MrBallen’s Meteoric Rise To The Top Of YouTube Darlings Explained

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In March 2020, MrBallen made his first YouTube debut. In the clip, he shared a story about some unidentifiable entity he apparently saw in his bedroom multiple nights in a row when he was a teenager. That first video has raked in over eight million views, and his channel subscriber count quickly climbed. That real story helped catapult his career as a content creator and led him to YouTube stardom. 

After MrBallen recognized his storytelling style resonated with his audience, he decided to move away from personal stories and start sharing true crime stories. He talked about special forces being attacked by an unidentified creature, haunted places, and heinous acts. This pivot to true crime really helped his following blossom.

As grisly and macabre as it can be, true crime is an incredibly popular genre and it shows no signs of slowing down. In 2022, YouGov surveyed 1,000 people about true crime and found that about half are interested in the genre. Networks like Investigation Discovery continue to pull in ratings. And as far as the podcasting world is concerned, it’s one of the top genres. With true crime being consumed more often than ever, it is no surprise that MrBallen rose to the top of YouTube as fast as he did.

John Allen, better known as MrBallen, never thought he would become a social media star, let alone a popular true crime storyteller on YouTube. After graduating from UMass-Amherst in 2010 with a degree in philosophy and minor in English, he became a Navy SEAL. As he recalled to The Patriot Ledger, he had a particularly close call involving some grenade shrapnel while he was in Afghanistan. “I was bleeding to death. I went deaf and blind and thought I was going to die,” he said. By 2017, he’d retired from the military. And then, the veteran started dabbling in social media.

In 2020, MrBallen’s life changed forever when he created a TikTok about the Dyatlov Pass mystery. The clip racked up a whopping five million views shortly after it went live; he became a TikTok star overnight. Clearly, there was an audience for his content, but at first he did not know what to make of the tidal wave of viewers. “I literally thought there was a glitch with my phone,” he shared with New York Post.

Of course, there was not a glitch. Beyond people’s interest in true crime, MrBallen’s brand works because, as he said, “I love telling stories. I love getting people’s reactions to interesting stories.”

After he took off on TikTok, MrBallen redirected his audience to his YouTube channel and began posting videos in March 2020. While a number of YouTubers had already made their mark in the true crime genre, MrBallen still found his niche and became a bona fide star — and he didn’t take it for granted. As he told the New York Post in 2022, “Even to be mentioned [with] some of these other creators is so surreal.”

In order to stand out, MrBallen decided to explore a less expected point of view. “Others in the genre focus on the killer or the perpetrator. I do the opposite to make it feel like the audience is in the footsteps of the victim. Instead of saying ‘Sally was in a horrible situation,’ I say ‘She would have been in total darkness and heard something behind her’ and in my mind that’s much more terrifying,” he told The Patriot Ledger. His approach worked and the subscribers started growing as his videos began reaching millions of viewers.

Even with all of his success, MrBallen is as dedicated as ever to finding the right stories to tell and choosing a topic that both he and the audience will find interesting and entertaining. “Sometimes I find a great story and know it’s the one,” he said. “But there are days I spend 12 hours on the computer and have nothing to show for it because I’ve just been reading through topics and not liking any.”

After things began to really chug along on TikTok and YouTube, MrBallen figured he might as well expand yet again. In February 2022, he launched his podcast, “Strange, Dark & Mysterious Stories.” He told The Verge that he always figured his content style would work well as a podcast, but he didn’t know where to start. “I really had no idea how to scale a YouTube channel into anything else,” he said. But eventually he figured it out, and the results didn’t disappoint. As he said to Metro, “I anticipated there would maybe be a lot of people interested in making the jump [from YouTube], but this has been above and beyond my expectations.”

Steven Cohen of Cadence13 couldn’t believe the momentum of MrBallen’s podcast. “[It was] putting up numbers that, honestly, having come from a reasonably big network, I had never seen,” he told The Verge. So, in May 2022 Cohen decided to join forces with MrBallen and help with the podcast’s brand.

As for what’s next? While they continue to take big steps with the brand, they aren’t going to rush into anything. “Before we expand, and possibly dilute what it is we’ve got, we want to be very, very careful,” Cohen said in The Verge. “We are rocking this very gently to bed every night, making sure it sleeps well, wakes up renewed and refreshed the next day.”

Like most social media stars, MrBallen realized he needed a manager to help him scale his business. It was then that he began working with Nick Witters, an industry pro who used to work at WME has experience managing other YouTubers. This move set the stage for MrBallen and Witters’ content company, Ballen Studios. Deadline reported that the idea behind this enterprise was to go from YouTube and podcasting storytelling to television, film, publishing, tours, and merchandise. Building his brand continued to be the number one goal.

MrBallen considers Witters’ support and industry knowledge invaluable. “He has skillfully guided every facet of the business as we’ve laid the groundwork to launch and scale Ballen Studios, so that my primary focus can always be on what the MrBallen community cares about the most: the storytelling,” the YouTuber said.

As for Witters, he has always complimented MrBallen and his work ethic: “John has the determination of a Navy Seal, a creative mind for Hollywood and an ability and thoughtfulness to tell a story better than anyone … We at Ballen Studios could not be more excited on this path of expansion and honored the growing MrBallen community is coming along for the ride.”

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