(Thank you to LadyMFNJenkins for helping write this article)

Have you noticed a recent change on Twitch? The front page is full of 3D models, anime characters, and even the occasional dinosaur. What’s going on? Vtubing is what’s going on.

Wait, What’s VTubing?

Image: Twitch

Vtubing is a portmanteau of ‘Virtual’ and ‘YouTubing’ used to describe streaming with a virtual avatar. Rather than having a blank stream, or a webcam, a VTuber uses a virtual character to represent the streamer.

This can be a 3D or 2D model that follows the streamer’s actions, a reactive PNG that changes when the streamer speaks, or a GIF.

Basic VTubing Timeline:

  • Vtubing first took off in 2016 in Japan with the first majorly popular Vtuber: Kizuna AI
  • After achieving breakout popularity, production companies like Hololive started popping up. These companies work in similar fashions to the structure of J-Pop and K-Pop production groups
  • In 2020, the first major U.S. Vtuber company V-Shojo began operation, with over 1.5 Billion viewers on YouTube by October
  • Vtuber content grew on Twitch by 467%, according to Twitch’s parent company Amazon

What Does a VTuber Do?

Vtubers are just like any other streamer. They will stream the type of content that they enjoy producing, which could be gaming, just chatting, art streams, etc.

The main difference is that you don’t see the person behind the screen; you see their character.

The character will be either a 3D or 2D character, depending on the aesthetic and software they decide to go with.

Vtubers often have a story and background for their character. Often, this gets referred to as the “lore” of the character.

Some will just have a basic story that they tell on stream. Others can go very in-depth with every bit of art, every post, and every stream slowly drip-feeding their viewer’s information.

The VTuber Community

When you look at the world of Vtubing, understand that it is not a monolith. In fact, it might be splintered more so than regular streaming. Because of the vast variety of characters, art styles, and structures that VTubing takes place in, you really do find a little bit of everything for everyone.

From an outside perspective, it’s easy to say everybody is just pretending to be an anime character. While anime definitely plays a significant influence in Vtubing, it’s not the only influence.

There are large Vtubing communities that pull influence from classic fantasy and tabletop games. There are communities and fan groups more akin to the J-Pop, like the companies sponsoring and producing Vtubers.

Really, the Vtubing community today is a rich and diverse fandom with large groups, small groups, and everything in between.

The fun of Vtubing is that you can be anything you want and find any type of streamer you can think of. You can do any type of Vtubing that you want. You could be a superhero-themed pro wrestler, a hard-working delivery girl orc, or a f***ing dinosaur.

Another key to the Vtubing community, especially in the independent scene, is its collaborative nature. While co-streaming and collabs are commonplace, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Vtuber who isn’t regularly co-streaming with at least one or more other Vtubers.

Why Are VTubers So Popular?

Vtubing exploded on the scene in 2016 and has seen consistent, exponential growth year after year. But how did they get so popular so quickly?

It’s different

For almost a decade, let’s plays and streaming have boiled to watching a person play a video game. When you can see a demonic entity, orca cat hybrid, or punk rock goblin playing the game, that novelty will attract you to watch.

Timing

Vtubing started to grow right around 2018 and 2019 and exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Everybody was stuck at home; there was this new trend on Twitch. That perfect storm allowed for exponential growth and created a breeding ground for many new streamers to join the fray.

Borrowing from larger fandoms

To this day, the most popular streamers look like they were plucked straight out of Shonen Jump or this season’s breakout anime. Initially started in Japan, the crossover of the fandoms was a natural occurrence.

Right as it started to get popular in America and the West, you started seeing Vtubing get referenced in manga and anime.

VTubers and Live Streaming

At the end of the day, the same keys to what makes a successful Vtuber are the same as with traditional streamers. You still need to engage your stream, capture their attention, and have a welcoming community that creates a cycle of growth.

VTuber FAQ

Who Was the First VTuber?

Kizuna AI is touted as the first popular Vtuber, starting in 2016. However, similar ideas and concepts existed as early as 2010 with Ami Yamato and Super Sonico.

Are VTubers Real People?

Yes and no. There is somebody behind the eldritch horror masquerading as a bunny girl. But it’s better to think of Vtubing like professional wrestling. Yes, it’s made up, and the streamer isn’t exactly “real.” But that’s not the point. The point isn’t that this tiny shark girl isn’t from Atlantis in the real world. You’re there to see the story. To see the character. To interact.

Just ask Mace. He’s a pro wrestler AND a Vtuber. Who cares if they’re not exactly real? You’re watching to be entertained. …Right?

How Do VTubers Work?

Vtubers work by capturing the inputs from the streamer and then using those to create an output with their model. There are two main types of tubing: rigged Vtubing and reactive Vtubing.

Rigged Vtubing will take video input from a camera and superimpose that motion onto the model used. This could be a 3D model like with the Vtuber Zavvygamer, where her model is a 3-D like Elsa… or Shrek. Or, you could go with a 2D model that looks more like a regular animated/anime character, such as with BurningJalapeno.

A reactive Vtuber works much more simply. The software will take the audio input from the microphone to change the image or GIF of the model. You speak, and it moves one or more frames. Kinda like a flipbook or the Flip-O-Rama from Captain Underpants. (Is that reference too dated?)

Thanks for Reading!

Regardless of the style that you use, there are many free and paid options for you to check out. The most popular software for 2D rigging is Live2D, and there are TONS of options for 3D rigging.

There are plenty of options if you want to be a PNG tuber, but VeadoTube mini is our recommendation.

If you want to try GIFtubing, check out this helpful tutorial on the different ways you can give it a try.

So there you have it! Welcome to the world of Vtubers. Grab a snack, get comfortable, and get ready! You never know who you see next.

Tanner Banks

Writer

About the Author

Tanner's been covering the gaming industry for five years and loves covering independent developers and content creators.

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