After going dark for more than a year amid accusations on social media of soliciting and distributing nude images of his adolescent fans, a Minecraft YouTuber named Marcus Wilton, better known online as LionMaker, has resurfaced.
His quiet reemergence is happening at a pivotal moment for how YouTube moderates its platform and for how society at large deals with allegations of sexual abuse.
Before Wilton’s disappearance, his LionMakerStudios YouTube channel had around half a million subscribers, with more than 30 Minecraft videos numbering view counts in the millions. But rumors circulated in chat rooms for Minecraft — considered one of the most popular video games of all time — about Wilton’s behavior toward his young fans.
Things came to a head in December 2015, when Wilton confessed in a series of now-deleted tweets to having a sexual relationship with a UK-based YouTuber named Paige, known as Paige the Panda online, when she was underage — and to posting nude images of her on the platform. Wilton, who has yet to be formally charged with a crime, met Paige when she was 14. After the tweets were deleted several hours later, Wilton claimed he had been hacked.
And two months ago, a British YouTuber named Colossal tweeted a screenshot of an email Wilton wrote where he confessed to having had a sexual relationship with the underage girl. Paige, now 18, requested to have her last name withheld for privacy reasons and declined to comment.
After Wilton’s 2015 Twitter meltdown, the online backlash mounted. Allegations from two more minors accusing Wilton of sexual harassment and abuse would surface in a Vice article. Wilton denies both accusations. But what would play out online would lead to police in both Belgium and the UK investigating him for distributing child pornography and statutory rape.
Wilton has spent the last several months in a psychiatric hospital outside of Antwerp, Belgium, as part of the police investigation that has been open for the better part of the last year. He told BuzzFeed News that, before that, he spent 10 months in detention as part of a Belgian legal process called arrest huis, where law enforcement can hold you for a period of time out of fear that you may be a danger to society or tamper with evidence pertaining to their investigation. BuzzFeed News has reached out to Belgian police for comment.
Initially, Wilton tried to continue making videos, which became darker and darker, littered with threats of legal action against any YouTuber who accused him of using his status in the Minecraft community to prey on his underage fans. Then, around June 2016, Wilton’s online presence vanished. He scrubbed his YouTube account of all the troubling videos he had made. He stopped tweeting. The LionMaker Instagram stopped posting. And it seemed as though he had finally left the community — that is, until now.
“LionMaker is recovering from a rough couple of years. He will be back healthy and strong for you cubs.”
In November 2017, his channel suddenly started uploading videos again — albeit without Wilton in front of the camera. The new host, a 23-year-old friend of Wilton’s from California who goes by THExSERGEANT, wrote in a comment on a recent video, “LionMaker is recovering from a rough couple of years. He will be back healthy and strong for you cubs. For now I have contacted some of his supporters and we are making some vids to keep you guys entertained.”
The activity on the channel seemed to hint at an eventual LionMaker comeback. However, last month, Wilton’s main channel and a backup with 42,000 subscribers he was populating with videos both went down. YouTube has not responded to a request for comment about why. He's now trying to populate a new one with videos and has gained 1,000 followers on it in the last month.
Meanwhile, the world is reckoning with the global #MeToo movement as it continues to expose the sexual misconduct of powerful men across every industry. And YouTube is currently dealing with public outcry over how it moderates children’s content following writer James Bridle’s viral Medium post in November.
The platform is cracking down on videos featuring children in compromising, predatory, or creepy situations. It's reportedly deleted 150,000 videos. At the end of last year, YouTube pledged to hire 10,000 moderators to more thoroughly patrol the platform for inappropriate content. But as the controversy around YouTuber Logan Paul’s recent “suicide forest” video has proved, YouTube’s moderation of children’s content is quickly turning into a crisis for the company.
But the kind of abuse Wilton is now publicly admitting to is more insidious and more difficult for both law enforcement and platforms like YouTube to deal with. Wilton is one of several well-known Minecraft players to be accused of using their YouTube fame to engage in sexual misconduct with underaged fans over the last few years.
