So we’re right in the middle of YouTube event season; VidCon has come and gone, and Summer in the City is right around the corner. Since these massive YouTuber conventions have become so popular over time, now seems like as good a time as any to talk about the past. Because it’s been around a decade since the first real IRL YouTube events started taking place around the world; and fans of YouTubers today wouldn’t recognise half the people there, let alone the styles of the events.
From tiny meetups in London’s parks all the way up to the tens of thousands of people who attend VidCon every year – here’s how the YouTube community got to where it is now.
The first gatherings
Back in YouTube’s earliest days, it was all about the shared passion of making stuff. Nobody had fans, but everyone that met up in person was making videos. YouTubers were organising “gatherings” as early as 2006; and looking back at some of the footage from those early days, it’s almost terrifying to see some of the faces that have stuck around – and some that have completely vanished – from the community we know today.
In a 2008 event that YouTube would rather we all forgot, Katy Perry awkwardly hosts what she referred to as “the first annual YouTube Awards”. It wasn’t an award show at all; but a live variety show that was meant to catapult YouTube’s top talent at the time into mainstream stardom.
It’s clear why YouTube moved into sponsoring other events for a few years; but at least this event gave us this amazing performance from a baby-faced Bo Burnham…
Summer in the City
When it came to early YouTube gatherings in the UK, London was a top-tier destination; but even with teen vloggers travelling from all over the country to meet each other, the events still only lasted a few hours. This was when Tom Burns began planning a weekend-long event that would span several of London’s major parks, and even include a live show in one of the evenings.
At its peak, the first “Summer in the City” in 2009 had around 200 attendees together in Hyde Park; and some of those people would become some of today’s biggest YouTubers. With no need for a permit or ticketing, organising an event like this in 2017 seems almost impossible.
The first VidCon and “meet-up culture”
As YouTube became more and more popular, the divide between creators and fans was starting to develop. Because a lot of people were getting into YouTube not to make things – but to idolise the ones who already were. As a result, a lot of creators started hosting events to accommodate their fans more than meet new people; and the phrase “meet-up” started becoming more popular than “gathering”.
But while gatherings were still evolving and growing in the UK, things had been turned up a notch over in Los Angeles. In 2010, in the basement of the Century Plaza Hotel, John and Hank Green debuted VidCon – the first official convention dedicated to all things YouTube – with panels, Q&As, live shows, and a staggering attendance of 2,000 people.
Despite the growth of worldwide events (and many creators’ audiences), there were some definite growing pains between moving past unofficial “meetups” and arranging something more regulated. As such, creators looking to meet their fans at impromptu events underestimated just how many people might show up in a public place – and how they would act.
Mobs of fans became frustratingly common, after popular creators like the Janoskians would tweet their location without alerting any authorities. Despite the dangers they put their fans in, this is still an issue that pervades the YouTube community – even at events where meetups are properly managed.
YouTubers on Tour
With YouTube conventions now being considered the norm, similar events to VidCon started popping up worldwide over time – Playlist Live in Orlando, VideoDays in Germany and ITATube in Italy are just a few to name. Even Summer in the City grew out of its grassroots, booking large venues and introducing ticketing for the massive crowds. But with more and more demand from fans to meet their YouTube faves in person, creators began planning events of their own.
It’s hard to say who the first YouTubers to go on tour were; most obviously it would have been the musicians, followed by the entertainers, followed by anyone who can look pretty and answer questions onstage for 2 hours. But there’s no denying nowadays that a big milestone of making it as a YouTuber is to move from screen to stage.
Time can only tell how YouTube events will change in the next few years. The “immersive experience” promised by the upcoming ‘HelloWorld Live‘ seems like the next step (as long as you pay for VIP); but for now, it’s hard to argue that for YouTubers, a real-life presence has become almost as important, if not more important, than their online one.
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