Sujoy Roy, pro gamer and founder of HMV’s Gamerbase – an in-depth interview on LAN Gaming and eSports

Sujoy Roy on how 'Gamerbase was built on a completely different model, where social gaming and esports sits side-by-side with games retail.' and how Mainstream is a self-fulfilling prophecy - once e-sports is accepted, it will continue to be accepted.

Gamerbase

We interviewed Sujoy Roy – the pro gamer and founder of LAN centre chain Gamerbase – and asked him how he got in to pro gamer, what it takes to break in to pro gaming, and about his motivations behind setting up Omega Sektor, and Gamerbase . We also asked for his take on the future of PC and LAN gaming – and how he thinks eSports could gain mainstream appreciation.

When did you first get interested in gaming, and when did you go professional?

I’ve always loved playing video games, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t playing them. I only found PC gaming when I went to University in 1994, some guys were playing Doom 2 and I couldn’t believe how amazing it looked.In my second year at Uni, Quake was released and I was pretty much hooked. I topped the rankings for QuakeWorld, and at the time I thought I was the best in the world. We didn’t have any really big tournaments back then so I wouldn’t get to test myself against the best players until a few years later. I didn’t become a professional game until 2000, after finishing Uni and working in New York.

UK eSports

My residence apartment in New York only had dial-up internet so I invited some local players to LAN at my place.

How did keep up the job at JP Morgan whilst perusing the career in gaming?

I didn’t! I had quit gaming completely once I started work. For over a year I hardly played Quake at all. It was only because The CPL organised a huge tournament in New York that I decided to start again at all. The first prize was $10,000 which was unheard of at the time.

I was still very cocky so I thought I would try to win it. My residence apartment in New York only had dial-up internet so I invited some local players to LAN at my place. I didn’t really get much practice in until I went back home and played on my ISDN connection.

My first TV interview on The Big Breakfast went pretty badly – I totally forgot to plug my sponsors

How successful were you in professional gaming?

I came 3rd at that New York CPL tournament in the end, and I had a mixture of top 10 places after that in various competitions. If I’m honest I never really did very well at Quake 3. I think I hit my peak in Quake 1 when I was totally devoted to the game. I played a bit of Quake 4 when it came out too, but I don’t think I could have competed with the top guys like Toxic and Cooller who were hitting their stride. My success in gaming is more down to the way I went about it, rather than how good I was at playing. I used my background to make the most of the professional gaming story and worked hard at networking in the gaming industry and with the press. I also spent some time doing media training and trying to give good interviews. My first TV interview on The Big Breakfast went pretty badly – I totally forgot to plug my sponsors – but I eventually got the hang of it and I think I kept my sponsors happy with the coverage they got for their money. I think I probably had around 20-30 TV, radio and press interviews a month in my heyday as a professional gamer.

What would you say to someone who aspires to be a pro gamer – what kind o person do you have to be?

You need to love playing games and being part of the gaming culture, because if you’re a success it’s going to take over your life. You need to have plenty of motivation to practice hard all the time. You also need to constantly learn from other players to see how strategies are evolving. And if you want to win, you need to be ahead of the curve and develop new ideas yourself. That covers the gaming side, but if you want to be professional you need to find a way to earn money from being a great gamer. It’s been a long time since I’ve been professional and everything has changed now. The big teams are already well organised and have sponsors, so I suppose it is easier to try to be recruited for a well known team than try to go out on your own. Then it’s a case of presenting yourself as someone who will do a good job representing the team and its sponsors. That means the obvious stuff like being a good sportsman, but also being someone the team can use as a spokesman, interviewing well and so on.

I raised more money in sponsorship though. In total the first year sponsorship was over £200,000.

How much prize money did you win in total – and what kind of money did you get from sponsorships?

I never won a lot of prize money, a few thousand here and then probably. The big prize events didn’t come around until well after I had retired anyway. I raised more money in sponsorship though. In total the first year sponsorship was over £200,000.

Gamerbase

Why I decided to quit: Just as things were looking good, the dotcom bubble burst – all of the gaming sponsors were all hit hard too and their marketing budgets were slashed.

Why did you ‘retire’ as a professional gamer despite being so successful?

Just as things were looking good, the dotcom bubble burst and that messed up all of the company plans. We were running XSReality.com as an esports media portal and looking to sell the whole company. All of a sudden there was no money out there, and our website sale collapsed. The gaming sponsors were all hit hard too and their marketing budgets were slashed. Everything came to a standstill and I decided it was time to do something different.

Omega Sektor: I didn’t agree with a lot of the decisions, especially the runaway budget that hit 500% of my original estimate on how much should be spent.

How did you start Omega Sektor? Why did you leave and why did it ultimately fail?

A company from Kazakhstan approached my business partner and I about building a huge gaming centre in the UK. They bought my gaming centre in London and used that company as the vehicle for building Omega Sektor. I only kept a minority equity holding. The original idea was that we would run the company and build the gaming centre. However as the project continued the investors spent more and more time in the UK and were making the decisions themselves. I didn’t agree with a lot of the decisions, especially the runaway budget that hit 500% of my original estimate on how much should be spent. In the end I thought it would be best to leave and not be involved. The break-even point I had calculated was something like £6,000 a day. Without the coffee shop and games retail space that the investors had vetoed, I could only see the store losing money every day it opened the doors.

HMV Gamerbase

How successful has Gamerbase been, and why was the support of HMV needed?

