No sleep till Telford

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Here is a fascinating social dynamic. How does an isolated community – by its nature virtual and unreal – interact when it gets face to face? That’s what took me to Telford, to catch up with the gaming show Insomnia and organisers Multiplay. Insomnia, so called because the gaming goes on around the clock, is held three times a year, with the summer edition being the largest, with 25,000 visitors in 2013 and more than 60 exhibitors. The Telford exhibition/event was the 50th in the popular series – a cunning mix of table-top memorabilia stands, experiential engagement zones, competitions, a rock band, awards dinner and literally thousands of top-end computers all hooked into the latest online multiplayer games. The venue seemed to be perfectly proportioned for the event, with the main hall housing row upon row of personal hardware (the event is the ultimate in BYOD) while a side hall featured exhibitions stands showcasing the latest games and consoles, right through to badges and T-shirts. Then there was the main stage and auditorium, hosting everything from giveaways to head-to-head competitions, those awards, and announcements regarding the next event. Sadly for Telford, the Multiplay team announced a move to the Ricoh Arena for Insomnia51 – which they say gives them more space and more options, including on-site camping, bars and a ready-made all-seater stadium. We chatted to Multiplay marketing man Josh Ling to find out more about the show, its audience, and plans for the future.How would you describe the Insomnia show to someone who has never been? Insomnia has been described by some as the ‘Glastonbury of gaming’. We have a huge main stage, showing activities and more. We have a thriving exhibition, with gaming products and activities, new games, prizes and more. We have a record-breaking LAN [Local Area Network] where thousands of gamers bring their PCs or consoles to play games all weekend with each other. We have eSports tournaments: Competitive gaming tournaments with huge prizes that professional players and teams travel to compete in and win, and we have tons of social activities and areas on the night. It truly is a Gaming Festival, celebrating all areas of modern videogaming.Can you give us a brief overview of Multiplay? Multiplay is a global online hosting and events company. We host online servers for many games in both a commercial and consumer directed capacity, and also host both our own events and help others run theirs. Our team helped manage areas at Eurogamer Expo 2013 and the Gadget Show Live @ Christmas this year and we of course host Insomnia, the UK’s Biggest Gaming Festival. Insomnia grew from the ground up over 14 years from a relatively small LAN to a relatively huge festival, with exhibition, stage, massive eSports tournaments and more.How has the event grown, in terms of visitor numbers and exhibitors? Last summer we had a total footfall of over 25,000, and over 60 exhibitors or sponsors. We’re definitely a growing exhibition. Over the past few years those numbers have experienced a continual growth, and we predict that next year’s events will only continue that, especially with the new venue announcement. If you look at the numbers from Eurogamer Expo you’ll see the attendence boomed from 2008 to 2013, and we don’t think those sorts of numbers are unachievable, especially since we’re targeting a different audience: we’ve got special guests, activities, and the massive LAN which guarantees a core audience of people who want to spend at the adjoining expo.What is the demographic of your typical visitor? The core LAN audience reflects the general gaming audience, which is men between the ages of around 16-40. Our core audience are adult men with good jobs who like to play videogames and unwind, but over the past few years our visitor numbers have grown and it’s difficult to describe them in anything other than a general sense: We see men, women, teenagers, adults, lots of families... basically anyone who enjoys videogames, or has a loved one that enjoys videogames. Gaming is become a much more universal thing; it’s not just teenagers any more. Those teenagers have grown up, got married, had kids, and have got their partners into it too. At the summer event we had thousands of parents attending and relating with their kids over gaming, it was really nice to see.This is a community that is virtual by nature, how do they react to coming together face to face? For a lot of members of our core LAN community, our events are when they get to hang out with each other in a physical location. They play games together online, and three times a year they head to our event to socialise in person, have a few drinks, and play games together. As for reaction, it isn’t actually much different than online in terms of interaction: They speak to each other using voice communication online, so the only real difference between that and our event is the social aspects in terms of getting to actually spend time with their friends, eat together, play games together, drink together, and visit the stage and exhibition together.Is it a passionate community? It’s incredibly passionate, often vocally so if you visit our forums. Many of the core community have been coming for years. It’s a growing community too: Each event sees a new collection of first-timers coming to the show, joining and growing the community. The LAN itself helps because with other purely exhibition-orientated events you don’t tend to get that build of an awesome core community that you can serve, it’s just a collection of visitors. We get to have our cake and eat it, in terms of having both groups of people: Visitors that drive footfall that we can put on a show for, and a core community of great people who come to our events to have a good time, spend some money in the exhibition, and otherwise get the Insomnia experience. What special consideration are there for the venue that they may not experience with other shows? We need 24/7 internet to serve the LAN. That requires a huge network managed by our incredible networking team. The LAN itself is open 24 hours, which requires full round-the-clock supervision and security. Other than that, it’s a standard combination of day-time exhibition and a large stage area, served by bars and catering services. Security is a top priority at our events as people are bringing their own equipment in terms of PCs, consoles and peripherals.Why are you moving to the Ricoh? The Ricoh Arena has a lot to offer us in terms of a venue: It’s got a large amount of space with room for growth, on-site hotels, and a perfect campsite location adjacent to the venue as well as parking spaces. Coventry City Council has responded very positively to our event, and we’ll be working with both the Ricoh and them. It also has a built-in stadium, and we’re coming up with some really exciting ways we can use that space and seating to put on a great show.Much is made in the exhibition industry about engaging with your audience outside of the show itself, is it easier to do with your community, would you say? It’s much easier. Besides our events, we have a huge online community that we engage with on our forums, through social media, and via our online hosting of game servers. Our Insomnia events combine all of the best parts of our business into a brilliant gaming-orientated weekend three times a year; our hosting and knowledge of online gaming, our ability to deliver large-scale events, and our passion for providing a great experience for both consumers and commercial entities. This was first published in the January issue of EN. Any comments? Email exhibitionnews@mashmedia.net
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