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Rooster Teeth Deserved Better Than Death By Warner Brothers

The company should have gone out on its own terms

Rooster Teeth is shutting down. The long-running video game media company went through a series of owners before landing with Warner Brothers Discovery, who continue to ruin the things they own.

According to an internal Rooster Teeth announcement by general manager Jordan Levin, the shutdown is “due to challenges facing digital media resulting from fundamental shifts in consumer behavior and monetization across platforms, advertising, and patronage.” Levin notes that the company’s podcasting arm will continue, and that the company will “work together to implement the best way to wind things down for us and our community” over the next few months. 

This is pretty shitty news. Since its founding in 2003, Rooster Teeth’s stuff has permeated video game culture, making its name with long-running machinima series Red vs. Blue, based on the Halo universe, before branching out into all kinds of live action and animated series, clip shows, podcasts, and more. I wouldn’t call myself a Rooster Teeth fan per se; I was pretty into Red vs. Blue back in the day, though as a non-Halo person, anything that wasn’t straight jokes largely went over my head. Still, at that time in my life, it was easy to be charmed by the scruffy aesthetic and seemingly-effortless humor of the show, and by the narrative of a bunch of friends making fun stuff together. Even after I stopped watching Red vs. Blue, I would religiously check in to new episodes of Rooster Teeth Animated Adventures, short animations taken from the group’s podcast that captured that same “pals having fun” vibe. 

I’d pop in a little more regularly after learning about cofounder Geoff Ramsey’s sobriety. I was moved by someone else being open and honest about their struggle with alcohol, and especially by what felt like his willingness to share the ugly realities of it and the pain it caused people around him. Getting sober involves a lot of hugely unpleasant facing your shit, and I admired that someone who basically staked their career on their public image would be willing to air so much of that difficult, unflattering process to the world. 

This happened alongside other, uglier parts of Rooster Teeth coming to light. Sexual harassment and toxic workplace accusations arose regularly in the last few years, telling what felt to me like a too-familiar story of shitty behavior that was able to thrive among a group of people who were perhaps unprepared for what transforming from a group of buddies into a professional company required. Rooster Teeth made overtures toward addressing some of the issues, though it’s not clear to me if it succeeded.   

The company also went through several ownership changes, being purchased by Fullscreen Media in 2014 and subsequently passing through the hands of Otter Media and AT&T before being swallowed up by WB, who closed it down today. This, too, is an all-too-familiar story, especially these days: more corporate owners who see everything they own as names and numbers and are happy to cut bait once the numbers don’t go up as much as they want. 

It’s an ignoble end, though maybe not a totally surprising one. Rooster Teeth is clearly not what it once was; while some of that is surely due to its internal issues, it’s also because time passes and people change. Something that started over 20 years ago can’t, and definitely shouldn’t, look the same. Maybe, if the company had continued, it would have found a way to thrive again in an era where it faced competition in a field it was so foundational in creating. Maybe it would have ended anyway, as staff turned over and subscriber counts fell (Variety reports that Rooster Teeth has 60k subscribers today, down from a peak of 225k.).

But at least it could have charted its own future, turning things around or going out on its own failures or by its own choice, instead of at the removed whims of a parent corporation that loves to destroy its own toys like a moody toddler. It’s a loss for the folks still working at Rooster Teeth, and for the community surrounding it, and for the rest of us who have to be reminded once again how firm a grip money men have on the things we enjoy. 

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