Minecraft is owned by Microsoft, but its top players draw shockingly huge fanbases on YouTube, a platform owned by Google. According to Seuscraft, the top three Minecraft YouTubers — none of whom have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct — all have over 10 million subscribers.
Players typically meet one another in-game, but then move the conversation over to Skype, also owned by Microsoft. And when it comes to players meeting in person, Minecraft conventions are similarly disjointed, run by different events companies with differing rules and standards about who gets invited. The largest convention, MineCon, drew 12,000 attendees this year. Minecraft players are spread all over the world, which can make dealing with any sort of criminal activity within the community a legal nightmare.
Wilton said he was introduced to the wider Minecraft community by a Los Angeles-based Minecraft player named Dana Iniguez in 2013. Iniguez and her husband, Manuel, set up the server for the NF Family Foundation, a charity they started to support families dealing with neurofibromatosis.
“We were contacted by these huge YouTubers who had millions of subscribers and, like I said, we didn't know any of them, or what they did, but they basically came in and said, ‘Hey, you know, we'd be willing to come in, play on the charity server,’” she told BuzzFeed News.
Soon after meeting other YouTubers on Iniguez’s server, Wilton started recording a series called “Crafting for YouTubers” where he interviewed other people on the platform. “That's how he got connections with pretty much everyone,” said Matt Guggenbiller, a Minecraft YouTuber known as oPryzeLP who was close with Wilton.
Iniguez said she noticed Wilton had a close relationship with then–14-year-old Paige the Panda. Iniguez said the girl began messaging her about how she had romantic feelings toward Wilton.
“I just had a really bad feeling about everything.”
The last time Iniguez and Wilton spoke was March 2015. She said it was during one of their final conversations that she began feeling concerned enough to file a formal complaint — which BuzzFeed News has seen — with the FBI in August 2015.
“I just had a really bad feeling about everything,” Iniguez said.
Sasha Steel, an American living in the UK who goes by “QUEEN CAMELOT X” online, and her husband, Richard, have a channel with a couple thousand subscribers. Steel and her daughter play in a Minecraft group with other kids. She told BuzzFeed News that in December 2014, a member of her Minecraft crew told her that Wilton had asked them repeatedly for nude photos.
“There is a young man who was a part of our group who ended up leaving our group because he was exceptionally scared of LionMaker,” Steel said. “He couldn't sleep at night, he was having toilet problems because of it — he was a 14-year-old boy.”
Rumors continued to circulate among the Minecraft community about Wilton’s behavior. The controversy at the time made Guggenbiller remember a group video call he was in with Wilton from the previous spring.
Guggenbiller, US-based Minecraft players David Hagan and Nikolas Coniglio, and UK-based player Oliver Broadbent told BuzzFeed News that they were all on a call with Wilton one night when they say he began fondling himself.
At the time, Guggenbiller, Hagan, and Broadbent were of age, but Coniglio was 15. “Fondling, yeah, whatever, but he was doing it for, like, three minutes and he was being really fucking weird,” Guggenbiller said. He said that he didn’t see Wilton’s genitals.
Guggenbiller said that Wilton started sending suggestive messages to Coniglio, the youngest of the group.
“He was messaging Nico, asking him for sex, Skype sex,” Guggenbiller said.
Wilton denied that he ever sent sexually suggestive messages to Coniglio, saying that the Skype call was harmless. “I was drunk, they were making fun of me, I was pretending to flex my muscles,” he said.
The whole evening felt weird enough that Guggenbiller said he decided to take screenshots, which were provided to BuzzFeed News, and hold on to them.
“Yeah, it was a little weird, it was a little freaky. I just, like, tried going with it, thinking it was a joke, but then he, like, kept persisting,” Coniglio told BuzzFeed News. “So it was like, OK, it's not a joke.”