This isn’t an article about the rise and popularity of one of the most ambitious gaming websites that never quite fulfilled its potential. This is an article about the fall of one of the most ambitious gaming websites that never quite fulfilled its potential.
Blistered Thumbs was originally a subdivision under the website of That Guy With The Glasses, which is a popular channel under the Channel Awesome brand.
Blistered Thumbs gained a lot of popularity throughout 2009 as a text-alternative to That Guy With The Glasses, and it eventually branched out and turned into its own website in 2010 under the administrative control of Channel Awesome’s CEO Mike Michaud.
There was a lot of hype surrounding the launch of Blistered Thumbs due to its popularity within the core sections of the gaming community. The site would aim for big things under the editorial content direction of “Angry” Joe Vargas… yes, the same Angry Joe from the Angry Joe Show.
However, things didn’t quite work out the way management and staff intended. Blistered Thumbs was a site that had all the right tools to be the next big thing; big personalities, big ambitions, big content… the works. So what happened? Mismanagement is what happened.
Joe Vargas and Micah Curtis – the latter of which was an editor from Koku Gamer and current contributor to TechRaptor – were the two who headed up the writing staff at Blistered Thumbs. Joe was actually impressed with the content from Koku Gamer and was introduced to Micah through a mutual friend. Hence, Micah was in charge of writing the ethics policy for the budding site, as well as the review guidelines and writing structure for Blistered Thumbs. But even then, it wasn’t all roses and sunshine.
According to Micah…
“We kind of had some growing pains right out of the gate.”
Micah described a lack of direction for things like moderating comments, where the moderators – in which he was one – were privy to rules that readers were not. This resulted in Micah banning a lot of people that didn’t deserve to be banned because, according to him, they didn’t know they were breaking the rules. Micah stated…
“I thought that there was somewhere that they could view these [sorts of policies] and I just wasn't paying attention. Not to mention that I have to admit that I was not a pleasant person at site launch just because of personal problems.”
Micah’s comments were somewhat echoed by another writer who worked at Blistered Thumbs, Austin Yorski. According to Yorski…
“[Micah] continually deleted/altered user comments, even after being instructed to stop. [Blistered Thumbs] policy was that only comments containing hate speech (e.g. slurs) would be subject to interference. If I recall correctly, Micah was warned multiple times and even apologized, but did not stop.”
This was mirrored with other problems at the site, which included staff that didn’t quite fit in with what Joe and Micah had envisioned, content wise. A lot of the Koku Gamer staff that had been brought over to Blistered Thumbs soon found themselves fired for “acting unprofessionally in their writing”.
Only four members from Koku Gamer remained on staff: Micah Curtis, Eli Cymet, Yousif Alshaker and Dant Rambo.
Blistered Thumbs revamped the staff with a few additional writers. According to Micah…
“It was kind of a tenuous relationship from the start... for some of us.” … “Most of us got along pretty well. We had our differences but ultimately we all loved video games [...]”
“But there wasn't any revenue that was coming in. We didn't have any advertising deals or anything like that. We were just going off of Google AdSense.”
Since it was focused on games journalism, there was no revenue to be had like other Channel Awesome ventures, such as Blip.tv or That Guy With The Glasses.
Compensation for staff came in the form of free review copies, with Micah and Joe aiming to branch out and get contacts to further establish Blistered Thumbs, but it wasn’t enough. The entire thing was built on shaky ground.
It was mentioned that there was a lack of proper editing oversight and personalities from That Guy With The Glasses were brought on to write, but they didn’t quite have the same spark in their writing as they did on the screen.
The issues with management caused some of the staff to go silent, with Dant Rambo and Eli Cymet spending more time writing elsewhere.
Things started taking a bigger dive for the site by the time E3 2011 rolled around. Micah was having some serious personal issues he was trying to work through, and the site still lacked proper infrastructure on management’s side.
Tension escalated when behind-the-scenes politics started affecting who could trust who. According to Micah, Eli Cymet – who started off as good friends with Micah during their days together at Koku Gamer – had become a different person after graduating from film school, adopting a more “social justice” view on things. Micah claimed that there were attempts of chicanery from Eli to manipulate the staff to get him fired.
I did reach out to Eli on multiple occasions, but at the time of the publishing of this article, I have not received a response from him.
One former Blistered Thumbs staff member, Robert Grosso, can attest to some issues happening behind the scenes between Micah, Joe and Eli, stating…
“I had inklings of issues between Eli, Micah and Joe because of the writers chatroom, where they talked a lot. Sometimes it was healthy debate, sometimes it was not, to put it lightly. Micah was always a strong personality like Eli, and both had different ideas regarding how to showcase content.”
Austin Yorski also corroborates that there were issues happening between Joe, Micah and Eli, but he only became privy to these things following Micah’s departure from the site, stating…
“If I recall correctly, I was not made aware of any particular enmity between Eli and Micah until the latter was let go from [Blistered Thumbs]. They both co-hosted on the community podcast that I started and seemed to get along reasonably well, as far as I could tell. Clearly, they had issues privately, but if this was brought to my attention before their public disagreements then I have forgotten.”
It’s been stated that Micah helped a lot of the staff out and was quite attached to the community, so getting him fired would be difficult. Nevertheless, Eli’s alleged attempts to get Micah fired actually did reap some kind of result, with Micah stating…
“[Eli] tries to go to Joe; he tries to influence Joe to get rid of me, and it doesn't happen. What Joe does is, he takes the editor spot away from me for a few months.”
According to Micah, he was a “contributor” and wasn’t required to do much around the site. However, Micah put a ton of effort into the site in order to earn back his position as a top editor of Blistered Thumbs he manages to do so after a few months.
