VTubers have reached their inevitable conclusion

Twitch has always allowed for various forms of expression, so it was no surprise when VTubing found a home on the platform, quickly gaining popularity among English-speaking audiences in 2019. Since then, the novelty of avatar-based content may have worn off, but the format has stuck around. And VTubing agencies, which continue to introduce new talents and offer one of the more financially secure methods of pursuing this sort of content, are still holding on in an attempt to harness new talent.

VTubing exploded onto the wider North American and European markets when Cover Corporation launched the English branch of Hololive Production in 2020. Hololive’s English debut saw the introduction of long-standing talents in the English community, such as the extremely popular Gawr Gura (the most subscribed-to Hololive talent to date) and Ninomae Ina’nis. Even high-profile content creators like Pokimane pivoted toward using digital avatars weeks after Hololive’s first generation of English talents debuted. Brands, too: Remember the Tony the Tiger VTuber in August of 2022?

Many creators that jumped on the trend have since stopped using their avatars, but at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a large increase in VTubers on Twitch and other streaming platforms, like YouTube, as models and equipment became more accessible to the general public. Twitch has since gone on to highlight a wide variety of VTubers through its VTuber Takeover promotion, which most recently ran in August. Twitch also reported that VTubing-related content on the platform shot up by some 350% between January and August 2022. Despite this, some have argued that the VTubing bubble has all but burst.

“I do feel that VTubing has become less novel as the market has become more saturated,” says a streamer with agency Nijisanji who is not approved to speak publicly. “There are obviously some ups and downs when it comes to working with an agency as well, which requires a lot of patience if I’m honest. And there are some decisions that are made that sometimes don’t make a lot of sense.”

Agencies for VTubers manage their talents, often assigning them a manager that helps organize interviews, collaborations, paid promotions, and ad content on streams. Sometimes they can be financial advisors, but that is not always the case, as money made through agencies may include subscription or merchandise sales.

The source at Nijisanji notes that all talents within the agency are under nondisclosure agreements, which prevents them from sharing information with their audiences that could compromise their identity, or even inform viewers on why they could be graduating — which is effectively retirement for VTubers.

“Seeing agencies like Hololive and Nijisanji shut down entire branches or graduate talents without any real kind of information is heartbreaking for just about everyone involved in the process,” the source says.

In 2020, Hololive shuttered its Chinese division, graduating more than a handful of streamers. More recently, Nijisanji announced the abrupt graduation of one of its more prominent talents, Mysta Rias. He revealed that his choice to leave Nijisanji was due to burnout. And in August, the parent company of Hololive, Cover Corporation, announced that two talents would be graduating from its Holostars division barely a year after debuting. Statements from the graduating talents were not provided outside of an official announcement from Cover.

In some cases, VTubers are not given a choice and can be graduated prematurely, though the agency itself never specifies.

Independent VTuber NagamiMugi feels as though “corporate VTubing” is still a viable avenue for those looking to make a career out of the medium that can support content creation full-time. “I think VTubing content has become kind of stale,” she says. She goes on to mention that a lot of VTubers tend to be boxed into specific kinds of content — playing Minecraft or popular FPS games like Valorant. “In order for VTubing to continue to grow, VTubers need to branch out and create more content in line with other influencers,” she says.

Mugi says that if VTubers took cues from other content creators and explored options like lore analysis videos or short-form reviews, the scene wouldn’t be as stagnant. And like other VTubers, Mugi has dreams of going corporate. Already relatively successful, having created her own storefront that hosts collaborations and merchandise featuring other VTubers and artists, she has auditioned for several major agencies. She says that one agency asked if she would close down her business if she passed the interview phase and became one of its talents.

This isn’t entirely uncommon, as the source from Nijisanji mentions that some talents have been given strict restrictions as to what content they can and can’t create once their contracts with the agency expire. However, this can vary between talents and what is agreed upon between both the talent and the agency itself. So while agencies can be viable in terms of long-term growth for a creator, it is often strictly tied to the avatar associated with said agency. Both Hololive and Nijisanji give creators very little freedom in terms of presentation, whereas newer agencies such as Idol allow talents to create their own concepts. While that may feel overwhelming to some, it allows for the talents behind these models to flex their creativity and create a persona that otherwise wouldn’t fit neatly into the clearly defined boxes some agencies slot them into.

“Agencies should allow for talents to experiment, so long as it isn’t hurting anyone,” says the source. “Let people fail and still have that opportunity for growth in the future. More risk-taking and trying to branch out in other ways instead of simply just streaming or following preestablished methods.”

According to both of the people we interviewed for this story, this is an agreed-upon sentiment — that to prevent further stagnation, this not-so-niche form of content creation needs to reinvent itself and allow more freedom to its talents. Time will tell if larger agencies like Hololive (which reported 50% growth in its 2023 financial report) and Nijisanji will allow their talents to break the mold.