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The name "Brandon Yelo" won't come up in any conversations about Auburn's most famous natives. On the contrary, most people in the city don't know who he is.

But Yelo, 21, has an internet following that'd make most celebrities envious: 1 million on Instagram, 93,000 on YouTube, 91,000 on Twitter.

That following, and Yelo's lack of stature in his hometown, can both be explained by the same thing: "Fortnite."

Brandon, which is his real first name, began playing the massively popular online survival shooter last May. Under his username, Yelo, he quickly became one of its most prolific players. By July, he had signed with FaZe Clan, the world's most popular e-sports organization. FaZe Yelo, as he's best-known on the internet, is now one of eight members of the clan's "Fortnite" roster.

For Yelo, "Fortnite" is a full-time job in both senses of the term. He plays about 12 hours a day, from late night into early morning. But he makes enough money doing so to live comfortably off his successes in the game's battle royale matches. Weekly tournaments pay out $10,000 to $50,000, and seasonal ones hosted by the game's developer, Epic Games, have prize pools of $1 million.

"There's so much money in this game, it's crazy," Yelo said over the phone Tuesday from his home in the Fort Myers/Cape Coral area of Florida.

Yelo didn't get into "Fortnite" for the money, though. Growing up in Auburn, he played computer games like "Combat Arms," "Call of Duty" and "Counter-Strike" every free second he had from school and sleep, he said. By 15, he was streaming his gaming on the internet video platform Twitch. When he turned 16, he began competing for money.

Coming from the more realistic games he had been playing, "Fortnite" struck Yelo as "sort of childish" when he started it, he said. But its gameplay — which sees 100 players parachute onto a map to scavenge for weapons and eliminate competitors until only one player, duo or squad survives — appealed to him. Cartoonish as the game looks, he said, it takes considerable skill to succeed. After placing high in his first tournament alongside streamer Dakotaz, whom Yelo credited as a major influence, he knew he'd be playing "Fortnite" for a long time.

"The opportunity to outplay someone or be more mechanically smart has me hooked," he said. "You have to practice a lot. Every other day there's a new mechanic or trick."

Many of those tricks involve the thing that makes "Fortnite" so unique: its crafting system. Players can destroy trees and buildings for materials, then use those materials to raise new structures like walls and ramps. And in the game's battle royale matches, they can raise those structures as others shoot at them — creating cover. That's why Yelo called crafting the game's top priority.

Mastering that system through regular play is just one piece of advice Yelo offered would-be "Fortnite" players. After regular matchmaking, he said, they should move up to in-game tournaments. But the question he fields most frequently from players is whether they should take the next step and quit their job to play full-time. In response, Yelo said, he asks them what they would do if they don't make it like he has. Streaming and competing can be mentally draining, he continued, so players should make sure they have the right motivation before taking the plunge.

Yelo fields those questions so frequently because, since becoming a member of FaZe Clan, he's become famous to "Fortnite's" millions of fans.

"It's like being on a football team. People see us in chat or in the game and freak out," he said. "But the community is great. ... Everyone wants to be successful and see each other succeed."

Yelo's e-sports career has paralleled that of professional athletes, too. He was the subject of a bidding war, receiving offers from several teams, before signing with FaZe. And since joining the clan, he's been furnished with items from sponsors, like gaming equipment from SteelSeries and healthy energy supplements from GFuel. That's on top of his pay from FaZe, he said.

His success allowed Yelo to move from Auburn to Florida in July. But playing "Fortnite" professionally doesn't allow for much of a social life, he said: If he's awake, he's streaming. Besides, his celebrity is useless in real life. When Yelo tells people what he does for a living, they typically don't know what he's talking about. And even if he does encounter someone who watches his Twitch channel, they still won't recognize Yelo because, unlike many streamers, he doesn't show his face online. It started as a joke to attract followers, he said, but he's come to prefer his anonymity.

"It was more comfortable being able to stream without a webcam ... and not worry about how I look constantly," Yelo said, before adding that he plans to show his face online "very soon."

Also in Yelo's plans is playing his first in-person tournaments, as he always plays online from his home. He noted that FaZe Clan will be going to South Korea and Japan in April. 

Meanwhile, Yelo hopes to continue growing: getting better at "Fortnite," hitting more follower milestones on social media and meeting more players. He said it's inevitable that he'll get tired of the game at some point, perhaps to move on to the next lucrative online phenomenon. But Yelo doesn't see himself ever giving up "Fortnite" completely.

"I'll always play it because it's the game I had the most growth in," he said. "And I don't think it's going anywhere anytime soon."

WATCH: FaZe Yelo "Fortnite" highlights

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Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.


Features editor for The Citizen.