Critical Role Wendy's Controversy

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Fandom: Critical Role
Dates: October 2019
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In 2019 at New York Comic Con, Wendy's launched their TTRPG Feasts of Legends. One of their promotional campaigns was a partnership with Critical Role, who ran a product placement One Shot with Sam Riegel as the Dungeon Master and Matt Mercer, Marisha Ray, Liam O'Brien and Ify Nwadiwe as players. The Critical Role fandom's reactions to the sponsored one shot was divided and hevily discussed. Likely due to the controversy, the one shot was removed from Critical Role's the Twitch library, the episode was not posted on YouTube, and all profits from the game were donated to charity.[1]

The backlash started slowly and quietly in the week leading up to the one shot. Some fans expressed doubt about a heavy-handed sponsorship like this. When the one shot aired on Thursday, October 3rd, the criticism intensified."Many fans were upset about what Wendy’s represents – they have come under fire in recent years for not treating their farm workers fairly, among other things, and this goes against the ethos that the Critical Role community espouses."[2]

Some European fans were still able to watch the one shot on demand on Twitch on Friday, but the episode was removed later that day. On October 6, 2019 all tweets in relation to the one shot had been removed and all mentions of the episode were removed from the fall schedule post on the official Critical Role website[3].

Some fans cynically say that this is all damage control, others maintain this was all planned from the get go to engage in a very Goblet-of-Fire-esque nonsensical plot to steal money from corporations and give to the poor (it wasn’t), and others still insist that the show has nothing to apologize for. There’s been a very divisive backlash among the fanbase, as is to be expected anytime that something you closely identify with (and feel a modicum of ownership of) acts in a way that’s incongruous with how you see it.[2]

Initial reactions

The fandom was divided in reaction to the episode. Some loved it and found it hilarious, while others were uncomfortable with the overtness of the sponsorship and how blatantly it dictated the entire episode. Few people in the fandom pointed out that it wasn't first corporate sponsorship Critical Role had taken one. Others argued that CR cast and crew had the responsibility to better vet their sponsors before committing to a partnership.

Fans who watched the episode live are said to have enjoyed themselves a lot in Twitch chat[4]. Initial posts on Tumblr were also focused on the hilarity of the episode[5]. Some fans freely admitted that they found the episode funny, but were uncomfortable with a big corporation, having nothing in common with Critical Role, using it as an advertising platform[6]. There were also accusations that "Critical Role sold out."

Some fans, who later admitted to hating the episode, attempted to prove that Matt Mercer was uncomfortable with the one shot by pointing out certain facial expressions and reactions to what was happening in the adventure[7] and as validation of the idea that the one shot was as forced as it felt to them.

In a Reddit post dedicated to the One shot the majority of commenters put the blame for the backlash on Twitter fans who tweeted at the cast (and Matt in particular) with their complaints. Some fans went as far as drawing a distinction between Critters (being the fans who complained about the one shot) and the rest of the fans.

Later reactions

Youtuber TheD20Speakeasy in his The Critical Role Wendy's Controversy Explained video, posted on 12 October 2019, speculated that there were two reasons for the fandom outrage:

  • Wendy's donates to the Trump campaign/Republican campaigns while the Critical Role fandom and the cast itself is very left-leaning (when it comes to American politics) and heavily favors LGBTQ causes. This made some fans question why would CR partner with a company with such opposite views. This theory appears to be confirmed by some of the Reddit users in the Critical Role subreddit[8]
  • Fair Food Program and Wendy's insistence on withholding from the program. Fans did not like CR partnering with someone who disregarded human rights.

TheD20Speakeasy also pointed out that no matter how much Critical Role feels like a family, they are a business and some parts of the fandom seem to forget that. He also joined the voices in the fandom who disagreed with CR scrubbing the Wendy's content completely from all of their spaces.

A lot of non-American fans were confused by the controversy, due to lack of Wendy's presence in their countries. They were unfamiliar with Wendy's policies and generally considered the partnership to be a good thing[9].

some of e criticism CR is receiving is warranted. They’ve worked incredibly hard to promote themselves as a caring, inclusive, and pro human rights. In light of what others have highlighted about Wendy’s business practice this may not have been the best joint venture for CR. My opinion of CR hasn’t changed because of this. I still believe them to be caring, inclusive, and holding to more progressive ideals. I just think this was a poor business decision and I hope they are more diligent in the vetting who they work with in the future.[10]
[kaiju-z]

Honestly, they did the right thing.

No, fuck you. They did, really.No, really, fuck you. They fucking did the right thing, alright? For all the talk about equality and the LGBTQA+ representation in the series, it would have been fucking hypocritical if they up and accepted the money from Wendy’s and kept it for themselves.“Blagh, you fucking woke bae SJWs with your foe concerns! They’re a young company, let them make mistakes!”

Making a bad investment in a failing project is a mistake that can be understood and forgiven and even something you can bounce back from, if that has nothing to do with the values you espouse as a company and product.

Hell, the fans would support the risky choice here. Take a chance, roll the dice, right?!

But.Making a deal with a company, who’s head is a supporter of an unhinged, racist, sexist, homophobe, anti-semite and a company, who advocates for anti-LGBTQA+ legislation is something that can be understood, but not forgiven and something they wouldn’t have been able to bounce back from, if they didn’t do as they did in the end. Yes, they are a young fucking company and need to grow to stay afloat and rise. They are allowed to make certain mistakes, no shit, they’re only humans running a mini-corp. Growing pains will be and are involved. We get that shit. But there are certain things they can’t do, if they wanna keep their message relevant and on point and working with pro-facist companies is not one of those things.