Gamerbase was built on a completely different model, where social gaming and esports sits side-by-side with games retail. The idea is that you create some theatre in the hmv store so that people passing through have something to watch. It’s what makes the store different to any other Games retailer, and the numbers certainly proved that the idea works. In the first year that Gamerbase was installed in the London Trocadero, hmv saw an 80% increase in their games sales. It is this retail aspect that keeps Gamerbase performing. Unfortunately high street retail is having a hard time in the UK so our original plan to have Gamerbase stores in every major city of the UK was held back, but despite that I like to think that Gamerbase has been a very successful venture

‘I wanted to create a space where gaming could be social’

What is Gamerbase trying to achieve?

I wanted to create a space where gaming could be social. No matter how good the gaming experience might be, us human being are social animals and Gamerbase is a place where you can meet and play with other people that you might not have been friends with otherwise. I would have loved to build something more like an esports arena, but the spaces we have for Gamerbase probably aren’t perfect for running major tournaments. We have held a few competitions, and even a $1 million CPL final once, but I think our venues are more suited to the average gamer rather than the esports professional.

eSports is changing very quickly again. It seems like gaming is on the way up again, and big brands have been showing interest.

What is the future for eSports and pro gaming?

eSports is changing very quickly again. It seems like gaming is on the way up again, and big brands have been showing interest. I think that there is a new generation of people that are almost immune to old fashioned advertising. The big brands have realised this now, and instead of buying TV adverts they are spending their marketing money on helping with tournaments and events. This is good news for gamers who probably download all their TV shows anyway. Where are we going in the future? It’s hard to say since gaming is fractured into so many different games and different event organisers. I like to think that a professional gamer will one day be as respected as a professional sportsman. In my mind it’s completely logical, kicking an inflated leather ball around seems irrelevant to our modern lifestyle.

Omega Sektor

Mainstream is a self-fulfilling prophecy

What would be the key to making eSports gaming go mainstream – how can mainstream interest be generated in eSports, and how can it become widely accepted?

Mainstream is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once it is accepted, it will continue to be accepted. What we need is for gaming to break through the glass ceiling. I think if one professional gamer can become a genuine celebrity, it will open the door for eSports to be accepted. Then everything will change.

In the end all gaming will converge anyway and we won’t be talking about PC vs Console.

What do you think the future is for PC gaming – is it ‘dead’ like so many people proclaim?

I’ve been involved with high street games retail for the last 4 years now, and in that respect PC gaming is absolutely nowhere. I think it’s just a case that PC gamers are ahead of the curve and don’t want to pay high street prices for their games. They are the early adopters, buying games digitally where they can or downloading illegally when they can get away with it! In the end all gaming will converge anyway and we won’t be talking about PC vs Console. But even today, some of the most exciting titles are PC based, like the new action RTS games like LoL, HoN and DotA 2 are making huge waves. I’m a big fan of DotA and had to force myself to stop playing just so I could get anything done.

Currently running a LAN gaming centre is a tough business

Lan Centre

Currently running a LAN gaming centre is a tough business.

Do you think there is a future for LAN gaming centres – especially in the UK – or is stagnant market?

Currently running a LAN gaming centre is a tough business. You could call it stagnant, but that is a little unfair on the guys who keep these places running out of sheer love for gaming. But the high street is changing really fast especially as more and more of us buy stuff online or get our entertainment delivered digitally over the internet.

Eventually all that will be left on the high street are places that provide services and LAN gaming centres definitely fits the description. Games publishers still need to reach the public and what better way than to get them to play their games in a social environment. I think there will be a resurgence in LAN centres, although it may take a little time.

For someone wishing to set up a gaming centre today – what do you think they would have to do to be successful?

If I’m honest, I’d tell anyone asking not to bother. It’s a tough business to run and if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, you might find yourself struggling very quickly.

There’s plenty to improve in Gamerbase and we have enough that needs to be worked on right now?

If you went back and did Omega Sektor or Gamerbase again, what would you change?

I probably wouldn’t have got involved in Omega Sektor at all. With Gamerbase it’s hard to say since we have done pretty well so far. There’s plenty to improve in Gamerbase and we have enough that needs to be worked on right now.

Dell XPS Laptop

"I still have a 4-year-old DELL XPS M1730 laptop with a Core 2 Extreme X7900."

What computer are you using for gaming right now (spec)?

I still have a 4-year-old DELL XPS M1730 laptop with a Core 2 Extreme X7900. It has a NVIDIA 8700M SLI GPU and keeps my office nice and warm through the Winter. It’s probably considered slow these days, but it works perfectly for playing a little DotA 2 or Quake Live. It pleases me to think I can also carry it around with me… but I don’t because it weighs a tonne.

I’m still with the same old Microsoft Wheel Mouse Optical, but only because I have a stash of about twenty left in my junk cupboard.

What are your favourite gaming peripherals – what gaming keyboard, and what gaming mouse would you recommend?

That’s a tough question, especially because I have a lot of love for all the guys making high quality keyboards and mice. It used to be a minefield but I think these days it’s not hard to find really good peripherals. I guess the big question is what am I playing with? Still the same old Microsoft Wheel Mouse Optical, but only because I have a stash of about twenty left in my junk cupboard.

Razer Project Fiona

Razer’s Project Fiona seems impractical, do people really want to play hardcore games on a train?

What do you make of gaming tablets like Project Fiona?

The idea seems a little impractical, do people really want to play hardcore games on a train? I think I would need to see more of the marketing bumpf before making a call on it. Razer are smart cookies so I expect they know what they’re doing.

What’s your all time favourite video game?

In recent memory, I think I had most fun playing in the DotA pickup channels on Quakenet.

What PC game are you most looking forward to?

I can’t wait for DotA 2 to be launched. I think the game has potential. Also Tobi Wan is the most entertaining caster I have ever seen, and the DotA community get a hell of a lot done

What are you doing now – and what are your plans for the future?

I have a few projects brewing, but I don’t like to announce anything until I’m sure it’s going to happen. 2012 will be an interesting year.