How Ironmouse’s subathon brought VTubers to the forefront of streaming

Ironmouse smiling next to twitch logoTwitch: Ironmouse / Twitch

VTubing was once considered a fringe part of streaming, sequestered into its little corner of the internet. VShojo star Ironmouse changed that in 2022 with her record-breaking subathon. Reaching hundreds of thousands — if not millions — across the world, this mighty mouse from Puerto Rico brought VTubers to the forefront of streaming.

Projekt Melody, one of Ironmouse’s sidekicks at VShojo, remembers the first time she ever saw her.

“I saw this little pink character sing the most beautiful song ⁠— that classic opera Ave Maria, and my heart exploded into a million pieces,” she reminisced. 

“I’ve never seen a beautiful anime girl sing Ave Maria and I was tearing up.

“She had 50 followers [at the time]. Having 50 people be in the same room as you and agree with you and think you’re awesome is already an achievement. Two years later and she has over a million. How unfathomable, mind boggling, is that?”

As unfathomable as it may seem, it’s a rather poetic description of Ironmouse’s journey. Her entire VTuber career ⁠— her entire life ⁠— has been this remarkable quest. The Puerto Rican streamer might have a relatively unassuming presence on Twitch. Yes she’s the embodiment of Satan in this cute pink demon-slash-mouse, but she’s never really been one for the limelight.

That all changed, though, when suddenly tens of thousands were tuning in watching every second of her life for 31 days straight

Ironmouse had taken on the challenge of a subathon in February 2022. Popularized by Ludwig Ahgren, who broke (and still holds) the Twitch subscriber record with his own nonstop broadcast in 2021, it sees streamers stay live for as long as their viewers dictate. Every donation and subscription adds time onto the clock ⁠— anything from a second, to five seconds, to a whole minute. The stream doesn’t end until that clock hits zero.

It was a novelty thing at the time on Twitch. The flavor of the month, the meta. For any regular streamer, they could just click “Start Streaming” in OBS and go for as long as they wanted. But Ironmouse had more preparation to do than most.

Ironmouse singing into mic on TwitchTwitch: Ironmouse
Ironmouse’s subathon was a month-long event full of singing, gaming, and sleeping.

The VTuber has a chronic illness called common variable immune deficiency (CVID), as well as a lung condition. She has been living within the four walls of her bedroom almost non-stop for years, on oxygen and away from the outside world. However since she started streaming ⁠— behind her virtual avatar back in 2017 ⁠— she always had one goal.

“For a long time, I always wanted to do a marathon stream,” Ironmouse explained to Dexerto. “When I first started streaming I could only stream for an hour, two hours, as I was still having a lot of health issues.

“I’d see people do these long streams and I wanted to do that so bad. I’ve had this desire to always want to do that but it never seemed to happen for me.

“Suddenly after [the global health crisis], I started growing a lot more and more opportunities started coming. I started making more money and taking better care of myself and I realized that slowly but surely my time online would increase. I would start at 1-2 hours, but then I could go for three hours, then four, and it wasn’t until my birthday [in 2020] that I realized ‘holy crap I could maybe do this.’ 

“The longest stream I ever did was seven hours and I thought maybe I could do more but I was afraid. I wouldn’t call it training but I kept slowly increasing my time and then finally the desire to do a subathon overtook me.”

When Ironmouse put her ducks in a row to make the subathon happen, she wasn’t expecting much. Maybe she would be live for a few days, a week at most. If only it was that merciful. 

Ironmouse ended up being on stream for a month straight. Viewers followed her every move with very little privacy beyond the avatar. She had to dip off stream from time to time, but otherwise she was at her computer playing games, singing karaoke-style, chatting with viewers, or sleeping (she even had a little bed asset made for her model instead of just standing there motionless).

Friends dropped in, saying hello in an open Discord call which was active basically 24/7. There were some regular faces there: voice actor and Twitch star in his own right Connor ‘CDawg’ Colquhoun was a popular figure, and so too other VShojo girls like Silvervale.

“It felt like a constant podcast,” Silver said. “It was always really interesting what people were talking about. The conversations were crazy. 

“It was funny when she would be sleeping and we would try to be really weird and affect her dreams ⁠— at one point she actually had a dream about something we were talking about which was kind of funny. It was nice to always have people around.”

The subathon wasn’t all smooth sailing. Being live for that long is bound to have its ups and downs. 

One unconsidered side effect of the megastream was seeing her other work pile up. Collaborations had to be postponed (or pulled onto the subathon), voice recordings delayed; the list was growing alongside her subscriber count.