Allegedly, this made Eli angry enough to start going to Channel Awesome’s administrators to talk to them about Micah, including getting into the ear of Holly Christine Brown, who was one of the head administrators; Rob Walker, one of the creative content officers; and Mike Michaud, the CEO of Channel Awesome.
This eventually led to some drama that resulted in Eli, Joe and Micah all being fired. Micah stated…
“Eli came out and decided he was going to fuck it all up. He decided he was going to get rid of me, get rid of Joe, and potentially reshape the site as a person who had some sort of influence, which backfired on [Eli] because Joe fired him.”
“He IP banned [Eli] and took away all his credentials from the site a day before Joe was fired from Blistered Thumbs.”
Later on, Micah stated that after he made some critical comments about certain ethical concerns that needed correcting, it caught the ire of staff member – and Joe’s girlfriend at the time – Amanda Kay, who Micah says that she felt he was directing the comments at her in particular. A lot of drama ensued that eventually led to Micah being fired.
Staff member Robert Grosso shared his insight on some of the drama between Micah, Joe and Amanda, stating…
“I knew about it from the gossip that happens, but I didn't believe it because Micah, while he can be very outspoken, wouldn't bash someone on twitter who he worked with like that. He would talk to them privately. He did with me when I saw a video he did about the end of Blistered Thumbs where he was very critical of the staff at large, I confronted him on it and he was very respectful back in his reply.
“I don't know the details of the tweet or who it was meant for, but I do think Amanda Kay overreacted, and it just snowballed from there.”
I was unable to reach Amanda Kay for comment, and I’ve received no reply about the situation after reaching out to “Angry” Joe Vargas.
Nevertheless, word had started to spread that Joe wasn’t quite as good at managing the site as he was at producing videos for the Angry Joe Show. This was a rumor that even managed to get back to Jason Pullara, better known as Lordkat, who was officially listed as a part of Blistered Thumbs but wasn’t actually assigned to produce content for the site. Lordkat continues to produce his own content at his own site, but did state that…
“I only know that there were real rumblings of Joe being bad at management, and instead of delegating tasks down he would try to take care of everything, which I think led to his dismissal at [Blistered Thumbs], but I really don’t know for sure. Those are just the rumors that were leaked back to me from some at [Blistered Thumbs].”
Austin Yorski, the staff member who later took Joe’s place as the editor-in-chief at Blistered Thumbs, offers a more detailed account of what happened. First he cleared up Micah’s firing, saying…
“There were other incidents, but the exact details of most of those elude me. One [incident] did involve Amanda, but that was neither the final straw for Micah nor a factor in Joe's "firing."
“Joe's departure from Blistered Thumbs was entirely unrelated and, in fact, quite complicated. I wasn't privy to 100% of the relevant conversations, but I was involved in a number of them, and have spoken at exhAusting length with those who were present for events at which I was not.”
“The basic facts are these: 1. Joe was not able to [effectively] manage [Blistered Thumbs] while simultaneously dedicating himself to his popular video show. 2. Channel Awesome was not willing and/or able to provide Joe with the proper resources (e.g. funding) to run [Blistered Thumbs] in the way that he wanted. 3. Channel Awesome was frustrated with Joe for multiple reasons, including [Blistered Thumb's] poorly built website and his inability to instantly replicate the success of [That Guy With The Glasses]. 4. Joe was/is most valuable as a charismatic personality and video producer. His skill-set wasn't particularly suited to managing a team of writers. 5. A personal incident which is beyond the scope of this conversation made it difficult for [Channel Awesome] to justify allowing the arrangement to continue.”
Joe’s managerial skills were also called into question recently when some Twitter users, such as maha_valio2254 and Tehdoh, pointed out that the Angry Joe Show may have run an illegal raffle contest on his own website.
Last year Joe had a PS4 raffle giveaway [backup] that required people to pay a $5 entry fee in order to participate. Of course, according to Texas state law chapter 2002, sup-chapter A., the only organizations that can host raffles are religious societies, volunteer emergency medical service providers, volunteer fire departments and qualified nonprofit organizations. Paid-for raffles like the one hosted on the Angry Joe Show would be considered unlawful, since raffles cannot be conducted by an individual, conducted by a for-profit business, or conducted by a charity that does not qualify, according to the Texas Attorney General site. Of course, if you check the Whois data for AngryJoeShow.com, Joe Vargas has the data registered in Austin, Texas. The Angry Joe Show is also a registered affiliate partner with the multi-channel network subsidiary of Maker Studios, Polaris. Maker Studios is a for-profit organization under the Walt Disney Corporation.
I did reach out to the Angry Joe Show to ask them about the raffle but at the time of the publishing of this article, I haven’t received a response.
In fairness to Joe, he did state on the website that the proceeds of the raffle would be used to support the community. However, intentions don’t supersede the law.
Unlawful oversights like the one above were apparently all the more common at Blistered Thumbs. However, it wasn’t all about Joe’s lack of managerial skills that caused the site to fall wayward. It was also Channel Awesome’s administrative staff that worked against the better interests of the staff. After Joe, Micah and Eli were fired, Austin Yorski was appointed as the editor-in-chief to take over.
According to staff writer Robert Grosso…
“I think the written content took up under Austin. We had more writers, some new ideas and shows coming in, and the content I feel became a driving force for people.”
“I would say the writing content got stronger, as we lost video producers. Some of the major CA folks stopped doing stuff, while Austin got the guys from Normal Boots, PBG for example, to fill in and join the site for a while. But the written content kept people coming back and kept people talking, it became a driving force moreso under Austin, I would say, than Joe. Now to be fair, Joe was also revamping the site several times under his reign and was trying to promote more written stuff, no one was really contributing except myself, Austin, Micah, Eli and Yousif from what I remember. After Joe left we saw an influx of it.”
(Main image courtesy of Calderyn)