G4’s collapse: Constant YouTube, Twitch pivots, Froskurinn harassment


G4, the video game television and online network backed by Comcast abruptly closed on Oct. 16. In a memo to staff published by Deadline, Comcast Spectacor CEO Dave Scott wrote of lower viewership and that G4 had “not achieved sustainable financial results” before relaying the decision to discontinue G4’s operations. As sudden as the end game was, it didn’t surprise a number of now-former G4 employees, who believed the venture’s end had been nigh for months.

In interviews with The Washington Post, 11 former G4 staffers described their experiences at the network leading up to its recent closure. Speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the signing of nondisclosure agreements, they described a work environment with ever-shifting priorities from leadership that never settled on a strategy to develop their audience. That same leadership was sometimes absent from day-to-day operations, according to the workers interviewed, who felt they often leaned on the G4 name and other nostalgic show brands and struggled to reconcile the differences between broadcasting on linear television compared to online platforms like YouTube and Twitch.

Ex-G4 workers and outside talent familiar with the network’s expenditures also noted how it would pay grand sums to hosts and guests with robust streaming audiences, while shrinking staff size demanded more work from off-camera employees.

“We understand that G4 employees are disappointed, and we are too,” Scott wrote in a statement to The Post. “Everyone will have their own opinions, but as with any start-up, we all worked hard to make G4 successful. We’ll continue to support our teammates through this time.”

Comcast announced the return of G4, a network dedicated to gaming culture, in July of 2020. The period was something of a boom time for the video game industry, with gaming on the rise following the onset of the covid-19 pandemic and young viewers flocking to online platforms like Twitch and YouTube, which served as the preferred platforms of that audience’s beloved content creators.

The original incarnation of G4 had been dormant since 2014. While it never achieved mainstream popularity, shows like humorous game review vehicle “X-Play” and pop culture variety hour “Attack of the Show” struck a chord with geeky audiences who struggled to find television programming that catered to their interests. As the YouTube and Twitch generation shifted away from traditional television, many content creators drew inspiration from the irreverent antics of G4 hosts like Adam Sessler, Morgan Webb and Kevin Pereira.

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The new G4 returned with a flashy and expensive new studio facility and a soft launch in early 2021. It was greeted with excitement and a wave of nostalgia, but ex-G4 employees and contractors with whom The Post spoke said that despite lofty ambitions and a talented staff with exciting and creative ideas, G4 immediately lacked direction. During its 10-month revival, shows regularly changed format and platform in response to viewership numbers and trends. The significant, numerous and rapid changes, the workers said, threw planning into chaos.

Additionally, a controversial segment by “X-Play” host Indiana “Froskurinn” Black, in which Black called out sexism within the show’s audience, led to sustained harassment of Black and other talent. G4’s inert response inflamed tension among cast members, employees said.

Though sometimes heralded as recession-proof, the video game industry has recently faced economic head winds. A growing number of companies, ranging from upstarts like G4 to tech behemoths like Google and Microsoft, have scaled down their ambitions, shuttered projects and divisions and let go of employees. VENN, a streaming network similar to G4 funded by venture capital firms and billed as the MTV of video games, launched in August 2020 and shut down just a year later. One former VENN employee described the business to Input as “top to bottom, a complete, colossal failure.”

Among the multiple causes employees believe sunk G4, several ex-employees pointed to Tucker Roberts, son of billionaire Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and then-president of Comcast Spectacor’s gaming brand. While G4′s revival was largely the younger Roberts’s brainchild, former employees described him as fickle and absent. One employee familiar with Roberts’s decision-making said the executive would regularly change his mind about crucial decisions — for example, the number of separate YouTube channels G4 needed, which spread out audiences and hurt viewership, or the direction of the network’s esports coverage, which changed numerous times.

Roberts officially stepped away from G4 in March, just four months after G4 relaunched in full.

According to a former staffer, the network’s priorities would vary depending on which leader employees asked.

There was never a clear viewership goal or platform to prioritize,” they said.

This was not Comcast’s nor Roberts’s first foray into the game industry. In 2018, the company announced that Tucker Roberts would helm the Philadelphia Fusion, an esports franchise in the just-launched Overwatch League. The first wave of Overwatch League franchises sold for a reported $20 million and Philadelphia reached the league’s first championship. Comcast further invested in the scene with the construction of Fusion Arena, billed as a “$50 million, next-generation esports arena” and situated alongside Philadelphia’s other major pro sports venues, like the Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field. In 2019, Comcast partnered with South Korean wireless telecom company SK Telecom to launch a global joint esports venture, T1 Entertainment and Sports.

