The most popular individual YouTube creator, Felix ‘PewDiePie’ Kjellberg, has jumped on the VTuber trend, replacing his real self with a digital avatar on screen. Although his fans mostly welcomed the change, it has sparked controversy with the VTuber ‘subculture’ at large.
What is VTubing?
Simply replace the ‘You’ in YouTube with ‘Virtual’ and you have VTube — virtual versions of real people. It’s a trend that grew enormously in popularity in 2020, both on YouTube on Twitch livestreaming, with big names like Pokimane creating their own avatars.
For the more dedicated, creators’ entire online presence is through a virtual avatar, with fans rarely, if ever, seeing the person behind it all. Returning to YouTube in January 2021 after a long break, PewDiePie announced that he would be dropping his facecam in favor of an avatar.
PewDiePie’s VTubing sparks controversy
Perhaps unexpected by PewDiePie, his decision has drawn ire from the VTube community. Some argue that PewDiePie starting VTubing will be negative for smaller VTuber creators, claiming that his audience is “edgy” and could be hateful towards others.
The overriding message on social media, as PewDiePie began trending on Twitter, was that his fanbase would be toxic, and not understand the nuances of VTuber culture.
GUESS WHO’S CANCELLED: Pewdiepie getting backlash after doing a reverse face reveal and becoming Vtuber. Some expressed concern over what effect it could have on Vtuber community saying “do you really want edgy audience alongside of all the white supremacists in the audience.” pic.twitter.com/lvt29elQ97
— Def Noodles (@defnoodles) January 26, 2021
However, others argued that this was unfair, and that there was little harm to come from PewDiePie’s VTuber attempts.
Not looking to dwarfsplain here. Just i would advise considering that one of the largest content creators out there engaging in our subculture will bring more eyes and attention to it. I hope this yields a net-positive. I hope no one has to endure harassment from this.
— Horatius1214 (@horatius1214) January 25, 2021
A Twitter account called ‘VTuber fan cringe’ (make of that what you will) called the backlash against PewDiePie “collective derangement.”
— VTuber & VTuber Fan Cringe (@VTuberCringe) January 25, 2021
In an effort to quell the debate, Twitter account ‘VTuber Positivity’ started a hashtag to spread a more positive message.
“Please don’t use #VTuberUprising to incite hate against anyone or use it to call out Pewdiepie,” their message read. “What we did was big as it brings eyes towards our community, we are celebrating the new eyes towards us, not pewds.”
Please don't use #VTuberUprising to incite hate against anyone or use it to call out Pewdiepie. What we did was big as it brings eyes towards out community, we are celebrating the new eyes towards us, not pewds.
We are also celebrating Terry Crews acknowledging us.
— V-Tuber Positivity (@PositivityTuber) January 25, 2021
The hashtag ‘VTuberUprising‘ quickly began to spread across Twitter, and the platform described the trend as “Virtual streamers, also known as VTubers, have planned an online ‘uprising’ celebrating their community.”
Fans shared their favorite VTuber art and memes, and the positivity was mostly successful at overriding the controversy about PewDiePie’s latest video.
Whether Kjellberg plans to continue to use his avatar for all future videos or not remains to be seen. He may already have other plans for his next video.