GAMETECH: Leitrim native Alan Walsh is a Forza to be reckoned with

TWO years ago, Leitrim native Alan Walsh had never been on a plane. Then he joined the AR12 Gaming team, writes Ronan Jennings. 
GAMETECH: Leitrim native Alan Walsh is a Forza to be reckoned with

Alan has since flown to London, Seattle, and Cologne. And it all started with engines of a different kind.

AR12 Gaming began life as a platform for Canadian Nick Andrew to talk about Forza, one of the most popular racing games in the world. In 2012, Nick started uploading Forza videos to YouTube and streaming gameplay live on Twitch. But it wasn’t until 2014, with the launch of Forza Horizon 2, that his channel started gaining fans in the hundreds of thousands — and one of them was Irish teenager Alan Walsh.

“The big boost to AR12 really came in 2014 when Forza Horizon 2 came out and that’s when Nick started to see a huge jump in numbers,” says Alan. “The Twitch streams were reaching concurrent viewers of 1,000, crazy numbers like that. Nick started to see my name pop up in YouTube comments and Twitch streams and we started chatting and getting to know each other. Then, in March 2015, he told me he wanted to start a website and he wanted me to run it.” Alan had written “bits and pieces” online, but this was something on a different scale. Only 18 years old at the time, he was in the process of doing his Leaving Cert and wanted to do games development at Sligo IT.

“Around comes August and I had a discussion with Nick. I said to him that I simply couldn’t mix college and the website. We had a long chat about it and I decided to go work for him full time. I got my CAO offer for Sligo IT and postponed it for a year at first, but now I’ve decided to do this full time.”

The revenue for the website comes from sponsorship, with additional money pulled from advertising revenue earned on the Twitch and YouTube videos. For a YouTube account to earn money, it needs to have sizeable numbers — AR12 Gaming currently has a whopping 644,000 subscribers. The Twitch numbers are equally impressive, with 85,000 followers. Since setting up a Twitter account last year, AR12 has built up 30,000 followers. The website itself, meanwhile, gets 100,000 visitors a month.

So what makes AR12 and Nick Andrews so appealing? What’s the secret to their success?

“There weren’t many Forza specialists and I guess people were looking for a home for that content,” says Alan. “Nick just seems to know everything about it — even the little glitches where you can outside of the map in Forza Horizon. Nick discovered a lot of that stuff himself, but what’s happening now is fans are sending their own discoveries to him first thing because they want to see a video on it.” Alan also describes the little touches Nick would make to ensure his audience were getting something unique.

“When he was racing against other people, Nick wouldn’t just show his own screen — he would go out of his way to make sure the perspective of the other racers was being shown too, so that viewers could see all the action.” Alan and Nick communicate on a daily basis, mainly through Skype, sometimes with video calls. But despite their success, they have never actually met in person.

“What seems to happen is that whenever we’re invited to events, we always miss each other,” Alan says, laughing. “I went GamesCom in 2015, he went in 2016. He was invited to a Forza Horizon 3 event in California: I was invited to the same event — but in London.”

Forza game still

Forza game still

The two friends and digital colleagues will finally get a chance to meet in the flesh when GamerCon takes place in Ireland next March. It will be Ireland’s first major gaming convention, with over 20,000 people expected to attend.

“It’s really awesome,” says Alan. “We’ll have four people there — Nick, myself, Raymond and another YouTuber called Tom Matthews.”

While Alan won’t need an airport to attend GamerCon, we suspect his days of flying are far from over.

“You know,” he says,” My parents have still never been on a plane in their life. That probably would have been the same for me if it wasn’t for AR12.”

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