‘SeaNanners’ and the art of gaming commentary
(CNN) — Adam Montoya is cool, collected and on a mission to annihilate his enemies.
Armed with a small arsenal of guns, the 27-year-old races through a bombed-out Middle Eastern city, firing at adversaries who dart out of doorways and emerge around corners. As he eludes gunfire and switches nimbly between assault rifles and handguns, Montoya keeps up a running commentary.
“Trader Joe’s has the best frozen chicken,” he says. “I got some chicken with some mushrooms, some baby tomatoes. I got some paprika, some cumin in there. I do believe we have some green onion, some olive oil … some thyme in there, some nutmeg. It’s pretty good.”
Welcome to the singular world of Montoya — better known to the Internet as SeaNanners — one of the few people in the world who can earn a living combining “Call of Duty” with chatter about what he’s cooking for dinner. Montoya lives in West Los Angeles, California, and is a star in the exploding field of video-game commentary. Those who love video games and YouTube might argue he has the dream job.
In short, game-play commentary involves recording yourself playing a video game and uploading the footage to the Web, along with your remarks on the game as you’re playing. But Montoya doesn’t always talk about video gaming.
“For the most part I just want to chat about games and life … and for the sake of this commentary, I suppose, food,” he says later in the same clip, which has more than 1 million views on YouTube. “I’m a very strange person. I’m a very unique snowflake. I don’t know too many people who do what I do … cook, and skateboard, and make art. I’m like a confused Renaissance man.”
He’s also a very popular one. Montoya holds a remarkable presence in the gaming community. His YouTube channel has more than a million subscribers, while his game-play clips have been viewed more than 130 million times. He is reluctant to talk about his finances but after some prodding reveals that his gaming commentary and related work earns him a six-figure annual income.
Just don’t call him a gamer.
“Gaming has always been a part of my life and I love it, but I ironically wouldn’t consider myself a ‘gamer.’ Just because I’m good at video games doesn’t mean it defines me,” he told CNN. “I’m a guy who happens to play games from time to time. I’m making a really good living out of it, which is amazing. But it happened by accident. It wasn’t planned.”
From a hobby to a career
A decade ago, Montoya was on his way to crafting a very different future for himself. Rather than games and controllers taking over his desk, it was business and calculus textbooks.
“I originally went to San Diego State to pursue business because I heard it was a good business school,” he said. “Then I took a couple of courses in calculus and I thought, wow this is not the life I want.”
Instead, Montoya studied filmmaking. But after earning a degree in television, film and new media production, Montoya said he found himself discouraged with trying to find a job.
“I tried a variety of things initially. I did a lot of freelance gigs, shot weddings and tried to start a production company. It gets tough when you’re unemployed and don’t know what you’re doing,” he said. “It was depressing because I didn’t know where my life was going and I didn’t know what to do. I was just filling time. I wasn’t happy.”
Montoya loved playing video games. But little did he know that one of his favorite pastimes would eventually power-up his career.
“There were a couple of guys doing game-play commentary on YouTube already and I thought it was something I wanted to try,” Montoya said. “I never told myself, ‘Oh I want to make this a career.’ It was just something I started because it was fun and over time it kind of developed into what it is now. It was a random coincidence.”
His gamer handle was sort of an accident. “Nanners” (slang for bananas) was already taken, so Xbox auto-suggested “SeaNanners.” It stuck.
It wasn’t a coincidence that 100,000 YouTube subscribers later, Machinima, an entertainment network for gamers, approached him to join their directors program. Montoya quickly became a segment producer at Machinima but left earlier this year to focus on his own channel.
“When I first heard someone was able to earn money playing video games, I was like ‘holy crap!’ Mainly because I didn’t even know that was possible. But it has never been about the money for me,” Montoya said. “You can’t plan for something like this, but I’m glad it happened. I am totally happy.”
Family and fans
However, embracing a career in video gaming was difficult at first — especially for his parents. His mother, Mat Motoya, was apprehensive that her son wouldn’t be able to make a viable living.
