Vtubing has always been a bit too weird for me. Though I've been a fan of anime for most of my life, something about people masquerading as virtual characters just wasn't my fancy. I could see a certain ironic appeal to it, or even it being a fun novelty. However, there was no chance it'd be anything more than a passing fad.
When I talked with Cloud9 Vienna, my opinion changed.
Vienna is a streamer and content creator, first signed to her organization as a professional League streamer dedicated to educational content as a masters ADC player. She has also worked as staff with Cloud9 to create their flagship youth program, Training Grounds. She became Head of Coaching and Coach Operations at Training Grounds before departing in March 2021 to pursue streaming, Vtubing and other opportunities, taking a hiatus from League of Legends.
Gaining her perspective on Vtubing showed me it was so much more than I initially thought. That odd type of content might be gamechanging.
Unlike many Vtubers that started completely in that world, you’re someone that already had an established audience as a traditional streamer. You were already a skilled player, a cosplayer, you already were with a big organization like Cloud9. What made you want to make the switch?
I didn't enjoy streaming as much as I had expected—there are a couple of reasons for that. I was mostly a League streamer and the community can be pretty judgmental and toxic on how you play, especially if you're marketing yourself as a skilled player. And it can be really distracting to stream with facecam while trying to take the game seriously. You have a key light shining bright into your eyeballs.
If you're a girl, there are appearance standards that you'd adhere to like wearing like fake eyelashes, full face of makeup and stuff like that. I found it was like really conflicting with how I felt I needed to look on stream. and what I wanted to stream. It was really hard to take games seriously or play ranked.
And I also just felt generally uncomfortable. I wasn't uncomfortable with my appearance, or my persona. It was just on stream. I didn't feel like I could be myself. And I actually had learned about Vtubing four years ago. And I had a really cheap Vtuber around two years ago that I tried out and it was okay, I felt comfortable. But I didn't I didn't like it too much. So I ended up just streaming without cam most of the time. And obviously, as a streamer, you got to think about what's affecting your growth. And I think that no-cam League gameplay isn't always the best market. And I wasn't having a lot of fun either.
Before I became a Vtuber, I don't know too much about it. But a couple of Vtubers had recently debuted that I thought was so cool. I thought, "This is everything that I wanted." And I wanted to be able to express myself in a way that I'm comfortable.
So it was to solve a personal issue, and helped me feel comfortable creating, which I think it totally succeeded. I feel more comfortable streaming than I have ever in my entire life. And I feel like I can be myself, 5000x myself. I don't feel comfortable caring about how I look when I'm laughing or when I'm uncomfortable or eating or anything like that I can literally just be me.
What have been some of the most noticeable adjustments you’ve had to make as a streamer when making the transition to Vtuber?
There were a lot of considerations that I had to make when I started. I wasn't a huge streamer—I was 100-150 viewers I think and I was a Twitch Partner. But I thought, 'Am I alienating my current fan base who doesn't really care about this sort of thing and just wants to watch League?" Or "Will I just be playing League of Legends?" Because the question was do Vtubing fans like League of Legends. I had to consider how my content would look like.
And also, like what my Vtuber would look like. So originally I went in with this plan that I would make it generally appealing to my current audience and not go too far into it. So I was going for a puma-style esports regular-looking girl with light blue hair. Which is what hair I had at the time when I was streaming—and then obviously there was some cute little cat ears.
So it's just like me directly as a Vtuber. And that was my original design. And when I went to a company with it, they're like, "This is actually really oversaturated in this market. It would probably be better if you thought of something else that you would express yourself with." And so I went back to the drawing board and thought really aggressively on it. I really like dragons. But the more or less human it is, will my current fan base not watch me anymore? Will people think I'm weird?
But none of that happened, actually. And my following just kept growing. I think that some people transitioned off of watching me specifically for League stuff. And that let me transition to stuff that isn't League. So I had to consider what my identity was. That was challenging. Am I going to focus on being my best at League of Legend? Or am I going to do something more fun or relaxed?
