Best known online as Gaijinhunter, Adam Evanko is the guiding force—the Yoda, if you will—for many a Monster Hunter fan, whether they're just starting with the games or already many hundreds of hours deep. He creates YouTube tutorial videos to help players of all levels find their footing, or improve their game, in a franchise with a notoriously steep learning curve.
And this craft, this career, has become an obsession for him.
Developed and published by Capcom, Monster Hunter has long been a success in Japan, the original game coming out there in 2004. It's since come to English-speaking territories in earnest, and received great reviews, most recently with the 3DS-exclusive Monster Hunter Generations of summer 2016 (which receives an expanded XX update in Japan on March 18th). It's gradually grown into one of its maker's most-important assets, selling 38 million units across all titles, putting it level with Street Fighter and ahead of Mega Man.
"YouTube is just a venue for me to geek out with other Monster Hunter people." — Adam Evanko, aka Gaijinhunter
And Evanko's passion for everything Monster Hunter has led him to something most fans only dream about. He's been brought into the world of the game, appearing in the English localization of Generations.
"He's a great figure in the community who likes to help hunters out with things like learning a new weapon," Marco Bombasi, Generations' localization director, tells me. "There are a few nods in the game to him and his help towards Western hunters, including a reference by name and a hint to see his videos. We thought it would be nice to give him a nod in the localization, since he's done so much for the community."
Evanko sees himself as a shy person. Describing himself as an actor pretending to be social, merely mirroring the people around him, he says he's the type of person who would hide in corners at parties before slipping out. Not qualities one might expect from someone in the personality-driven online world.
"YouTube is just a venue for me to geek out with other Monster Hunter people," Evanko says.
His winding path to the center of the Monster Hunter community started back in 2002, when he moved to Tokyo at the age of 21. He left employment in the hotel industry at home for no job in a foreign land, and had only taken one Japanese language class before heading across the Pacific. He was set on chasing the dream of working in Japan's video game industry.
His money soon dried up, though. Not wanting to teach English to get by—"I didn't feel confident in my language ability, even in English," Evanko says—he had to find another way to both immerse himself in the local tongue and make ends meet, financially. So he started working at McDonald's. From there came a return to hotel work—and manning the bar provided him with the opportunity to learn "very formal" Japanese, leading to a significant next step in his career.
From putting his language skills to use on localization work for the Capcom-published Ōkami and titles in the Yu-Gi-Oh! series, Evanko moved onto a producer role at a major gaming company, where he remains today. And it's this position that he credits with first giving him the idea of creating Monster Hunter tutorials, "after I became obsessed with it".
"The thing about Monster Hunter in general is that it is not a game that is easy to play, and it's hard to master." So says Steven Gloyd, one of Evanko's many thousands of YouTube subscribers. "The games are so fun, because of their element of discovery; but also, that can be the most alienating factor.
"Gaijinhunter's videos have been, for many people like myself, the thing that has opened up the Monster Hunter series and brought it out of the cult video game scene and into a more accessible form."
Accessibility was an issue for Evanko though, to begin with. It was a Monster Hunter feature on the 8-4 Play podcast that convinced him to give the series a crack, around the release of Monster Hunter Tri G—aka Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate outside of Japan.
"I bought the 3DS pack for it, started playing, and I hated it," he says. "And I was about to sell the game after a week of really trying to get into it." Enter a co-worker, who guided Evanko over that notorious entry barrier. "By the end of the month, I'd become a fanatic," he continues. "I just started playing like a madman."
Above: At the time of writing, Evanko's video on the Ultimate Kinsect is the most-viewed upload on his YouTube channel.
In May of 2013 Gaijinhunter was born, but not in the video form people know today. Evanko started writing a blog, one that he admits he doesn't think anybody ever read. After sinking a thousand hours into Tri G, he saw the blog as an outlet for him to dig deeper into the game's various weapons.
"And I've always found that to really learn something you have to teach somebody, right?" he says. "So, if you're forced to write it out or to explain it to somebody, that's when it really clicks for yourself, as well."
Come September of that year, Evanko switched to Tumblr. But growth was still slow—by March 2014, he had amassed only 250 Tumblr followers. But it was that same March, following the fall Japanese release of Monster Hunter 4, when Evanko decided to make the jump to YouTube. Using his iPhone rather than anything more sophisticated, he cut together some videos, something that he had no prior experience of.
Then, on December 11th, 2014, he published his first tutorial video, explaining the Charge Blade—this time with some proper production. A grand total of 300 subscribers, very early adopters, got to see the start of his exploration into the series' minutiae, his quest to see under every metaphorical rock, to turn every proverbial key.
"I worked really, really hard, and I didn't sleep at all for months. I was getting by on literally two hours of sleep a night." — Adam Evanko, aka Gaijinhunter
Features on IGN and Polygon helped to push his YouTube subscriber count above 50,000 by April 2015—and, obviously, Monster Hunter players couldn't get enough, sharing his videos and learning new tricks of the trade on a regular basis. At the time of writing, Evanko's Gaijinhunter YouTube channel is closing in on 150,000 subscribers.
"I rode the wave," Evanko says. "I worked really, really hard, and I didn't sleep at all for months. I was getting by on literally two hours of sleep a night."
And he's still absolutely fixated on the series, with meticulous attention to detail on each production (a far cry from the iPhone days). Scripts can take 20 hours of preparation before anything's been recorded, and Evanko estimates that an average weapon tutorial video takes him 38 hours to turn around.
"I'm addicted at this point," he freely admits. "I would call it an addiction. When I'm not making videos, it kills me."
"Gaijinhunter is kind, and enjoys welcoming new players just joining the community," Shintaro Kojima, producer on Monster Hunter Generations, tells me. "Generations introduced new gameplay mechanics that let hunters discover a very personalized play style, unique to each player. Hunters don't always stick with just one style or weapon, so it can be exciting to hear or see what someone else's style may look like, like in Gaijinhunter's videos, before you experiment and try something new."
Yuri Araujo, Monster Hunter's community specialist, is also grateful for Evanko's work.
"When someone gets into Monster Hunter and is looking for more information or to further improve their skills, if they watch Gaijinhunter's videos, they tend to leave with knowledge they were looking for and then some," he tells me. "I think that an existing fan is more likely to stick around longer, and get even more passionate about the game, through watching the videos—and then, with added confidence, they can look to recommend the game to their friends, to play together."
"It's so surreal to think that I made someone's day by, you know, crappy old me coming into their room to play with them." — Adam Evanko, aka Gaijinhunter
Subscriber Gloyd says that without Evanko he might not have even stuck with the series, and credits the YouTuber with making him a fan.
"I once showed a friend of mine Monster Hunter and he was so intrigued by the game that we went to the store and he bought a 3DS and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate," he recalls. "We went to stay in a beach house that weekend, but spent every night watching Gaijinhunter's videos and trying out all of the moves that he showed off in his weapon tutorials. I think that if we hadn't watched those videos, we wouldn't have been able to get into the game to the extent that we did, and we would have probably stopped playing shortly after."
Despite his high standing in the Monster Hunter community, Evanko still joins random online hunting groups. He'll purposefully not pick people that he knows, that he's played with in the past—and if anyone realizes who's in the room with them, that's never a bad thing.
"It's so surreal to think that I made someone's day by, you know, crappy old me coming into their room to play with them," Evanko says. "That's kind of weird. But I mean, as a human, it's also very nice. To get that type of recognition, it feels good. And it makes you want to help more people."
And, somehow, you can't see that help slowing down any time soon.