Hololive founder YAGOO explains VTuber agency origins during fifth anniversary

Hololive group photo with JP generationsHololive

Hololive is celebrating its fifth anniversary in September 2022, and it’s been a long road for founder Motoaki ‘YAGOO’ Tanigo and his talents. The VTuber agency was never intended to be one according to him, Tokino Sora, and Shirakami Fubuki ⁠— but rather a happy coincidence.

Hololive is the name synonymous with VTubing in 2022. The agency has become a global phenomenon, boasting the biggest talents in the world, booking out massive concerts, and filling convention halls as hundreds of thousands of people watch them daily.

It’s a far cry from the game developer COVER Corp used to be six years ago, and the 13 viewers Tokino Sora — who just broke 1 million YouTube subscribers — got on her debut stream on September 7, 2017. 

When Hololive was being conceptualized, VTubing wasn’t even a thing.

“At the time the term ‘VTuber’ didn’t exist yet,” YAGOO explained during Hololive’s fifth-anniversary broadcast. “Instead we wanted to try creating a service based on VR that would allow people across the world to come together. 

“We started with a VR table tennis game to do just that. We handed it out for free, so it really didn’t earn us anything at all… but as a free VR table tennis game, it did have a large impact even outside Japan.”

However, while the VR table tennis game wasn’t driving much revenue, there was a stark pivot when Kizuna AI came onto the scene in 2016. YAGOO and the few other employees at COVER Corp saw the potential to turn their VR games into something more interactive with characters.

“I’d already worked on character promotion [marketing] at a different company before starting COVER and so we created a system for a VR character to provide live commentary even while developing the table tennis game. 

“It continued growing from there, and around the end of 2016 and Kizuna AI appeared and brought the term ‘Virtual YouTuber’ with her, we thought to ourselves that we could do the same. That’s when we kind of changed direction.”

Tokino Sora HololiveHololive
Tokino Sora, Hololive’s first VTuber, has grown a lot in five years.

Tokino Sora’s debut was a quiet affair with COVER Corp staff and 13 other people, commonly known as the “13 Knights” within VTuber circles, showing up. Sora herself said she was “super nervous… [but] I still remember being happy that a whole 13 people came to watch me.”

The once-a-week streams soon ramped in intensity, and Hololive finally started onboarding new members like Shirakami Fubuki.

The new talents came from various different backgrounds. Some were aspiring idols, others were gamers who just wanted to stream using a different look. Fubuki reminisced on some of the funny stories of Generation 1 while starting up.

“We had some members with zero streaming experience,” she said. “Especially Aki Rosenthal. She didn’t know how to stream at all back then, and she didn’t even have the equipment for it. She had to use other methods like streaming from her smartphone.

“Nowadays we’re streaming on our PCs but we weren’t sure what to do when we started out, so there was a lot of trial and error. In Aki’s case, she didn’t know how to use a PC. She had to ask us for advice and we taught her.”

Shirakami Fubuki Hololive VTuberYouTube: Shirakami Fubuki

Now though Hololive has more than 70 talents globally ⁠— most recently debuting holoTEMPUS, the first all-male English-speaking group ⁠⁠— with millions of followers on social media. While five years is a long time, Fubuki said it felt like it passed in an instant.

“It all feels really nostalgic, but when I look back on it, it all seems like it happened yesterday. But Hololive is going to keep on going, so I’m really excited for all of the even greater things we’ll do. I’m looking forward to it all.”

As for what the future of Hololive looks like, YAGOO says there are big plans to expand internationally, but at the same time, COVER Corp is more than a VTuber agency. While they’ve pushed the boundaries with technology, they want to keep pressing the issue. After all, what was once a VR table tennis game has turned into one of the internet’s most lucrative industries.

“Our company also deals with software development so one of our selling points is how we can still develop these apps. Using technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, one of our goals is to develop such apps that can be enjoyed by everyone. 

“Even as a VTuber agency, the company’s developments in tech will continue to progress.

“Now that I look back on it all, it really was a jam-packed five years. At the same time, it reminded me of our early growing pains. It’s all thanks to the tireless efforts of the talents, staff, and everyone involved.”