A VTuber's departure—commonly referred to as a Graduation—is always a painful experience not just for the fans but most especially for the talents departing, and even the agency managing them if they have one.
On this special feature, we recount the moments leading to a change in direction for KoMETA Virtual Live, regarded as the country's first VTuber corporation. What should we learn from the departure of its flagship talent, Elaine? Give us ten minutes of your time and we'll tell you.
It was a gloomy night on May 08, 2023. The painfully hot day is over, and most Filipinos were excited to watch the premiere of Voltes V: Legacy. For us VTuber fans, it was a day we cried over. The flagship talent of KoMETA Virtual Live, Elaine, has to graduate due to serious health reasons.
Thousands camped on YouTube, including other VTubers, either managed or independent. Fans of Elaine also gathered at the unofficial KoMETA server on Discord for a watch party. Everyone's waiting for her final appearance.
The clock hit 8:00pm, and Elaine spoke.
"I haven't been streaming much... I haven't been on YouTube that much. I haven't been doing content as much as I did before... but thank you so much for coming; thank you."
At this time, Elaine starts to shed tears on stream. "I was crying the whole afternoon, and I was thinking that maybe if I cry a lot before this stream, maybe I wouldn't be crying as much in my actual graduation stream, but I guess... it didn't work, but I'm so happy to see you, guys."
She continues to narrate her experience at the agency: "I didn't even expect this much support from people, you know. I didn't even see like in the near future after I debuted, there would be people that appreciate my music, that will appreciate my voice and my covers.
"I always had difficulty seeing how much I mean to people or how much I have an impact on a person because I never really expected much from myself, so this was really, I could say, a life-changing thing for me, that there's so much people listening to my music, and there's so much people actually liking my voice after...
"... because I have such a huge impostor syndrome, I hated my voice for the longest time, and seeing everyone just dance to it I guess or like enjoy it made me really happy... my journey in KoMETA was something that really made me happy, and really meant a lot to me."
“The recent diagnosis of her having diabetes hit her hard, not helping that this is already on top of other health complications, to a point that she thinks she’s “winning at the chronic illness gacha”, to quote Elaine’s very own words.
She also took time to thank her colleagues Miria and Virgil: "...honestly, the first time I met them... I try my best to reach out to them, and for them to open up to me because at the end it's just gonna be the three of us that's gonna count on each other; but I never really expected that they'd be such precious friends to me.
"I'm so happy I did my best to reach out to them because now I love them so much. They've been such good friends to me, and I really wouldn't have my genmates any other way. I would never have KoMETA Gen 1 any other way, just like how I'm the only Elaine (I guess) for you guys, they're also the only Miria and Virgil that has a special place in my heart."
The VTubers Elaine met and collaborated along the way helped her grow as a person, given that approaching people was not her strong suit.
Plans to Recast Elaine
Most of the graduation stream—which ran for almost 90 minutes—involved checking the last set of fan art provided in two sets, laughing at the jokes and crying because of the memories shared between Elaine and her fans.
There was just one thing that made everyone unsettled: "I've been thinking about this a lot... I've been thinking so much about what's gonna happen to me, because it's hard to let go of who I was as Elaine..."
Fans were not ready to hear this announcement: "...but since KoMETA has limited resources and there's just so much that KoMETA can deal with during my graduation, I decided that I will be keeping in touch with the management in choosing the next Elaine to take my place and make sure they're able to do justice to my character, and probably make more songs for everyone to enjoy."
Elaine made the hard decision to wish for a recast of the flagship character. Content on her YouTube channel except for her two original songs will be unlisted or made private, and her Twitter will be inactive, and the future of her Facebook page unsure.
At that time, it felt like the skies were joining everyone in grief, as the rain poured on.
What happened following Elaine's graduation can be summed up in three bullet points:
- Just after the graduation stream: Virgil, who also treats Elaine as a close friend, opened up on Twitter Spaces about the plans moving forward, echoing the sentiment of everyone: That Elaine is irreplaceable, recasting should not be an option. Even so, she assures fans that they are going to keep close contact with Elaine. (Much has to be said about the Twitter Space but out of deep respect for Virgil, we chose to sum up this matter as such.)
- Thursday, May 11: A petition was posted on Change.org asking KoMETA to not replace Elaine or any of the talents: "The goal of this petition is simple: to help us have a dialogue with a company that too often refuses to communicate properly, if at all with their fans or their talents, and to please ask to not replace the person behind Elaine." Even Miria and Virgil expressed their support for this petition by retweeting it on Twitter.
