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Who is PewDiePie? How the YouTube king reached over 101 million subscribers

by Brent Koepp

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With over 101 million subscribers and rising, Felix ‘PewDiePie’ Kjellberg is the biggest individual content creator on YouTube. Here's how he went from a small Minecraft YouTuber to the biggest online personality in the world.

PewDiePie is enjoying one of his best years yet – his channel has been boosted by his return to gaming with his popular Minecraft series, helping him to reach over 100 million YouTube subscribers. He also got married to his best friend Marzia ‘CutiePie’ Bisognin just days before smashing that mindblowing milestone.

How did he reach this point? Let's have a look back at the long journey that has taken him from his home in Gothenburg, Sweden, to becoming a global superstar – the undisputed king of YouTube.

Instagram: @pewdiepie
Instagram: @pewdiepie
The Swede is the biggest content creator on YouTube with over 101 million subscribers.

PewDiePie's humble beginnings

PewDiePie was born as Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg in Gothenburg in 1989. Growing up in the second largest city in Sweden, Pewds has said in past interviews that video games had always been a part of his life, and by the time he was a teenager, he was going to internet cafes to play them.

It wasn’t until 2006, however, that he first created his YouTube account called ‘PewDie’, pew referring to the sound of a laser being fired off. However, the Swede unfortunately lost his password, and had to re-create a second account in 2010 that he called ‘PewDiePie’.

YouTube: PewDiePie
YouTube: PewDiePie
An early video of PewDiePie, showing the young Swede's humble origins on YouTube.

During that same year, he was studying industrial economics at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, following in the footsteps of his parents who were both successful executives. However, in 2011, he made the decision to leave education to focus on his YouTube channel.

The YouTube star's first video on his main channel was him messing around with a friend in Minecraft. Reflecting on this video earlier in 2019, Pewdiepie said: “At the time I thought wouldn’t it be cool to become Minecraft YouTuber, and here we are nine years later!”


Pewdiepie early YouTube journey

In an interview with The Guardian in 2015, the Swede explained that when he first started out, he didn't expect to make money. “I knew people were big at other types of videos, but there was no one big in gaming,” he said.

However, it wasn’t the sandbox title that got him noticed – it was his horror 'Let’s Plays' he began in 2010 (particularly Amnesia: The Dark Descent) that made his channel explode in popularity. His fans enjoyed his comedic commentary and the way he would scream at barrels as he played.

(Timestamp of 10:12 for mobile viewers.)

It was in 2011 that Pewds started his ‘Fridays with PewDiePie’ weekly vlogs, where the young Swede would open up to his followers and update them on his life. It quickly became popular with viewers, and helped him connect with his fans.

The following year was important for the YouTuber, as he went from 50k subs to 500k subs, his Let’s Plays – including the popular flash-based game Happy Wheels – continuing to be a smash hit with YouTube’s emerging demographics.

In July 2013 he passed one million subscribers, before doubling the figure just three months later. He later signed with YouTube network Maker Studios.

PewDiePie officially became the most subscribed channel on YouTube in 2013 after going from 3.5 million subs to a mindblowing 19 million by the end of the year, making him one of the fastest growing channels in the history of the video platform. By 2015 he'd amassed over 34 million subs.

Trackalytics
Trackalytics
The Swede's rise in viewers is record breaking.

PewDiePie’s meme rebirth

While the YouTube star would continue with his Let’s Plays and gaming content for years, he eventually got burnt out in 2015 and began to make changes to switch his style. In 2016, he shifted his focus towards mature humor, and doing reaction commentary videos.

During a 2017 upload on his channel, the Swede reflected on this change. “In my older videos I might have seemed a lot more happy," he admitted. "But guess what? I faked it. I thought for people to want to watch my videos I would have to be happy. And I think it’s safe to say it worked.”

(Timestamp of 01:42 for mobile viewers.)

YouTube announced their new premium service ‘Red’ in 2015, and Pewds flew out to Los Angeles to film ‘Scare PewDiePie’ – a series that recreated games in real life, with the Swede attempting to survive the show's challenges with his friends.

The YouTube star really started to find his new voice in 2017, when he created his new reaction series 'Last Week I Asked You (LWIAY)' in which he reacts to fan-created content on his subreddit. Later that year he started his iconic 'Meme Review', which eventually featured guests such as Elon Musk and Dr Phil reviewing memes.

(Timestamp of 12:55 for mobile viewers.)


T-Series Vs PewDiePie

2018 was big for PewSiePie. His reaction series had grown his channel, but the Swede had a new challenger when Indian based corporation T-Series' began to close in on his subscriber count.

The feud, called 'T-Series vs. PewDiePie', became a cultural phenomenon, as the entire YouTube community rallied behind the Swede with a subscriber marathon to keep him ahead of the corporate entity. 

YouTube star Jimmy 'Mr Beast' Donaldson even went to Super Bowl 53 with shirts that read: 'Sub 2 PewDiePie'. They were spotted on national television, and were an example of the lengths creators went to to keep Pewds as number one.

In October 2018, Pewds dropped a diss track aimed at the company called ‘B*tch Lasagna' and it quickly became one of the most popular memes of the year, with the video getting over 222 million views to date.

While T-Series eventually ended up winning the battle, Pewds got one last shot in, releasing a second diss track titled ‘Congratulations’ the day they passed him in subs, which led to the Indian company to try and sue him, although the lawsuit was eventually dropped.

(Timestamp of 12:55 for mobile viewers.)


Minecraft mania

PewDiePie made his triumphant return to gaming on June 21, 2019 when he surprised fans with a new Minecraft series that took the video platform by storm. Often dubbed the ‘PewDiePie effect’, the Swede playing the 10 year old sandbox game made it a massive hit again.

Fans were treated to an epic journey that involved the YouTuber building a giant Swedish meatball statue and an IKEA tower at his Minecraft base, while going on adventures with his dog sidekick Sven, his horse Joergen, and his cute fox Benght.

Reddit: Nobilliss / PewDiePie / Mojang
Reddit: Nobilliss / PewDiePie / Mojang
A render of PewDiePie's elaborate Minecraft world he calls 'Broland'. Millions tune in to see him adventure in the sandbox game.

The series is full of lore and saw the Swede create cinematic episodes like his battle with the Wither and his epic showdown with the Ender Dragon, while having more emotional moments like his August 11 episode where he held a wedding for his dog Sven that was surprisingly moving.

During his update Vlog on August 18, he reflected on the fact that his Minecraft success had brought his channel back to his roots. “Having that moment when I started off, I never thought I would relive that ever," said PewDiePie. "I never thought I would experience that again and I’m so happy."

(Timestamp of 04:59 for mobile viewers.)


100 million subs and marriage

After nine years on the platform, PewDiePie broke the 100 million subscriber milestone on August 25, making him the first individual to do so, and the biggest content creator in the world. 

As if that wasn’t incredible enough, the Swede revealed on August 20 that he and his longtime girlfriend Marzia had got married the day before. And rounding out the his incredible year of success, he announced that they'd bought a house in Japan.

PewDiePie has come a long way from his YouTube beginnings, an emotional journey that has seen him grow up on screen. "It's been a rocky road," he admitted. "I appreciate everyone sticking through with me, throughout all the controversies."

PewDiePie's ability to navigate the trends, and change up his style at the right time, while also doing what makes him happy, is what has helped him become one of the most influential entertainers in this decade, and he shows no signs of slowing down.