DIO MADDEN: WWE Star and a Vtuber... those worlds aren't so different (Wired)

Posted on 4/29/121 by Mike Informer

BRENNAN WILLIAMS STANDS 6'7", weighs 300 pounds, and
wrestles professionally as Dio Maddin, aka Mace, forcefully
terrifying onstage in a skull mask. And also, lately, he is
a 7'14" pink-haired merman named Jibo, with a crunchy
octopus ball on his head.

The new king of the seas! Mother effing kraken! The
takoyaki shonen! The great black octopus! I have many names.
I have many titles, Williams-as-Jibo proclaimed on his
debut YouTube livestream in February.

Williams is a newly minted Vtuber, joining the most kawaii
trend in live entertainment since actual anime. Its a
portmanteau of virtual YouTuber, an anime avatar whose
body and face move in conjunction with a human performers.
On Twitch and YouTube, Vtubers entrance live audiences,
sometimes numbering thousands, with cutesy karaoke or the
latest video games. The top 10 Vtubers collectively
generated 36 million hours watched in the first couple of
months of 2021, according to data from analytics firm
StreamHatchet. Moving between the squared circle and streaming comes
naturally, says Williams. What is Vtubing if not digital
kayfabe, a wrestling term describing the presentation of
stage identities and storylines as genuine even beyond the
mat. Its literally the same thing, says Williams. With
avatars as their masks, Vtubers keep up the performance
across the digital worldYouTube, Twitch, Twitter, Instagram
without letting anyone know their true identities.

Its an open secret among fans that a powerful anime strain
runs among both community members and top wrestlers. Ive
heard the expression that wrestling is anime for rednecks,
Williams says. The internet is full of lists of anime-loving
pros: Kenny Omega, Sasha Banks, Xavier Woods. It checks out.
The way wrestling heroes are built, their rivalries with
heels, the storylines that stretch out over years, and even
fans easy oscillation between loving and hating a character
all would feel perfectly at home on any shonen anime. Its
like Dragon Ball Z with figure-four leg locks.

Williams story line has changed a lot lately, too. As an
offensive lineman with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the mid-
aughts, Williams wasnt much in the spotlight. But he left
his football career with his body intact, and so he traveled
to Houston to train toward his lifelong goal of becoming a
famous television wrestler.

He has the acting skills for it. Take the end of one recent
match: Scottish Titan Drew McIntyre removes the mask of
Mace, who is laid out twitching on the mat. Mace stands up,
body heaving and mouth snarling, and slaps McIntyre in the
face. McIntyre then slaps Mace with the mask, sending him
crumpling back to the floor. The stunt disqualifies
McIntyre. In the after-show, breathing heavy with his chin
lifted, a victorious Mace grows, very shonen-esque: As far
as Im concerned, Drew McIntyre, you did me a favor.

Its all art, he says. In WWE, Williams crafts personas by
amplifying parts of his personality that arent necessarily
on the surface. Vtubing offers that same release, without
the physical limitations of being a 6'7" man. I can enhance
aspects of my physical form in real life, he says. But on
YouTube, Im a little and cute anime boy, which is also me.
Its all in here, he says.

Breaking into that world is not unlike debuting as a
wrestler, but with a different set of norms. At the
beginning of a Vtubers birthday stream, they build
tension with music as fans filter in. Then, they slowly
reveal parts of their personafirst their physical form and
then their personality. In his first video, Jibos octopus
cap and wide, purple eyes slowly rise up from the bottom of
the screen. He smiles, swaying back and forth, then posts a
list of his favorite squideogames, anime, and musicall of
which seem to reflect his actual tastes. A couple thousand
viewers watched, including famous Vtuber Ironmouse. Ahhh
kawaii, she wrote in chat.
The biggest YouTuber, Williams calls Jibo. One running
joke on my stream is that hes not that big but pretends
like hes constantly expanding, he says, laughing. Thats
kind of fun. You can work out your insecurities that way.

On YouTube, Im a little and cute anime boy, which is also
me. Its all in here.


Jibo is Williams softer side, with a dash of gamer
competitiveness and wry humor. He draws silly drawings,
sings silly karaoke, and doesnt take himself all that
seriously. When his audience bullies him (in his words), he
smiles and laughs. Earlier this week, a fan in chat called
him a himbo. Im a big dummy, but Im handsome. Im
actually nice, he said into his mic, snacking loudly on a
protein bar. Likewise, Williams has always incorporated
parts of himself into his wrestling persona, particularly
his otaku side. For a while, Williams was known for his Nico
Nico Knee, a reference to a catchphrase from the cutesy
anime series Love Live! School Idol Project.

Actors often use their authentic selves to build convincing,
crowd-facing facades. Vtubers similarly behave as more
enhanced versions of themselves when online, with some anime
tropes thrown in. Its a third type of entity, somewhere
between the human and the kayfabe, manifested in a tiny (or
huge) digital cartoon.

Its a fitting form of expression for the digital age in
which technology both masks and enhances the self, and
encourages sharing those altered and authentic and in-
between selves constantly. The internet has bled it all
together. Both Williams otakudom and his immense power have
been on view since his football days. Instead of standing in
direct contrast to each other, Jibo and Mace form the basis
of two separate facets of one authentic self. Pro wrestling
has already blurred that line for years. Wrestling is winks
and smiles. Its analyzed not just as art, but the art of
the art. The viewer chooses to enjoy the Human Wrecking Ball
or owl girl as an entertainer in their own right.

In one video of Williams before a WWE match, the camera
sneaks up as he applies makeup. You put on this paint and
you become a different person, he says. You look in the
mirror and you see this warrior, this warrior mask.

More Indie Articles