I just took a break from from taking League seriously. And I've been really happy about that, honestly. I jumped into just playing variety, whatever I feel like doing and communicating with my audience.
Something from my observations is that you spend a good deal of time interacting with your chat. With your even increasing popularity, has it been difficult to keep up? How have you adjusted?
Not really. I think something that I've done a little differently is my Discord community, which I am really crazy active in. I talk in it a couple of hours every day and people are always so surprised.
Not that I don't have many friends. But it's pretty isolating working and making content 24/7. Because I work a full-time job too. So I don't have time to build a lot of friendships. So I spend a lot of time casually talking to people in the Discord asking what their thoughts are on my content, getting opinions from them, joking with them. We've played game nights and stuff. I think that Discord is the best way to connect with your community. So that's been really helpful.
And then also on Twitch, it's been hard to remember everyone, which is a lot different than before. But it's still pretty easy if people are consistently talking. I see the same faces every time, along with new faces. The thing is that I'm not playing competitive League of Legends. So therefore I can read my chat and talk to them as much as I'd like. I can pause the game. I think if I was still trying to be a competitive ranked streamer, it would be nearly impossible. So that's why I'm able to do it. I think there's a lot of value in being able to do that.
Is it something you see long-term? I’ll be honest with you that my opinion for quite a while was that it was a fad. Obviously, I wouldn’t ask you if you think that but I do want to ask you this: what do you think it’s potential is? What else can be done with it? Can your personality be used for more than just streaming?
I think a lot of people aren't aware of what's going on internally in the community and like. There's this funny meme that discusses Vtubing.
Basically, people are consistently saying that it's oversaturated but they're misunderstanding that the idea is that it's actually expanding. For example, Vtubers were not really big on TikTok. People weren't utilizing that market of TikTok. I started doing really aggressive TikToking and I think I’ve managed to get really big there. Because it was a market that people weren't jumping into. And now everyone is jumping into TikTok—there's a huge range of people that didn't know what Vtubing is who now understand it.
I also think there's so much more. I know Vtubers who come up and write their own original music and do their own full concerts with like a virtual room and everything on stream. Also, with a 3D model, there are so many things that you can do. I do think it goes beyond streaming. And I think the future of Vtubing is more and more people will do this. Because it is a lot better than having to be yourself as is.
You can just say, "This is what I look like inside." And I think everyone will be transitioning to that. I know that after I debuted, quite a few people in the League community that I know are already planning to debut as one soon. I think the market is just expanding as it becomes more and more acceptable. That's where I think it's going just because as it expands into these other markets, that it's going to go up and up.
And of course, Vtubing isn't forever. I think that you got to think long term and eventually, that's something. But other than that, I think it's just going to grow in popularity as other people want to be that thing.
You’ve been involved with esports and gaming in many capacities. Is there anything you miss doing now that so much of your time is taken up with Vtubing?
Playing the game competitively is something that was really fulfilling.` I think that there's a sense of achievement in putting time into something that not a lot of people really would take as seriously. Just considering "Oh, I'm actually really good at this. And other people respect me for that." That was really rewarding, and I miss that. And then when I think of, converting that skill into working with Cloud9.
There's nothing more fulfilling than working with the kids on training grounds because you would be plopped in there coaching, a bunch of groups of 13 to 16 year olds who have no idea what's going on, that don't much about competitive gaming. They're amazing. They're like little versions of you. They're so sweet. They just want a sense of direction.
On training grounds, you were able to help them on both their journey getting better in the game, but also understand where they can go in the future with this passion that they have. So that was like a really cool fulfilling experience. And the only reason I could do that is from taking the game so serious competitively for a while. Those two things I miss a lot.
I wanted to discuss the troubling incident that occurred on stream for you a couple of weeks ago. What was that like? What did—and can others—learn from it? Do organizations need to equip streamers to deal with situations like this?
I think that any kind of situation where your face or your persona or anything about you is online, that it gets really spooky when anything like that happens. As a no-name person with nothing out there, there aren't a lot of reasons to be targeted or for people to hate you.
