Martin Wyatt reflects on Gfinity’s vastly different 2016

Martin Wyatt reflects on Gfinity’s vastly different 2016
Mike Stubbs

Over the last few years Gfinity has looked like a company that can’t quite decide what it want’s to be. One month they are focusing on a massive self funded event like G3 and the next they are effectively a production company for hire. Then they might return with the Gfinity Championship, running major competitions at their arena almost every week, before disappearing back into the world of partnered events. Throw in their online competition offerings and things start to seem more than a little disorganised.

In 2015 Gfinity’s main focus was on running their own eSports LAN events at their new arena in London. Throughout the summer they ran Call of Duty, CS:GO and Hearthstone events with prize pools that were always in the tens of thousands. Many assumed that this would return in 2016 but that wasn’t the case instead the company focused more on partnering with publishers and other event organisers to run one off competitions. It’s a decision that many questioned, with Gfinity’s output seemingly lowering quite a bit, but in hindsight it seems to have worked out quite well.

“I think that in many ways this year has probably been our most successful,” says Martin Wyatt, Head of Partner Relations at Gfinity. “2016 has been very different to 2015 in that in 2015 we launched the arena which was amazing and we ran our championship series across different games which also went really really well. This year was kind of different for us because we wanted to diversify into other titles and work with a wider network of publishers, we also moved into mobile. So it has been a very different year but in my opinion it has definitely been our most successful because we have been able to tick quite a few operational boxes. We are in a position now and will be in a position come the end of the year where we are perfectly positioned to continue the growth that we have seen recently.”

The death of the Gfinity Championship series was something that confused a lot of people. After all The Sun, which was the headline sponsor for the series, signed on for two seasons, so many assumed at the start of the year that it would again return. This turned out to not be the case, and with Gfinity’s new Elite Series coming next year it seems to be dead forever.

“There was no negative reason [why the Championship Series didn’t return], we just wanted to ensure that we were well positioned to kind of move and adapt as eSports changes,” says Wyatt. “We focused on four or five games last year whereas this year it was more about being a little bit more flexible. We wanted to learn about other games and other publishers because we are not a one stop shop for a particular game or a particular platform. We love eSports and gaming in general, so it was about doing something different, and that’s the great thing about us as a business, we are constantly hungry to learn and try new things, so that was the main driver behind it.

Another reason for the death of the Championship Series was just how much work the Gfinity team had to do. Despite being one of the biggest eSports companies in the world the Gfinity team is actually quite small, and there is only so much work that a team can do. While it may seem like they have only done a handful of events this year they have infact been hard at work behind the scenes.

“We also have done other stuff in the background, we developed the build your own tournament app for Xbox One and we beta tested Gfinity TV, which is going through a rebrand and will be back,” explains Wyatt. “We have also done a lot of in house proprietary software development, stuff that isn’t out yet but it’s all very exciting. We have been busy, we have been quieter than we were in 2015 but that’s just because there is so much going on in the background and a lot of the work for the Elite Series ready had to happen this year.”

What Gfinity has done this year is a lot of events in partnership with a publisher or major sponsor. At the start of the year they worked with Super Evil Megacorp to run the Vainglory European Winter Championship, and have recently partnered with Xbox and MLG to run Gears of War events. They have also brought the likes of Gillette and HP into the world of UK eSports, creating top tier events with massive prize pools.

“We are definitely in a position where we are widely recognised as a trusted operator globally, so people want to work with us,” says Wyatt when discussing why they have done more events with partners this year. “It has been a combination of being able to go out proactively to publishers and partners to say; ‘this is what we do this is how we do it, is there an opportunity to work together?’ But then thankfully the phone rings quite often now with people wanting to work with us, which is a great sign that we know what we are doing.”

One of the biggest advantages Gfinity has is its purpose built arena in London. No other eSports company has a permanent location in the capital where they can host events, and Gfinity’s set up is one of the best in the world, even if some laughed at the name ‘the Theatre of Electric Dreams. At the start of the year the arena went under some big changes, with a new stage set up, less seating and the reduction from two stages to just one.

“The latest iteration of the arena has given us is the ability to improve the production value,” says Wyatt. “So for example we have been able to use the space for some really cool stuff, like the Battlefield One World Premier. When I look back the year for me I think that was my proudest moment because of the size of the launch, the importance to a key partner of ours, EA, and the fact that it went well, which is always good. We are happy with it now because it gives us the opportunity to kind of do things at the right level of quality, and the technology that is housed here is so robust that we are able to do different things that other eSports companies or promoters can’t. It will probably go through another change, we are constantly upgrading it, looking at ways to improve it.”

The Battlefield One World Premier was one of the stranger events that Gfinity has done this year, mainly because it had nothing to do with eSports. Instead they used the arena to host the reveal for EA’s new shooter, broadcasting to thousands of excited fans online. This was one of a few non traditional eSports events Gfinity took on this year, which is something Martin seemed to be quite proud of.

“We have spread our wings over the last twelve months. So if you look at 2015 it was all eSports tournaments. What we have done this year is show that we have the ability, from a broadcast perspective, from a content perspective and from a operational perspective to do more than just a tournament side of things. So for example at the eSports Industry Awards we were the broadcast partner, so our guys sort of wrote, directed and produced the show, which was totally different to an eSports tournament. There was also the Battlefield One World Premier and moving into mobile has been interesting with the various challenges that come along with that, but again it was great fun.”

With so many vastly different events this year Gfinity has certainly diversified its offering. PES, Vainglory, Gears of War, Dota and soon Overwatch are just a few of the new games that Gfinity has ran events for this year, along with their usual offerings in the world of CoD and CS:GO. Most have gone incredibly well, and almost all have been well received by the community but which has been the best?

“I can’t really pick one thing out and say that’s the one. Not to sound cocky but we are quite good at what we do, so I can’t think of one particular thing where I look back and think we did a poor job, so they have all been great. I am very proud of what we have done here and what we do here. It has been important for us to try those different things because we know what we can do, but we also know what we can’t do, and we are always trying to improve.”

Improvement is something that came up a lot during our interview, and it’s easy to see why. Gfinity has gone from exclusively running its own tournaments in just a handful of games to a trusted production company that can accept almost any challenge thrown their way. While the death of the Championship Series will annoy some it ultimately seems like it will be for the best, and the new Elite Series will probably build on what they have learnt over the last two years. 2016 at the Gfinity Arena has been vastly different, but ultimately that is not a bad thing.

Image from Joe Brady.

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