Against the backdrop of a bright red and yellow city street, with ambient lofi music and live chat, Tyjiro returns to Twitch for his weekly stream. The aesthetic looks straight out of an old Game Boy Advance title in the best way possible.

For three days a week, Twitch partner Tyler Pham, aka Tyjiro, goes live with his character model in an animated vendor booth, decked out with pamphlets, snacks, and drinks. In the top right corner, an iPhone design updates with what the live chat users are commenting. What does he do? Creating art, interactive events and “anything else that we find that’s fun.”

Who is tYJIRO?

However, this isn’t just any random street. Though Ty Pham lives in Arizona, Tyjiro, his artist persona, resides and streams from the fictional “Basa City,” an immersive world created entirely by Pham. In the background of his booth, we can get a sense of all the citizens (or spirits) that inhabit this vibrant metropolis, like a floating dragon, a humanoid fish with legs, and a kitten with wings, to name a few.

“I just really wanted to create a collection of things that were specifically me, and then just have that world and then build that world out,” he says.”The more I add to it, the more I feel like I’m representing me and expressing myself.”

Pham says he never intended for the city, which was originally intended to just be a background for his character, to turn into a world of its own—similar to how cities in retro RPGs feel like their own worlds. He took inspiration from other streamers to go full force with the idea. Pham often intersperses cutscenes of his character traveling to different locations throughout Basa City.

Now that I knew that there are no rules, it’s like my brain didn’t want to hold back any ideas anymore.

Typically, art streams consist of artists sharing their computer screen while drawing and occasionally talking to the live chat. But Pham witnessed firsthand, as a viewer, how much was really possible.

 

“There was a streamer I saw on Twitch and she built out an entire world,” he says. “And I was like, ‘I didn’t know that this is what streaming could be.’ I didn’t know that I didn’t have to do the art streamer thing and just share my screen and then do art in front of people. I was literally having like a small anxiety attack from how excited I was.”

 

This epiphany–that there were no hard and set rules for art or streaming–changed Pham’s approach to his creativity. He describes it as a “Big Bang” of ideas that went off in his head.

 

“Now that I knew that there are no rules, it’s like my brain didn’t want to hold back any ideas anymore.”

 

According to Pham, nostalgia is a big influence in his art style. Beyond fellow artists and streamers, he finds significant inspiration in childhood aesthetics and retro games.

 

Pokemon specifically has a large presence in Pham’s Twitch streams. He designs custom gym leaders, battling on-stream and coding viewer shoutouts to appear in the form of wild Pokemon encounters.

 

“Pokemon was the first world that I ever entered outside of reality where I was just really immersed in, like, from the beginning. You can just imagine the way that people live in that world. Just growing up with that my entire life—definitely why it’s so important. And just the design aesthetic of it. Little creatures. I just love creatures.”

Pokémon gameplay on stream (Art: Tyjiro)

Pham pointed out the second generation of Pokemon games as his favorite, both visually and plot-wise, and you can see the influence of color pixel art in his work as well.

 

“I think that’s when [Pokemon] peaked in terms of their art direction. I’m biased and I love pixel art, but dude, I love the look of it and the feeling that I get when I play that game. Even if, like, the gameplay or the level scaling is awful. I don’t care.”

 

It’s not just the retro aesthetic, but mechanics as well. To get his viewers familiar with the spirits in Basa City, Pham incorporated a Twitch redeem known as “Basaport,” the equivalent of the PokeDex in the Pokemon world, which tells everyone general information about each creature.

Basa Dex (Art: Tyjiro)

Before and after commercial breaks on Twitch, Pham’s streams also incorporate bumpers to transition in and out of the stream, just like old-school animes used to do. Think Dragon Ball Z, Inuyasha and Pokemon in the early 2000s.

Welcome to basa city

Beyond building on established aesthetics, Pham describes his own art style as experimental. For him, the rule he sets for himself is that there are no rules. 

 

“I realized that you could apply that to literally everything. Once you figure out the things you don’t have to do that people think you have to do, then you’re a lot more free to just make whatever you want,” he says.

 

Visuals aside, Tyjiro streams are unique in the ways viewers are able to participate, mixing art and programming to expand Basa City. In 2023, Pham taught himself to utilize Streamerbot to make redeems more interactive, allowing chat users to buy certain snacks, trigger his anime gasp sound effect, and more. 

 

Viewers can challenge him to monotype Pokemon battles, winning custom badges on both Twitch and Discord servers if they win, just like in the games.

 

Beyond the Pokemon-related events, he has a segment called “Build-A-Buff,” where viewers can redeem their channel points to request him to draw an uncomfortably jacked version of a character of their choosing, typing a command that automatically sends it to his Discord server once he’s done.

 

And there’s also the Frog Cafe, which features seasonal drinks with artwork submitted by the community from the Tyjiro Discord server.

Tyjiro crafting drinks at the Frog Cafe. (Art: Tyjiro)

“My philosophy with the stuff that I make right now is: just come up with the ideas. Whatever ideas you come up with, just make those and then figure out the how afterward. And that’s just kind of how I’ve been doing it.”

Self-indulgence

Pham is doing art for himself, not for anyone else.

