John Welsh is a superstar.
You may not have heard his name before. But in the online arena of social media and YouTube the 48-year-old father-of-two from Denny gets the kind of attention, and his channel, Scout the Doggie, draws the number of fans, normally reserved for pop stars and Hollywood royalty.
To acknowledge John passing the 100,000 subscriber mark, YouTube presented him with its equivalent of the platinum disc recording artists receive when their albums sell like hotcakes.
However, in the fast-paced world of the web that award is already out of date.
John said: “I had 100,000 subscribers a few years ago, but I have almost 500,000 now and over 142 million total hits for my videos. My most watched video has 21 million hits and I have a further 20 videos with over a million hits on each one.”
So how did the worker at Grangemouth’s Dow Chemicals capture such a massive online audience?
John’s journey to cyber superstardom began when he bought his pal an Airsoft pellet gun for his 40th birthday.
“I test-fired the gun in the garden and it was really good fun,” said John. “I got more of a kick out of it than he did.”
He was hooked for life a short time later when he was asked to participate in an Airsoft “battle” near Kirkcaldy.
“There were about 50 people there. It’s as much a social thing as it is a game. There can’t be too many activities where you can shoot someone and then enjoy a cup of tea with them afterwards.
“The scenery in Scotland is beautiful, it’s great fun and good exercise. There is a good mix of people, including ex-military personnel and police officers.”
It was just a fortnightly hobby for John for about a year and then, one day, he had the idea of filming the action.
“I couldn’t get any of my friends to go, so I thought I would film it to show them how much fun it was. I put it on YouTube and it got 1000 views overnight. I just thought it was a one-off, but the more videos I added the more views I got.
“It just snowballed and I realised early on YouTube was as much of a social media network as it is a video host platform. Viewers always leave comments on the videos and I would reply to them, which is something few video makers ever get the chance to do.
“Then came Facebook where I was able to interact with the viewers, gaining over 75,000 followers. Any company that does not make good use of social media is way behind the times. All companies should have a social media expert.”
Girlfriend Lynda and his children Dylan (12) and Amelie (6) are now used to him heading off on his shooting adventures, both in the firearms and photographic sense, and he has produced over 600 videos since starting his insanely popular YouTube channel in 2007.
“I film, edit and produce all of my videos and, with some careful camera work and editing, I feature in them with some Alfred Hitchcock-style cameos. When I’m just playing the game and not filming there usually comes a time when something really good happens and I wish I had my camera to capture it.”
Most of John’s viewers are from the USA and his loyal band of web fans have even sent him specific brands of Airsoft guns as presents, just to have them appear in his films.
“Social media has really taken off in the last few years with Facebook, Twitter and Google+. I now have 750,000 followers on Facebook. Most people I know think I have made a few videos for YouTube that some people like.
“They have no idea just how many people have watched them. American website Klout.com rates me as being in the top 10 per cent of social media influencers in the world – not bad for someone living in Denny.”
John is one of a growing band of “new media rock stars”, people like Minecraft players Stampy Longnose and Ballistic Squid, who have more followers and viewers than some prime time television programmes.
As a result of this the most popular YouTube channels are now being targeted by opportunistic advertisers who want to pitch their products to the millions of people who tune in.
John said: “I think YouTube is the future and television will soon be all about on-demand. It’s good a guy from Denny can do something like this, it’s good news for the town.
“Scottish Airsoft sites have had many visitors because of my videos, mainly from the USA, but also Canada, Germany, Holland and the Philippines, so these videos are probably generating income for Scotland and the UK.
“I actually get people from other countries getting in touch to organise a meeting so they can appear in one of the videos.”
The regular “band of brothers” who appear in John’s films have become web superstars in their own right, with weekend action heroes like Daedalus, Ricky, Jai and Big Andy the YouTube equivalent of Stallone, Van Damme, Statham and Willis among Airsoft fans.
John said: “It’s a big mix of people from all backgrounds, from young people who just want to take Call Of Duty to the next level, extreme sports fans and people who just want to try something a little different that’s great exercise and fun.
“We also have some former military personnel, people who served in Iraq, Bosnia and even the Rhodesian Bush War of the 1970s and 80s. Some of our young players who started a few years back are now adults and have joined the RAF and British Army and I can think of at least one who is in Afghanistan right now.
“It’s good to see young people grow up and move on to a good career and they always come back to play Airsoft.”
1. Airsoft is one of the fastest growing participation sports in Europe and Scotland has some of the best indoor and outdoor places to play the game, with popular sites near Falkirk, Motherwell, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Kirkcaldy and Ayr
2. Most games last for 30 minutes and involve between 50 and 100 players split into teams which have clear objectives and missions to complete
3. Bigger weekend games take place across the UK at British Army training facilities and can involve hundreds of players in each game
4. In Sweden and the Czech Republic events can involve 5000 players and include tanks, speed boats and even helicopters
5. The age range of the majority of Airsoft participants is 14 to 25, but people in their 40s and 50s are regular players and it is extremely popular with armed forces personnel
6. Around 95 per cent of Airsoft game participants are male, but there is a growing number of females answering the call to arms
7. The guns fire 6mm BB pellets which are biodegradable