After years of languishing under Defy Media’s ownership, The Escapist video-game website is under new management.
Defy sold the property, founded in 2005, to Toronto-based Enthusiast Gaming, which operates a network of websites devoted to video gaming and Canada’s largest video-gaming expo. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.
With the deal, Enthusiast Gaming is bringing back The Escapist’s former editor-in-chief, Russ Pitts, who had departed in September 2011. In acquiring The Escapist, Enthusiast cited its YouTube channel, which has 1.1 million subscribers. Its YouTube shows include popular game-review series “Zero Punctuation” hosted by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, who has a social media following of nearly 2 million users.
For Defy Media, it’s another move to pare back its business to focus on core brands, led by Smosh and Clevver. This month, Fandom announced a deal with Defy Media to acquire Screen Junkies, the entertainment news and parody property. Earlier in the year, Defy laid off 8% of its workforce, exiting its programmatic advertising and video licensing and syndication businesses.
According to Pitts, he had attempted to put together a deal to acquire The Escapist himself after learning toward the end of 2017 that Defy was looking to unload the site, before ultimately teaming up with Enthusiast.
The Escapist “had been severely neglected,” Pitts wrote in a blog post. “Almost everyone who had worked there had been laid off. The offices in North Carolina had been closed. Nobody was even bothering to sell ads on the thing. It was a derelict.”
Moreover, Pitts said, Escapist’s former publisher had “allowed the website to become a home to political extremists,” a reference to the site’s leanings toward Gamergate, a movement that ostensibly started as a way to hold video-game journalists accountable but which has resulted in harassment campaigns mostly directed at women and minorities. Under the new management, he wrote, “We’re leaving politics at the door.”
In 2012, Alloy Digital (which would later merge with Break Media to form Defy) acquired The Escapist from Themis Media.
According to Enthusiast Gaming, The Escapist has averaged 6 million monthly visits since 2008. The company is adding the publication to its network of gaming sites, which includes Destructoid.com (acquired in 2017). Enthusiast Gaming claims it serves 1 billion ad requests per week though Enthusiast Gaming Media and affiliated partners.
“The acquisition of Escapist is instrumental as we continue to grow our network of gamers,” Menashe Kestenbaum, founder and CEO of Enthusiast Gaming, said in announcing the deal. “Russ is a true visionary in online gaming journalism and we are thrilled to bring him back to lead Escapist.”
After Pitts left Escapist in 2011, he helped Vox Media launch Polygon, a rival video-game news and reviews site. He most recently has run Flying Saucer Media, an online media production firm in Durham, N.C.
“The opportunity to join with Enthusiast to help bring Escapist back to its original cultural relevance is a huge opportunity not only for me and my team, but for the many fans of Escapist who have been so supportive of the brand for over 13 years,” Pitts said in a statement.