Richland YouTube celebrity trades 9-to-5 life for professional gamer gig
It’s not easy to describe what Richland’s Lance Frisbee does for a living.
He’s a gaming celebrity, social media influencer and YouTuber.
“There are a lot of people who are really curious about my line of work. They want to know why I travel all over the world. I am still working on my elevator pitch; I’ve got to get that down. The best way I can describe it is ‘ESPN for nerds,’ ” he said.
The 36-year-old helps broadcast and entertain an online audience with video game content—more specifically, a multiplayer video game, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG, through a YouTube channel that boasts nearly 1.5 million subscribers.
Frisbee—who operates Powerbang Gaming, or Powerbang—posts daily content recorded in his home studio on PUBG gaming tips, tricks and tutorials for those interested in building their skill set at the popular mobile game.
Statsmash.com estimates Powerbang Gaming’s brand has a net worth of more than $1 million, collected from ad placement, sponsorship, celebrity appearances, winnings and more.
Yet Frisbee said he’s continuing to work to diversify his overall brand and become even more lucrative in the electronic sports, or esports, industry. It’s estimated the world’s top gaming YouTuber earns $30 million annually.
The father of three travels worldwide hosting events, commentating, emceeing or making paid celebrity appearances at events for industry leaders like Supercell, Tencent, Razer and Facebook. He’s also a guest speaker at this year’s Connect Tri-Cities, an event designed to bring job seekers, policymakers, educators, veterans and labor, tribal and industry leaders together to build the local workforce of the future. It’s Oct. 22 at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick and a public appearance using his real name, which has been a closely-guarded secret for most of his YouTube career, due to privacy and safety concerns.
Today, Frisbee is growing and diversifying beyond his role behind a microphone in a home studio.
As CEO of Aftershock Media Group, he said YouTube is “a very small percentage of my overall revenue.”
He makes more from sponsorships and brand integration, product placement, public appearances, ownership in an esports team and recently founded a talent agency to represent fellow YouTubers.
“You’ve got to pinch yourself sometimes,” he said.
He’s also undertaking a project that could result in the world’s best streaming setup, an effort that would be documented as online content and then also as part of a video highlighting its capabilities, once finished. The project would have naming rights in Frisbee’s home studio and result in an additional revenue stream beyond the initial investment.
It all started with Atari
Frisbee’s interest in gaming began with an Atari console in the 1980s.
“I’ve always been really good. The games I play are very strategic and I’m somebody who can see top down, like what’s going on on a battlefield. I have an innate ability to position my teammates and communicate that with them,” he said. This helped determine what to focus on. “I didn’t do well at one-versus-one, who could operate their thumbs the fastest, so I typically stayed away from those types of games,” he said.
As a kid, Frisbee found it wasn’t socially acceptable to focus on gaming as a hobby. “Video games were very stigmatized, ‘Why don’t you do something with your life or go outside?’ It still is like that to an extent, but it’s way more mainstream and culturally acceptable than it was in the 1980s and 1990s,” said Frisbee, who earned an athletic scholarship to play baseball at the University of the Pacific in northern California, until he was sidelined with an injury.
“I still had the competitive spirit but I wasn’t able to compete. So I picked up a game called Counter-Strike and I took that to the highest level,” he said. He was young and without other obligations, affording more time to focus on building gaming skills.
“Video games were always an outlet. That was my entertainment. Instead of going to the bar, or going out with friends, I would stay home and play games. And then I found myself amongst the world’s elite,” he said.
The first time Frisbee set himself apart from the pack was when he traveled to Bellevue for a tournament, playing team-based games that involved strategy, coordination and communication. His team didn’t perform well overall, but Frisbee’s skills were noticed by other gamers.
“One of the elite teams in the area took note of that after the tournament and reached out,” he said. “I joined up and played for about two years at the highest level in the world.”