“As a parent you want your kid to be a dentist or be a lawyer, to have a secure profession. So to think that your son is going to play video games for a living was hard to imagine,” she said. ” It’s not a traditional type of job, and as a parent you want the best and the most secure thing for your child. So you could say I was worried.”
Ultimately, his parents agreed to support his career choice no matter what.
“You always want your son to find success in what is important to him and what he’s passionate about,” Mat Montoya said. “The fact that all these people are interested and wanting to be a part of his life in that way is so great. I love that.”
Perhaps surprisingly, many of Montoya’s fans don’t tune in to his channel to watch him play or hear his tricks of the trade. Instead, they see him as a role model, a comedian and an inspiration.
“I’ve subscribed to him for almost two years now, and even though I’m always blown away with how good he is at games, I think a lot of people enjoy his videos because of his conversations and random banter,” said 25-year-old Carla Mah, a technical artist and gamer from Vancouver, Canada.
“I don’t see any YouTubers or gaming personalities quite like him and I just find him really inspirational,” Mah said. “His words are kind of therapeutic and moving, but at the same time hilarious.”
“Therapeutic” and “moving” are not words most would associate with someone who goes on online killing sprees. Or with someone who plays games like “No Luca No,” in which a player’s objective is to keep a cat from eating one’s cereal.
But for fans, that’s what makes Montoya accessible.
Alex Barnes, 20, initially clicked on one of Montoya’s videos to see if he wanted to buy a game, but has been following him ever since. To him, Montoya talks about things he can relate to.
“He’s just a lot different than most video game commentators. I would consider him a very monumental guy in the game commentary industry and I think the big thing for him is he doesn’t do it for the money. You can totally tell he does it because he loves it,” said Barnes, of Nova Scotia, Canada.
“I usually have a hard time watching game play cause it’s a lot of showing off. But he does it in a modest and very entertaining way. I usually have a better day after hearing him talk.”
Random acts of commentary
When Montoya started his game-play commentary, he usually gave advice on how to get better at a game. But soon he found himself sharing his life in a more intimate fashion. For his videos, Montoya delves into scores of idiosyncratic topics that often invite viewers to pause and think.
“It’s not solely about game-play because over time as you make more of these videos, your personality gets infused into them. My videos are kind of like a podcast with random game stuff in the background,” he said, breaking into laughter. “Most of my commentary is random. It’s like hey, I’m going to drink some wine, I’m eating this nice dinner I cooked and oh, I just shot someone in the face.”
With several blogs and Facebook fan pages dedicated to him, Montoya is well-enough known that fans have stopped him in the street and asked for photos. But his modest fame, and the attention that comes with it, seems to make him a little uncomfortable.
“I try not to think about it because it gets weird. The trouble is thinking you’re more important than you really are. I’m just me. I don’t think of myself as a celebrity. Society is so accustomed to elevating and putting people on a pedestal in the entertainment space and that’s stupid. It shouldn’t be that way,” he said.
“Typically when people approach me it’s always a gasp, followed by ‘SeaNanners’ and a question mark. It’s always an inquisitive approach because the face kind of looks familiar. … It’s like, maybe you’re ‘SeaNanners,’ or maybe you’re an ugly Ryan Gosling.”
As someone with a long list of interests — from gaming and art to skateboarding and cooking — Montoya doesn’t like to be pigeonholed. But it’s clear that gaming will always have a lasting mark on his life.
“If there’s something that gaming have taught me, it’s that it gives you the ability to get accustomed to not giving up.” Montoya said. “Let’s say if you play ‘Angry Birds’ — you find yourself wanting to get that high score. And that’s kind of what life’s all about. Trying to constantly hit the high score.”
Montoya knows he is fortunate to have a career and a life that reflects his passions. When asked what his plans are for the future, he pauses before answering.
“I definitely see myself going above and beyond just my YouTube channel. There’s a lot of endeavors I’d like to pursue, and it might be cool to try game development,” he said.
“But I’m going to be on YouTube whether I have a huge audience or not. I’m interested in making content that I believe in. I don’t care about money or the business side of it. It’s never been about that. It’s just something I really enjoy doing, and this is a hobby that can last indefinitely.”