Few figures in Smash have exploded as quickly as Panda’s Zack “Little Z” Treharne. The Australian YouTuber is one of the biggest Smash content creators — over the past few years growing his channel to over 1 million subscribers.
Known for montages, fun sketches, and interesting game challenges, he is one of the most interesting Smash video makers in the community. Inven Global spoke with Little Z to discuss his thoughts on his video-making process, his relationship with the Smash scene, and his future plans.
Coming up with Smash content: Personality
Your videos center a lot around Smash, but with a twist. What’s the creative process like for you in coming up with ideas for videos?
I usually get my ideas randomly during the day. I might see something where I get an idea from it, or I might be thinking as I drive somewhere, "How can I turn this idea into a video?" And it's also based on other videos I see. If I enjoy content where people dress up or do stupid things, then I'll turn it into a Smash challenge. And I try to turn that into something that's going to be entertaining for the viewers and keep mixing it up. Because Smash Bros has been out for a few years now — you don't just want to be doing gameplay without anything extra all the time.
Is that something you're always cognizant of — mixing it up? Since your channel has gone through several format changes, is that very intentional?
Definitely. I have a few series that I've stopped making purely because I think they've run their course. And they were still doing well. But if I can't find ways to keep it fresh... I think a good example of keeping it fresh is the "YOU LOSE YOU COSPLAY" series, which is still popular, but it used to be just dressing up. Then I added the skits and performed the moves and the stuff during the match. So it's definitely all about keeping it fresh, especially while playing the same game.
It is interesting how much mileage you've gotten out of almost purely Smash. You started with Pokémon. Would you consider making more of a commitment to that franchise? Are there any others that grab your attention?
Yeah, that's what I'm starting to move towards. Obviously, Smash Bros has got a lot of stuff in the game. But eventually, it does start to get a bit stale, especially when there are other games coming out all the time. I'm trying to take a bit of the Little Z energy with the challenges or real-life shenanigans and transfer that into some other games.
But I want to do this slowly because obviously, a lot of people know me from Smash. But I'm trying to keep the same style of videos and maybe progress that into some different games.
And Pokémon was what I was going to start with because few people may know, I actually started as a Pokémon channel. And it's obviously a very popular game that I still have a lot of interest in. So that's what I'm trying to branch out into at the moment. And in the future, who knows what else?
When I spoke with SmallAnt about Smash content, he talked about how one of the downsides was that it doesn't yield as much success as some other games. Do you think with Smash content creation that you've at all peaked popularity-wise?
I think it depends. Obviously, the reason my channel reached such a large audience — and Alpharad's channel when he did more smash content — is because it appeals to the more casual audience. I think there's definitely a smaller audience for Smash than for other games like Pokémon or Fortnite.
I guess that's sort of why I've started trying to make the videos more about me as a character and my personality, rather than purely based on the Smash Bros. content. And then that's sort of the best way to transfer into variety game videos or even real-life videos — the Little Z brand over just Smash content.
Is that what we're seeing with Underdogs?
Yeah, exactly. I think Underdogs has the potential to be bigger than myself and any of the other individuals because it can appeal to a large audience compared to Smash Bros. gaming.
Is that the necessary step gaming content creators have to take to grow?
With the competition on YouTube at the moment, you sort of have two ways of going: appeal to everyone, or stick to a very specific niche that you know there's going to be a consistent audience. But then you see channels like the Sidemen, who all come from gaming. But now they make all these real live videos that realistically anyone could tune into and watch — like a hide-and-seek video.
Coming up with Smash content: Inspiration
What do you usually watch for inspiration — both in and out of YouTube?
Recently, I've been trying to do a lot more cinema-style things, even if it's just in a stupid Smash Bros. sketch. But I do really enjoy cinematography as a passion. In terms of my inspiration, it probably comes from just a huge range of YouTubers. Obviously, Alpharad is a big one for Smash content — pushing the limits of what you can do.
But then I actually watch so many different YouTubers just to get an idea of what's out there. Even if it's not my favorite content in the world, I think it's good to just research a whole bunch of different things that work on YouTube. And then think, "How can I do this for Smash Bros.?" Or, "How can I put a new twist on this for my content?"
But the big ones are Alpharad and a few different sketch comedy channels. There's no real one or even small group of YouTubers that I will watch exclusively, I do like to look all over the platform, see what's doing well, and see what I could maybe take inspiration from.
Coming up with Smash content: Reflection
It certainly reflects in how diverse your channel is. Of all the video styles you've tackled — sketches, montages, etc. — what has been the most challenging for you?
Definitely these days it is the "YOU LOSE YOU COSPLAY" videos, just because there's so many different elements that need to be filmed. And because I have been trying to make a unique sketch for each character recently — you have the writing, buying the costume, filming, etc.
