The Last of Escapist Magazine

I don’t remember the last thing I wrote for a website.

I haven’t written anything longer than an email in three years. The last thing I wrote was, ironically, a book about being a writer.

Someone was asking me recently what I would write about when I started writing again, and the truth is I still don’t know. Will the muscle have atrophied? Will I have forgotten how to ride the metaphorical bike? They say you never forget, but I’m not so sure. I haven’t ridden a bike in years, either.

It’s natural, I suppose, that when one begins a thing again, after a long absence, thoughts turn to what happened last. The dictionary has this to say about the word “last”: It is a verb of two flavors, a noun, and an adverb. It can indicate the end of a thing, a thing’s endurance, its place in order, and even a tool used for making shoes. I like that it is one word that can variously mean final and former. Both an end and a new beginning. That’s where I find myself now.

Towards the end of 2017 I learned that The Escapist, then owned by Defy Media, would be coming up for sale.

In September of 2011 I wrote what I described at the time as “the last words I [would] write as editor-in-chief of The Escapist.” In this instance, I meant “last” as in final. Which, as it happens, was a lie.

Towards the end of 2017 I learned that The Escapist, then owned by Defy Media, would be coming up for sale. It had been severely neglected. 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.

To make matters worse, beginning at some point in 2013 or 2014 The Escapist’s former publisher had allowed the website to become a home to political extremists. Whether right- or left-wing doesn’t matter here, although you may know which. It wasn’t a secret. It also isn’t interesting. For a time before it was allowed to begin dying, The Escapist’s editors routinely chose and created content based on a political agenda over journalistic insight. As a result, those not willing to put their political opinions in front of their journalism left The Escapist behind.

When I learned that this last (as in most recent) chapter of The Escapist might become its last (as in final), I felt sick. The Escapist was where I started my career in games media. It was where I met my wife. And although working there was never … simple, the years I spent there were some of the best of my life. I couldn’t stand to see it die. Not, as the meme says, like this. So I began the process of trying to buy it.

Here, a quick word about buying things like websites: It is not easy.

I spent six weeks assembling an advisory team of editorial types, finance types, technology types, and lawyers. We put together an editorial strategy, a long-term monetization strategy, and began trying to raise money.

Here, a quick word about trying to raise money to buy a website: It is impossible.

TL;DR: I didn’t buy The Escapist, I merely became partners with those who did.

By spring of this year, I had to concede that I would not be able raise the money to cover Defy’s asking price. I had all the pieces in place to refurbish The Escapist, bring back the integrity and grandeur of its early days, and hit the ground running with new content from old friends, as well as begin doing what I always did: find and refine the voices that would define the next chapter. I just didn’t have the money to actually buy the thing.

Record scratch: Someone else did.

One of the entities I’d reached out to in hopes of getting them to give me some of their money was in the process of giving that money to Defy for The Escapist. I even sent them my investor deck before I knew they were a party to the negotiations for the website. When we realized we’d been bidding against one another, we began talking. They liked my strategy. I liked the way they did business. We decided to work together.

TL;DR: I didn’t buy The Escapist, I merely became partners with those who did. I now write these words as editor-in-chief of Escapist Magazine, the first since my last, and also as VP of Enthusiast Gaming. Not an end. A new beginning.

As we work to bring Escapist Magazine back to life, we will honor some elements of our past even as we adapt to a new future. It’s been 13 years since the first issue Escapist Magazine. A lot can happen in 13 years, and a lot has happened at The Escapist. A lot has happened in games media. A lot has happened to us, personally. Some of it good. Some of it bad. All of it is our history, and we must find some way to come to terms with that.

Today’s Escapist Magazine is not going to be what it was before. (Or even what it was before that.) I think you’ll be surprised, and even maybe a little enchanted with what we have planned. But a lot of what Escapist Magazine will be is still waiting to be discovered. I’m assembling an editorial team right now to help me discover it.

Politics are everywhere, but they don’t have to be everything.

One thing I can tell you without delay or equivocation: We’re leaving politics at the door. Most of us have thoughts about politics. Just like most of you. And, because we’re creators, those thoughts might show up in our work. Avoiding that would be unnatural. That said, I can promise you no one here will share their politics in an attempt to convince you yours are wrong. And your worth will not be calculated based on whether you’re on the left or on the right. Politics are everywhere, but they don’t have to be everything. We’re going to focus on what’s fun, and we hope you’ll join us in that.

We know we have a fine line to walk between leaving the past behind us, but not erasing it entirely. Many of you have invested years into this community, and we want to respect that even as we set aside some of what you helped build. There’s no way around it: We have a lot of work to do in earning back your trust and reclaiming our integrity. We know the next few days/weeks/months will be hard. We have some hard choices to make. I’m putting my own name and career on the line to help make sure we get it right. I hope that means something to you.

Why? Because another meaning of the word “last” is “to endure,” and that’s what Escapist Magazine was meant to do. Fads, trends, and counter-cultures come and go. Our humanity endures. So too, I hope, will Escapist Magazine.

Russ Pitts

Editor-in-Chief, EscapistMagazine.com

VP, Enthusiast Gaming

25 July, 2018