From the Collapse of The Escapist, a Second Wind Rises

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YummyBuum/Shutterstock GogOfVector/Shutterstock Remix by Caterina Cox GAMURS Group/Facebook

Nov. 6 “literally started as a normal day” for Yahtzee Croshaw, a YouTuber and the creative force behind the video series Zero Punctuation. For the past 16 years, he’d been producing reviews and industry critiques in animated vignettes for the Escapist, a gaming and entertainment news site. The creator told Passionfruit that he went about his usual business, uploading that week’s video and recording a podcast. However, soon he was told that Nick Calandra, the site’s editor-in-chief and his long-time collaborator since 2018, was let go from the site.

“That’s the first time I’ve been fired or anything, I knew my time was up,” Calandra told Passionfruit. “The call came, it was literally two minutes, and I told them straight up I’m not signing anything. They offered me three weeks of severance.”

Gamurs, a network of 17 nerd culture sites that started in 2015 as a social media platform, bought the Escapist in September 2022. In the 12 months since, Gamurs has laid off a number of full-time staff members across multiple sites and received criticism after listing a job for an AI editor.

Calandra said Gamurs’ goals for the site “were getting loftier and loftier.” According to him, they expected the site to earn 10 million views a month by the end of the year, which he thought was “impossible” considering the site was only getting a little more than half of that. But the writing on the wall became unignorable when he was allegedly excluded from a strategy meeting the week before his termination. At first, he was optimistic, thinking they might only cut some of his team, but not him. They seemed to need his “backend” work behind the scenes. 

Soon, however, he was cut from the team, alleging on Twitter that he was let go for “not achieving goals.” (Gamurs did not publicly comment on the reason behind his termination, and did not respond to our request for comment on the topic.)

In response to Calandra’s ousting, multiple writers, reviewers, and the entire video team at the Escapist resigned in protest, including Croshaw. Zero Punctuation was the site’s most popular video series, pulling in hundreds of thousands of views per video.

Unlike most YouTubers who maintain and run their channels, Croshaw solely posted on the Escapist and the site owned the rights and intellectual property to Zero Punctuation. After Croshaw’s first viral hit in 2007, he was approached by Escapist Magazine with a revenue-sharing model, which was incredibly rare in the early days of video monetization. 

“When I first started, I was just a dumb kid making stuff on YouTube,” Croshaw said. “I didn’t know what I was signing.” 

Escapist Magazine would go from “one corporate owner to another,” passing through four, causing it to suffer what Croshaw called a “death of a thousand cuts.” By the end of 2017, he was the last creator on the site remaining, and “everything was holding on by a thread.”

After it was purchased by Gamurs in 2022, things started to change even more. Croshaw claims he wasn’t allowed to promote the video games he’s helped create or swear in videos so it wouldn’t hurt monetization. Originally, he had been happy to let someone else handle the business while he focused on being creative, but he grew more discontent. He said the reason he stuck around as long as he did after the purchase by Gamurs was to continue working with Calandra. 

“I knew that when he was let go, I could see the same pattern that led to me being left as the last man standing,” Croshaw said. “I’d finally gotten old enough to get comfortable enough with change that I felt I wanted to be part of whatever Nick was doing.”

Out of the smoldering ashes came Second Wind, a YouTube channel solely owned by Calandra, Croshaw, and other members who departed the Escapist. In just a little over a week since they launched, they’ve gained over 163,000 YouTube subscribers and 3,000 Patreon members, and their first streams have pulled in hundreds of thousands of views. Croshaw is already working on “Fullyramblomatic,” a new weekly game review series named after his first website. 

Working in media, especially in the world of gaming, means growing used to a constant wave of layoffs and outlets closing down. The industry has prioritized clicks and Google’s decaying ad model above good journalism and proper critique. Others in games media are sick of this trajectory and have started creating their own platforms — former Kotaku writers started Aftermath, and Vice alums are working on Remap

The Second Wind crew believes that personality-based games media is the way of the future. Many fans, myself included, were watching Zero Punctuation in middle school and laughing along to the animated shenanigans, stick figures and little black imp cartoons. And of course, the swearing. Though we may have lost track of the show with every algorithm begging for every bit of engagement, that love for the work still remains unfettered. 

“When I first resigned, I was browsing YouTube that afternoon and saw a recent Zero Punctuation video, and it just felt like a knife in my heart,” Croshaw said. “It felt like 16 years of my life, and now all that’s gone. But then when I realized what a huge reaction we were getting to Second Wind I started to think maybe those 16 years were a long-term investment in this next step.”

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