Why is that distinction so hard for understand?!

[dreanner95]

Their reaction after they were informed about it really shows this. Obviously that doesn’t change that they did make a mistake by not vetting Wendy’s but this is where them being a young company comes in. They don’t have years long of experience and sometimes when you are excited about someting that sounds like fun, you can overlook the most obvious things.

[dreanner95]

I disagree with you on a few points. They probally would have been able to recover after this. Which makes the donation and them pulling the One Shot even more impressive. And I don’t think they did all this willingly. You can’t expect everyone to know everything terrible a company does. There are so many out there that this would be impossible. Just because in your filter bubble what Wendy’s does is common knowledge, doesn’t mean everyone knows about it.

Some fans argued that they didn't like the episode not because of the Wendy's involvement, but because it did not live up to the quality they were used to. One fans said:

I'm chiming in because somebody needs to point out that some of us who did not enjoy the show didn't like it strictly on the merits of the content and not for issues related to the sponsorship. Sam was not prepared. The story was boring. For me, the entertainment value of the parody was insufficient to propel the narrative for the length of the show. The cast did a good job trying to make this episode about funny hijinks, but IMO the story did not compliment this style of play.[11]

Fandom Criticism of the Backlash

Some fans disagreed with the backlash itself, complaining that fans were "screaming on twitter like an overzealous entitled douchebag about the whole thing"[12].

I think people are seeing it as "CR is selling out!" to the big companies. But at the same time ignoring the fact that Critical Role raised over 11 million dollars on Kickstarter, have millions of fans, and have been growing rapidly since they launched in 2015. There was over 100k watching the c1 finale live, not including half the world who can't watch at US prime time, and they've only grown since c2 began. Critical Role IS a big company at this point. Crossovers, sponsors and partnerships from bigger name brands is inevitable.[13]
I don’t think some of the criticism has been delivered well. There has been a lot commenters acting as if this one misstep erases every good thing CR has done in the past. For me, that seems a bit harsh. Give criticism where criticism is due. Educate when you can. Then allow them time to process and respond. If they then decide to abandon all that they claim they stand for go ahead and blast them if you feel it’s necessary. I don’t think that’ll be the case for CR. I’m not sure they’ll necessarily respond to this directly, but I believe they’ll be more picky with whom they work with in the future.[10]

On Reddit, in various (now locked) discussion threads, some fans argued that anger over Wendy's being a bad MegaCorp was ridiculous because Critical Role had worked with big corporations in the past. They pointed out that Amazon, Google, Wizards of the Coast and Blizzard all contributed to CR success directly or indirectly, and they are all big corporations. Forgiving misgivings of one corporation due to some sort of "nerd cred" but crying "sell out" when it's Wendy's didn't make sense in their eyes.[14] In fact, in some arguments, the criticism was likened to gatekeeping[15].

Lasting Results

On the Critical Role subreddit, the topic has been heavily monitored, with mods locking down that topic. Some fans, unable to watch the episode in the Twitch archives, looked for alternative uploads so they could watch it[16].

Some fans expressed the hope that Critical Role wouldn't do one shots like this too often[17], or at all, in the future.

The reactions to the controversy appear to follow somewhat the general divide within the Critical Role fandom, with Reddit fans being okay with the concept of the one shot and Twitter/Tumblr fans criticizing the partnership with Wendy's.

Additional Reading

References

  1. ^ Oct 4, 2019 from the official CR Twitter account, accessed 12 October, 2020
  2. ^ a b RPG: Critical Role Faces Backlash After Wendy’s RPG One Shot, Archived version
  3. ^ The Critical Role Wendy's Controversy Explained by TheD20Speakeasy, accessed 12 October 2020
  4. ^ "I was in the chat during the game and everyone had a blast." a comment by Patronofdragons left on "The Critical Role Wendy's Controversy Explained," accessed 12 October 2020
  5. ^ wendy's one shot tag on Tumblr, accessed 14 October 2020
  6. ^ Reddit comment by SimplyQuid, accessed 12 October 2020
  7. ^ Reddit comment by Modredastal, accessed 13 October 2020
  8. ^ "While I'm pretty indifferent, my main worry is PR. CR has managed to cultivate a very left-leaning and (crucially) politically conscious fan base on the whole (it's one of the reasons I love the community) and something like this would not look great to the people who are very deep in those spheres." - one of Reddit comments, accessed 13 October 2020
  9. ^ "I’m not American so I can’t comment on Wendy’s policies but I would have thought a globally recognised brand offering our “nerdy ass voice actors” sponsorship is a good thing and that the money will be used for the betterment of CR." - a Reddit comment by bradz7584, accessed 12 October 2020
  10. ^ a b Reddit comment by CMDRCanum, accessed 12 October 2020
  11. ^ Reddit comment by GeekSumsMe, accessed 12 October 2020
  12. ^ Youtube comment by Samoclese, accessed 12 October, 2020
  13. ^ Reddit comment by _Junkstapose_, accessed 12 October 2020
  14. ^ Reddit comment by invaderzam4, accessed 13 October 2020
  15. ^ Reddit comment by rawbamatic, accessed 13 October 2020
  16. ^ Looking for Latest Deleted Critical Role Wendy's One-Shot From Twitch Reddit post, accessed 12 October 2020
  17. ^ Reddit comment by SwellSkelto, accessed 13 October 2020