How Odyssey found their home in the VTuber community with Omega Strikers
Influencer marketing is everywhere nowadays as streamers promote the biggest games on the market. Odyssey Interactive took a different approach with Omega Strikers though, going all in on VTubing to build their future alongside the growing medium.
When Odyssey Interactive first started work on Omega Strikers, there were a smattering of ideas. The developer, made up of former Riot Games members, had the arduous task of mind mapping dozens of concepts and honing in on something new and exciting.
The 3v3 Rocket League-meets-anime game, with MOBA elements added on top, was eventually what they settled on. But it wasn’t enough to launch this game into the wild and hope for the best, especially when competing with big developers and other indie titles.
That’s where VTubing came into the picture, according to Odyssey Interactive President Dax Andrus, as they tried to drum up hype and build their community.
“When we were thinking about all the things we could do as an indie developer and get our game out there into the world, VTubing seemed like one of those spaces everyone was sleeping on,” Andrus told Dexerto.
“A lot of developers take a weird approach of viewing it as some weird anime thing. For us, at the core of the game is this anime aesthetic so there’s this natural connectivity with VTubers even from the beginning.”
Developers are always looking for ways to market their game, especially at launch. VTubing is this ever-expanding form of content to tap into with a hyperactive fandom. It ties into the anime feel Omega Strikers was leaning towards.
The thing about the animated streaming medium is, from an outsider’s perspective, it’s hard to understand. An inauthentic campaign will capture headlines and raise some eyebrows, but wouldn’t necessarily keep Omega Strikers in players’ consciousness.
Enter Cloud9’s cosmic dragon and VTuber herself: Vienna. She had always wanted to work in game development — while she was a Zoology major at college, Vienna had a massive interest in the data and science behind game design. Her love of League of Legends drove her to apply to work at Riot, but she fell short at the final hurdle.
“At Riot I was interviewing to be on their Gameplay Analysis Team, which is the high elo team where they play the game, giving feedback on how to improve it competitively with balance changes,” she told Dexerto.
“I spoke to some friends, and they let me know a Rioter was leaving to create a studio in Canada. I was super interested and I contacted Richard [Henkel, another Odyssey founder] if he had any positions opening [at Odyssey] for that in the future.
“A year later he actually sent me an inbox and said ‘hey, we’ve got this position opening but it’s a complicated one as a jack-of-all-trades with a lot of focus on marketing, community, general gap-filling.’”
Omega Strikers didn’t appeal to Vienna on paper, she admitted. The MOBA-style aspects appealed to the inner League of Legends fanatic, but Rocket League? Soccer? That wasn’t her jam. But she could have never been more wrong.
“I hopped in for a playtest before I accepted the position, and when I tried the game, it was one of the most fun things I ever played. It looked like sh*t at that point, it was the most janky thing, but it was incredibly fun. That’s when I said I’d work with the studio.”
Things weren’t 100% set in stone there, but this chain of events led to Omega Strikers fortifying itself into the consciousness of the VTuber community.
Now with a live open beta, Odyssey have revealed a VTuber of their own, Sonii, and hosted an invitational tournament to highlight the space. They also integrated those virtual content creators with their ‘flesh’ counterparts with the Creator VS event, giving crossovers between the mediums and also engaging communities in a new way.
Creating a virtual face for a game studio
Odyssey and Omega Strikers’ integration of VTubers is not a ground-breaking concept. Other companies have virtual characters to promote their products and services. Hime, Crunchyroll’s mascot, even streams on Twitch and collaborates with other stars in the space with anime watch parties and general gaming sessions.
Applying that to a game studio was something new though. Vienna’s role at Omega Strikers was primarily working on community engagement and marketing, and this all coincided with her own VTuber debut.
She was organizing playtests and helping grow a presence for Odyssey. She had the background as an influencer, and also had this new and exciting thing going in the VTubing space. The success of that got the gears turning on how it could help Omega Strikers.
“Whatever I could think of that would help the company, I was allowed to do,” she explained. “Before they hired me, they knew I was planning my VTuber debut. I went into it telling them ‘I have this big thing coming up I’ve been planning for a while, it won’t affect my work but I’ll be doing this on the side’.
“I was living two separate lives — working for Odyssey while pumping out TikToks, doing my projects for my VTuber debut, and streaming every day. When they saw I had a proficiency in that, having amassed a large following on TikTok, that’s when they were like ‘we should be thinking about that stuff.’
That fleeting idea, more than one year ago, eventually turned into Sonii, the “energetic and loveable bat who works very hard at her new job for Odyssey.”
The path to getting to Sonii, however, wasn’t as straightforward as just commissioning an artist and rigger and getting the model together. It required a lot of teaching and learning, and experimentation within the game itself.
