past couple of years, especially as gaming in general has become more and more mainstream, spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Rappers like Offset have invested in FaZe Clan in particular, and he points out that athletes like Odell Beckham Jr. have taken to streaming on Twitch.
The “Call of Duty” pro thinks the number of athletes and rappers joining the streaming fray might encourage even more up-and-coming gamers to turn to streaming as an actual career path.
“A lot of people are so used to wanting to be an athlete, wanting to be a rapper, wanting to be in the music industry,” he says. “Gaming was like, the last thing on a lot of people’s minds, and I think that, in the last couple of years, hip-hop culture and gaming has just clashed so much that I think we’ll start to see more and more Black gamers.”
As for streamers in particular that Lamberson wanted to highlight, he pointed to longtime friend JSmoothHD, TCleanTV and GabbyDM, who’s also his manager.
He says he frequently gets DMs from those looking for advice on how to embark on streaming as their career path. His answer: surround themselves with positive influences who they can game with and bounce ideas off of, and try to find balance with gaming and their education or work. And when it comes to dealing with hate in the chat — something that happens to an unfortunate number of streamers — he reminds himself that, while he’s dealt with negative comments, “at the end of the day, there’s always gonna be more love than hate.”
And when it comes to platforms like Twitch becoming more welcoming to gamers of color, he says the website is already doing some of the work in the right direction, highlighting new Black creators everyday on the Twitch homepage throughout the month of February. As for the gaming community, he urges streamers and viewers to remember what brought them all together in the first place.
“When it comes down to it, we all use video games as an escape,” he says. “Especially early on, for me, when I was younger, if things were going bad or whatever, I used video games as an escape. So I think a lot of people on Twitch are definitely understanding and more accepting because they understand it’s more than just playing the game – it’s getting away from reality, almost, in a sense, and kind of just vibing out and just having fun with your friends and just having fun in the chat. So I think that’s the best way to be more understanding, is understanding that it’s an escape, at the end of the day.”