The general feeling from those I talked to who worked at Blistered Thumbs all felt that Austin Yorski was an editor-in-chief who knew where the site needed to go and had a sound understanding of how to get it there. Micah had mentioned that Yorski could have taken the site to new heights but was limited by Channel Awesome’s lack of commitment to providing Yorski with the necessary resources to do so. In fact, Micah states…
“Austin was promised by That Guy With The Glasses that he was going to get the next-generation consoles to staff writers for them to review, which could potentially bring that traffic back up.” […] “And they fucked him over on it. They didn't give him the money that he needed to get these things.”
“So all of a sudden he was promised and expecting these consoles for launch that they were going to get for him, and they just never ponied up the money and they had no intentions to do so, either. So they lied to him. So everything he had worked on had just went to shit.”
I asked Yorski if it was true that he was denied the resources at Blistered Thumbs and if his hands were tied because of that. Yorski stated…
“That may be one of the truest sentences ever crafted by human hands. While I can't promise that I could have turned [Blistered Thumbs] into the next IGN or anything, we had more than enough gifted writers and an established audience; there is absolutely no excuse for the way things turned out.”
But this issue was there well before Yorski took over. Micah had mentioned that Joe was desperately trying to grow the site but was refused the necessary resources, too. The former staff have independently confirmed that there were serious issues with management, even before Joe was fired. In fact, Yorski mentioned…
“Even before [Blistered Thumbs] launched, Channel Awesome made a number of promises that were never delivered upon, even years later. Compensation is obviously the big one
– almost everyone worked for free from beginning to end.”
What’s worse is that Channel Awesome held an IndieGoGo campaign that generated nearly $90,000 but, according to Yorski, the staff at Blistered Thumbs were never paid for the work they put into the site nor did they see the money from the crowd-funding campaign, stating…
“The crowd-funding was generally for Doug and his various projects, but you can imagine that, from our perspective, the terminally neglected [Blistered Thumbs] site should have been a part of those efforts. In fact, [Channel Awesome] had previously shot down the idea of a [Blistered Thumbs] Kickstarter, saying that they would never resort to such tactics. When they then turned around and raised money for themselves that way while leaving us to die a slow death, you can imagine our indignation.”
“I was under the impression that the IndieGogo campaign was a collaborative effort between Mike Michaud and the Walkers, but I have no first-hand knowledge of the specifics of that arrangement. As you are likely aware, many of the promises made as a result of IndieGogo fundraising have yet to be fulfilled to this day, over a year later. This is a common criticism of [Channel Awesome], and a continuation of the managerial mishandling that is so evident in [Blistered Thumb's] case.”
Jason “Lordkat” Pullara offered similar sentiments about the mismanagement of the site, especially when asked what the administrators could have done to fix the problem and save Blistered Thumbs, stating…
“After leaving Channel Awesome and realizing just how much of a clusterfuck it actually was, there was nothing that could “save” Blistered Thumbs. The management at Channel Awesome is either completely incompetent or they are criminals. I have not concluded what my opinion is yet. You have to understand that there is zero communication from management to everyone else – Rob, Doug, and Mike will tell a few of their friends what they’re thinking of doing, and will leave it up to them to spread rumors via a Skype chat.”
In all fairness, the IndieGoGo campaign never once mentioned that funds would be used for Blistered Thumbs and the achieved stretch goals had nothing to do with Blistered Thumbs, either. However, it is easy to see why a struggling section of the network would have staff assume that the crowd-sourcing would be used to fix the technical issues of Blistered Thumbs and potentially start paying staff. Of course, that didn’t happen.
I did reach out to Mike Michaud for comment, but there has been no response as of the publishing of this article.
Nevertheless, I was told that it would be difficult to get in touch with Mike Michaud because he’s not necessarily press-friendly. Pullara had stated…
“Michaud himself doesn’t actually [make] any company statements, set any goals, provide a vision, or execute any sort of leadership within the company – he’ busy spending 12 hours a day playing on Xbox Live (At least, that’s what he did when I was around). When management is that bad any product you launch is going to be equally as terrible.”
