It’s been a very rough week to be a Rooster Teeth fan. The company had gone through its almost seasonal round of layoffs- something fans had always been happy to pin on the company’s corporate overlords, heralding it as the company’s soul continuing to be consumed like a bagel the morning after a night on the town.
That’s always been the narrative every time bad news comes out of Rooster Teeth. CEO replaced? Corporate meddling. Shows cancelled? If only people cared more about the artful expression of multiple podcasts than if they recouped their production costs, then we’d still have Sportsball.
But this weekend broke another story: former producer and Achievement Hunter Kdin Jenzen’s bombshell that revealed something you just can’t pin on the suits anymore.
A Cornerstone of Internet History
For those not in the loop, I’ll keep it simple: Rooster Teeth is one of the biggest surviving names of the so called old school gaming days. Most famous for their web series Red Vs Blue, they were also quick to jump on the Lets Play trend when that caught on as a video format via their sub-channel, Achievement Hunter.
As a result, Rooster Teeth can largely be considered an important part of the Internet’s collective cultural heritage. Unfortunately, like a lot of things tied to American Cultural Heritage, it’s also incredibly problematic if you’re not White.
Basically, during the so-called “Golden years” of Achievement Hunter, Rooster Teeth is being accused of severely underpaying their staff (Kdin reports she was not paid for entire time as contract staff, as well as her transition costs despite the company pretending to champion trans rights). She also revealed just how bad the harassment in the company was: key talents were calling her slurs when she joined the company, then invented a codeword to not only call her that on camera, but also get fans in on the harassment too.
This is an unfortunate reminder of just how hostile mainstream gaming was to minorities back then. It’s not an excuse, mind you- I’m of the radical belief that a teenager and someone running a media company should be held to extremely different standards. Call me an idealist, but a generally good rule of thumb is that an adult and a teenage in a COD lobby are on fundamentally different parts of their life.
Talents have of course made their Notepad-based apologies, including Rooster Teeth itself, who claims to not realize that slurs were a thing until 2020. It’s all very blase, especially when read en masse like this. The follow-ups to these apologies from former staff and Kdin herself show that there’s a possibility some of these people might have changed- but the system they’ve perpetuated sure hasn’t.
One very important detail is markedly clear: It is entirely the company’s fault. Not its corporate overlords, but the very “good people” everyone always defended. When your employee goes to HR to complain about being called a slur and the response is little more than a shrug and a suggestion to quit, you shouldn’t deserve to be HR, let alone have a company that “celebrates” Pride month.
From A Former Fan
I don’t say this as some anonymous holier-than-thou voice, either. I was a fan old enough to remember Supreme Surrender, of all things. I watched through the so-called “Golden Years” of Achievement Hunter, where they jumped from online guides to Lets Play content, empowering a whole generation of mediocre white men to do the same.
Like so many, I dreamed of that dream email inviting me to come work for Rooster Teeth, like a Hogwarts Letter in that it would later reveal to have also been written by someone who hates trans people.
Then as we all got older, the truth came slipping out: we had scandal after scandal, like Achievement Hunter James Ryan Haywood cheating on his wife with multiple fans or Joel Heyman,- who outed himself as a far, far right nutter. We even got our first glimpse at how hostile Rooster Teeth really was to “outsiders” via Mica Burton- who was infamously harassed by toxic fans all while Rooster Teeth did nothing, prompting her own exit.
That’s not even an exhaustive list- former Achievement Hunter Fiona Nova showed that progress was glacial if at all present. Countless more employees would go on to talk about the horrible working conditions and the fact their number of apology videos greatly outnumbers employees coming out and saying things are better now says a lot about the company.
The fact that all of this was happening under the hood doesn’t point to a case of “one bad apple”. You could make any kind of excuse you so desired, but the point is that while we were all enjoying some of the best years of our life watching Rooster Teeth’s content, it was being made on the exploitation of vulnerable people, many of which equally enraptured to work for the company. Meanwhile, the most dangerous people at that company were seemingly having the time of their lives, seemingly oblivious of their coworkers own problems.
Have You Ever Wondered Why You’re Still Here?
Is there a solution to this? Not one I can say without being accused of trying to manipulate Warner’s stock. But like Hideki Kamiya with his cheaping out on one of the greatest video game characters, Rooster Teeth has done an ostensible amount of harm to its self-image- and we owe it to the company to make sure that no amount of iPhone notepad screenshots ever fixes this. It’s not empty promises about “doing better”, either- there has to be meaningful change that isn’t just the word of some guy that from now on he’ll target to lower his slurs-per-day.
Most importantly, we need to know that the people owed money are getting that money. Because talking about feelings and chanting “don’t be homophobic” during meditation is all fine and dandy, but corporations only speak one language- money. Like it or not, Rooster Teeth is a corporation, and boy would I love to hear that they’ve apologized in their mother tongue.