By Michael Varrati
Living in Southern California, I’ve been party to an earthquake or two. Even so, I can’t say I’ve ever quite experienced the level of fear I did in the moment when I unknowingly stepped between YouTube superstar Troye Sivan and an oncoming wall of screaming, rabid teenage girls.
For attendees at this year’s VidCon, it was a familiar sound: A cry or shout that built into a roar, followed by a running mass of eager fans chasing down their favorite digital star like predators on the hunt. Yet, while it could occasionally come to the casual passerby’s detriment to get caught in this crossfire, it was also this enthusiastic electricity that helped carry this year’s gathering into greatness.
As a commentator on VidCons past (here and here), I’ve always spoken about my great admiration for the sense of community the annual event engenders. This year, I’m proud to say that my feelings on the issue are stronger than ever.
Watching the organic interaction between viewers and content creators, who are so often separated by screens, yet still so bonded, has always been the magic of this event. More so, to see emerging creators, such as eClickNick or the team from Classic Alice, mingling with established titans like Chester See and Michael Buckley…that’s really what VidCon, and ultimately, the communal aspect of YouTube, is all about. This factor has always leant itself to VidCon’s success, and has been a consistent thread through the years.
However, for all the consistency the show maintains, one thing that cannot be denied is the exponential growth of the fandom and its fervor. In years past, it was not uncommon for a YouTuber to host an impromptu meet-up somewhere on-site, allowing fans to gather peaceably and snap a pic or share a kind word. While meet-ups still were an essential cog in the VidCon process this year, they became increasingly more challenging with the increased size of the crowd. As evidenced by my Troye Sivan story earlier, YouTubers with a prominent hold on the teen market, especially males like Connor Franta and Tyler Oakley, caused such a commotion that it was next-to-impossible to move them through public spaces without creating a security risk.
In my mind, it certainly marked this particular VidCon as “The Year of the Teen Idol,” and announced to the world that the digital platform doesn’t just create stars, it creates pop culture phenomenons.
As an event, VidCon is meant to not only allow the community a chance to connect with creators, but also serve as an opportunity for various channels and entities to gather and co-mingle. To allow MCNs and digital executives to get together and talk about the future of the space, plotting and scheming what may appear on our computer screens. As an intermixing of this behind-the-scenes talent, VidCon was also a success. But, with the excitement and fanaticism just beyond the walls of many meetings, the show’s attendees made it very clear that everything else was to take a backseat to the celebration. Even a fireside chat with legendary executive Jeffrey Katzenberg saw attendance dwindle as the audience caught wind of one of their idols passing by outside.
While some may suggest that this intense focus on creator worship was to the show’s detriment, I posit that it was actually an essential cog in the community’s growth. When I pitched my first article about a YouTube personality back in 2007, my then-editor told me that “no one would care enough to read about an internet personality.” Sitting in one of the lounges this weekend, listening to the screams of literally thousands of people, I’m going to have to go ahead and say: Oh, people care. They really, really do.
While the aforementioned “teen idol” factor may seem a bit intense, it’s indicative of the connection these viewers feel for the creators they watch. It’s been an organic growth, fostered not out of studio labels or test markets, but individuals connecting directly with the audience. VidCon continues to show me that the internet audience is savvy to the tricks of traditional media, and they are turning to the web to make a connection that they don’t feel they are getting elsewhere.
As an example of this, one attendee told me that she had actually canceled her cable service, because, and I quote, “Strawburry17 is creating new daily shows, and that’s really all I need.”
Fans feel that content is being created just for them, and they’re making that connection to the material in the deepest way possible.
VidCon is a celebration of that connection. For the fans and creators who have been there since the beginning, and seen the growth, it’s no wonder that this seems like Beatlemania.