ANAHEIM, Calif. — In a crowded ballroom on the top floor of the Anaheim Convention Center, teens and young adults with colorful hair and cameras in their hands mingled on Friday.
The group had gathered as part of a networking group of up-and-coming creators hoping to grow their YouTube channels or online presence at the 10th annual VidCon, a YouTube-focused convention for the platform’s stars, fans and those learning the tricks of the trade.
Among those networking at VidCon, more than a dozen teens and young adults told NBC News that their generation is more interested in creating their own platforms and generating their own fame rather than working toward a typical 9-to-5 job or attempting to become traditional media stars.
Chinenye Agina, 18, a vlogger from California who focuses on fitness, said she grew up with YouTube and that her generation doesn’t want to become actors or movie stars — they want to be influencers.
“Some people are saying, ‘Why would I go to college when I could become an influencer and get all this free stuff?'” Agina said.
Agina mingled at the networking event with Macy Sengsavang, 19, who said she’s interested in making films but is currently vlogging on YouTube while simultaneously trying to grow her Instagram presence.
“Our generation is more interested in social media and getting famous off there. I see kids wanting to be YouTubers,” Sengsavang said. “You ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, and they say, ‘I want to be a YouTuber.’ Our generation is definitely different.”
While some seek new types of fame, other teens said they were using social media as a way to break into more traditional careers.
Ashley Stringer, 17, a singer-songwriter from Houston, Texas, said she’s been on YouTube as long as she can remember and was attending VidCon for the first time.
“I want to be different than the normal actress, movie star. I want to create my own platform and my own voice,” Stringer said.
Nearby, Madison Brass, 16, said she has been watching YouTube since she was 10 and now runs a YouTube channel called “Hoppin’ Help” where she teaches people how to care for their reptiles.
“Talking to a lot of people at these networking sessions, I have noticed that a lot of people want to say, ‘I built this success, and I am my own celebrity,'” Brass said. “A lot of my friends say, ‘I don’t want to go off and work in a cubicle. I want to be a YouTuber.'”
Capri Margary, 23, a YouTuber making motivational and fitness videos, said one reason she believes her generation doesn’t crave fame through traditional media is because social media gives them more access to fans and peers.
“I feel like YouTube and Instagram and all these smaller social media are ways to get to people make you feel like a friend instead of a fan,” Margary said.
Some younger users at VidCon said they felt that YouTube, the platform they were all hoping pinning their hopes on for fame, has become more competitive and that getting noticed on the video giant has become more challenging than ever before.
Established YouTubers have claimed that the platform has abandoned the independent content creators it built its brand on in favor of promoting channels that bring in more money for the platform, The Verge reported. Longtime YouTubers allege the platform now promotes the channels of late-night hosts and content on its subscription service, YouTube Red, over independent creators.
But the up-and-coming YouTubers at VidCon said they still felt their dreams of internet stardom were within reach — albeit harder to attain.
“It definitely favors TV shows … and I watch that, too, so I’m part of that problem, too,” Samantha Aguirre, 21, said. “But I think I’m going to stick with YouTube. I just have this drive to work towards it.”
Aguirre’s friend Abrion Weinberg, 21, agreed, adding that she feels it’s still possible to achieve the Gen Z dream of making it on YouTube even though she wouldn’t completely rule out a job in film editing using the skills she’s learned while building her YouTube channel, AbrionTV.
“The thing I love about YouTube is you are creating your own thing. This is your project. You can do whatever you want with it so that’s one reason I would love [to get famous on YouTube],” Weinberg said.