“After time started passing and it was X day I was like ‘oh my God’,” Ironmouse laughed. “It’s funny because at that point I was like ‘whatever happens, happens’. Around the 28 day mark I realized I had so many projects I needed to work on that I needed to find a way to end this.”

There were some smaller things too. She ran out of content ideas quite quickly, which saw her subathon transform and evolve over time. And while she considers herself an “extrovert” and her number one goal on Twitch was to “make friends”, her social battery was pretty drained.

There were criticisms among all the praise. Some labeled the stream boring, and once you hit 28 days of repeating the same things over and over it makes sense ⁠— even Mouse agrees

But the actual content of the subathon didn’t mean as much as two things: the person (or avatar) who was on it, and the audiences it was capturing.

“I was terrified in the very beginning because there were so many people there,” Projekt Melody said. “She knew the same fear ⁠— more now because she was getting attention for being her authentic self as well, killing it, and showing the world ‘hey I’m this very niche thing, I’m hilarious, and we’re just as valid as any other entertainer.

“She took [her] situation and she turned it into something beautiful and made her dreams come true because she’s this powerful force of a person,” Nyanners added. “Getting to see her reach those heights in front of everyone and see how happy she was and accomplish something she deserves a million times over.

“So many people got converted to the dark side of VTubing because of her.”

It got to the point where you couldn’t help but cheer for her, donate a little bit to raise the timer, and see her live out her dream of that on mega marathon stream against the odds.

“I remember when we first met back in 2020,” Zentreya recalled. “It was near the end, she was this super shy girl who just really wanted to make some friends. She had told me about her health and stuff and it really reminded me of my mom when she was fighting her sickness. I saw a lot of my mom in her, and seeing her just push forward with her life at that moment, still being able to have fun, being scared somewhat, but still wanting to do what she wanted to do was amazing. 

“Watching her slowly grow and grow and grow into this huge idol for so many others. Some of who have the same sickness or have an illness or disability, they cheer her on too. That’s something that really just opens your eyes and you want her to succeed. You want her to be up there and pushing past the stars and becoming one.”

Ironmouse subathon recordTwitch: Ironmouse
Ironmouse is now the face of VTubing on Twitch, living out her dreams.

And as the records came tumbling down — first KKatamina’s record for the most-subbed to woman on Twitch, and then 100,000 subs before ending at around 170,000 — so did the tears.

“It was really emotional and I was really proud of her,” Silver said. “I was on at the end of the subathon when we were saying goodbye and crying. It’s really special and it was nice for people to realise that VTubers aren’t a fad, we aren’t just weird anime people.”

The impacts of Mousey’s subathon were felt just as widely as Ludwig’s back in 2021 too. It sparked a new wave of streamers, specifically VTubers, going live for as long as possible in their own marathon streams.

“I think Mousey started the subathon meta in the VTuber community,” Veibae explained. “So many streamers are doing it now, there’s like 20 streamers I know who had a subathon right after Mousey because of how successful it was. I’m pretty sure every VTuber has done a subathon after Mousey’s, everyone was on at all times. It was fun. 

“It was so cool because you could literally click on one stream to another and see them all. Even timezone wise, some would be sleeping, some would be hanging out, others playing games. It’s VTuber Big Brother.”

There’s these broad strokes about how Ironmouse’s subathon helped VTubers get off the ground in the Western market on Twitch ⁠— one look at the VTubers tag nowadays and you’ll find thousands of streamers behind their wildly-varying avatars live at any time.

Yes, anyone you ask will unanimously say Ironmouse’s subathon put VTubers out there more than they already were, and that the scene is slowly getting destigmatized.

“I feel like a lot more eyes were on us after that happened,” Ironmouse stated. “I see a lot more VTubers around, interacting with the community and it makes me happy because I know it’s different what we do, but at the end of the day we’re still streamers and we’re all the same.

Above it all though, the subathon is ultimately about one Puerto Rican girl who had a dream of making friends and sharing her life with them. There was no obligation to be there, but thousands were, and it made for an unforgettable month.

“I cried a lot,” she continued. “I know people that watch me, they care and they like me. I like them too, I’m happy that they’re there. I’m honored people take time out of their day to spend it with me because time is very valuable and you don’t have to be here but they were. It touched my heart so much, especially people who were very enthusiastic about keeping me online and it was a surreal experience and it was wonderful.”

Just don’t ask Ironmouse to pick a single favorite bit: “My favorite moment… all of it! It was all great. Every minute of it was great. I had so much fun, and it was just incredible.”

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