Since its first stream in 2015, Critical Role (CR) has engaged with fans, particularly through the sharing of fan art and cosplay, two types of fan discourse frequently noted for their subversive elements. While many companies may appreciate when fans produce content that essentially markets the product for the company and regulates noncompliant fans, CR’s openness to fan participation doesn’t seem limited to “a docile or commoditizable vision of fan engagement” (Scott, 2019, p.10). In fact, CR reveals some willingness to negotiate their ethos with fans (Critters) through verbal engagement on Twitter, as well as shifts in programming and company practices.
The clearest example of this type of engagement occurred when CR partnered with Wendy’s for a one-shot, “Feasts of Legends.” Though some Critters defended the sponsorship, the majority seemed at best bothered by the optics and at worst offended to the point of calling for cancellation. In explaining the criticism against Wendy’s as a partner, @levikornelsen (2019) tweeted, “Wendy’s is now a TTRPG company, and deserves the same scrutiny we’d give any other such. They came into OUR house. / And they fail on pretty much every count. Employee treatment, political stances, the works” (Slide 1).
CR removed the episode from their channels the following day and tweeted, “We’ve donated our profits from our sponsorships this week to @FarmwrkrJustice” (Critical Role, 2019). Minutes later, Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer (2019) tweeted an apology, ending with CR’s promise to “listen and learn from you, the Critters, and make amends as best we can.” Some fans bemoaned the move, warning CR that this would only inspire more criticism from fans, but the fandom in large part seemed assuaged by this apology and donation.
CR has continued to receive criticism from fans as the show has become more successful and mainstream and the fan base has grown. Though it remains to be seen if the show’s ethos will be able to adapt to match the expanding fandom’s perception of the show and company, it’s clear that the cast and crew plan to continue to engage with the criticisms and subversive fan content of Critters.
Critical Role [@CriticalRole]. (2019, October 4). We’ve donated our profits from our sponsorships this week to @FarmwrkrJustice, an organization that works to improve the lives [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/CriticalRole/status/1180219441247703040
Kornelsen, L. [@levikornelsen]. (2019, October 3). Wendy’s is now a TTRPG company, and deserves the same scrutiny we’d give any other such. [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/levikornelsen/status/1179868313993674752
Mercer, M. [@matthewmercer]. (2019, October 4). <3 [Image attached] [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/matthewmercer/status/1180222723600945153
Scott, S. (2019). Fake Geek Girls: Fandom, Gender, and the Convergence Culture Industry. NYU Press.