First published on Yahoo Esports.
In the current climate of internet gaming celebrities, anonymity is fleeting. Yet League of Legends player Gosu has accomplished just that. The enigmatic 22-year-old has amassed over a million followers on his Twitch channel, a quarter of a million Twitter followers, nearly half a million likes on his Facebook page, and over a million subscribers on his YouTube channel, all while hiding his true identity.
Gosu built his brand by live-streaming League of Legends matches without vocal commentary or a camera, instead simply showcasing how he plays the game. It was solely his display of skill in the game which garnered him a strong following online. Despite his steady rise to internet fame, it was only in December 2015 — after nearly two years of streaming in silence — that Gosu chose to reveal his appearance and voice for the first time.
Like so many others, I was intrigued by the mysterious streamer-turned-internet-celebrity. There was little information about him available online, and his social media accounts were primarily comprised of messages to fans and notifications about when he was live. Given his penchant for privacy, I was quite surprised when Gosu agreed to speak with me. In the first of our interviews, over a year ago now, he spoke clearly and patiently answered my series of questions with blunt honesty.
“I was really shy,” he explained when I asked him about reasons for wanting to keep his identity a secret. In hindsight, this was quite surprising. I had sensed hardly a trace of his self-described shyness during the times we conversed.
“That was when I first started streaming… I’ve always been really shy, didn’t want to talk in public. In the beginning, I definitely didn’t want to reveal my voice to everyone, I just wanted to play the game, I just wanted to stream and everyone loved that. But eventually it became my thing. It was like, this is my brand now… and I was like okay well, I’m just going to roll with it.”
Rolling with it, as it turned out, led him to the success which has enabled him to live-stream video games full-time today. But before streaming, before League of Legends, before any of the traits his fans have come to associate with his persona, Gosu was, as he described to me, “your normal stereotypical nerd.”
He started with video games at a young age, growing up on Nintendo’s NES console and playing Mario, Sonic, Zelda, Pokemon titles, “pretty much everything” in the way of video games. From there he eventually transitioned to gaming on a PC.
The real turning point in Gosu’s gaming life came from developer Blizzard; specifically, StarCraft. Like so many others in the esports scene, Gosu attributed the real-time strategy game with igniting his drive to take playing video games more seriously than before. But despite venturing into online play via the 1v1 ladder, he did not enter the online scene competitively, preferring to play “for fun and stuff.”
“That’s what I would call my heart and soul of gaming,” Gosu said of the StarCraft series. He cited a fondness for the custom-made UMS maps.
The young gamer had been playing StarCraft 2 in 2010 when his friends introduced him to a completely new game that would change his life in an unpredictable way: League of Legends. Much to my surprise, he revealed that he initially found little enjoyment in the game, having had no experience with similar titles.
“I didn’t even know what a MOBA was, I’d never heard of it before. I started playing it and I didn’t really like it. I felt like it wasn’t my type of game,” he admitted. Nonetheless, his time away from the game was short-lived. Just three months later he picked it up once again and tapped into a newfound enjoyment, playing with friends regularly after school.
“I got back into it and pretty much never stopped playing,” Gosu said.
Launching into streaming
According to Gosu, his first live streams began in 2012 with experimentations on streaming service Own3d. In the beginning, his League of Legends rank was Silver, the third-highest rank in the Elo rating system the game had at the time. The digital badge of honor was well-earned, but hardly the inspiration for his streaming.
“I didn’t start streaming because I thought I was good, I just did it for fun. My friends would hang out in my stream and stuff,” he explained. It was during this period that Gosu began to invest more time into the game, saying that he did not to have any knowledge about the competitive scene or the League of Legends Championship Series, the latter of which had begun pitting professional teams against one another for large prize pools. His live-streams would hit “maybe 100 viewers” during these sessions.
In particular, Gosu recalled that he was inspired to stream by professional player Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng.
“I used to watch [Doublelift’s] streams all the time when he first started on Own3d and I was just like, man I love this guy. I really liked his personality. He was a really fun guy to watch,” he said.
Later down the track, he would tell me that he considered Doublelift his “personal hero.”
“He got me into the whole playing AD and streaming thing, as well as how much he has struggled in his younger years because I can relate to it. He’s also taken a lot of shit from the community, and I always defended him. I always told people he was a super nice guy if you got to know him, and everyone has a misconception of him because he used to trash talk to create hype.”
When Riot Games released Vayne, Gosu’s approach to the game ramped up another notch. Built to scale late into matches with her high attack damage and great mobility, the mechanics-heavy champion excelled in the role of AD carry at the time. It was a team role that Gosu hitherto had little motivation to play, but the champion struck a chord with him and quickly became his main as he ascended the ladder ranks.
