Given Twitch is synonymous with live streaming, it’s no surprise thousands of VTubers have found their home on the platform.
While VTubing’s roots lay in pre-recorded YouTube content, it was the streaming boom led by hololive and NIJISANJI in 2018 that gave virtual avatars more airtime. By the time COVID rolled around, the medium was well-rooted in both Japan and the broader world.
Twitch’s APAC Content Director Lewis Mitchell has been keeping a keen eye on this growth. With his oversight on the Japanese, SEA, and ANZ markets, he’s seen the evolution of the medium in real time. He has noted the role virtual content creators serve in live streaming, and the niches they fill.
And the biggest learning he’s taken from all of it is the parallels between VTubing now and streaming 10 years ago, just as it was taking off—if you give creators the tools and make it accessible, it’ll flourish.
“Well obviously VTubing started in Japan, and it used to be a very different situation,” he told VTuber NewsDrop at PAX AUS 2023. “The VTubing world was almost privately owned by a couple of companies like your hololive’s and NIJISANJI’s. They own the IP of these VTubers, they own the brand.
“But like anything… as technology becomes easier [and cheaper] to use, somebody who is not the most technically proficient can use these tools. It was the same way when streaming started: it was hard, it was expensive.
“In terms of where VTubing has gone now, because of the accessibility, it’s become more democratized. It’s the same thing as an everyday streamer with a face cam, except they have a digital avatar.
“I love that it has grown so much because it used to be an internal fight of ‘I don’t necessarily want my face to be out there, I just want my voice to be on stream, and I want people to interact with me.’ It gives people that are a bit more private a way to still be expressive on stream.”
Those aforementioned tools, at least the ones Twitch provides, come in the way of both safety features and community integration.
Working VTubers into the platform’s countless spotlight months is another—virtual stars featured across Pride Month, as an example. Or even activations, like Blizzard’s Diablo IV campaign with a spread of ANZ VTubers (while not led by Twitch directly, it shows what can be done with integrating virtual stars).
It’s also a case of listening to what streamers are saying. Mitchell cited Twitch’s new mod arsenal, aimed at helping the thankless army of community moderators, as one of these initiatives where streamer feedback made for a better experience for all.
“It goes back to creating those safety tools, making sure it’s a safe space, because it’s really down to making sure those communities can interact in the way they want to and they’re not going to feel as though there’s people going to try and come in and be bad actors.”
There have been vocal concerns from the VTuber community about it being sectioned off from the rest of platforms. Moderation has been a big concern, as well as the stigma that sticks to VTubing to this day.
Mitchell has been aiming to break this wall, at least in ANZ, by bringing VTubers into Partner-exclusive events. Away from the cameras and spotlight, virtual stars can mingle with their fleshtuber companions and get the same behind closed doors experience.
That then plays out on the screen, where you get VTubers collaborating outside of the virtual bubble. Connor ‘CDawg’ Colquhoun and Ironmouse are typically cited as the ideal example of this, but it happens at smaller levels across communities.
“Because VTubing rose during the time of COVID—before that it was a very niche side of Twitch—we didn’t get to meet and see anyone. So we were thinking about how we get back to meeting people face-to-face, and that includes VTubers.
“Now the challenge with things like PAX, where there’s a lot of fans and community members, is sometimes you don’t want to be found out. You don’t want your face seen. If you’re hanging out with a couple of Partners, it’s like ‘I know that person, I know that person, but I don’t know who that person is.’ It might get a little intimidating because they can go ‘oh my god, people might figure out who I am.’
“We have been running these Partner Network events this year, put a tab behind a bar, invite all the Partners in the area. They feel like they can come out because it’s not a streamed event, it’s not being broadcast, so it’s safe for me to go meet other Partners. We make sure there’s these spaces for them to come… and get to meet other partners.”
And ultimately, as he sees it, it’s these connections that keep streamers around for the long term, creating great content for everyone to enjoy.
“One of the things is you look at the streamers who have been going for a long time, they’re all people who have met with and connected with other streamers. It gives them that sense of ‘I’m part of something bigger, this isn’t just me by myself talking to a computer.’”
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