But it wasn’t just a lack of funding that hurt the site, it was also the lack of infrastructure; a lack of committing to providing the technical means for the staff to conduct business in the utmost professional manner.
Yorski stated that the problems extended beyond Blistered Thumbs, mentioning…
“Perhaps most importantly, the website was so poorly designed as to render it nearly unusable. This is an issue which persisted for the entirety of my tenure, and continues to be a problem for all Channel Awesome ventures. Simply put, company management refuses to make site design and maintenance a priority and everything and everyone suffers.
“I could write an entire book on that one aspect of the situation
– the struggle to fix the Blistered Thumbs website is a veritable Greek tragedy. That is essentially an open secret at this point though. It hardly needs emphasis.”
Pullara did mention that the site suffered under Yorski, but not for the lack of his efforts. According to Pullara, a lot of the problems fell back to poor support from the executives in charge.
Funnily enough, Micah reiterated Pullara’s sentiments in a separate interview, stating…
“The big thing is that [Channel Awesome's administrators] promoted Austin Yorski – which is a position we needed for a very long time. They promoted Austin but just gave him the site and said 'Try to fix this mess'. And he did his damnedest to do so.
“He couldn't plug the leaks of a sinking ship.” […] “It was the Titanic and it hit the iceberg that I warned everyone about.”
Micah expressed his disappointment with how the management handled the whole situation and how the higher-ups did very little to resolve the problems. He mentioned that Channel Awesome mostly went into damage control following Austin Yorski taking his leave from Blistered Thumbs, attempting to mostly “muzzle” those who did stay. He commented that it’s like they have “Stockholm Syndrome” because Channel Awesome still offers them a platform and a paycheck.
Yorski takes a more neutral approach to the whole thing, stating…
“It's tempting to throw Mike Michaud under the bus for everything that happened. Whether it was Joe or I in charge, whenever [Blistered Thumbs] wanted to get something done, we had to go to Mike to make it happen. So when the inevitable happened and [Channel Awesome] was unable or unwilling to help, Mike ended up as the face of obstruction. Whether or not that narrative reflects the reality of the situation is difficult to say, however. I was not present for the management meetings that ultimately doomed [Blistered Thumbs], so it's entirely possible that Mike represented our interests fully and competently and was simply overruled.”
“This would all be a lot simpler if I could just dump the blame on Mike Michaud and sit back in judgment. Unfortunately, the most likely scenario is that CA management made a number of mistakes and ended up neglecting what they saw as a side project until it was simply too late to fix it.”
For those who were willing to comment, or offer some sort of insight into the behind-the-scenes dealings of Blistered Thumbs, they made it known that they were gravely disappointed with the outcome of the site and the lackadaisical approach by management having ignored some of the required utilitarian aspects to make the whole thing work.
Yorski’s closing comments about Blistered Thumbs echo a strong sentiment about the squandered talent under Channel Awesome, saying…
“The only appropriate emotional reaction to the collapse of Blistered Thumbs is disappointment. It could have been something special. We were let down by forces beyond our control, and, in turn, let down our loyal readers.
“We had a stable of beloved video personalities and unique editorial series. We had access to nearly every industry event and resource, from E3 to Metacritic. We had a parent company with the power to bring all of this together into a great place to share our love of video games.
“It's actually an impressive feat of incompetence that we managed to fail.”
On a positive note, just about everyone had something nice to say about the working relationships they had with Micah Curtis and “Angry” Joe Vargas. Joe was noted for spending money out of his own pocket to help get staff review copies for games that they couldn’t get from publishers. It was also noted that he did what he could to stamp out arguments and friction within the staff, while he was there.
Unfortunately, a mix of poor management and little or no structural support from the administrators led to the downfall of one of the most talked about gaming websites that never quite lived up to its own potential.