Giving up 9-to-5 gig
While Frisbee would have preferred to make this his overall focus at that time, he said the industry hadn’t caught up to gaming as a profession. He soon had a family and needed to secure a full-time job with benefits. “All of a sudden I didn’t have time to sit in front of a console all day,” he said.
A 2002 Richland High graduate, Frisbee eventually received an associate degree from Columbia Basin College in Pasco and started working as a computer scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland. He followed it up with stints as an entrepreneur, public speaker, health physics technician at Washington River Protection Solutions and as a graphic designer for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of River Protection.
“I ended up splitting my time with days working at Hanford stuff, and then had stumbled into mobile games and would play those to pass the time. I had gotten good at them and had some notoriety. People were starting to recognize me and video game developers were starting to tag me on the forums,” Frisbee said.
YouTube was emerging as “the TV of today’s kids” and Frisbee realized his skill set for the platform was perfect, due to his background in marketing, experience with public speaking and knowledge of computer- and web-related systems.
“I just didn’t know what the subject matter was. And then I put up a video because I was annoyed at having to describe the same video game tactic over and over and over to my teammates,” he said.
At the time, he was exclusively focused on the strategy game called Clash of Clans. “I recorded it and put it out on our team forum, and now I didn’t have to explain it anymore,” he said.
Birth of the brand
A brand was born without much strategizing behind the name. “A game had asked me, ‘What do you want to be called?’ and I had headphones on and was listening to Nirvana or something and headbanging and just wrote (Powerbang) in,” he said.
Frisbee began posting daily, beginning in spring 2015, balancing a full-time job, family and efforts to build a following online.
“There were thousands of people coming to look at these videos and I realized I don’t know that many people. I stayed within the same game and became well known as being a subject matter expert,” he said.
On the journey to more than a million YouTube subscribers, a mark surpassed earlier this year, Frisbee said he always had slow and steady growth posting content about Clash of Clans, never going backward, yet never going viral, with a pace of about 300 new subscribers daily.
Running on just a few hours of sleep a night, Frisbee said he eventually burned out and needed a new challenge. He saw that in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which was just preparing to launch as a standalone experience on mobile.
“That was the game that I looked at that I thought I could have fun and get back to my roots as a similar game to Counterstrike, and that was a lot more fun than what I was doing. It was a change of pace and it was also getting in at the ground floor at a game that hadn’t launched,” Frisbee said.
He contacted the game’s developer and expressed interest in being part of the PUBG community for the mobile launch. Four years later, “I’m more or less the face of the game. I’m the host of all the major global events; I’m their key ambassador,” he said.
Content for his community
As Frisbee continues to find new outlets to capitalize on his brand, he averages four hours a day making a fresh video for his followers, but also recognizes it can’t always happen 365 days a year.
“I’m so focused on building a business and a legacy that goes beyond me in front of the camera, so I’ve made a conscious effort to not get as frustrated if I don’t meet a self-imposed deadline of posting every day,” he said.
He admits it’s still a challenge to create content worthy of maintaining his average of 380,000 views per video, totaling 9 million to 10 million each month.
“I add a layer of community and belonging to the game itself so when people feel that it’s stale or it’s run its course, there’s still something to stick around for,” Frisbee said. It’s a novel concept to profit off someone else’s intellectual property and was initially rebuffed by developers.
“That’s the No. 1 thing influencers bring to the table: community-building for game developers,” he said.
Frisbee is committed to staying in his own community to do his work. He said he loves the Tri-Cities too much to move his brand elsewhere, and the digital nature of the industry allows him to stay put in the place he grew up in.
“Eventually I’ll transition from an influencer to more of an executive,” he said. “That’ll take years, but I’m hoping to build something that is bigger than me just having to show up on camera, and eventually when I wake up and realize, ‘I’m not cool anymore, the kids don’t like me,’ I have a business that’s built and generating revenue so I’m not like, ‘Oh, my job’s over.’ ”
Find Frisbee on various platforms at @powerbanggaming, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Frisbee’s recent move to Richland and to classify the Clash of Clans game as a strategy game. (10/16/19)