Wizzo Or will be when the 68th Insomnia Gaming Festival awakens later this month. From 15-18 April at the NEC Birmingham (tickets still available, perhaps), the previously bi-annual event has been dormant for two years. Contrary to expectations, Insomnia 68 will be a relatively low-key affair, despite the prolonged hibernating time and the fact that Craig ‘Wizzo’ Fletcher has been given the hosting rights again. Player1 Events wanted to stir the beast, so to speak, to see if it had survived the winter.
The acquisition of Player1 Events and, more significantly, the Insomnia brand from pandemic-hit retailer Game last year was a resuscitation for Fletcher. “The first six months were actually getting it pounding again, getting it up and running, getting the workers back to work at Tesco or wherever, since some of them had been on furlough for over a year. We have to immediately rebuild, reintegrate, and recruit them.”
Fletcher’s return to gaming events was arguably inevitable. Insomnia began in 1999 as a LAN party where players would bring their bulky PCs and CRT displays and camp out in the field outside. From Newbury Racecourse to Coventry City FC, Insomnia has grown to offer something for everyone, whether they are into cosplay, retro gaming, streamers, or just want to play a selection of the latest or most popular titles (and camp out in the NEC rather than outside)
The only question for Fletcher after leaving Game in 2017 was whether he would develop a new event to compete with Insomnia, or if he could get it back.
“Yeah, Insomnia events were coming back. Either I’d work with someone to acquire the business back, or I’d start it over for the community.
In the wake of Game’s Belong initiative, Fletcher acknowledges that Player1 Events had lost its raison d’être. A family business developed from the bottom up, selling Multiplay was an emotional experience for him, recalling all the plans that went unfulfilled when the events half of Multiplay was shipped to live at Game’s Basingstoke HQ. (The other half sold to Unity kept the name.) “I wanted to make it bigger, you know, there was so much to do.” Then COVID came along, and as in-person gaming events faded away, Fletcher saw an opportunity.
After salvaging the community events, they thought there was an opportunity to revive global ambitions and provide Insomnia to everyone across the world.
FIRST, WE’LL VISIT BIRMINGHAM
Although a summer Insomnia has been planned, global dominance will have to wait till the April event reports are in. Fletcher is certain: Insomnia was brought back because we see great potential for live events, and especially for the games industry. People desire to go back to live events, both anecdotally and statistically. People have suffered greatly in the last two years due to lack of human contact, festival experiences, and meeting friends and sharing passions. There is a definite need and demand.
Then we can see where the land is, who will come, and which enterprises are ready, because some are still not. In some circumstances, events are halted. To get the community back together and get back to normal, we planned an Insomnia event, which we hope will be a regular component of their calendar.
“Will it be bigger than the last? Maybe not. But that’s not a problem because this is a test. Let’s get it done. We can survey, project, and hypothesise all we want, but nothing beats doing it. We’ll learn a lot that will help us improve the next one.”
Insomnia 68 isn’t the first gaming event organised by Player1 Events. “We established AWF (Afternoon With Friends), a B2B industry event, in November. It was just 70-80 people, but it was fantastic. Everyone enjoyed reuniting, which gave us faith that Insomnia would be stronger and more popular than ever.”
GET OUT THERE AND MULTIPLAY!
There have been a few new consoles introduced since the last Insomnia in September 2019. Player1 has acquired a large number of each and will showcase them in its NewGen Gaming Zone. Aside from the fifty RTX 3080-equipped PCs, the new hardware acquisitions are part of the company’s larger aim to compete for contract events, which was a successful pillar of Multiplay before Game acquired it.
“We ran Minecon. Then came RuneFest. Because we have so much modern equipment, we used to host a lot of large-scale conferences for individuals, and we want to bring that back.”
Aside from wanting to export Insomnia to other parts of the world – notably the US, Europe, and the Middle East – Player1 Events has further goals for global dominance. Fletcher and his colleagues are considering the shape and function of hybrid events, as well as the type of online content that might support future in-person events.
“How can you provide relevant material for individuals at home who can’t or won’t go to a physical event?” he asks. It was before [COVID]. I recall thinking about it when I was at Game, but the pandemic has brought it forward. People are forced to innovate in hybrid events, virtual platforms, etc. It’s still a hodgepodge of material out there. We aren’t exactly Ready Player One-level immersed yet, but we will be soon. That area is a hub of thought.”