 

“I have a hard time thinking of myself as someone who deserves to make something that people love or like,” he says. “Why would I expect people to love the thing that I make? And a lot of the time [that] stopped me from making something that I loved. And then I realized a lot of what I do now: I’m literally just making whatever I want to just because I’m the one who wants to do it. And then the people that do see it, and stick around also love it. It’s really validating.”

And just because you don’t think that your ideas are as good, other people might.

“Self-indulgence” here harbors no ill connotations. Rather, Pham says throwing caution to the wind with art shouldn’t be scary. If anything, it’s creatively freeing to know that people tuning into his streams genuinely enjoy what he’s creating.

 

“If I make the things that I love, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter if I’m good or bad because the people that like it will come and if they like it, they’ll stick around. And just because you don’t think that your ideas are as good, other people might. I just like doing whatever I want.”

SELF-STARTER

Art and streaming was never the initial plan Pham set out to follow. After playing around on MapleStory, dabbling in art here and there and learning After Effects as a kid, his plan was to go to school for graphic information technology.

 

“I thought that was cool when I started. But really quickly, I realized that: one, college wasn’t a good way for me to learn, like personally. And I also was slowly starting to realize that it’s not even close to anything I wanted to do. I had undiagnosed ADHD, so it made a lot of sense.”

 

Working in a 9-5 environment didn’t help him grow creatively or learn, either. Most of what Pham knows is from teaching himself. 

 

“I hate the structure of school. I don’t think that there wasn’t anything to learn in school, but I felt like I didn’t learn anything. Teaching myself is definitely the way that works for my mind. I worked jobs too. I had a graphic design job at a print shop. And as soon as I stopped learning anything, then it became really hard to just keep doing it.”

Tyjiro on the move. (Art: Tyjiro)

He tried other avenues aside from art, like art in film form, at the recommendation of his mom.

 

“She’s really supportive and really, really kind. But I think just being the child of an immigrant, you get the idea in your head that you’re supposed to do the safe thing, the things that will secure you. But she was like, ‘Why don’t you just go to film school? You want to do film, right?’ I didn’t even know that I could do that. I didn’t know that was an option for me.”

 

And despite the valuable insight he gained attending Scottsdale Community College for their film program, he couldn’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t what he truly wanted to pursue.

It’s crazy that it’s the space that we created. Like it still doesn’t feel real a lot of the time.

Enter 2020. We’re all locked inside, away from in-person school and work. With his newfound free time, Pham decided to pick up Twitch streaming, where he slowly started building an audience and eventually getting commissions for his work.

 

“It was that moment where I thought, if I could be my own boss and just do my own thing, and not answer to anybody other than myself…I realized that’s exactly what I wanted, because I didn’t feel like there were many structures that worked for my brain in particular. So it was that moment where I was like: if I can make money doing this, then that’s what I want to do.”

All aboard Sleepy Morning Train (Art: Tyjiro)

Along with his Twitch chats, Pham has a Discord server, complete with music share, art share, memes and pets channels. The funny part is, he had no intentions of building a tight-knit or active community outside of his streams. The idea was born after one of his friends insisted on making and moderating a Discord server for him.

 

“I just gave them the reins and then they set everything up and it’s so cool now,” he says. 

 

In real-time, a viewer on one of Pham’s Twitch streams mentioned a Pokemon-themed piece he made for his girlfriend. Pham told them to drop it in the art-share server, and the whole Twitch chat reacted in support.

 

“I realized how great it is to have a community of literally all great artists, and they’re just sharing all the time and you get to see everyone’s work and it’s really cool. I did not expect it at all and it feels really good that so many great artists want to all collect themselves into one space. And it’s crazy that it’s the space that we created. Like it still doesn’t feel real a lot of the time.”

 

Pham also has a strategy for managing that feeling of burnout, even if he doesn’t get that feeling very often.

 

“I’ll have this passion project for a certain part of the stream or social media in general. And then I’ll really like to focus on that. As soon as I feel like I’m running out of gas on that thing, I pivot to something else.”

 

Pham says this is where him playing around with programs as a kid comes in handy.

“I feel really grateful to my young self for learning a bunch of random programs and skills for no reason—now I get to use them all for this thing that I love and I get to exercise every skill that I’ve learned. It’s like I use a different brain every time I use a different skill.”

 

After finding himself at multiple crossroads and decision points throughout his life, Pham finally found his groove: going viral for his innovative streams and art style, selling Basa City themed merchandise, and building an active community of artists who support each other.

Somebody has to be the person who’s able to reach all their goals and do the thing that they love every day. There’s very few people who get to do that. But there’s no reason that it couldn’t be you.

“If you’re afforded the opportunity to take a risk, even if it might kind of screw up your life for a little bit, calculate the risk. But I honestly think, if you have the ability to try, you definitely should.”

 

At the risk of sounding like a “pretentious artist” (his words not mine) Pham offered some advice for anyone who might be at a stalemate or crossroads in their life.

 

“Somebody has to be the person that’s successful at what they want to do,” he says. 

 

“Somebody has to be the person who’s able to reach all their goals and do the thing that they love every day. There’s very few people who get to do that. But there’s no reason that it couldn’t be you. Don’t live life in wonderment of if you could do it. If you could make your life something that not a lot of people get to do, that’s the dream.”

Lao Xao Avenue (Art: Tyjiro)

IN THIS ARTICLE

Tyler Pham

Portrait of Rithwik staring off into the distance.

words by

Rithwik Kalale

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