VTubers: The Culture and Business (CoAF 2023 Panel)

I didn’t make a blog post about Colorado Anime Fest this year because it was largely the same as the previous iteration. I reprised my Kirito cosplay on Saturday and spent most of the weekend attending panels, relaxing in the manga library, and hanging around the video game room; the video room was unfortunately not present this year (which the grapevine tells me was due to licensing issues.)

However, on Sunday, I tried something new by presenting a panel of my own. The panel was themed around VTubers, and was largely inspired by NOTS Podcast episode #82, which thoroughly covered the topic. It’s the same panel idea I initially submitted to NDK last year (and didn’t hear back about). For CoAF, I submitted the panelist application on January 26th and received an acceptance message on February 15th, giving me about a month to prepare for the scheduled time slot on March 12th.

As an attendee, I’ve been to great panels and not-so-great panels, and I wanted my own panel to be useful. The idea was that if someone walked in on a whim with no real idea of what VTubers were, they’d walk out with enough of a basic understanding to try watching some, or to consider becoming one themselves. The short description in the convention program was:

Who are all these avatars showing up on your Twitch feed?! Learn about VTubers (virtual YouTubers), the latest online media format originating in Japan. Once a niche genre, VTubers are now being signed by major record labels and showing up for collaborations in traditional media. Explore how this industry got its start, including some major players still around today (and others that aren’t), and deep-dive into the technology, fandom, and revenue models that make it all possible.

On Saturday night, my co-panelist (Cody) and I went out to dinner with a number of other people from the Anime Fans 20s/30s of Denver Meetup group. He still had a few more things he wanted to slip into our slideshow but hadn’t sent over to me yet. After depriving myself of sleep at some late-night panels (as is tradition), I got back home sometime after midnight and received his updates just before 2:00 AM.

My co-panelist Cody sends me some last-minute changes for our slideshow.

According to the Google Docs edit history, I managed to wake up around 8:00 AM and worked on integrating those changes until 8:51 AM. At 9:01 AM, I began loading my video and presentation equipment into my car and texted Cody that I’d be on my way to the con soon. Now here’s where things get interesting: by the time I arrived, I still hadn’t heard back.

I slowly realize that I’m about to present solo.

After unloading my car, I texted Cody from outside of our panel room (Panel Room 1, the largest one, by the way) at 9:37 AM. I then went into the room and began setting up; the CoAF volunteer assigned to the room initially asked me to move my tripod out of the large convenient space I’d placed it in out of concern for ADA compliance, but he let me keep it there after I assured him I’d move it the moment I saw anyone with a wheelchair come in. The projector was a little too close to the screen (so the image overflowed off the edges), and the volunteer technician wasn’t able to fix it, but having seen much worse at conventions, it was close enough for me.

At 9:56, four minutes before the panel was scheduled to start, I texted Cody one more time. Yet again, I didn’t hear back. So with no other choice, seated in front of a half-full room of tired but anticipating convention-goers, I presented it by myself. The slideshow can be found at coaf23-vtuber-panel.nots.co, and a video recording of the panel is below:

All in all, I was extremely pleased with how it went. I performed well considering the circumstances; I was a little shaky on some of the items Cody was supposed to present (especially those last-minute additions he wanted me to slip in), and I had to make do with a combination of improvising based on my own knowledge and reading from the notes I’d put into the slideshow file.

The tech demo not working was unfortunate. If I’d known it wasn’t going to work, I would have skipped trying to connect my phones to the laptop and simply demonstrated the manual-control elements of VTube Studio on their own. The thing is, I’d successfully established the WiFi connection just days before when testing out the software, and I ended up connecting successfully again once I was back home. I still don’t know why the laptops weren’t connecting to WiFi that morning, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have happened had I not been running Linux. The fallback method of using a webcam in lieu of a phone also didn’t work through WINE. For future presentations involving that software, I’m going to make sure to have Windows installed.

I realized while watching the video later that I invited someone up to the stage but didn’t give her an opportunity to go back down to the audience; the plan was to circle back to troubleshooting at the end of the panel, but there didn’t end up being time for that. That quirk aside, the slideshow and my narration went without any major hitches, and after formally ending the panel, I had a quick conversation with one of the attendees while packing up my equipment before exiting back out to the hallway and texting Cody again. The whole thing was over by 10:54 AM.

Cody finally got back to me almost two hours later, having woken up around 12:40 PM. Apparently, he’d fallen asleep in the back seat of his car. His car was parked at his military dormitory, and after a passerby reported a suspicious sighting, he woke up to a police officer making him take a breathalyzer test.

My co-panelist explains where he was during our panel.

I’ve had mixed reactions while recounting this story to various people, with some of them understandably being put off by my buddy’s flakiness. While I agree it wasn’t a great thing to do, I was really running the show with this panel from the start, and he’d offered to co-host simply to help increase the odds of the panel being accepted (since panels with multiple hosts may have an edge over individually-run panels). Cody has a minor speech impediment, and he’d been planning for me to do most of the talking even if he had been there. So while I definitely got put a little more on the spot than I’d been expecting, this wasn’t actually as critical of an issue as it could have been.

Aside from that, CoAF was (almost) everything I expected it to be a second time. The lack of a video room was a bummer given that it was a highlight for me last year, but I still had a good time in the manga library. I ran into the folks I played board games with last year in the video game room this year, and lost in a fighting game before winning at Mario Kart.

Posing with cosplay enthusiast and Meetup group photographer Luke!

I want to give another shout-out to my friend Luke for encouraging me to wear the cosplay again when he saw me on Friday. The wig had gotten seriously tangled up from my post-NDK storage, and he offered to help get it back in action after breakfast Saturday morning. We ended up bringing it inside for even more assistance from our friend Jess, and got it into good enough shape to last for the rest of the day. I’ve decided the next costume with a wig that I wear will need to have short hair.

I submitted the VTuber panel one more time to NDK 2023, and after initially leaving me in silence long after other panelists were contacted, I eventually received an acceptance email, so Cody and I will be touching up the presentation for another run at Denver’s other anime convention. If you happen to be in Colorado during that one, feel free to stop by; otherwise, I hope the recorded panel introduced you to something new!

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