5 Pre-YouTube Viral Videos

troops by kevin rubio

YouTube has been around for ten years and is easily the deepest pool of streaming videos to browse. It’s where things get popular and occasionally go viral. But the Internet was around before YouTube and while our video players sucked in comparison, there was still video content being shared. So what was popular prior to YouTube? It’s worth a look back at some of the most popular videos connected to comics, cartoons, sci-fi and gaming and to learn where we saw these before there was a universal receptacle for everything.


In 1997, Kevin Rubio made a mockumentary about the Stormtroopers from Star Wars on Tattooine, filmed in a style similar to COPS, the Fox reality show. It premiered at San Diego’s Comic Con in July of 1997 and was then hosted on TheForce.net, a site all about Star Wars that began hosting video files of Star Wars fan films. It was also included as a DVD that had audio commentary by Rubio in the Fall 2000 issue of Total Movie magazine and on the 20th anniversary COPS DVD as an extra.

Red vs. Blue

Burnie Burns began capturing Halo multiplayer game footage and editing it into an ongoing animated series called Red vs. Blue. The show started on April 1, 2003 and has now had 15 seasons, just over one a year. They were hosted on Burns’ Rooster Teeth Productions website and were available as downloadable Quicktime files. Before YouTube, Quicktime was king. It’s still being made today.


In 2003, Eric Fensler had created 25 parodies of G.I. Joe’s Public Service Announcements by recutting them and dubbing them with new audio. They were shared as Quicktime videos and hosted on eBaum’s World. Hasbro sent a cease and decist on September 4th, 2004 and the videos were pulled from eBaum’s and Fensler’s personal site. They continued to be shared on individual sites and blogs until YouTube launched where they’ve been a constant presence ever since.

Leeroy Jenkins

In 2005, a World of Warcraft guild was planning a difficult assault. One of their teammates, Ben Schultz, was away from his keyboard after becoming frustrated by the team’s constant bickering. He eventually returns to his character, screams out his character’s name, Leeroy Jenkins, and rushes into battle before the rest of the team is ready, resulting in them getting slaughtered. Whether it was real or staged has remained a mystery, but the video was posted to the World of Warcraft game forum, as a serious thread looking for ways to avoid the same mistakes. It instantly became shared among all types of forums and was one of YouTube’s earliest viral hits when it launched.

He-Man Hey Ya

Two animators from Slackcircus Studios were inspired by the G.I. Joe PSA gag videos and decided to dub over He-Man cartoon footage. They used a falsetto dance mix version of the 1993 4 Non Blondes song “What’s Up?” It was first uploaded to the SomethingAwful forums on May 8th, 2005 and titled “Fabulous Secret Powers.” Later that month, it was shared on eBaum’s World Forums as “He-Man Sings a Gay Song” (classy). This may be the last hit video just before YouTube because it was uploaded to YouTube in February of 2006 and has continued to be reuploaded there ever since.


Red vs. Blue