How does a team of college kids go from getting drunk and reviewing video games to producing an animated series with hardcore fanbases in both the United States and Japan? It sounds like an unobtainable geeky American dream, but it’s the true story of entertainment company Rooster Teeth. From Halo machinima videos to magical girls and mecha shows, let’s take a look at a how a team of six fans became a major studio conquering just about every corner of modern media.
Before Rooster Teeth as we know it came into being, there was Drunk Gamers: a website run by future RT co-founders Burnie Burns, Geoff Ramsey, Gus Sorola, and Jason Saldaña, along with friend and co-worker Dan Godwin. It was, well, pretty much what the name implies: the hosts got drunk, played video games, and reviewed them. A fun idea, but one that didn’t really go over well with video game creators when the site tried to get free copies for review purposes. In order to get pro, they would need a name change and a style change… both of which were incoming.
As part of the site, Burns did voiceover-enhanced playthroughs of Halo: Combat Evolved. The fan-favorite vids spawned a trailer for a new stand-alone machinima series, Red vs. Blue. The trailer would end up supplying the new name for the site: a reworded euphemism for the insult “cockbite” from the RvB trailer. Rebranded and with a new original series of their own, the company officially became “Rooster Teeth” in 2003.
The studio continued to create a variety of machinima and live action series, as well as podcasts, for more than a decade. For much of that time, they actually hosted all their videos on their own website, rather than going to a third party like YouTube. It wasn’t until very recent years that the team even got a YouTube channel, which now has just under 10 million subscribers.
Rooster Teeth experimented with non-machinima animation in 2011 with the webseries Nature Town, a cutout-style series about what animals discuss when people aren’t around, came to the web. Less than two years later, they kicked it up a notch with a completely new, fully 3DCG-animated series. The show, under the direction of Red vs. Blue custom animation creator Monty Oum, combined action and fantasy in a series heavily inspired by magical girl anime.
RWBY (pronounced “ruby”) launched in late 2012 as a series of four short character-specific trailers, spotlighting heroines Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang. The following summer, a four-episode series ran on Crunchyroll and the Rooster Teeth website, and gathered up a devoted fandom in no time. The series made it all the way to Japan, receiving a manga adaptation and a Japanese-language dub starring industry big-hitters like Saori Hayami and Ami Koshimizu.
Sadly, Monty Oum wouldn’t be at the head of RWBY forever. Fans were devastated when the creator passed in 2015, due to an allergic reaction during a medical procedure. RWBY has continued in his honor in the capable hands of Rooster Teeth regular Kerry Shawcross.
Rooster Teeth’s output has continued to grow. The team is behind documentaries on everything from memes to ASMR to themselves. At the time of this writing, they have nine ongoing weekly video and audio series in addition to their major projects. They’ve produced two seasons of Lazer Team for YouTube Red, and the horror series Blood Fest for their own premium program, Rooster Teeth FIRST. That’s not to mention their participation in other people’s projects — such as their commitment to porting indie horror hit Bendy and the Ink Machine to major consoles once the story has wrapped.
And they’re using their success to give back to the community, too. Rooster Teeth is a regular participant in gaming charity Extra Life, raising money for their local children’s hospital—last year they raised more than $1 million on their charity stream.
Rooster Teeth has gone from being six guys who loved anime and video games to becoming an entertainment company more than 300 people strong… who also love anime and video games. They may be pros fifteen years later, but that love and fandom still shows through in everything they do… and we can’t wait to see what they do next.