“From the very beginning I was trying to bring VTuber culture in,” Vienna said. “There’s a character, Ai-Mi. Originally she was named Eleven but I pitched it’d be cool if we explored a character similar to Ninomae Ina’nis from Hololive — a really beautiful, sexy octopus girl — and that was the first time they heard about VTuber stuff. I was like this could fit for this type of character.
“It was funny to hear some of the older people at the studio be like ‘what the heck’, but Dax was the one person I think that is why Odyssey has ever done anything different. He doesn’t know VTubers perfectly, but he knows VTubers are important. He’s engrossed in anime style, and from the beginning, he wanted to create something that felt authentic to youth and not pretending to make things they’d like.
“A couple of months into it, I was thinking about how no one else has a VTuber and we should do one. I thought we could transform one of our characters, or do one that was separate, and one of the projects I worked on was moodboarding it, figuring out the role they’d fulfill.”
Odyssey collaborated with Live2D group Iron Vertex to bring the project into fruition. Led by Vienna, they explored what a VTuber to represent the company would look like. They would have a work uniform, obviously, and be “kind of nerdy”. However, there was a real drive to make her feel tangible within the Omega Strikers universe, without actually being in the game.
Over time that idea got finessed. They gave Sonii some animal elements inspired by bats, one of Vienna’s favorite animals, because “in my research of VTubers, a lot of the most successful VTubers have an animal counterpart or part of them,” she stated.
They didn’t want Sonii to just be a character though. Sonii was as much a part of Odyssey Interactive as any of the developers. Not only that, but the developers could see little bits of themselves in her.
“That thing about how having a VTuber model can mitigate some of the downsides of always having to be on camera, or feeling like you have to present yourself in a specific way to your community all the time, that also exists as a developer,” Andrus said.
“None of us at Odyssey are the type who wants to get in front of a camera and be like ‘Hi! Here’s the patch update!’ and talk you through all these things.
“We had to do it a little bit at Riot, and for all of us who did it it was like ‘oh you know players are going to slam you with all these memes.’ When I did one for TFT, I had been working a lot so I was super tired and I was almost falling asleep in the thing. The meme was like ‘they’re locking Dax in the dungeon to give us the best player experience possible and he’s so tired he can’t stay awake.’
“For us we thought a much more interesting way to create a face for the studio and then handle things like event updates would be through a VTuber which feels more aesthetically tied to the game and the world we’re building, and you can get the opportunity to do tie-ins with the character and the game, but then also as a developer take a bit of pressure off of putting everyone in front of a camera all the time.”
It also gives Odyssey the chance to grow alongside a medium which is thriving: “VShojo, NIJISANJI, Hololive — the whole ecosystem is going to grow and we want to be there alongside it.”
Treating VTubers like every other streamer
Odyssey’s commitment to the VTuber space doesn’t stop with just creating their own mascot. They want to help elevate existing creators.
The support came very early on. Due to Vienna’s ties to the VTuber community, naturally playtests were full of virtual creators. The anime-inspired art tied nicely into it all thematically. But it wasn’t just the big Twitch and YouTube stars getting in early, it was creators of all shapes and sizes.
“I pushed to invite players, and while a lot of them weren’t on our influencer radar, I made sure they were added because I was managing a lot of that,” Vienna said. “We had someone on the inside who knew the VTuber community and knew all the people in it — even the smaller ones.
“If you think about it, the only VTuber exclusive thing in [our marketing plan] was Sonii and the VTuber Invitational, and those happened well after release. Before that, there wasn’t anything VTuber-y but they were excited about it, and that’s from integrating them pre-release in the community and trying the game.”
What they did do was give them the chance to shine alongside their fleshy streamer counterparts. The Creator VS event on the open beta launch had a smattering of content creators from all backgrounds. It allowed streamers to harness their fan bases to play for them. A win in Omega Strikers counted as a point, with the top three at the end of it all earning a skin in-game.
“If it’s a leaderboard where I’m telling my fans to go out there and play games on my behalf, that’s fun,” Andrus said. “You can see that with creators like MoistCr1TiKal where the reaction from his community was like ‘this is the closest I’ll ever get to playing for Moist Esports so get me in there.’
“By getting everyone involved in that kind of way, you can create these much more interesting and engaging stories. It makes it much more fun to be a part of the community rather than watching and consuming content.”
There was Sykkuno and MoistCr1TiKal, but then there was also Onigiri, a VTuber known for her cooking content. The fact it wasn’t just a “Twitch Rivals competition of sorts” and something she could engage her community, Onimart, in was interesting. She saw first-hand how the integration in-game brought her closer to her fans, and vice versa.
“I was actually really touched that my Discord community held a few game nights for the event,” she told Dexerto. “I played on stream once, and held a community game night where I played with everyone and I think they enjoyed the bonding time and just having fun with everybody.