Comcast declined to make Roberts and other G4 leaders available for an interview with The Post, supplying instead the statement from Scott.

“As a start-up multiplatform network, G4 tested various content and distribution strategies,” Scott wrote. “As was the case for many other recent gaming content ventures, there was just not enough interest in G4, which resulted in the network’s closure.”

The brunt of G4′s efforts focused on Twitch and YouTube, but multiple former employees insisted that linear television was actually G4′s most promising moneymaker due to its ability to attract sponsorship revenue from the likes of Head and Shoulders, Pizza Hut, SteelSeries and The U.S. Army. But instead of focusing on linear as a foundation, ex-employees said leadership poured money into repeated changes to shows’ platforms and formats.

“We pivoted every time viewership was low. We never really gave our content time to gain traction. We were just constantly pivoting.”

— A former G4 employee

“We would sort of get momentum on trying to make a creative product, and we were like, ‘I think we’re finding our voice,’” said an ex-contractor. “But then we wouldn’t have funding anymore because it was too expensive, or [leadership was] like, ‘We care more about Twitch than YouTube today.’ ”

The analytics that constituted a metric for success would change regularly, according to G4 workers. Sometimes it was YouTube video views, other times it was concurrent viewers on Twitch. One week the network would mandate dozens of live hours on Twitch. A couple weeks later it would pivot fully away from Twitch, imperiling major productions like “Attack of the Show.”

“None of [the leaders] had any vision,” said one former employee. “They weren’t very present in day-to-day operations. We pivoted every time viewership was low. We never really gave our content time to gain traction. We were just constantly pivoting.”

Discovery also proved challenging as G4 sought to make its return. Employees said they were continually demoralized by the fact that even members of video game-savvy communities regularly said things like, “Oh, I didn’t even know G4 was back.”

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To help court an audience, G4 contracted established modern content creators like Austin Show (who has not divulged his last name), Ovilee May and Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez for regular hosting roles. It also brought on high-profile streamers like Kaitlyn “Amouranth” Siragusa, Tyler “Tyler1” Steinkamp and Hasan Piker for guest appearances.

Leadership’s belief, according to former employees, was that these guest appearances — along with sporadic appearances in featured slots on Twitch’s front page — would lead to increased sustained viewership. However, the practice just led some G4 shows to see atypical viewership spikes while others didn’t, according to multiple former employees.

“One thing would pop off because of someone popular, and that’s what the expectation would be for everything,” said a former contractor. “It wasn’t feasible.”

Content creators’ pay from G4 ran the gamut, with two former employees saying regulars were contracted a year at a time, with Mendez and May scoring six-figure salaries. Austin Show, whose live game shows reliably pull tens of thousands of concurrent viewers with or without G4, made seven figures, according to one former employee.

Neither Mendez nor May replied to The Post’s repeated requests for comment.

The day rates for some guests were steep. Speaking to The Post, Austin Show said G4 had a budget for influencer marketing and that money was sometimes offered to streamers, but $20,000-$30,000 was the upper end, and the “large majority” made less — if they were paid at all.

“With most or any of my shows I produce or appear on with [other streamers], we usually don’t pay each other,” Austin Show said. “For G4, the company would offer money to some of those appearing in exchange for guaranteed marketing, which is something we wouldn’t feel comfortable asking for for free.”

Big names, some of whom appeared on “Name Your Price,” Show’s recurring game show, made $10,000-$20,000 for brief appearances or “raids” — in which popular streamers like Imane “Pokimane” Anys would send their audiences to G4′s channel to boost its numbers — according to multiple former employees.

Even short visits by popular guests could be expensive. Steinkamp, according to a former employee with knowledge of these figures, was paid $20,000 for a two-hour call-in appearance on a G4 esports program.

An ex-G4 employee attributed the higher rates for streamers to the fact that any time spent not streaming on their own channel would cost them money in terms of a drop in paid subscribers and a loss of advertising revenue.

“When a streamer is doing anything other than streaming, they’re losing money,” the ex-G4 employee said.

Ultimately, collaborating with content creators didn’t move the needle enough to justify the cost.

