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ANAHEIM, California — After two years of COVID-related cancellations, VidCon — the gathering of creators, fans, and industry professionals from across the internet — finally happened. BuzzFeed News attended, and in a word, it was wild.
For the past decade, YouTube had been the main sponsor of the event, but this year, TikTok took the reins. Some people — including myself — thought this meant a major shift in which platform could claim the internet’s biggest stars, but YouTubers like MrBeast and TommyInnit still generated much of the buzz from fans. According to a spokesperson for VidCon, there were 50,000 attendees across the event’s four days at the Anaheim Convention Center and more than 640,000 views for its livestream.
The first major gathering since the start of the pandemic of an eclectic bunch of internet weirdos presented an opportunity for all sorts of megafans to meet and interact with their favorite creators, though stars like Logan Paul (who was at the center of a 2017 stampede) and Tana Mongeau (who spun off her own chaotic gathering in 2018) weren’t there this year.
Regardless, attendees were still able to immerse themselves in the online experience IRL, and wacky things happened throughout. Here are some of the most notable.
Though past VidCon legends like Shane Dawson and the Vlog Squad didn’t attend this year, members of the Minecraft server known as Dream SMP managed to drum up a massive, enthusiastic crowd.
Each day before the conference began, I spoke to fans of all ages who kept me updated on what opportunities there were to attend panels or meet featured Dream SMP creators like Ranboo and Tubbo. On Thursday, the first full day of the conference, nine of them appeared on a panel that had about 2,000 attendees (while more than 135,000 others tuned in from home, NBC News reported).
The Dream SMP fandom has hundreds (or maybe thousands) of in-jokes and obscure references. Many fans showed up in cosplay, though they weren’t always dressed as characters from Dream SMP roleplays or lore (there was a banana and a “Spider-Maid,” for instance) — they just felt comfortable expressing themselves among other fans.
The hosts of the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel, Hank Green and John Green, founded VidCon in 2010. It was acquired by ViacomCBS in 2018, but the brothers have remained ultra-popular on both YouTube and TikTok since then, and they were set to have a strong presence at the conference this year.
On Friday morning, three days into the conference, the real-life brothers canceled all of their appearances for the day. Hank then tweeted that he tested positive for COVID.
“I have news for folks at VidCon. I’ve been rapid COVID testing every morning just to be safe. Woke up this morning and tested positive,” he wrote. “Of course, that means I won’t be at any additional events this weekend. Feeling fine so far. I’m so sorry, y’all.”
John Green also tweeted that he tested negative but felt “slightly unwell” and decided to cancel his appearances “out of an abundance of caution.”
In the main exhibition hall, where internet-adjacent brands competed for attention to advertise their products and services, attendees were drawn to one stand in particular: a massive “human claw machine” in which people could be strapped to a “claw,” lowered into a pit of stuffed animals, given time to try to grab on to one, and lifted again.
The stand was sponsored by Jazwares, the company behind collectible stuffed animals Squishmallows. Four days into the conference, attendees lined up at the entrance to get a shot at taking home a toddler-sized stuffed critter. Several told me they waited more than four hours in line for the human claw machine.
MrBeast, one of YouTube’s biggest creators, appeared at VidCon flanked by personal security guards to speak with YouTube’s director of discovery Todd Beaupré for an event called “YouTube’s Algorithm, Explained.” The event, which did not take place in one of the large conference rooms, was packed to the brim. I estimate more than 200 people were turned away, and it was not livestreamed like many of the other major events. When I asked a security guard how many people made it into the room, he referred me to a coworker, who told me, “I don’t have to tell you that.”
Attendees who were turned away told me that they were fans of MrBeast and excited to see him in person, but they were also really eager to hear more about YouTube’s algorithm. I obtained a recording of the event, which didn’t share any information that wasn’t already publicly available, other than MrBeast’s own opinion that short-form video is here to stay.
Just as Charli D’Amelio took the stage for her only official appearance at VidCon, a sponsored conversation with video and photo editing app company Lightricks, she was dethroned as TikTok’s most followed creator by Italian comedian Khaby Lame.
“I had No. 1 for two years. It’s time for someone else to have the spot, and I’m proud of him,” she said on the VidCon stage. “He’s a friend, and there’s no bad blood.”
D’Amelio, who barely attended VidCon, still drew massive applause and large crowds wherever she went. Clearly TikTok is here to stay, but YouTube isn’t going anywhere.
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