The first show I took at a branded thumbnail was basically this. I really wanted to just have one thing that would work for any kind of game or with anything behind it so it would make the process of making Youtube thumbnails easier. Also, having similar thumbnails seemed like a good idea.
When I started out, I thought it would be a really smart idea to really make it apparent that I was a GAMER so I went with a pixelated font, Silkscreen. As we go forward, you'll notice that I moved away from that. It seemed okay here though!
My only real sense of "branding" was having blue in the thumbnail. The gradient seemed like a nice, subtle touch.
Looking back on this, I think it's worth considering that 1.) Youtube currently shows the lenght of the video in the bottom right of the thumbnails so the bit with my website is almost never seen and 2.) Youtube currently doesn't even support having custom URLs. You can always redirect with it but if you want to effectively use Youtube, having a good, easy to remember URL will probably be more effective. I, unfortunately don't have a great Youtube URL but if I thought ahead, I would have made a better one.
Here's what it looks like in a video.
Current thumbnails
Over the course of a couple years, I developed a lot as a designer so I wanted to incorporate that into my Youtube thumbnail, as small and subtle a thing as that is. The main thing that really impacted my design sense was that flat design started to really blow up. I have a hard time actually implementing it, especially in video elements like overlays and on-screen graphics, but I aspire to adhere to flat design principles.
I started using M+ 1C because it had a bunch of different font weights to use in a variety of situations. I also had a logo at this point which I could actually use. The last thing that started to use more and more are these angled bits which I, for some reason, try to fit into as much stuff as possible from thumbnails to graphics for live stream productions. 
As I started doing more on the Guest Controller channel, my designs made their way over there. You'll see that in some of the examples of the thumbnails at Youtube size.
One advantage this thumbnail has had is that because the theres space for titles, I can put the game name and something of a biline in there too. Before, I stuck to using the games actual title screen or start menu but this freed me up to just use any screenshot, especially one that was an actual representation of the gameplay.
Going forward, I think one problem I should address is the fact that at actual Youtube thumbnail size, the text gets too small. I should fix that. I think I should really get away from using a biline in general because it will get lost in this anyway. The thumbnail should probably catch someone in a second and has a title only because it helps people understand what the video actually is. Less is more in this case.
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