“Their audiences rarely even came over,” said a former employee. “The uptick in viewership did not match what we were paying for these episodes.”

Roberts rarely appeared at G4′s Los Angeles studio, according to employees who worked at the office from the time of G4′s launch (barring an interruption during the omicron outbreak). In the Los Angeles studio, Roberts had a conference room-sized office based on Emperor Palpatine’s throne room from “Star Wars,” complete with Imperial iconography that meant camera crews were unable to film near it for fear of incurring rights violations, according to multiple former employees.

“He had the largest office space, and he never even moved in,” said a former employee.

Russell Arons — who’d joined G4 as president in September 2021 following senior-level roles at Warner Bros, Machinima and Electronic Arts — was supposed to supplant Roberts and shepherd G4 forward once it launched in November, per Comcast’s official press release from the time. Former employees said that leadership decision-making was diffuse. Some major decisions came from Arons, while others came from Roberts — sometimes through Joe Marsh, an executive at Comcast Spectacor and close collaborator of Roberts. Marsh did not officially join G4 until summer 2022, but former employees said he was involved in the operation, especially on the esports side of the network, as far back as summer 2021. Roberts, meanwhile, continued to sporadically meet with talent after Arons took over, according to former G4 staff.

Leadership changed again in 2022 as Arons departed in July following a contentious all-hands meeting in which she was lambasted by talent for a lack of transparency, failure to realize promised diversity initiatives and other issues. Ex-employees, who described Arons as a more consistent leader than Roberts, said she left the meeting in tears. Former G4 staffers perceived Arons’ rocky tenure as evidence she’d been set up to take the fall for Roberts.

“I think she bears some responsibility for the leadership, but I think she inherited an impossible situation from Tucker Roberts,” said a former employee. “I’m not surprised she resigned two weeks after that incident.”

Arons did not respond to The Post’s request for comment.

Following her departure, Marsh, who also serves as CEO of esports organization T1, officially assumed Arons’s duties. He remained in that role until G4 closed.

As the network struggled to build a foundation and settle on a strategy, G4 staff found themselves wearing numerous hats. Everyone to whom The Post spoke described the network as understaffed relative to the magnitude of the task at hand: running a TV network, producing regular live content on Twitch and populating several YouTube channels, as well as other social platforms. Many regularly worked late and did the jobs of multiple roles to compensate, they said.

“[Production assistants] would do producers’ jobs and producers would do PA jobs,” said one ex-employee. “There were just not enough bodies.”

A number of crew members said they believed they were underpaid compared to standard rates for their lines of work. According to multiple ex-employees, around 80 percent of the people at G4 were contractors, and the majority did not receive health care or other benefits.

“People worked late and worked roles they were not hired for,” said another. “And they were underpaid even for the roles they were hired for — let alone what they ended up overextending into. That applies to pretty much every single person on my team, including myself.”

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Ex-staffers say leadership regularly attributed issues to G4 being akin to a start-up. Ex-employees and contractors described the work as fun and creatively fulfilling despite all the stress, with wacky ideas flying between talented teams — often out of necessity, to meet the demands of producing many hours of content per week. But some workers saw things differently given G4’s ownership.

“It always felt like there wasn’t money,” said one former employee. “[Leadership] really let us know that because they tried to use it as an excuse of, ‘Well, we’re just a start-up.’ You’re owned by Comcast and NBC. No, you’re not [a start-up].”

Two former G4 staffers described complaints they filed to the California Labor Commissioner’s Office over contracts that failed to set terms around overtime pay and which, in one case, required a contractor to sign away their likeness rights in perpetuity.

A final year, filled with controversy

G4 wound up gaining visibility for the wrong reasons. At the beginning of 2022, esports commentator and new “X-Play” co-host Indiana “Froskurinn” Black headed up a segment in which she called out sexism among the network’s fan base, taking aim at the original G4′s legacy of female hosts who were objectified by its shows and their male viewers.

“It’s dehumanizing and it’s weird,” Black said in the segment. “Morgan Webb, Olivia Munn [both former G4 hosts] did not exist to be nice on the eyes for you.”

Initially, the segment had G4′s support, with a now-deleted tweet from the network’s official account saying, “We stand with [Black] and the women in this space.” Behind the scenes, say former employees, the segment was a spontaneous idea born of a conversation about personal experiences between Black and other members of the “X-Play” team that received approval from producers beforehand. Immediately afterward, the response internally and externally was largely positive. Roberts even sent Black a message expressing his appreciation for her.

