Video games have the powerful potential to connect people from around the word. The Kingdom Hearts series never had a prominent online presence. This changed when five individuals came together through their passion for Kingdom Hearts and pioneered an online community. They were known as the X-Keepers (pronounced “key-keepers”).
Their story began when one gamer wanted to make better content about Kingdom Hearts. Full-time YouTube creator and X-Keepers founder Giovanni Santos (also known as HMK) was one of the few people creating videos about the series. Gio’s fascination came from the plot told throughout each game. His videos analyzed the series and became popular on YouTube.
“At the time not many people were focusing on the lore of Kingdom Hearts,” Gio said, “You had to look hard to find anyone that did more than a review. I wanted to do more.”
When Gio wanted to increase his channel’s audience, he searched for other creators to collaborate with. Through fan suggestions, Santos found a YouTube creator named Noel Flores (AKA SkywardWing). Though partially blind in his left eye, Noel was popular for his breaking news reactions and gameplay videos. The two worked together to create a podcast that would gather other Kingdom Hearts enthusiast to one project.
Gio, however, needed to find more people who were knowledgeable about Kingdom Hearts. He eventually found Dean Alam (Sorallam1) and Tyler Ryan (VoltEditzz). Both were popular YouTubers that made Kingdom Hearts tutorial videos focused on how to play each game and discover secret content. Dean and Tyler both attended school and made videos in their spare time.
Jared Shaw (TheGamersJoint) was the final person invited to the group, an individual from New Zealand striving to make a full-time career producing YouTube videos.
“I knew about Gio’s videos and wanted to work together,” Jared said. “I couldn’t believe it when asked me to join his new podcast.” The project however, was becoming bigger than what Gio had envisioned
“Originally I wanted a podcast where we talked about Kingdom Hearts. But when I tried to think of a name, it became something more.” The name X-Keepers came from one of Gio’s brainstorming sessions. The name is based off the Recusant’s Sigil, a symbol in the Kingdom Hearts games heavily related to the main plot. When written, the Recusant’s Sigil looks like an “X” but is pronounced “key” when spoken aloud. This was something everyone became attached to.
The group created a Skype chat for everyone to get acquainted. Dean was cautious when everyone met online for the first time. “We had our first talk over Skype and casually got to know each other. It was surreal meeting people from YouTube, but we eventually clicked together.”
The first X-Keeper event was streamed on Twitch. The group discussed various Kingdom Hearts related topics, such as their favorite characters and the toughest boss battles. The reception was incredibly positive.
Noel was surprised at the response. “We definitely didn’t expect to get the overwhelming positivity. I knew after this we’d always be associated with one another.” Before then, there had been no online groups focused on Kingdom Hearts content. The cross-pollination between their channels helped form an online community of Kingdom Hearts fans with the X-Keepers leading the way.
As time went on, the group created more videos together, including tutorials and character profiles that became very popular. However, the X-Keepers wanted to do something bigger, as notoriety of their group was spreading fast. Gio playfully suggested all five members should meet at PAX East. The rest of the group viewed it as a silly joke.
Meeting Face to Face
As time went on, the idea of meeting in person became less of a joke. Most of the group lived in the United States, but Jared lived in New Zealand and never traveled to North America. “It sounded epic, but my flight was expensive and a huge challenge. We came together to form a solid plan on how to make this happen.”
The plan was for each person to host separate gameplay streams on Twitch and collect donations for the trip to PAX East. Most of the contributions would be used for Jared’s flight from New Zealand. An average round trip from New Zealand to the United States costs around $2,500. The group planned to host streams for five months prior to PAX.
Within three days of streaming, however, the X-Keepers unexpectedly received over $3,000 in donations. Jared was shocked. “I was not expecting to hit the goal like we did,” he said. “This community of gamers we had really was the most warm-hearted and kind people.”
Having reached their goal, the X-Keepers funded their trip to PAX East and met in person. Dean felt the trip ended prematurely. “The trip strengthened everything between us. It was way better than talking over Skype. The emptiness hit me when it was over.” Upon returning home, the group continued to work on video collaborations for YouTube.
Despite some conflicts and the loss of one member, the story of the X-Keepers is far from over. The remaining members continue to be friends online and create videos together about the Kingdom Hearts games. Each X-Keeper garners a fan base of thousands on YouTube and Twitch.
When asked about the X-Keepers’ future, Jared offered an optimistic viewpoint about his new friends: “I think we have a lot to offer Kingdom Hearts fans. We’ve all become great friends through everything. I think we’re going to be in contact with each other for a very long time.”