In November 2014, when Fullscreen, which had been acquired by AT&T, in turn acquired Rooster Teeth, I’m not sure anyone expected all the changes that were coming Rooster Teeth’s way, as well as the changes for the extremely active Rooster Teeth community. Rooster Teeth co-founder Burnie Burns said the following of the acquisition: “At Rooster Teeth, we have a long history of creating the best digital content in the industry. With Fullscreen, we look forward to continuing that tradition in even bigger and better ways. Matt and I are excited about the opportunities this alliance will present for our creators and all the amazing content it will empower them to produce for our audience.” Four years later, AT&T and Time Warner merged, and Time Warner became Warner Media. Rooster Teeth quickly found itself under Warner Media’s umbrella.
There have been other changes in the past six years or so since the acquisition; Rooster Teeth expanded its Let’s Play network, adding channels like Funhaus (formerly Inside Gaming) and Cow Chop to its established Achievement Hunter gaming channel. Funhaus is the only channel that survived the Let’s Play network in its current state; Cow Chop folded in April 2019, for example. Other channels, like Game Attack and Sugar Pine 7, broke off from the Let’s Play network. Let’s Play had a rough start; many Achievement Hunter fans expressed their discontent (mostly in YouTube comments) at the fact that the formerly AH-exclusive channel became home to many other groups.
On the animation side, Rooster Teeth tragically lost one of its key creators, Monty Oum, in February 2015. RWBY, his magnum opus, continued on, even hitting 100 episodes this past weekend. It’s now on its eighth season; Oum died during the production of its third. RWBY is easily Rooster Teeth’s most popular series to date, placing on Tumblr’s top 20 of 2020 Fandommetrics list at number 17. It frequently trends on Tumblr after a new episode is released on Saturday mornings, and a great deal of Rooster Teeth content is dedicated to it, with new merch being produced frequently, a DnD campaign show (RWBY: The Grimm Campaign), and a recap of the past seven and a half seasons being released before the second half of the eighth season began airing once again.
But there are changes in the water, in the air, as Galadriel might say. Rooster Teeth effectively split into two companies back in 2019: Rooster Teeth Studios, which includes animation, and Rooster Teeth Direct, which is mainly their comedy and gaming channels. Rooster Teeth Studios has apparently been outsourcing content originally produced in-house, like their series gen:LOCK, to another animation studio, Bardel Entertainment. Bardel’s other shows include The Dragon Prince and Solar Opposites. The second season of the series will also air on HBO Max before going to the Rooster Teeth site.
Key staff have left the company, some of their own accord, some because they were terrible people! Grey Haddock and Miles Luna, both key animation personnel, are examples of the former, having both left the company for other ventures. Haddock left in 2019, while Luna left in 2020. Luna still maintains a role on RWBY’s writing staff and voice acting team, however. Co-founder Burns also left the company in 2020.
On the “terrible people” side, host Ryan Haywood of Achievement Hunter was fired because he allegedly sexually assaulted and harassed fans. Host Adam Kovic of Funhaus was also fired for allegedly sending explicit photos of himself to fans. The Haywood case, in particular, shook fans down to their core; how could someone so beloved in content be such a heinous person in real life? Parasocial relationships are very real, and Rooster Teeth is a veritable hive for them.
And then there’s the case of RTX, Rooster Teeth’s annual convention, held in Austin, TX. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was pushed back and back last year, until it was finally announced it would be a virtual convention, held in September. It was just announced on Wednesday that RTX 2021, originally planned as an in-person event for summer 2021, has also been canceled and will be held virtually in July 2021. Obviously, the pandemic is chiefly to blame for this unfortunate series of events, but one has to wonder: with the move towards more corporate ownership and structure, is the fall of Rooster Teeth as a community-centered company at hand?
COVID has changed a lot of things and will undoubtedly shift how all conventions function and operate. Rooster Teeth still interacts with fans a good deal: comment sections are open and busy on the website, the Reddits for RWBY, Achievement Hunter, Funhaus, and Rooster Teeth in general are relatively active, and there are frequent calls for fan content to be posted, to be included in videos across the company’s various properties.
But at the end of the day, and I’m not saying this is good or bad, Rooster Teeth is now an arm of a massive corporation. That meant a change to how it operated day to day, and that may now mean a distancing from the community which helped to get it started in the first place. I believe the individual personalities will still interact when they can, and the marketing arm of the company for the productions will still encourage organic interactions, but things are going to change drastically as we emerge from this pandemic. I, as a Rooster Teeth community member, am trying to prepare for those changes as best I can. The question here is, will the rest of the community also prepare for yet another transition?