We are in the early 2000s. When night falls, Tristan often slips out of bed. In the half-light of his family home in Pennsylvania, he sneaks into his older brother’s bedroom. Caught up in a ruthless game of video games, this one, most of the time, hardly notices it. Then, bringing his little head to the computer screen, Tristan discovers, intrigued, a world of castles with broken walls, hordes of horsemen ready to charge, lands that are conquered and forests from which are hatched dark. ambush… A world in the throes of a hundred battles, that of Microsoft’s iconic strategy game, Age of Empires II, released a few years earlier, in 1999. It is here, between stone walls, gold mines and wild boars that Tristan Berry will find his place.
The American is now 28 years old and has become the most famous commentator in the competitive gaming scene, master of his small kingdom: that of the modest community. Age of Empires II.
Less impressive than Starcraft II, less popular than League of Legends, history (in both senses of the word) Age of Empires II All the same, there is a community of hundreds of thousands of fans: 210,000 of them follow Tristan on the live video broadcasting platform Twitch, 260,000 on YouTube. If he never shows his face during matches, his soft and confident voice charms her, these thousands of enthusiasts. Fans who would not miss the Hidden Cup, its offbeat concept tournament, considered one of the most thrilling moments of the year.
Play as a refuge
However, Tristan Berry could have missed this life. Naturally shy and fierce in society, he went through school failures during his youth. At 20, the American takes fear in the face of his very marked life and leaves university. “I was told to continue my studies, but I had the feeling that I had no place there, he says by phone from his house in Florida. I found an odd job in sales that I hated, for fifty hours a week, not knowing what I was going to do with my life. During this difficult time, I began to immerse myself in Age of Empires II. It was my refuge. “
To forget his anxieties for a few hours, he developed a passion for the game of his childhood. Despite the remarks of his entourage or his friends, who see it as an ancient title, with aging graphics, limited tactical depth. “It always saddened me, tells the American, who ensures: Age of Empires II is an absolutely amazing strategy game! “
For hours on end, he studies the strategies of this more complex game than it seems, watching others play on Twitch, listening to the advice of glorious elders or, of course, playing games on his own. But little by little, he realizes that he takes almost more pleasure as a spectator than as a player: as a good strategist, he applies himself to detecting the tactical genius of the players whose games he follows. Under the pseudonym T90, in reference to an American shoe brand, he shares the fruit of his thoughts live and on video on his Twitch channel.
A match in the middle of the forest
But the road to becoming a star in the streaming world is not easy. Especially when his favorite game is a holdover from the 1990s. For a long time, Tristan Berry therefore preached in the desert. « Age of Empires II was not very popular, the community was not very large and hardly anyone came to see my streams ”, he recalls with a certain melancholy. Until the day when, in the “chat” window of his live, which allows spectators to interact with the videographer and so far hopelessly empty, he sees four names appear. “One of them was Vicious Marauder: he became my stream partner and one of my best friends. “
Together, they begin to comment on the games of other players, whether they are anonymous or participants in amateur tournaments. On his YouTube channel, Tristan Berry continues to produce content that he wants entertaining and accessible to as many people as possible. Always very reserved and plagued by regular anxiety attacks, he nevertheless accepts with philosophy not to see his audience explode.
“Around 2015, Age of Empires II was more or less a dead game, he explains. Until one of my videos on my YouTube channel had over a million views. ” This part, known under the name of “Forest Nothing” and published in August 2016, has the particularity that it takes place on an atypical battlefield: a very dense forest, in which you can only progress by cutting the trees. trees… before being able to cut the flesh of his opponents. Highlighted by the amused analyzes of Tristan Berry, this offbeat video goes viral: “From there, it all happened. “
From a few dozen, its spectators now number in the hundreds. Three months later, there are a thousand. One year later, more than fifteen thousand people follow him on a daily basis. At the end of the year 2017, and after having hesitated for a long time so as not to worry his parents, Tristan Berry decides to give up his odd jobs to devote himself entirely to his videos, and to commenting on community competitions. But the future still holds surprises for him.
A helping hand from fate
Because at the end of 2019, Microsoft publishes a new, modernized, dusted version of its now twenty-something game. For many amateur or semi-professional players, the situation has changed: with this new version, Microsoft offers a turnkey technical solution for organizing online competitions.
Everything’s wrong: a few months later, the Covid-19 pandemic forces millions of players to lock themselves in their homes and turn to their computers. Between January and April 2020, Age of Empires II goes from 21,000 to 34,000 active players per month, and continues to climb until January 2021 and peak at 38,000. Tristan Berry benefits from this meteoric rise in popularity.
“Finding success online takes a lot of luck, analyzes his friend and streaming partner, Dave, formerly known as Vicious Marauder. But it also takes a lot of work. A lot of people can take that little bit of luck and let it go. Tristan never stopped working, even when it started to take off. This success, he really deserves it. “
Of course, the community of enthusiastsAge of Empires II has nothing to do with those of esports monsters like League of Legends or Counter-Strike. Despite the occasional support from Microsoft or partners like Red Bull, the majority of official tournaments are still largely funded by the community itself.
Let’s play well, let’s play hidden
Among the many small events that punctuate the competitive life of Age of Empires II, one in particular attracts more and more spectators every year: the Hidden Cup. A tournament with an astonishing concept where the sixteen best players in the world face each other in a series of eliminatory matches, masked and hidden behind medieval nicknames. Nobody knows their identity, neither the other players, nor the spectators, nor even the organizer, promises us Tristan Berry – since it is of him that it is.
“That’s the funniest thing about the tournament concept, it’s trying to figure out who’s who, explains with passion the American streamer. Each player has their own way of playing, their preferred strategies. It’s a good way to showcase everyone’s talent. “
For the March 2021 edition, more than 65,000 people gathered online to follow the final stages of the competition. A figure that makes the Hidden Cup the competition forAge of Empires II the most popular on the game to date, ahead of the tournament organized by Red Bull, Wololo IV and its 56,000 spectators.
In the privacy of his room from Florida, several hundred kilometers south of his birthplace, Tristan Berry has made his way. He has also become a model of success in a still unstructured and fragile environment: rare are those who succeed in earning a living by playing Age of Empires II.
Even today, this anguished until then a little lost considers thatAge of Empires II gave meaning to his life. The one who has always been worried about disappointing his parents now receives their encouragement: back in the family home in Pennsylvania, his father now proudly explains to him that he clicks on all the ads during the streams to support him. An affectionate and perfectly unnecessary gesture, which amuses Tristan Berry as much as it softens him.