How VTubing is taking over – OffKai Expo (Gen 2)

VTubers. Virtual idols. Anonymous stars hiding their identities.

This was the theme of OffKai Expo, a convention based around VTubers, or virtual entertainers. Held in Burlingame, California (SF Bay Area), the three-day event is the first VTube-focused con in North America.

I’ve been to many events over the years, but going to VTubing con was a first for me.

As OffKai Expo was in its second year, dubbed Gen 2, I was excited for this one. The VTubing scene has taken off in recent years, with the 20-40 year old demographic taking a big liking to their favorite VTubers. Many of my friends were already in the VTubing scene and had their favorite virtual entertainers, known as VTubers. They swore how it was the next pop culture trend to take off. I wanted to see the hype around the VTubing scene.

Thus, my VTubing arc began.

The world of VTubing: a blend of anime and streaming

An exhibitor’s booth called Phase Connect is promoting their VTubers and selling merch.

Stepping into OffKai Expo on Day 1, I was greeted by screens all over the con. From the artist alley, the various booths, and even the panels, the VTubers were projected on these monitors. Posters of people’s favorite VTubers were everything at the con. Merch of these VTuber avatars were sold at the Artist Alley.

While the VTuber avatars had similar aesthetics to anime characters and pulls heavily from anime cons, it also pulls from another genre. Namely, the streaming culture of TwitchCon.

The Meet-and-Greet sessions were a popular venue, as fans got 60 seconds to meet and talk to their favorite VTubers via screen. Of course, the minute time limit often went past that time, as both fans and VTubers had plenty to talk about in that short span.

A public VTuber session with an audience.

Outside the more personal Meet-and-Greet sessions, there were also public meet sessions where an audience would talk to their favorite VTubers. These more open events had plenty of laughter, as the audience would frequently go back-and-forth and banter with the VTubers.

A lot of the topics were on the playful and at times, a bit spicy and naughty, to the delight of the audience. From watching audience and VTubers interact, the fans felt quite comfortable talking to these popular virtual entertainers. The conversations flowed well and felt like friends were talking, instead of a fan talking to a huge influencer and becoming nervous or intimidated.

VTubers would also move around the con. Many would “walk” around the con with a small crew rolling around a screen and audio equipment. I was wondering how VTubers would reenact the physical experience of actually being at a con. But with a screen and a bit of human help, it was similar to having a VTuber actually there.

(For the record, I heard many VTubers were actually at the con, but streaming in secret rooms to keep their anonymity.)

However, there were some VTubers that actually showed up in person. Now I thought that defeated the whole purpose of a virtual idol event and being anonymous. However, I learned that some VTubers show their face around 10 to 20% of the time on stream, while most of the time, use their avatar.

Lucid Multimedia is a VTubing agency from the Bay Area. They had over 1,000 applicants for their auditions.

For these influencers, it resembles the best of both worlds: Not being afraid of exposing your identity, since people already know what you look like. Yet, still being a VTuber with their avatar usually being featured on their streams.

There were also a lot of recruitment and “scouting for talent” posters and stands around the con. I overheard many fans that dream about breaking into VTubing. For these hopefuls, OffKai provided an excellent way to try and “shoot your shot” to these labels.

Curious to how the VTubing recruitment process worked, I talked with several VTubing agencies. While many do ask for your standard resume or even a LinkedIn profile, these weren’t the most important factors in landing an interview. The key factors were a portfolio and if these applicants already had a streaming presence online, whether that would be on Twitch, YouTube, or another video or streaming platform.

Many agencies also told me that they often receive over 1,000 applicants for 2-3 openings. The competition is fierce, as it’s a dream job for many.

Since getting into a VTuber label gives hopefuls pay, branding, and the marketing of that label, it jump-starts many VTubers’ career into sudden relevance.

Merch of popular VTubers can be had.
Stickers were a popular merch item at OffKai.

As for the layout of OffKai, since it’s only in its second year, the con had a smaller, comfy feel to it. The con had many venues you’d find at an anime con. They had an Artist Alley, an Exhibitor’s Hall, panels, and booths. Many vendors sold keychains, stickers, posters, and artwork. But instead of these merch having famed anime characters on them, they had their favorite VTubers.

As a newcomer to the VTubing world, at first, I didn’t know who were the big VTubers. But I quickly found out who were the popular ones from people at OffKai (they’re so nice!), as well as what was selling out fast, such as Ironmouse and Mori Calliope merch.

Half fun, half business con

A busienss panel breaking down Nijisanji’s demographics.
The growth of VTubers over the years.

A big reason why I think OffKai Expo resembles more TwitchCon is it had a business feel to it. For people that’s never been to TwitchCon, panel rooms often have complimentary notebooks on top of each seat. Topic panels ranged from “How to grow your stream as a newcomer,” “Best equipment to use under a certain budget” and “How to pick a niche and own it.”

While taking notes was not mandatory, people often did so, as there was a big emphasis on learning.