“I started taking it seriously. I went from Silver to Platinum and from Plat to Diamond. In Season 3 I became really good and there was only fifty spots back in Challenger so there was no Master tier. So Diamond 199 LP was pretty much Challenger, in my opinion,” he said.
It was Gosu’s mastery of Vayne that would trigger the surge in his popularity. He made montage videos highlighting his gameplay using the champion and posted them online without much thought.
But success came unexpectedly.
“I made my montage, and it just blew up on Reddit. I started streaming the next day, and it went from 50-100 viewers to 5,000 viewers. Everyone was like, ‘Holy shit this guy’s so good.’ That was pretty much the beginning of streaming.”
Despite the sudden attention, the view count slowly dwindled down again, to “maybe around a thousand.” A respectable number, but not enough to inspire Gosu to switch to streaming full-time.
“I wasn’t saying I’d quit school or anything for it,” he said. At the time, Gosu was studying at university. But as his popularity continued to grow, so did the opportunity to make the switch to a full-time gig as a streamer. The trend prompted him to postpone his studies and move to streaming full-time.
“I was like oh, this is actually a job now. I’m getting paid money for it. Probably money than I would make anywhere. And back then it wasn’t that much money, [but] I’m playing a video game for a living, right? I’m getting paid to do what I love. Just the thought of that was like, ‘This is insane. I can’t believe this is happening.’ But now, you know it’s more accepted and stuff. Back then I was like, oh man, how cool would it be if I was as popular as Doublelift? Or if I was a really well-known player, or if I got paid to play video games. That would be the dream.”
“It’s obviously a dream job, I mean, you pretty much have no responsibilities… you just get paid so much to play a video game. You can travel and do whatever you want. Compare that to like, being under the stress of school. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to go to school or whatever, I’m just saying it’s pretty much like the dream job.”
Despite his level of skill and popularity as a streamer, Gosu expressed no desire to become a full-time professional player. According to him, the criticism players face was not worth the potential payoff. On top of that, he was not confident that his skill level was adequate for him to join a top team.
“I would only play on a top-tier team because it’s not worth it for me to quit streaming full-time to play on a low-tier LCS team. Not only that, but I’m not good enough for a top-tier team, right? So how would I play competitive? My only option would be to start off in the Challenger scene or whatever. But that was not worth it over quitting streaming.”
Despite this attitude, Gosu did participate in tryouts for various teams. The opportunities never came to fruition though; either he “wasn’t good enough” or he would back out, feeling that streaming was a more lucrative path. However, he maintains close friendships with players in the professional scene.
“With streaming you could do whatever stream whenever you want. And playing LCS, you have to have really good discipline and also you can’t just do whatever you want. You don’t have as much freedom. You have a really strict schedule. I’m okay with those things, but I just never really thought it was worth it,” he told me.
The big reveal
As Gosu’s internet fame grew, so did the intense speculation surrounding his true identity. The online League community was flooded with rumors, ranging from misidentifying his gender to theories that he was an alternative account run by Doublelift. Especially fitting, given his inspiration from the latter.
“I’m not exactly sure who started it,” he said when I asked him about the origins of the ‘gosu is a grill’ meme. “I think it just became a thing. I always said I’m a guy. I even wrote on Facebook a couple of days after that whole thing went down on Reddit. There was a meme or something and people were like ‘Oh my god, Gosu is Doublelift’ or ‘Gosu is a grill’”
He described his feelings about the meme as “neutral” although the first appearances online did strike him as being rather funny. However, it wasn’t long before the joke took a darker turn, with fans posting links to the Facebook profile of a misidentified female.
“People started getting really creepy and posting pictures of this girl… yeah, that one with the Travis interview. They kept posting her personal information and I was like, alright, I’m just going to say right now that this is not me. I don’t know why people keep posting it.”
The identity memes would finally be put to rest towards the end of 2015, when Gosu revealed his appearance and voice for the first time, posting a photo on social media and using a microphone on his stream.
When I asked him what had prompted the move after staying anonymous for so long, he said that streaming had begun “getting really stale.”
“All I did was just play the game, grinding solo queue for eight or nine hours without talking. That’s super stale, you know? It’s super boring. You’re not even interacting with your fans, you’re not even talking.”
According to Gosu, it was at that point when streaming had begun to feel like a burden. But when he set about revealing his voice for the first time, it was a nerve wracking decision; he worried that the audience wouldn’t take a liking to his voice or personality. His fears were evidently debunked when the effort paid off, and interacting with his audience on the microphone brought with it something new that made his streaming experience feel fresh again.
