Nine years ago, Seán McLoughlin changed YouTube forever.
Known to his 28 million subscribers as JackSepticeye, McLoughlin perfected the Let’s Play subgenre of videos, simply by sitting in front of a webcam and recording his commentary about the games he was playing. He’s cheerful, relentlessly upbeat, and quick with a joke. But he’s also utterly unafraid to speak candidly to his audience about serious issues, like mental health.
This simple blueprint became a roadmap for a generation of content creators, and that same formula has continued to be successful for McLoughlin, who still uploads daily gameplay and reaction videos that garner tens of millions of views.
But the Irish-born YouTuber isn’t done innovating. His first documentary film, How Did I Get Here, will be streaming on Moment House starting February 28. Chronicling his life from adolescence (like how playground bullying inspired his online moniker) to online superstardom, the film is an opportunity to give fans a more personal look at the life of an influencer.
“The thing about doing this stuff is that I can do it all day, every day,” McLoughlin tells Inverse. “It'll still never be enough.”
McLoughlin spoke to Inverse about his passion for entertaining, avoiding burnout, and why he decided to create a documentary in the first place.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Tell me about your background and history on YouTube.
I started back in like December 2012, uploading whatever I thought was fun. I'd been watching a lot of gameplay videos and I tried my hand at a couple of those. But it wasn't until a year and a half later that I started taking it seriously, and it started to pick up speed.
Then I started becoming the Jacksepticeye everybody knows today. Ever since then, I've just been doing it every day. Except in the last couple of years, I've chilled out a little bit. But it was two videos every day for five years, then getting an editor, then scaling up the quality, and then scaling back the quantity. Just trying to have fun with it, really.
“It's been a wild ride.”
Since starting on YouTube, I've branched into so many different things. Now, we have clothing companies and coffee companies, movies, and gold records. It's been a wild ride.
How have you felt about slowing down your upload schedule recently?
It's been great. I feel like I have so much more time for myself and a relationship that I fully enjoy. I absolutely love hanging out with my girlfriend all the time. It's not only been healthy but also necessary to just enjoy life a bit better.
The thing about doing this stuff is that I can do it all day, every day and it'll still never be enough. When there's less pressure on it, I'm not trying to chase too many trends or appease too many algorithms, or not trying my best to be on top. It's just a lot more fun and it's a bit more mellow that way. I'm older and more mature, and I think people pick up on that.
How did you come to terms with not being the one on top?
Back in 2016, the channel was growing pretty significantly. We went to a creator summit in New York with the head of YouTube. The people at YouTube were saying it was one of the fastest-growing channels of 2016 on the entire platform.
You can chase that all the time — try and adapt to the algorithm, adapt to the trends that are happening. I probably could have ridden a much bigger wave if I tried, but it's just not my style. I'm much more about organic creativity and spontaneity than any of that kind of stuff.
After nearly a decade on the platform, how do you still have fun and keep things fresh?
Luckily, there are a lot of games to play! But I also think it’s important to keep challenging what you think you're supposed to be uploading. As long as I keep chatting to my audience, they'll point me in the right direction and we'll keep having fun with it. There's always something to do. I feel like there's no ceiling to this.
Have you made the deep, terrible dive into TikTok?
Yes. I was one of those people that bah-humbuged it, in the beginning. I was like, ‘I have so many social media platforms. I don't have time for this.’
Then the algorithm started finding the comedy that I was really into, and the types of videos that I liked. Now, I'm a firm believer and I enjoy it quite heavily. I use it mainly to post really dumb TikToks. There's no effort in the ones I post, at all. It's usually a dumb filter that I do something with. But it has been really funny.
“I probably could have ridden a much bigger wave if I tried, but it's just not my style.”
How is creating for TikTok different from other platforms?
Everything has its own audience. Maybe there's a social media God somewhere that's pulling the strings. Just like YouTube, you put enough out that people start reacting to it, and then when they react, you are reacting to their comments.
We are all victims of the great algorithmic God in the sky.
Which is probably just teenagers, honestly. Teenagers basically control the world.
You’ve had a pretty young audience for the past decade. How do you stay hip with the kids? (I have finger guns out when I say that.)
I could hear them! If there are any amount of people on it, that's usually younger people. They're the people who have time to consume it, talk with their friends about it, and reenact it.
Adults are too busy paying taxes and going to work to get too heavily involved in a platform like that.
You have this whole generation of viewers that have grown up with you. How do you balance making videos for both demographics?
I just act like myself all the time. The tour that we did and the documentary that's coming out is really good at showing that because it shows that evolution. Whatever phases of life I'm going through, I just put that back out onto the camera. Because of that, the audience migrates, shifts, and changes, as you change. So as I've matured, a lot of that younger audience probably fell away because I’m not as bombastic as it used to be. And now people actually see me as a fully grown man.
How do you balance authenticity with the privacy you need to just be a human?
It comes with a lot of trial and error, and a lot of practice and experience. I definitely dove very far into that side of things when I started off. I started my channel because I was lonely and I wanted to find more people who were into video games like I was, but none of my real-life friends were. So I found all these people online, and it's hard not to get a bit attached to them. If your happiness is based on external factors like that, then you'll never truly be consistently happy. Trying to find that inner peace was really important to me.
“I started my channel because I was lonely.”
Why did you decide to create this documentary?
We had the show and I felt like there was such a good story there. On paper, it's a story about my life, but the subtext is about YouTubers, coming from nothing to achieve greatness, and overcoming obstacles in your life to do cool things. What was initially going to just be BTS footage for posterity and archival sake for me ended up becoming this big, labyrinth film with a lot more complex emotions in it.
How did you feel about putting more of a personal side of yourself out there?
It's curated, so anything that I show is within my own limits. It's stuff that I am willing to share. We never went too far and did stuff that I wasn't comfortable with. The elements of me that I'm showing have a very educational purpose to them and definitely serve a more well-rounded picture. I show where I grew up, and show that it's not all flash, right from the beginning. Being able to show people that journey humanizes it a lot more and pulls that facade back.
When I went on tour, one of the things that kept cropping up to me was the community and humanity behind everybody. It's impossible to be narrow when you meet so many other people from so many different parts of the world. They teach you so much about their way of living. And I think that the documentary shows that very well.
Streamer Secrets is an Inverse series where the most fascinating people online share insights about their creative process, the algorithm, and the future of streaming.