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But in the following days, numerous YouTube videos and tweets surfaced from influencers suggesting Black had insulted G4′s viewers and deserved to be fired. Black was subsequently harassed, threatened and doxed, meaning trolls publicly posted private information pertaining to her real-life location, which was reported by media at the time.

G4, according to multiple former employees, quietly deleted the tweet in support of Black’s segment and set the YouTube video of it to private. G4 did not mention the tweet nor the controversy publicly again.

Behind the scenes, Black wound up in a series of meetings with leadership, according to multiple former employees who worked with Black. But ultimately the message from G4 was that little could be done about the harassment on the network’s end, and she should file a local police report.

“They basically told her to be quiet,” said a former contractor. Black declined to comment.

Multiple female staffers told The Post the situation was galling, and that they had been promised something different when they joined G4.

“The message very explicitly was, ‘We are going to be a different G4 that recognizes the sins of our past, and we are going to make sure that it doesn’t happen again in regards to diversity, inclusion and sexism,’” a former female contractor said about the message when she joined the company.

The former contractor decried the company for sitting idle while one of its hosts was harassed for months.

“There were so many different things they could have done as opposed to letting YouTubers run wild,” they said.

Speaking to The Post, Jirard “The Completionist” Khalil, a castmate of Black’s, said he felt the situation forced talent to act as “customer service” for G4.

“G4 could have done more,” Khalil said. “From the top down a lot of people were like, ‘What do we do? Do we hire a crisis person? Do we talk to HR?’ Nothing came of that. … There was no formal plan put into play.”

Khalil said he took no issue with the message of Black’s viral segment. However, he noted that when she tweeted, it led to lesser but still unpleasant harassment of other talent at G4. The situation put a strain on his relationship with Black, he said, though he denied claims from other former staff that he played a role in getting Black dismissed from her role later in the year.

In September 2022, the network laid off between 20 and 30 crew members with little warning. Immediately after the layoffs, the social media cottage industry that had spun up around Black suggested she’d near-singlehandedly tanked the network with her speech. But every former employee to whom The Post spoke shot down that supposition.

“The views were just never good [across the board],” said one. “To say that one person — her rant — had such an impact that it sank the company, it’s absurd.”

Under Marsh’s leadership, G4 ultimately bought out the remainder of Black’s contract after a poorly received tweet in which she victoriously proclaimed she “survived” the layoffs.

By late September, original G4 alums like “X-Play” host Adam Sessler had either substantially scaled back their duties in the wake of repeated change-ups or, in the case of “Attack of the Show” mainstay Kevin Pereira, announced plans to leave G4 entirely. Fresher faces, like Mendez and May, did not have their contracts renewed.

Following the layoffs, say former employees, Marsh planned for staff from T1 — the Comcast-backed esports organization for which he serves as CEO — to essentially backfill open positions befitting their expertise. But while remaining G4 staff had meetings with prospective T1 additions, it would have taken months to fully onboard them, workers said.

“The reality is that we lost so many key staff not just below the line, but, like, lead producers on ‘Attack of the Show’ and ‘X-Play’ [and] basically the entire esports team,” said a former employee who was at G4 until the network shut down. “It just wasn’t feasible to keep producing the same level of content. [Leadership] actually wanted to increase the quantity we were producing with key staff members gone and entire departments shuttered.”

Despite these cost cutting measures, according to multiple former employees, money continued to be spent on guests. Shortly after the layoffs, said two, Marsh approved a helicopter to transport a streamer from Orange County, just outside Los Angeles, to G4′s studio in Los Angeles.

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On Sunday, G4 staffers were locked out of communication services like Slack and Google Drive. Still awaiting explanation, they received an email from Marsh simply stating that G4′s facility would be closed until Oct. 18 and streams would be postponed. Many learned what was actually happening — and that they would soon be unemployed — only once Deadline published an article containing a memo from Comcast Spectacor CEO Dave Scott confirming G4′s shutdown.

“Viewership is low and the network has not achieved sustainable financial results,” read Scott’s memo. “I want to thank you and everyone on the G4 team for the hard work and commitment to the network.”

Despite the abrupt conclusion to G4’s latest chapter, former staffers were not surprised by the final outcome.

“It was gonna break sooner or later,” said a former employee. “And clearly it was sooner.”