“I’m definitely really happy that I did start talking on stream because I probably would’ve quit streaming if I didn’t, to be honest,” he revealed.
To his audience, it would appear that things were going well at the time. But a few months in, Gosu would be caught up in another wave of gossip and rumor.
In January 2016, he was on a seemingly regular live-stream with fellow streamer Trick2g. The duo were drinking, and after several drinks Gosu said out loud that he was planning to kill himself. He later left the call, and the stream was eventually brought to a close by Twitch.
To be completely honest, I hesitated to ask him about this period. Despite all the footage available publicly, I skirted around the topic and refrained from asking outright. But Gosu is smart, and he levelled with me about the ordeal.
And therein lies the paradox of Gosu. He would openly speak about topics I approached cautiously, and would politely excuse himself from answering questions I thought trivial, such as where he grew up or where he studied. When we finally broached the subject of what happened in January 2016, he reflected upon this period calmly as he described the events.
“Twitch stopped my stream, but I wasn’t paying attention,” he said of the particular day that law enforcement officers had shown up at his home. “I just passed out half on the bed. I don’t even remember the last bit of it now, thinking back. I was just insanely hungover and drunk. Then the police came in and they were like banging on the door, and I was just like deep in sleep.
“They were banging on the door and I woke up and opened the door. They said, ‘We want to talk to you.’ Nothing much happened basically. They just asked me what I do, why am I depressed. Am I actually going to kill myself or whatever. Then they told me that… I have an appointment with a therapist, and they said that if I don’t go then they’re going to force me to go. The whole time they were there — and they were there for an hour — I was just [thinking], can you guys please leave because I just want to go back to sleep.”
The incident prompted him to make some changes to his lifestyle. He focused less on playing games and more on looking after his health. In our most recent interview, I asked him how things have been going.
“I’m doing alright,” he answered. “I’ve been working on a lot more outside of streaming and focusing on my health and well-being more, going to the gym daily, eating healthy and such. I still stream everyday, but only a few hours usually unless I have more free time.”
Gosu has been playing League of Legends nearly every day of the week for over seven years, and streaming for nearly four years. How did he feel about streaming now, given that he’s been doing it regularly for so long?
“Streaming is great. I love streaming, but I dislike League. So it’s a weird mix. Truthfully speaking, I haven’t really enjoyed playing [League of Legends] since Season 4. It’s been more of a job for me than anything else. But of course I would still rather be doing this than any other job.”
However, an ordinary job would have at least provided the streamer a reprieve from the digital spotlight. Last week, a new controversy drew the attention of the online LoL community, and Gosu found himself at the center of heavy discussion once again.
The issue stemmed from an accusation that Gosu was using a script to cheat in League of Legends. Short clips were posted as alleged “proof” and several established personalities in the community were quick to weigh in with their thoughts. All the while, Gosu was asleep and oblivious to the brewing drama.
“The whole thing was a mess,” he told me afterwards. His response upon waking up and seeing it all go down was to set out proving his innocence. Using social media, he vehemently denied he was taking part in any form of cheating. He posted screenshots from Riot Games to verify he was not cheating in the game. Even so, doubters still remain.
“I still can’t even believe the whole community doubted me and thought I would ever risk my entire career and hard work for something as stupid as that. I guess if you look at the clips on a standalone basis it makes sense… but if you add me into the picture, it just doesn’t make sense logically to do something like that.
He explained that the accusations hurt a player’s brand and business perhaps more than the public realize.
“I still get Tweets, Facebook messages, and Youtube comments every day accusing me of it because not everyone reads Reddit and rumors spread quickly. I think the community has a problem with witch-hunting streamers/pro players and doesn’t realize how much damage it could do, but that’s an entire discussion on its own.”
He doesn’t say it, but I sense that the ordeal has had more of an effect on him than he lets on.
Despite our time spent conversing, Gosu still remains very much a mystery to me. He has accomplished what no other players in the scene have been able to: building a following while remaining largely hidden. It bucks the trend of the fast-talking, visually colorful streamers of today, and he’s somehow made it work.
It’s nice to know that in a digital world rampant with selfies and talking-head videos, there’s still a place for old-fashioned skillful gameplay, and I’m happy for Gosu’s presence to address that category in the community. And despite his success, he remains thankful to those who helped get him there.
“Obviously, you guys pretty much made my life. I don’t know where I would be… probably not anywhere in the League scene right now. Not streaming, obviously. The fact that you guys all support me so much makes my dream come true, you know? You guys are allowing me to live this life, so definitely a huge thank you to all my fans and all the support I get.”