But as you start growing, you start getting messages on like, 4chan board saying, "I'm going to kill this person," or "I hate them." And it's really scary. Maybe they have no idea who you are, but that's probably the case. However, in your head, you're thinking, "Gosh, this is really terrifying. Why is this happening to me?" And it's just really spooky. I think that experience was the first time ever feeling that way in my whole career online so far.
Something that helped me feel better was that it happened while I was on stream. I think if that happened while I was alone, in bed or cooking or something at night, I would have been literally terrified and not know what to do and maybe I would have made a mistake in the situation—maybe I wouldn't have thought something about it, or call the police.
Being able to be on stream with a bunch of people and be like, "Hey, help me think out this situation. My brain isn't working, what's going on?" It may have been a positive thing. It's embarrassing and frustrating and scary, because I think that it's not good to broadcast things that are horrifying to you, right? There were some people that thought that it was a setup because it was on stream. So that was a really uncomfortable situation.
And also, there's the idea that things happening on stream can make it even more unsafe for you, because people can then understand that you're someone to target. So it was just a lot of confusing feelings. It was really scary. As far as what things can be done to prevent it. I took a lot of measures—I'm not going to be specific about them. But I talked with my org about how I can protect myself better and my identity better and work with them to ensure that I'm protected from it in some way. But I think that directly divulging those details is counterintuitive.
So I think that as much as I would love to help anyone in that situation, I would say work with the people around you and work with your org. "How can you make me feel safer? How can we protect, not only me physically, but my identity and my personal life?" So I know a lot of streamers tend to live in secluded areas, fenced off. I know a lot of them have roommates, which I think is 10/10 idea. I think that as a really large content creator, that's probably your best bet is to live in a group of people.
I would also say don't be afraid to reach out to other avenues that you feel might be making you unsafe, if there's an article that was posted about you with like incorrect details or bad details. For example, as a Vtuber normally you would never want to connect the person's full name to their Vtuber persona, right? They are just the character. I'm C9 Vienna. And so if someone's writing an article, including my first name, that's a no-no. It's like, "Oh, that's not me, you know, that is someone else."
And same with streamers. If you're a regular streamer, like Emiru for example, right. You should just call her Emiru because that's who she is. And there's no reason to connect her to the person that's actually in their house right now that people could be trying to target if that makes sense. So there's just lots of things you can do to take measures to protect yourself. And I think orgs should be open and accepting to that and understand that not everyone wants their full name out there. Pro players write their full name, it's out there. Content creators—their full name is on the website. Organizations should be open to understanding that not everyone wants their information—where they live and their full name and what they do—out there.
With all the different jobs and passions you have, where do you see yourself ideally in the future?
I actually love my job. I'm not sure I have the answer to that question. Because I love what I'm doing in both ways. I think I work like 60 to 80 hours a week total on content and my job. Can I do this forever? Probably not. I think that what really grounds me is working my job, and I love it. That makes me feel fulfilled because I feel like I'm going somewhere positive.
As a streamer, it can feel really bad because it feels like you're not progressing in school, you're not progressing in your career. Say Twitch was to explode tomorrow. What do you really have? And so it's something where I think I would be working hopefully somewhere good. Hopefully, I worked really hard and got promoted or in a really fulfilling role that I can feel good about. But my goal would probably be to just continue exactly the way that I'm doing.
I want to end up in a really fulfilling place at work and maybe transition from Vtubing or as a streamer to giving back in any way that I can. Perhaps helping people find careers in gaming. Because I wouldn't have the job I have without joining Cloud9, and League of Legends.
Playing League of Legends for five years and nothing else actually led me to a dream job that I love. And I think that's really something that I would want to make sure that people know about and can understand: you can pursue what you're passionate about. I just want to be doing something that makes me happy and fulfilled—that will probably still be my job. And then on the side, I think I'll always try to make content because I really enjoy that too.
I write. I rap. I run. That’s pretty much it.