The first video starred an awkward high schooler describing his phobia of dolphins in the basement of his parent’s house. Four years and 26,000 subscribers later, the YouTube channel DolphinPhobia has evolved into a hub for the latest Nintendo related content.
Senior Elijah Elfo has been creating video reviews, news, fun facts and comedic content about Nintendo and Pokémon for the last four years on his channel, which now serves as his main source of income.
“It turned from an awkward, 18-year-old kid who wasn’t super popular in high school to this video game fanatic who’s still a little awkward, but decided he has a relevant opinion on Nintendo,” Elfo said.
Elfo’s focus wasn’t always on video games. In the beginning, Elfo started multiple channels centered around quirky personal anecdotes before adopting the YouTube name DolphinPhobia in his senior year of high school.
“You don’t have to change who you are as a person to suit the camera. If you are your genuine self, people will respond more positively to you.”
“There were 20 channels I’d started over the years,” Elfo said. “But I finally decided I just wanted one channel. No more side channels.”
At the beginning of his channel, Elfo’s goal was to gain 1000 subscribers. The number of subscribers continued to grow after Elfo’s video on the channel. Six months later, Elfo reached his goal.
“By focusing on one category, I keep my viewers watching every video I upload,” Elfo said.
Viewers who could relate to his socially awkward narratives hit the subscribe button, Elfo said, but he eventually found he wanted to transition into a channel revolving more around Nintendo.
Assistant professor of Business and Marketing Cat Armstrong Soule said the key to gaining a large number of followers is to get attention of popular influencers in their specific field.
“Once you reach a critical mass, it’s a whole lot easier,” Soule said. “Once you get up into the thousands, you have that built-in credibility.”
Elfo is sponsored by game developers, who provide some revenue to him as long as he mentions their game in his video. Elfo showcases the game and talks about it for 30 seconds. In addition to the sponsorships, Elfo also earns money through advertisements before his videos.
“I definitely ended up making enough where I was able to stop working my retail job while I went to school,” Elfo said.
Soule said that it’s common to do sponsorships with someone who has a substantial following. A higher volume of subscribers would allow the vlogger to make more in advertisements.
“Somebody who produces a video game can, at the very least, send products to the person,” Soule said.
Elfo said he likes creative projects but has never stuck with anything long term until YouTube. Because of the large community and the versatility of the industry, Elfo found it easy to stay dedicated.
“If Nintendo stopped making games, I’d keep making videos on something,” Elfo said.
Even with a subscriber count in the thousands, Elfo still appreciates the ability to build personal relationships with his viewers. Elfo said he views his videos more as a therapeutic process rather than as a way to make money.
Long-time friend Tagen Garris worked with Elfo together for a few videos. Garris would help with promotions, find facts for videos and assist with equipment. Elfo considers him to be part of his channel.
“[Elfo has] been doing YouTube since the seventh grade. I always felt that if he stuck with it he’d get pretty big,” Garris said. “I’m not really surprised at the size [his channel is] at now.”
Elfo and Garris attended VidCon together multiple times. VidCon is an event in Anaheim, California where thousands of people who either create online content, are fans of the content or work in the industry come together to appreciate the digital medium.
“It was really cool to see all these big YouTubers that I knew of just walking around recognizing people and interacting with the fans,” Garris said.
While attending VidCon one year, a subscriber approached Elfo and asked for a photo with him.
“The first year was surreal. I’ve never been to an event YouTube related,” Elfo said. “That was the first time I was recognized by a viewer.”
Elfo’s advice for aspiring youtubers is to make your own channel, base it around your interests and who you are as a person and don’t try to fake it.
“You don’t have to change who you are as a person to suit the camera. If you are your genuine self, people will respond more positively to you,” Elfo said.