We’re living in a strange time. The media landscape is more complex and unpredictable than it’s ever been. We’ve seen the rise of the cinematic universe and the fall of the movie star. The music industry has all but disintegrated under the weight of the Internet. TV entered what many call a golden age at the same time that ratings numbers dropped lower than ever. The old mediums and industries are still struggling to adapt to the new viewing and consumption habits of this modern age. Meanwhile new mediums kick and struggle through their growing pains. All the dice are up in the air and nobody’s really sure when they’re coming down or what they’re going tell us when they do.
Traditional notions of fame and celebrity are withering away under the weirdling sun of the Internet age. On to the blasted landscape of the future emerge a new caste. These creatures are surely an evolution stopgap on the way to something newer and infinitely, unfathomably stranger but they are thriving in this cold new world. These digital morlocks are building bizarre new empires, the structure and content of which are inscrutable to anyone over the age of fourteen. Their domain is YouTube and their acolytes number in the millions. What do these new celebrities peddle? What do they do? Oh, they play video games. They play video games and they record themselves playing video games and people watch them play these games. I don’t understand it but I do respect it. Their living in the childhood dreams of countless people. Not only do they make a living playing video games but they also have their own action figures. There’s something powerful in that. They’re literal totems and these particular totems are rendered in plastic, equipped with all sorts of accessories, and called Tube Heroes.
The figures depict a wide array of popular gaming YouTube personalities. The offerings focus heavily on YouTubers that produce Minecraft related content. Not only is Minecraft the best selling computer game of all time, out pacing juggernauts like World of Warcraft and universally beloved classics like Dilbert’s Desktop Games, but the YouTubers that create video content based on it enjoy a staggering level of popularity. DanTDM is a flagship member of the Tube Heroes line and is currently the 8th ranked YouTuber on Social Blade, a site that archives and monitors statistics from sites like YouTube, Twitch and Instagram. He has over ten million subscribers. In fact another one of the Tube Heroes, Sky Does Minecraft, is actually ranked just above the WWE in terms of subscribers with 12 million to the professional wrestling empire’s mere 11 million. Tube Heroes wisely chooses to emphasis the Minecraft connection in the design of the figures. There is a clear effort on the parts of the designers to connect these figures with the video game their real life counterparts play so often. The Tube Heroes are blocky and stylized. Most appear to be based on the custom Minecraft character skins used by the video makers on which they are based.
The Tube Heroes line was officially launched on May 22, 2015. At launch there were but ten Tube Heroes. In the lines short existence that number has ballooned to nineteen. They appear to be continually adding more. The Tube Heroes Twitter feed (@TubeHeroesUnite) has stated that the minimum requirements for inclusion in the line are 500,000 subscribers and “creative content for our fans”. It’s a tantalizing prospect for many because Tube Heroes just might they craft an action figure in your likeness, or at least the likeness of your online persona, and the company has also released plushies, role playing toys, and blind box figures (pictured below) supporting their growing stable of YouTubers.
The Tube Heroes are produced by a company called Jazwares. Jazwares produces a number of toy lines aimed primarily at younger children. Their licenses include Adventure Time, Peppa Pig, and something called Tree Fu Tom. Interestingly enough Jazwares actually holds the Minecraft license and have produced many action figures and plush toys based on the game. However, they have not integrated the Tube Heroes directly into this line. I don’t know if this is because of some limitations attached to the Minecraft license or a conscious decision to develop a new and separate brand.
Strangely though the Tube Heroes seem to be more in line visually with Jazwares’ Terraria figures than their Minecraft figures. The Minecraft figures have slimmer limbs and smaller heads while the Terraria figures share larger heads and blockier frames with the Tube Heroes. For those of you that might not know, Terraria is a game that has a similar ethos and gameplay loop to Minecraft (destroy objects for resources, construct things out of your gathered resources, survive monster attacks, etc.) but is rendered in Super Nintendo style pixel graphics and played in a side scrolling format.
Jazwares is floating in uncharted waters and they’ve already been hit by a rogue wave in the form of Toby Turner, aka Tobuscus. Turner is a YouTube personality known primarily for his comedy sketches. Though his inclusion in the Tube Heroes line was most likely founded on his gaming videos. The release of Turner’s Tube Hero figure prompted a rather tumultuous scandal. An ex-girlfriend came forth and decried his “hero” status with a mix of allegations. This prompted other people who had past contact or association to come forth with further claims. Whether or not the allegations are true they have shined a rather negative light on the YouTuber and both brick-and-mortar stores and retail websites have pulled the action figure bearing his name and likeness. He has also been removed from the official Tube Heroes website.
Jazwares has really taken a gamble. In the grand scheme of things YouTube is a relatively new and untested arena. However, its reach is broad and universal. For a kid to connect with, let’s say, a television show, they need to live in a household with a cable package that provides the channel the show is broadcast on and they need to be watching the television at a specific time or have access to a way to record or stream the show. To connect with a YouTube channel all they need is an Internet connection and Jazwares is banking on that being enough.