It is not any secret that I have become a huge fan of Geek & Sundry’s web series Critical Role over the past few months. It was precisely what I needed to charge through the final semester of my graduate program and unlocked a whole new level of Dungeons & Dragons nerdiness I didn’t realize I needed in my life.
Now, I haven’t been a fan since the beginning and I’m fine admitting that. What I will say is that it has been a wild trip to look back and see how rapidly Critical Role has grown. It still surprises me that so many people are willing to tune in every week to watch a bunch of self-proclaimed “nerdy-ass voice actors” play Dungeons & Dragons. If you had walked back to a year ago and told past-me that I would be hardcore into watching a bunch of people play a tabletop RPG I’d probably look at you like you’d grown a second head.
Yet here we are and, as of this week, Critical Role announced a big move: they’re getting their own channel. Yes, they will still be under Legendary Entertainment which oversees Geek & Sundry, Nerdist, and their collaboration Alpha, but the minds we love behind some of the best storytelling happening around a table are expanding their reach. Not only will fans continue to follow the story of the Mighty Nein as they traverse the world of Wildemount, but they will be treated to a whole slew of new content.
According to an announcement posted on Critical Role’s fancy new website critrole.com, fans can look forward to a lot of original programming with fan favorite Marisha Ray at the head of it all. The team will be getting a new studio space all to themselves, which makes sense given their rapidly expanding set. Compare the set when they started to their set now through Geek & Sundry and there isn’t any question that they would soon outgrow that, too. Talks Machina, everyone’s favorite Critical Role talk show will also be moving into the new space opening up all sorts of shenanigan possibilities.
Critical Role will be launching their own Twitch Channel to show off all their new content, most of it promises from the 826LA campaign as well as their own Youtube Channel, similar to what Geek & Sundry has now. All new merchandise will be released through a dedicated Critical Role online store as opposed to being a part of Geek & Sundry. They released a new shirt to celebrate and it is already sold out, but keep your eye on their new storefront as they will be restocked in the near future.
Perhaps the most interesting part of all of this, at least for me, rounds back to what I mentioned at the start: the strange success of a Dungeons & Dragons webseries. In a proclaimed “golden age of television,” it is interesting to consider what exactly “television” means anymore. It used to be dominated by big networks and procedural shows with syndicated reruns ruling the day and the industry.
Now, thanks to the internet and the growing accessibility of technology, aspiring creatives can record quality movies on their phones and edit them on affordable tablets or laptops, then turn around and immediately pass them out to the world through platforms like Vimeo and Youtube.
I like to think back to a panel that happened at Split Screen Festival’s first year regarding new media platforms like the ones mentions above. The panelists, all successful thanks to the access provided by affordable technology and the internet, hit home the point that television creators are no longer bound by network executives who have to decide whether or not their creation will bring in enough ad revenue to see the light.
Thanks to the rise of technology, people with good ideas and fantastic storytellers that would otherwise be lost trying to break into the exclusive Hollywood club finally get a shot at steering the ship and sharing their passion with the world.
Critical Role is an interesting case study in this regard, particularly as they continue to grow and break every possible convention there is.
A story needs to be a tight 45 minutes! How about 115 episodes that are 3-4 hours long on average?
We need to pull in viewers so our advertisers will be happy! How about one big sponsor for the entirety of a campaign? How about a ton of little sponsors who get the time and attention of creative voice actors who want to pitch their product?
We need to create separation between the actors and their fans! How about instead we break down every possible barrier and not stop there, but engage the community around charitable giving and taking care of each other?
Money is great, viewership is great, but what webseries’ like Critical Role started with is, I think, what people want out of entertainment these days and that’s heart. This show has heart.
It had heart from day one when a bunch of acquaintances and friends said, “Sure, we’ll let everyone watch us play our D&D game.” It had heart when they paired up with 826LA, a local charity, and used their viewership to power up a non-profit doing amazing work in their area. It had heart when it moved from one studio to the next, when it started getting sponsors, when it invited fans and artists and people who run the stats every week onto the show.
Critical Role is successful because it started out not looking to be and as new media continues its upswing I think we are going to be lucky enough to see more and more content with heart surging up in the world of entertainment.
Congratulations to the cast and crew of Critical Role for your latest success and critters – don’t forget to keep loving each other. Your hearts power this show, too.