And then in the editing, I'll do specific edits that put me as the character in the game. Those definitely take the longest. But then any sort of video where I'm doing things in real life — because I do try to get the filming exactly how I envisioned it — those ones do always take a lot longer than your standard gameplay with the facecam.
What series are you most proud of?
It'd again have to be "YOU LOSE YOU COSPLAY," but I'll give you another one: DEADLY SMASH SPECTATE is another one of my favorite series. And because there are so many different punishments in those videos, it really leaves a lot of room for creativity with the different segments every time we lose a match. So I do really enjoy some of the different spins I've put on those punishments and how they've come together as an end product. So those are probably the two series that I'm most proud of.
Which video stands out the most to you?
That's a hard question. It might be "YOU LOSE YOU COSPLAY 10" with the Sora. I really enjoyed how the costumes came together and how both of the skits turned out in that video. I was thinking of this the other day rewatching some of the old sketches, and even having to pick a top five of my sketches is hard.
You recently made a Tweet requesting Spanish and Japanese translators for your videos. How much potential do you see in that? What caused you to make that decision?
It all depends on how those videos perform. Hiring a translator — that's a cost. And if the videos aren't bringing in enough to pay for that, then it's not sustainable. But in terms of translating videos in general, I do see a lot of potential in that, especially in the Mexican and Japanese Smash communities.
Those are two countries that are really big on Smash. And there's a whole pool of my own Smash content that if it's not too big of a job to translate that, then I think it's great to try and broaden the horizons. But honestly, I couldn't tell you how successful that's going to be at the moment because it's in the very early stages. We've got Little Z Espanol as a channel, but it'll have to be a bit more time before I know what the play is with those other channels.
Something I was curious about was that you stream on YouTube, something you don’t see often unless it’s someone with a deal like Valkyrae or Ludwig. Why do you choose YouTube over Twitch?
To be honest, it's because I didn't have to grow a Twitch audience. [laughs] I may have just been a bit lazy, but all my subscribers are there on YouTube. I am not really big in the Twitch community myself, but I wanted to livestream so might as well keep it there on YouTube where I've already got the membership set up and it's gonna get pushed to more of my subscribers. And I do enjoy having it all on the one platform. It's nice and streamlined for me.
I spoke with Kripparrian the Hearthstone streamer, and he says that streaming on YouTube with the same channel is difficult, because it can mess up your videos in the YouTube algorithm. Have you experienced anything like this?
I haven't noticed anything. But the thing with YouTube is sometimes there'll be small changes that you think might be due to a bad title or thumbnail. But it's just that something's ticked off the algorithm and you never quite know.
But I haven't personally experienced any negative effects. My live streams all go unlisted as soon as they're finished, instead of getting pushed to the subscriber feed. So it's if you're there on YouTube while I'm streaming, you can find it. But otherwise, it's relatively hidden in terms of my channel.
Coming up with Smash content: Changes
We’ve seen Alpharad involved in more competitive events like at Smash Summit, and Ludwig organizing his own stuff. Obviously, there are travel factors and things like that, but is that something you would consider in the near future?
100 percent! I do already run some events in Perth, Australia — sort of casual in-person Smash tournaments with fun rulesets. I used to actually be a tournament organizer. So I would be really down for that. Obviously, with COVID happening as my YouTube channel blew up — the opportunities for travel have been quite small.
But now that everything's sort of opening up, that is something I would love to have on my horizon. And I would love to be a part of the Smash community, and run those fun events. Or take part in anything that I can get involved with. So there might be some America trips coming up in the future!
It's unique that you still live in Australia as a big content creator. Have you considered moving to a more central hub?
It's only been even a slight consideration recently, where collaborations become a bigger and bigger part of YouTube. But there's still pretty much no chance that I would ever make the move. I'm a big believer in looking out for my own personal lifestyle before the YouTube channel.
Even though it is my job, I do really love my life in Australia and I can see myself living here for the rest of my life. As much as I'd love to go traveling and be in America a lot, it's too hard for me to give up the lifestyle that I have here. And I just love it in Australia.
What’s something content-wise you haven’t done before that you would like to do in the future?
I think obviously, I have done a little bit of this in the past. But the real-life content is something that I want to incorporate a lot more into my videos. Just recently, I did a Pokémon game show. And content like that, that is maybe loosely based off gaming but is mostly just a video in real life with good camera angles, good lighting, and really upping the production value — that's definitely where I see myself moving towards. But I feel like I've dipped my toes into a little bit of everything.
And not to be quoted as an Alpharad clone like I used to be — I've actually been loving the direction he's been taking his content. Less gaming, more real-life videos like that. And with some of my recent content, I'm moving in a similar direction, although quite slowly. But that's something that I definitely love to upload to the main channel — something that has nothing to do with gaming. Just a well-shot, hopefully entertaining video of something completely random.
I write. I rap. I run. That’s pretty much it.