In an article about VTubers, an illustration of a VTuber in a computer window
VTubers are coming to a screen near you. (Illustration by Lucas DeJesus, Montserrat College of Art)

VTubers Are the Newest Addition to the World of Online Streaming

Instead of revealing their actual faces, these streamers use a virtual representation of themselves — and they’re making big waves in the let’s play community.

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In an article about VTubers, an illustration of a VTuber in a computer window

Instead of revealing their actual faces, these streamers use a virtual representation of themselves — and they’re making big waves in the let’s play community.

In 2020, the world of VTubers — virtual YouTubers — blew up in the United States, with some creators gaining millions of subscribers. VTubers are essentially YouTubers who stream video games or blog through a virtual character with the aid of a motion detector that captures the creator’s movement. The idea behind this practice is that the creators often want to remain anonymous while still pursuing an online presence.

Originating in Japan in 2016, VTubing has attracted many participants from the online gaming community who see this new form of entertainment as the next stage in this burgeoning medium. With the prevalence of larger companies funding some of the more popular VTubers, new online streamers are working harder than ever to get a foot in the door of this ever-expanding industry.

How are VTubers evolving the online streaming community?

The practice of using a motion detector to control a virtual persona originated in Japan, and it has rapidly spread to the United States through anime, manga and game culture online. The first creator to coin the term “VTuber” was Kizuna AI. According to the DailyDot, ever since Kizuna started streaming in 2016, she has accumulated “nearly 3 million subscribers on her main account alone.” Most indie VTubers stream first on Twitch and use their Twitter and YouTube accounts to route their content to a wider audience; however, there are a handful that primarily stream on YouTube.

The VTuber style of streaming allows individual creators to remain anonymous, which has appealed especially to women, who have the added pressure of maintaining appearances when streaming. By creating a persona, many women no longer have to worry about the pressure to look a certain way when streaming and can avoid related harassment. VTubing allows all creators to focus on the game or blog and feel confident in themselves while doing so.

Another commonality between VTubers is that the visual representation of the creator is often a character all on its own. Part of the appeal of VTubing is that viewers can fall in love with the virtual personality in the same way fans fall in love with anime or manga characters. Some fans will even go so far as to create mods of their favorite VTubers for games they like, so that others can play as the characters. One example of this is the mod for Gawr Gura in “Don’t Starve Together.” As characters become more and more popular, fans will also edit parts of their content into shorter meme videos that can easily be shared.

Today, many of the bigger names are supported by larger companies, such as Nijisanji and Hololive. One writer, Dexter Tan Guan Hao, describes the talent agency Hololive as “an overwhelming journey to begin. There are more than 40 affiliated talents ranging from the archetype idol to anthropomorphic dragons, thousands of streams and clips and over 10 million subscribers across various video platforms.”

In an interview with Error, an up-and-coming VTuber, he explained that “most of the bigger American VTubers got scooped up by Vshojo, which is the first big American Company… [It] is the safe road to take, but it comes with the downside of rules you have to follow as a VTuber, things you can’t say, things you can’t do. They don’t want to get involved with politics, anything that would hurt the company. There aren’t direct restrictions on who you could collab with, but it’s advised that you collab with people you know.”

Because working for a company assures 5,000 to 10,000 viewers within the first few days, it’s a great path to take; however, it definitely comes with its downsides, and most VTubers who get “picked up” by these companies are successful individually first. Error stated that he did not want to become a VTuber to work with a company and that he only wanted to make content. Being a VTuber was the perfect avenue for his goals.

How is Error, a new VTuber, building his online presence?

Error, like many other VTubers, has created a character to use while streaming fighting games on his Twitch account. This character is a personified computer virus who enjoys streaming fighting games and has a fondness for the color purple. Error is also student at Kendall College of Art and Design, pursuing a career in digital art.

For many new VTubers, creating the model can be incredibly challenging, as well as expensive, if the creator is commissioning the work. In preparation for the launch of his channel, he spent many hours drawing Error and configuring his computer for streaming in an effort to make his channel look aesthetically pleasing enough to draw in more viewers. When asked about the creation process, Error relayed that fellow VTuber Cheshire “helped quite a bit with the art and rigging” and should receive some of the credit.

A good idea for new VTubers is to find a way to seem unique among the crowd of other creators in order to stand out and gain more followers. Error sets himself apart by editing his own content on his YouTube Channel and he even draws Error into memes on occasion. According to him, “Generally, a lot of what I’ve seen is, someone will take something from someone else’s stream, but good edited content is hard to come by. I’ve seen Nyanners do it, but she also works for a company and has an editor — so doing my own is another one of my skills that I’m flexing.”

So far on his channel, Error has only streamed a few games (mainly Dragon Ball FighterZ), but he recently posted on Twitter, stating “Finally finished this semester out good googly moogly. With that outta the way I can finally stream regularly. I have a whole ass library of fighting games I wanna grind and nothing but time!”

Networking channels are also a great way to build a community and a following. Through these connections, Error can participate in tournaments, like the “VTuber only Dragon Ball Fighterz PC Tournament,” which took place on May 15. Error received 2nd place, and he intends to participate in many more tournaments in order to build community, make his presence known and collaborate with other artists/gamers.

When asked what his next big event would be, he stated that “there is a Smash tournament … happening on the 22nd. I kind of want to enter. Probably going to enter.” The Super Smash Bros. tournament “A Fight for the Stars” will be available on Lumi’s page through a livestream.

Writer Profile

Beth Jordan

Aquinas College
English Literature

I’m an aspiring author who enjoys long walks and good coffee. I enjoy reading sci-fi/fantasy novels, and I’ve been working on a series of my own for a number of years now.

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