VTuber stands were a frequent sight at Offkai Expo.

OffKai Expo had that similar learning vibe to it. There were business panels on the state of VTubing, an analytics panel, and panels on best VTubing gear. As a complete newbie coming into the VTubing world, these panels were extremely helpful in learning about creating a new VTubing stream, the audience that watches Tubers, and the business side of things. I spent a good portion of my OffKai experience in panels, as I throughly enjoyed the educational side of the con.

For people that want that “half fun, half educational/business” side of a convention, Offkai Expo may be up your alley.

VTubing + K-pop?

The biggest reason why I came to OffKai Expo is to see if my industry, K-pop, and VTubing had a connection. Did VTubers actually like K-pop? And is there potential for future VTubers to incorporate K-pop in their streams.

The answer: there’s a faint connection, but has some serious potential.

Many of the VTubing companies I talked to, as well as VTubers themselves, heard of K-pop before, but weren’t big fans. Some even looked at me weirdly when I mentioned if they knew big acts – such as NewJeans, Twice, and ATEEZ – saying they haven’t heard of them before.

That’s cool, as not everyone’s a K-pop fan, especially at a con that promotes the VTubing culture.

On the positive side, I did find three VTubers that loved K-pop, and boy did they have some K-pop hot takes! (which I’ll keep between myself and the VTubers)

So why did I think there may be some serious VTubing-K-pop potential at OffKai?

Enter anime cons. Since anime cons are adjacent to VTubing and pull a lot of inspiration for that genre, I thought VTubing would be another venue for K-pop to expand.

In recent years, I’ve been working with anime companies and conventions in incorporating K-pop. I do business negotiations in getting K-pop artists and labels to come out west to these events. A big reason is the growing demand from anime fans. If you go to an anime con today, the music of choice won’t be J-pop, which both it and anime originate from Japan.

But rather, K-pop.

The anime-K-pop crossover is unreal these days with choreography, random dance play, and DJs playing Korean music to throngs of fans.

Can this crossover be duplicated into the VTubing world? Maybe, but it will take some popular VTubers to kick things off first and embrace K-pop more in their streams.

Other industries take notice of VTubing

The SF Bay Area’s BART came out to play at Offkai Expo.

Hardcore VTubing fans and VTubing companies weren’t the only ones to flock to OffKai Expo this year. People from other industries that weren’t VTubing fans or casuals also attended.

I had the pleasure of meeting people from the robotics industry, people from tech, and employees from BART – The Bay Area Rapid Transit.

The robotics and tech people were interested in VTubing technology with mo-caps used in avatars. They wanted to use the technology for future videos and to simulate robotic movements similar to how a human would. As for BART, they looked for inspiration from VTubing avatars. They wanted to promote their mass transit system o millennials and Gen Z in riding the subways more.

IdolFest came from Seattle, WA, to attend OffKai here in California.

Of course, there were quite a few fans and labels from the anime scene. There were booths from other anime cons from both California, as well as out-of-state.

Anime fans also shared their passion for VTubing, as many of their favorite VTubers shared the same anime tastes as them. With anime companies, since they and VTubing are basically cousins, the two genres collaborate often.

The Ironmouse concert

The ballroom that hosted the Ironmouse event. Shown is the pre-Ironmouse event.

The biggest star of Offkai was Ironmouse, who had a Q&A and concert on Saturday night of the event. She’s such a VTubing powerhouse that even I’ve heard of her before.

Fans cheered loudly and waved light sticks, akin to a music concert, when she was first introduced. The one aspect I noticed happened during the Q&A session. Fans lined up to ask the famed VTuber questions, similar to an anime or gaming con.

But rather than having a straight question, then answer in a 30 second span, fans were often actually having conversations with Ironmouse like how friends would. Ironmouse was often cursing, laughing, and having fun with her answers. She had a lot of relatability. Rather than a strict, professional answer, she had some answers that made me laugh.

But not all questions were all jokes. One fan asked Ironmouse, “as a person that dealt with a serious illness, how do you deal with it?” Ironmouse replied, “Try very hard to surround yourself with people who love you. And hang in their baby.” That was quite touching.

From watching fans interact with the popular VTuber for an hour, it’s great to see how more relaxed the VTubing scene is. It’s quite refreshing.

OffKai Expo is trending up

After wrapping up Offkai Expo Gen 2, I can definitely see the appeal of VTubers. The blend of anime, streaming, and relatability are a big draw to many millennials and Gen Z-ers. Many VTubers today command large fandoms and are backed by huge VTubing labels. From this, the VTubing scene is rapidly growing.

With Offkai Expo riding this VTubing wave, as well being the first VTubing con in North America, the con will only rise in popularity. The con this year had a comfortable amount of attendees. Yet, by next year, I’m sure the Artist Alley and panels will be a bit more crowded.

And that’s okay, as it shows the steady growth of the VTubing industry.

I can’t wait to go next year, a year wiser in the VTubing ways.

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