When Dinoflask first started making comedy videos of Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan, he never could've imagined he'd one day be surprising the man himself to celebrate his 15th anniversary at Blizzard. Heck, he could barely believe it right before it happened.
"I was like, 'It's definitely a scam,'" Dinoflask said of the moment he got the offer. "'But sure.'"
Dinoflask is a YouTuber who's become famous by doing exactly one thing: Remixing videos of Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan into a sort of alternate universe version of the internet's favourite disappointed dad, a maniacal jester who delights in watching the salt flow after he's nerfed everybody's favourite heroes. He takes videos of Kaplan speaking, slices them up, and mix-and-matches the words until Kaplan appears to be saying some quite unpolitical things about the state of the shooter.
"I feel like I have to put the Overwatch community over my knee, and I don't care how many asses I have to spank," Dinoflask's manipulated Kaplan says in one video, which currently has over 500,000 views. "Your bad behaviour will improve, and if it doesn't, let's just say not even a team of six pro Mercy mains would be able to resurrect this community."
Sometimes Dinoflask's videos are pure comedy. Other times, they speak to concerns players have about Blizzard's decisions - using Kaplan's own voice. As a result, Dinoflask has become a fixture in the Overwatch community. Fans see him as the Jeff Whisperer, the speaker of truths Real Jeff only wishes he could say.
Despite the sometimes combative nature of Dinoflask's videos, Kaplan has admitted in the past that he's actually a big fan of them. This has resulted in a handful of unexpected opportunities for Dinoflask, which culminated earlier this year in a surprise face-to-face meeting with the man he's spent more than a year using a digital marionette. Dinoflask even got to make a special video for the occasion with help from Blizzard, who supplied him with some particularly pointed in-jokes at Kaplan's expense.
"Blizzard has weekly meetings for all the devs, so they played my video for all the devs, and then they were like, 'Oh, one more thing.' Then I had to come out in front," Dinoflask said during an interview at BlizzCon, which Blizzard invited him to this year. "It was pretty embarrassing," he added with a chuckle.
After that, he got to have dinner with the developers. He sat next to Kaplan, a moment that he confessed was surreal for him because he couldn't believe that The Internet's Jeff Kaplan was actually a real person. "I thought you were just a face on a screen," Dinoflask said.
The whole ride - from total obscurity to a brand of online fame so specific that explaining it to an uninitiated relative would take longer than watching every video Dinoflask has ever made - has been surreal. It all began, Dinoflask said, when he was supposed to be preparing for an exam, but decided to procrastinate by watching every Overwatch development update video ever and then produce written scripts of them, which he then started using to fit together his Kaplan videos.
Despite being the world's foremost Jeff Puppeteer, Dinoflask's method is less "Sombra slyly hacking a health pack" and more "Junkrat slapping a bomb together from literal garbage".
"Basically I've got this big document of about 40,000 words," Dinoflask said. All of them are time-stamped so he can search for them. So if he needs Kaplan to say "Roadhog", he finds the exact time where that word occurs, notes it, grabs that segment from the corresponding video, and manually adds it to the one he's working on.
"I always think there's gotta be a better way of doing it," Dinoflask said. "I could probably write a program. Text-to-speech. Text-to-Jeff or whatever. But that's also a big time investment." As is, he assembles videos either by working on them for a few hours per day for a couple weeks, or he clears out a weekend and does nothing but edit. All for videos that usually range between three and five minutes.
Here, too, the real Jeff Kaplan has gotten involved. On one occasion, Dinoflask put a one-frame annotation into a video asking Kaplan to say "Torbjorn" a bit clearer, and Kaplan actually went along with it, adding "Torbjorn" to the end of a developer update video. "When I met him afterwards, he was like, 'Yeah, that was for you, that one,'" Dinoflask said.
These days, Dinoflask's YouTube channel is doing better than ever, but at some point, the joke will run its course. Dinoflask, a recently-graduated British software developer, says he could pivot to doing other types of comedy, things such as skits or scripts, but thinks he'll probably stick to his day job.
"I think it'd be quite hard to branch out from where I am now," he said. "Everybody gets their 15 minutes of fame. Right now I'm just enjoying it."
For now, though, he isn't going anywhere, nor is he planning to start going easy on Kaplan just because they have become bizarro world pen pals.
"Having shook his hand and stared him in the eye, occasionally I think, 'Can I still make him say this?'" said Dinoflask. "Can I still make him say some obscene thing? But then I do it anyway."