“It’s a known fact I’m not much of a gamer, so I totally understand if it’s hard to rally a community behind a content creator that’s not in that space, so that’s why it felt especially special when we placed eighth in the whole tourney.
“I liked this creative approach to not just find content creators to push this new game, but also to get their own respective communities involved like it was a big group event.”
Having those VTubers brush shoulders with regular streamers does help break down the barriers though, and it’s something Odyssey wants to continue doing.
“We don’t see the VTuber creators as fundamentally different to the other creators that were in the event,” Andrus said. “They’re creating content, they have communities who love them and their content. There are some differences in terms of them having to set up a model and rig and sit in front of a phone to do all the capture, but it’s a relationship that exists between a creator and their community, and we didn’t see that as fundamentally different to someone like Moist.”
This then led to things like the aforementioned VTuber Invitational, with eight teams of VTubers getting together in a competitive setting and duking it out. It’s nothing special — it’s just a tournament and VTubers just happen to be the players — but it’s a significant moment for the space to be recognized in that capacity.
It had some iconic moments too. When you have Selen Tatsuki and Finana Ryugu piloting their teams of NIJISANJI talents against each other, the trash talk is immaculate. But it also gave a chance for the community to interact with each other, with Omega Strikers facilitating that connection.
“We didn’t just get the top end of the VTuber ecosystem,” Andrus said. “We tried to get some indies who have been a core part of our community for a while, pulled people who are up and coming stars, and put them alongside the bigger organizations to really show we’re interested in building this community for the long run
“When the NIJISANJI teams played each other that’s one thing, but then you’ve got Zentreya playing against Vienna — they have a relationship so you have interesting back and forth “I wish the community could have seen the Discord chat where we were facilitating the tournament and all the crazy sh*t talk.”
The response to the event was surprising too: “One of the interesting things we have found is the communities behind VTubers are some of the most dedicated, engaged communities you see in the whole gaming space. The fandom that exists for specific VTubers is wild,” Andrus said.
“It’s funny because I’ve seen from developers a whole gamut of different reactions to VTubing generally. You get the developers like us who are super excited about it and see it as an awesome new avenue for the content creator space to take that we want to explore. Then there’s the far other end of ‘what’s this weird anime stuff going on?’
“The distribution of that is shifting more over time, even in the developer space, in seeing the value and being supportive of VTubers.”
That’s the future power in VTubing creators want developers to see, and something Odyssey will continue to highlight. VTubers are just streamers at the end of the day, just virtual ones. There might be some resistance from a minority who aren’t 100% accepting of this new style, but that doesn’t invalidate their existence, Vienna says.
“I was on the LCS broadcast twice, and a lot of people were averse to it and thought it was weird and creepy. Doublelift was co-streaming and he said something like ‘even though this isn’t something I’m personally interested in, you guys are sounding like boomers. You guys are like the people your grandparents were who look at something and hate it because they don’t understand it. This is the future, this is going to happen, and you can either try to understand it or you can continue acting like this.’
“I was thinking of that when I was working at Odyssey — it doesn’t matter if some people are turned off by this, they can just not participate in that one small aspect of it if they don’t want to, but the positive aspect of doing this is we get to appreciate and capture a market no one else seems to understand or try to cater to.”
It’s a growing space, and there’s plenty of potential. There just needs to be an understanding of that, and a way to get the foot in the door, to make it beneficial to all parties.
“I think this was a great direction to take especially when the VTuber community is slowly growing, and slowly becoming more commonplace and ‘mainstream,’” Onigiri added. “It’s nice to see we’re not just a niche, and it was fun to see other streamers’ stickers pop up during games, and have all the different chats and communities mingle while being brought together over a fun game.
“This kind of style of combining fleshtubers and VTubers together is a really great way of introducing new content creators in general to more people; as opposed to viewers who only watch fleshtubers because that’s all they know, or VTuber watchers who only like anime waifus.
“I have high hopes that eventually our communities will be able to mingle and we can collaborate with whomever we want. Anybody can be a vtuber, anybody can be a fleshtuber, and there are no hidden boundaries between anybody.”
Omega Strikers is a case study of that potential: an authentic way of integrating VTubing into a game’s community, breaking down the barriers between streaming mediums, and just seeing it as another form of content creation. It’s not an easy realm to understand, but they’re committed for the long term.
“If you’re a developer and you do not work normally in the VTuber community, you should find someone to help you navigate it and do something that feels authentic,” Andrus explained. “If we had done this on our own without the advice or guidance of a lot of members in the community, Sonii would not be as awesome as Sonii is. The collaboration we had with Iron Vertex may not have happened.
“We wanted to put our best foot forward, go out there, and say we’re serious about supporting the VTuber community for Omega Strikers.”