Meet Twitch's New Star of Streaming Charts- she is Anime Avatar Ironmouse
There’s a new face topping the charts of video game live-streaming site Twitch: She’s an anime avatar with flowing pink hair.
There's a new face topping the charts of video game live-streaming site Twitch: She's an anime avatar with flowing pink hair.
Known as Ironmouse the character is operated by a real woman, whose facial expressions and movements are relayed using motion-capture tools that feed data through computer animation software. With her high-pitched voice, Ironmouse sings karaoke or cracks jokes while playing hit games like Elden Ring for a rapt audience of 11,000 live viewers. Her antics have made her the female streamer with the most subscribers on the platform and the third-most subscribed streamer of all time. She ranks right behind Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who was one of the first Twitch streamers to break into the mainstream, playing Fortnite.
Ironmouse currently has more than 1 million followers, and as of March 7 had 171,800 subscribers who pay a $5 minimum monthly fee to patronize her content, according to data from TwitchTracker. Behind the cutesy veneer, with her tiny fang-like teeth and purple eyes, little white horns and frilly, white princess dress, Ironmouse's operator is a Puerto Rican woman who keeps her identity secret to protect herself from harassment.
“It's like putting on a superhero costume,” Ironmouse said in an interview on gaming chat app Discord.
Ironmouse is among the most prominent English-speaking VTubers, or virtual YouTubers -- a genre of entertainment that spawned on YouTube in Japan six years ago. The form has since migrated to Twitch, where the service's live-streaming format gives fans the impression of interacting with a living anime character. There are now more than 17,000 VTubers across the globe, according to Japanese analytics firm User Local.
On Twitch, which is owned by Amazon.com Inc., VTubing content grew 467% in 2021 compared with a year earlier, according to data provided by the company.
“Streamers, anime and role-playing are three of the hottest trends right now, with VTubers being the perfect amalgamation of these genres,” said Jason Krebs, chief business officer at live-stream firm StreamElements. “The market has spoken and made it clear that virtual content creators are a big hit, so the future is continued growth.”
The $25 billion anime market has fueled interest in watching VTubers, and also in becoming one. Much of the appeal, Ironmouse said, is the freedom to become her best or most entertaining self, liberated from the constraints of her body. “I don't like the pressure of having to be on camera,” she said. Ironmouse has an immune deficiency disease that she says has impacted her confidence. “Through VTubing, I have learned to love myself. Otherwise, I just don't think I could ever bring myself to be a famous person on camera.”
The mother of VTubing, Kizuna AI, launched her YouTube channel in Japan in 2016 with enormous fanfare, and quickly attracted an international audience of anime and video game fans. She has appeared in ads for Cup Noodle, eye drops, SoftBank Corp. and Japan's National Tourism Organization. In the intervening years, a half-dozen talent agencies and management companies in Japan and the U.S. have cropped up to manage VTubers' ballooning careers and facilitate deals with brands like Taco Bell.
Companies including Sega Sammy Holdings Inc., Netflix Inc.and Micro-Star International Co. have launched their own branded VTubers. In March, U.S.-based VTuber agency Vshojo raised $11 million in funding.
“At first, people were just streaming with a webcam,” said Justin Ignacio, Vshojo's chief executive officer and a member of Twitch's founding team. “Now, you can go beyond the reality of being a person, and enter a new reality of who you truly are below that.”
The VTubing boom coincides with the push into the metaverse, a digital world envisioned by tech and gaming companies as an immersive version of the internet, where people will interact, play games or complete tasks as a digital avatar. VTubers may be ahead of the metaverse curve.
“VTubers are living in the same time as the audience,” says Eiji Araki, CEO of VTubing software company Reality. “They say good morning to you over Twitter, stream games as you play them, invite other VTubers to the stream and say good night to you.” Their massive popularity demonstrates online audiences' willingness to suspend disbelief and fully embrace avatars as they would real people.
“As the metaverse becomes the daily platform to live, play, connect and others, we all will become VTubers in some form,” Araki said.