Former UCLA soccer standout secures new spotlight in successful esports YouTube channel
Former UCLA men’s soccer star Evan Raynr turned his obsession with video games into a successful YouTube channel and an esports commentary career. (Daily Bruin file photo)
By Samuel In
Aug. 31, 2020 9:20 p.m.
During his time at UCLA, Evan Raynr was most known for his performances on the soccer field.
In his 2012 senior season with the Bruins, the midfielder led the Pac-12 with 10 assists, finished fourth nationally in assists with 0.63 per game and was drafted 36th overall in the 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft by D.C. United.
But he always wondered if the pitch was where he belonged.
Ditching the pitch
“While I was playing soccer, I always had this idea, ‘Hey, I wonder if I’ll ever get a chance to try writing or acting or something else,’” Raynr said.
So when D.C. United wanted Raynr to play on its lower-tier USL team before earning a spot on its main roster, Raynr decided to finish his degree at UCLA instead.
“My thought process was, I’ll be the same soccer player in three months,” Raynr said. “I’m going to have pretty much the same body and the same skill.”
The midfielder from Calabasas, California, had played in 78 games for the Bruins from 2009 to 2012. He scored 28 goals and had 16 assists in that span and earned himself a second-team All-Pac-12 selection his senior year.
But after finishing his degree, Raynr didn’t end up playing soccer professionally.
“The second I stopped (playing), I just felt like, ‘You know, I had a great career,'” Raynr said. “I proved that I could get to that level, but I just didn’t see that financially being something that was scalable.”
He instead began working part time for a family friend, watching her children and playing soccer with them.
“My big focus (in taking this job) was to get out of this 9 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.) grind so I can then take that time and leverage something that I could scale into another business or form of income,” Raynr said.
Playing video games soon became that form of income.
Human cheat code
Raynr was a gamer his whole life and carried his love for gaming with him into college.
His teammate at UCLA, midfielder Amobi Okugo, said Raynr always got the best of him on the console.
“We played Nintendo 64 probably six days out of the week,” Okugo said. “He would cheat. In Mario Tennis, he knew all the angles or something. He would just never lose.”
Okugo said Raynr’s passion for gaming sometimes caused him to be teased by his teammates, with older players asking why he was always playing video games.
However, Raynr said his performance on the pitch served as a defense for his gaming habits.
“I literally brought a TV and a Nintendo 64 and four controllers onto our team bus from driving from here to Riverside or San Diego,” Raynr said. “I would set it up and coach would be like, ‘What are you doing, man?’ Me and my buddies (would laugh) and he (couldn’t) say anything because we just scored the winning goal last game.”
Raynr’s father, uncle and his seven other cousins are also gamers, and their passion gave him the confidence to continue playing in the face of taunting.
This supportive community encouraged Raynr to become a better gamer. He said he would watch other people play video games on YouTube, but he noticed there was a lack of videos explicitly teaching less experienced players how to improve.
“I would look up how to play certain characters in League of Legends or Smite, and some of these dudes are barely saying anything,” Raynr said. “They’re dominating, but tell me how to do this skill. And I was like, ‘Man, let me do this.’”
“Never give up”
Raynr created the YouTube channel Raynday Gaming – a pun based on his last name – in 2014, where he began posting gameplay tutorials of the popular multiplayer online battle arena game, Smite. Within the first six months, Raynday Gaming had accumulated 3,000 subscribers, and would surpass 100,000 subscribers the following year.
Raynr broadened the scope of his channel by picking up another MOBA shooting game, Paladins. And when Apex Legends, a first-person, battle royal shooter game, dropped in February 2019, he played that as well.
Apex Legends content saw his subscriber count to jump from 177,286 to 213,742 in one month – according to the social media statistic tracking website Social Blade – and the game soon became the focus of his channel. The channel’s growth continued, and on March 27, 2020, the global esports organization Gen.G announced that it had brought Raynr on as a content creator.
Gen.G’s Associate Director of Talent and Content Strategy, Amanda Kane, said she signed Raynr after seeing the personality he brought to video games.
“I saw how positive and driven and passionate he is about his content and everything he does, and I just knew he was meant for the team,” Kane said. “(Raynr’s) energy is unmatched by any other gamer I’ve seen.”
However, Raynr’s energy isn’t just an act for viewers. Kane said that Raynr’s personality continues off camera.
“It’s the same person (on and off camera),” Kane said. “(Raynr) means what he says when he’s on camera.”
An example of Raynr living up to his on-camera personality can be found on his YouTube banner, which reads “Never give up! Never stop gaming!”
The former Bruin said this motto came from playing Smite.
“When you’re losing a game in Smite, there’s this option to press F6 and if four people out of five press it, you surrender,” Raynr said. “There is a button called F7 which is never surrender. I built a whole brand off of never surrendering because the greatest moments in games and in sports and everything is when you’re down and and you turn it around. I would never want to surrender because … I don’t want to lose like that.”
Viral in spite of the virus
Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, Raynr has kept his positive attitude and continues to post content. He said the pandemic has allowed for esports to reach larger audiences because of the cancellation of many live sports.
“The pandemic made me busier than I’ve ever been, because there was such a dearth of content in what normally is airing on Fox Sports and ESPN and things like this,” Raynr said. “It actually put a lot of pressure on our broadcasts.”
Raynr had the opportunity to work as a broadcaster for the Madden Bowl – a tournament to decide the Madden 2020 champion with a $220,000 prize pool – working six specials and two live shows on ESPN. He said that the television coverage has given him faith in the viability of esports.
“(ESPN’s coverage of esports) has (given me) a lot of hope that (esports) is going to be around forever,” Raynr said. “It will grow with its audience because it’s not like when I’m 50 I’m not going to care about games, or that my kids now being 10 or 20, at that point, aren’t going to care about games. We’re almost going to be the bridge, the people that are becoming used to seeing (esports) now.”
Despite the future of esports and the success he’s found on the platform, Raynr said he would trade some of his gaming abilities to be an elite soccer player.
“There’s nothing like playing soccer at a high level,” Raynr said. “It’s better than any Apex game or winning anything like that digitally for me. Scoring a goal (in the) 90th minute, bench rushes the field, parents and fans in the crowd – that’s the epitome of a feeling in my book.”
Because for Raynr, content creation is more about who he is than what he does.
“I can get by with being an average Apex player, (because) I can still make content.”