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VidCon, where YouTube stars once caused stampedes, pivots to TikTok

After a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, influencers, content creators and their many fans will be crowding the floor of the Anaheim Convention Center this week.
Image: Fans cheer at VidCon at the Anaheim Convention Center in Calif., in 2017.
Fans cheer at VidCon at the Anaheim Convention Center in California in 2017.Charley Gallay / Getty Images for Nickelodeon file

LOS ANGELES — YouTube? That's so three years ago.

VidCon, the biggest convention for social media creators and their fans, is back this week with a new official partner, TikTok, signaling just how much has changed since the event was last held in person in 2019.

Thousands will be crowding the Anaheim Convention Center beginning on Wednesday.

In years past YouTube was the primary partner of VidCon, the brainchild of veteran YouTubers John and Hank Green. Since it was first held in 2010, thousands of fans have flocked to Southern California to hear from and meet their favorite YouTube creators, sometimes even stampeding through the convention center doors to be the first inside.

But this year marks a turning point for VidCon. With TikTok tapped as the official partner of the convention for the first time, the featured creators roster mostly includes people who got their big break on TikTok, not YouTube (NBCUniversal News Group is a sponsor of VidCon).

The gathering will resemble more of a “Who’s who?” of TikTok creators, video game streamers, video essayists and micro-influencers.

VidCon traditionally has been a cultural touchstone for internet celebrities. Early iterations of the conference hosted mega-stars like Jenna “Marbles” Mourey and Shane Dawson.

There are about 350 featured creators this year. Among the biggest names are Charli D’Amelio and Khaby Lame — the two most-followed creators on TikTok — as well as MrBeast, a YouTuber with nearly 100 million subscribers known for high production value, big budgets and flashy charity efforts. 

Niche creators will also have the spotlight, with personalities like biologist Forrest Valkai (renegadescienceteacher) and news host V. Spehar (underthedesknews) leading programming.

Some creators will attend VidCon as industry leaders as well. Hyram Yarbro, who started as a TikTok skincare guru before launching his own line, is scheduled to speak on a panel about creator-founded brands. Zaria Parvez, the social media manager behind Duolingo's viral TikTok account, will lead a discussion on Gen Z marketing.

Previous conferences have drawn in attendances of over 75,000, and the virtual programming VidCon adopted during its hiatus had an estimated 1.2 million unique attendees, Variety reported.

This year’s conference, which will take place June 22 through June 25, will include a hybrid of in-person and livestream programming, the latter of which is included in VidCon’s year-round subscription service.

Like many events, VidCon, initially set to return in 2021, was canceled for a second year after a rise in Covid cases. This year's VidCon marks the first time some creators get to meet one another — and their fans — in person since racking up millions of followers in quarantine. 

But IRL meet-and-greets pose a new challenge for this class of content creators and influencers: authenticity and socialization. 

“It’s trying to remember how to convention, how to interact,” said Shane Tilton, the Irene Casteel Endowed Chair in Education, Professional and Social Sciences at Ohio Northern University, and the author of “Meme Life.” “Seeing how people connect is going to be the most telling thing,” he said.

Tilton said fans could be looking for creators to appear as their online personas, and may be seeking the authenticity of those creators, which could be a hurdle for some who have never met their followers ahead of the convention. He said there could be some creators who turn out to be “milkshake ducks,” a term meaning something that seems like a good thing but ultimately is bad.

But when it comes to interacting with other creators, he anticipates a hotbed of new content will be born out of the networking and socializing that will happen in Anaheim. 

“You’ll see more trends, more hashtags, more work," Tilton said. "... In the coming weeks, what are the trends that are going to emerge because people were at VidCon?”