The Rooster Teeth controversy, explained SuperNayr

One of the longest running digital media and gaming companies, Rooster Teeth, is being shut down after more than 20 years, multiple controversies, several owners, and an unsuccessful rebrand. Rooster Teeth’s general manager announced the shutdown at a company wide meeting on Mar. 6, after parent company Warner Bros. Discovery decided that it didn’t see a path to profitability. Considering the number of scandals over the years, it’s surprising it didn’t happen sooner. Let’s take a look at what happened.

Around 150 full-time workers are now out of a job, and a large number of content creators and contract workers are also out of work. General manager Jordan Levin wrote a detailed memo to staff, saying that the company couldn’t handle the “challenges facing digital media” and the “fundamental shifts in consumer behavior and monetization.”

Warner Bros. Discovery is in the process of selling rights to some Rooster Teeth properties, including the Roost Podcast network, which will continue to operate while WB searches for a buyer.

“Warner Bros. Discovery thanks Rooster Teeth’s groundbreaking creators and partners, and the strong management team, for their many years of success,” the media company said. “Your passionate and loyal fans are testament to your achievements.”

So how did we get here? How did one of the most recognizable properties on the Internet just get dismantled and sold for parts? Let’s start at the beginning.

What is Rooster Teeth?

Rooster Teeth is a media production company based out of Austin, Texas. It was founded way back in 2003 by  Burnie Burns, Matt Hullum, Geoff Ramsey, Jason Saldaña, Gus Sorola, and Joel Heyman. The name comes from an insult called “cockbite” from the original trailer for one of their longest running properties called Red vs. Blue.

In addition to the sci fi satire Red vs. Blue, the company has an anime series called RWBY and an animated mech show from Michael B. Jordan called Gen:Lock. The company originally struck gold with a series of videos called Let’s Play, and it has accrued more than 6 billion views throughout all of its social and video channels. The Rooster Teeth YouTube page has more than 90 million subscribers, and one of its most popular videos, a fake trailer for an Angry Birds movie, has 26 million views alone.

The company’s had a few different owners over the years. It was first bought by media company Fullscreen, which was then acquired by AT&T’s Otter Media. AT&T was in the process of selling Rooster Teeth when it was acquired by Warner Bros. Discovery.

The company has weathered some huge controversies over the years, so much so that someone kept a spreadsheet to keep tabs on everything. Some of the accusations leveled against the company include reports of workplace discrimination, poor work conditions, low pay, and creating a homophobic and sexist work environment. Higher ups at the company were also let go for soliciting minors.

There are, however, two huge scandals that perhaps sounded the eventuial death knell of the company. Let’s take a look at those.

The Kdin Jenzen Controversy

On Oct. 15, 2022, an employee named Kdin Jenzen wrote a very detailed account of their harassment at the workplace titled “My final words on Rooster Teeth & just SOME of my experiences there.” Jenzen, who is trans and goes by she/them pronouns, mostly worked on Achievement Hunter. She spent nine years at the company, starting in 2013.

She alleges that she was an unpaid contractor from Feb. to November of 2013, and that when she asked to be hired permanently, she was told, “It’s been so long already, it’s not really a big deal, is it?” She also said she was unpaid for some voice work on shows like RWBY, and that when she did finally get hired as a producer, she only made $40,000 a year, which was far below the industry standard. The next lowest pay point at the company was $70k a year, she said.

“In my first years there, I would arrive at work around 7am (two hours before everyone else) to begin editing videos and would often have to stay until 9pm to get as much work done as possible,” she wrote. “This was actively encouraged so we could have a backlog of content, but I was always given ‘rush orders’ to edit more important videos to go out either the same day or next day. That’s when the crunch began for me and it did not end.”

Jenzen said she was called a homophobic slur for years by her co-workers and was harassed by her acting manager. She reported all of this to HR but nothing was done, she said.

“Any time I brought up mistreatment or that ‘making fun of people in content only encourages the community to hate us’ — I was waved away saying ‘IT’S JUST A JOKE! Ignore the comments!’” she wrote. “Handful of good people. Bad Company,” she wrote at the end of the post.

After Jenzen’s post went viral, Rooster Teeth released a statement of its own. The company said it was “disheartened” that anyone “experienced pain resulting from prior experiences working at Rooster Teeth and support the resolution of interpersonal conflicts through direct and honest dialogue.” The company said it has “faced inevitable mistakes and interpersonal challenges.”

Geoff Ramsey, a co-founder, also apologized. “The long and short of it is that I f***ing sucked,” Ramsey said. “I was a sh**ty, self-loathing poor excuse for a ‘comedian,’ who only knew how to express myself by externalizing that feeling under the guise of edgy comedy.”

The Ryan Haywood and Adam Kovic Controversy

In Oct. of 2020, Rooster Teeth employees Ryan Haywood and Adam Kovic were fired after explicit photos reportedly sent to fans were leaked. The photos showed up online on 4chan and Reddit, along with accusations of their having asked minors for sex, and grooming them.

Haywood, who was a host on Achievement Hunter, reportedly sent photos to a 17-year-old girl named Tessa, who shared snippets of their conversations online. After her story got legs, other people came forward saying that Haywood sent them unsolicited pictures, and that he was “convincing and manipulating.”

Kovic was reportedly catfished by someone pretending to be a porn actress and sent some explicit photos and videos. After Haywood’s firing, he was accused of inappropriate sexual activity with even more underage minors.

The End of Rooster Teeth

Rooster Teeth recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, and had just finished a rebrand with a fresh new tagline: “Just Playing.” It simply wasn’t enough. At its peak, Rooster Teeth has more than 400 employees and 225,000 subscribers to its subscription video-on-demand service. Unfortunately, the company was never profitable, and was operating at a loss for the past ten years.

The company also used to run yearly fan conventions and sold merchandise, but those actions never really justified its existence to its corporate overlords.

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