- Saturday, May 13: KoMETA released a statement amending their course of action following Elaine's graduation, with CEO GIRA saying this: "All of our talents have always been irreplaceable to me, KoMETA's staff, and the community as all of them have worked hard to build KoMETA to what it is today.
Our understanding: For clarity, here's how we read the latest statement from the agency which clarifies their course of action:
- Having a new talent to take the role of Elaine, the agency's flagship talent, was Elaine's choice to ensure that there will be a VTuber to carry KoMETA's branding and vision.
- Elaine is not going to be replaced. Instead, the successor to Elaine will have a different personality, a new name, and a distinct modified design.
- KoMETA withdraws the decision to set to private or unlist all videos aside from her original songs. All of Elaine's content will be available to be seen by anyone.
- The agency assures that there is only one Virgil and one Miria, and they will not be recasted either. With this announcement, it was made clear that all three Gen 1 talents are irreplaceable.
- They commit to provide updates to the community as they move forward.
"As a VTuber fan and part of the industry, I have always been aware of the implications this decision will bring; and I take full responsibility for carrying this course of action out. Thank you for your continued support."
These are the words CEO GIRA wrote in the public announcement—but VTuber NewsDrop is given the opportunity to speak to him up-close. After all, this was not the first time we put the VTuber-turned-executive into the spotlight.
Q: What led to the initial decision to make 99% of Elaine's content no longer available to view?
GIRA: We and Elaine initially agreed to make her old content unavailable to view. This unpleasant choice was made under the assumption that the channel would be reused, because we determined that meeting YouTube's monetization requirements wouldn't be feasible for KoMETA's immediate growth.
However, because of some recent business developments, it turns out that we can (thankfully) afford to start from scratch after all.
Given that you've already seen the sentiment of the viewing public, would you have continued with your initial plans?
I can really see why there was initially negative feedback about our course of action after Elaine's Graduation. I understand the frustration. We regretfully had to withhold important details because I can't commit everyone to an unpleasant but business-prudent decision (see: our amendment on the availability of Elaine's content) while a better path is possible and being worked on.
It's been a VERY turbulent few weeks; emergent business developments and everyone's feelings towards the situation has rapidly shifted and switched the viability of our initial choices. In the end of internal discussions, we determined that the course of action we posted about on Twitter is best on all aspects of KoMETA Virtual Live Corp.
The more important matter here is how this affected Elaine's colleagues at KoMETA, who end up venting on Twitter Spaces (especially Virgil, post-graduation). It was said that Virgil has not interacted with you following the decision.
May I ask, how's everyone interacting with each other now? Have you, Miria and Virgil talked with each other on the sidelines?
Yes, you're right. I've used some of those that you listed as case studies to help minimize the long-term negative effects that this choice brings. But of course, there's still unavoidable pain that's felt by everyone involved.
Virgil and Miria feels a lot for Elaine and our community. They acted fast out of what was correct to them under the limited context of being a talent with a community and deep friendship with Elaine. We spoke with each other the night before the second statement was made and it was something we agreed on.
Lastly, I'm sure as a former VTuber yourself (I'm not sure if you're comfortable with me mentioning this), this experience has brought a lot of lessons for you moving forward. Being the CEO of KoMETA, did this experience help you to grow as a leader?
Yeah, that's fine to mention.
It really does. I started as an independent VTuber, and every step of the way while balancing so many aspects of the business by myself, I've come to understand the choices other agencies and companies make.
With that said, I'll continue to do my best to balance what the community is passionate about, my vision for the industry, and the cold hard facts that come with dealing with everyone as a business.
To end this interview, do you have any final words to share with our readers?
All I want to say in the end is thank you for the community for being understanding and patient during such a difficult situation.
My Thoughts: It has been a stressful week for KoMETA Virtual Live indeed. Their initial plans are met with strong opposition from the community at large—VTubers and fans alike.
This opposition was out of love for the personalities they have known and loved for—most especially Elaine, as the decision to recast her was rescinded despite the fact that it was her choice. Elaine's graduation from KoMETA is an important moment, a valuable record in the history of VTubing in the Philippines.
While fans will miss her so much, the moments leading to and following her departure is a developing case study for aspiring VTubers and future agency leaders alike.
We leave you with a quote attributed to Philippine national hero and pride of the Malayan race Dr. Jose Rizal: "He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination."
Banner Photo: Elaine / KoMETA Virtual Live on YouTube