GamerFest, the country's biggest event dedicated to all things gaming, takes place in the RDS in Dublin this weekend. The festival, which began in Galway in 2017, has become a major event in the gaming calendar with plans to expand even further in the next few years.
Returning after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the event has sold out 5,000 tickets ahead of the weekend. Stuart Dempsey, CEO and founder of GamerFest, recalled its early days in Galway, and how the pandemic has changed the business of gaming.
"GamerFest started in Galway 2017," Dempsey said. "From my own point of view, I was in a full time marketing role in Galway with Supermacs. I saw the growth of these massive gaming events internationally and felt there was a gap in the market here in Ireland for something similar. I created GamerFest in 2017 on a part time basis, the first one was in the the Galmont, 1,500 people attended it and it went down very well. The event was profitable so I ran an event in Limerick the following year.
"The following year I decided to go full time, I took the leap and left my full time role. The events were going successfully, the last one was 2019 in the RDS. That one was a sell out with 5,000 people. Obviously the pandemic happened and it was a real torpedo for us. It was very difficult for live events during the pandemic. But we're back this year in the RDS with 5,000 people expected."
Live events may have ground to a halt during the pandemic, but the gaming community carried on regardless. Online communities and communication are a big part of gaming, from in-game chat to e-sports tournaments and groups on platforms such as Reddit and Discord. From a business point of view, there was still a constituency to serve.
"We needed to identify other ways to generate revenue," Dempsey recalled. "We created GamerStore, an online ecommerce site selling gaming equipment to the Irish gaming community. That’s a business that has worked really well for us, and is continuing to see very strong growth and ties in with the live events. It’s continuing to see great growth which is really pleasing."
The company also created an e-sports tournament brand, named Legion Esports + Media, and ran several online e-sports tournaments during the pandemic, which proved to be popular with a wide audience. "We had over 4,000 gamers participating in those tournaments from as far afield as Iraq," he said. "We had a very strong audience as well. We livestreamed all the action online and had over 100,000 viewers, which was fantastic. We also secured some great sponsorship partners including Virgin Media and An Post Money."
'We have something for everyone'
Now, many of those who participated in the tournaments are planning to attend GamerFest. Taking place over Saturday and Sunday, the event will feature all aspects of gaming, from live talks and tournaments to a cosplay competition, and from retro arcade games to the latest innovations in augmented reality e-sports from VR leader HADO.
"GamerFest is for anyone who is passionate about gaming, whether they enjoy playing casually with their friends or whether they're aspiring e-sports professionals," Dempsey said. "We have something for everyone. The live stage is the heartbeat of the events and features special guest appearances, e-sports tournaments, and virtual reality challenges. GamerFest would also have an array of other content including sim racing, an arcade, it includes retro arcade machines and gaming consoles such as the Atari, Super Nintendo, and that’s an area that is always incredibly popular both with older visitors and younger visitors."
Like all things gaming, community plays a big part in the live event, with many people looking forward to finally meeting in real life this weekend after striking up virtual friendships during the last few years.
"The anticipation for the event is huge, because if you can imagine all of the fantastic friendships and relationships which have evolved through online gaming in Ireland, particularly during the pandemic, GamerFest offers a chance for these people to meet up during the event. The atmosphere is always electric as a result."
GamerFest also provides the opportunity to meet and learn from content creators, with big names from YouTube and Twitch attending including SeaPeeKay and top Irish talent such as The Gara Show, Antitinkerbell, Jamie Jay Car, DeeBeeGeek, and MissAudreyy.
Undoubtedly the highlight of this year's event will be an appearance by gaming legends Brenda and John Romero of Romero Games, who will receive the inaugural GamerFest Lifetime Achievement Award. The couple behind Romero Games are being recognised for their commercial success as well as the huge contribution they have made to the gaming industry in Ireland since relocating to Galway in 2014.
"John and Brenda are absolute giants of the gaming world and we are incredibly excited to welcome them to GamerFest this year," Dempsey said. "We couldn't think of anyone more deserving of our inaugural GamerFest Lifetime Achievement Award. Since arriving in Ireland and establishing Romero Games, they have been wonderful supporters of the gaming community here, regularly making time in their busy schedules to support a huge array of gaming projects and initiatives. It's fitting that they be honoured this way and we can't wait to see them on the GamerFest live stage.
"They’ll be attending on Saturday and conducting a Q&A session on the live stage, so it's a great opportunity for people to ask them questions about their careers."
'The gaming industry is now more valuable than the movie and music industries combined'
With the return of a live event, Dempsey has plans to expand GamerFest even further in the near future. The gaming industry has seen unprecedented growth in recent years, taking in an estimated €170 billion last year with revenue estimated to exceed €320 billion by 2025. It has become by far the largest entertainment industry on the planet, and its user base is growing all the time.
"The gaming industry is now more valuable than the movie and music industries combined," Dempsey said. "Sometimes people ask who’s involved in gaming. Traditionally there has been a stereotype of a gamer in his basement playing games on his own. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
"Gamers represent all society, from university students to young professionals to seasoned executives. When we work with brands for GamerFest, like McDonald's and Lucozade, they’re always taken aback by the number of people in those companies that come forward as a result of their GamerFest participation.
"Traditionally it’s kind of anti career," he added. "I think in the future people won’t ask why are you a gamer, but more, why aren’t you a gamer? It’s becoming a pillar of pop culture, just like music and fashion."
GamerFest may have its roots in Galway, but it is unlikely to take place here again in its current form due to the size of the event. This year's festival sold out well in advance, and future iterations are likely to be considerably bigger than the 5,000-strong attendance this weekend.
"We’re only scratching the surface at this point," Dempsey said. "We’d like to see the event grow to 20,000 visitors in the next 24 months, and we’re currently speaking with a number of investors to help us achieve that. It will be the RDS in the short to medium term, we do need a venue that size and they are limited in Ireland, particularly outside Dublin. We’d love to do more events in Galway but venue size is a factor for us."
To find out more about GamerFest, visit gamerfest.ie