In the lead-up to EPIC 37, UKCSGO had the opportunity to talk to Tom “Gumpster” Gumbleton. In the interview, he discussed in length the growth of EPIC, how the scene’s lack of faith in Iseries has impacted EPIC, and the general state of UK CS. For those who don’t know Gumpster, he’s been a part of the UK scene for years and has been working with EPIC since 2013. With that experience, he has been able to get a unique view of the scene from a tournament organiser’s perspective.
Epic 37 is the third biggest EPIC.LAN to date. So for people who are new to the event, myself included, how would you describe your role in the tournament?
So, my role at EPIC.LAN is League Ops Manager and I basically oversee all the tournaments that run at EPIC.LAN events. I make sure we have admins to run the tournaments, casters to commentate the games, and [I] generally keep the wheels moving where possible. What I’d like to say is I generally have a hands-off approach to the tournaments, admins come to learn at EPIC.LAN, and we provide that teaching [by] letting the admins have the creative decisions behind their tournaments. I don’t pretend to know what every community wants from a tournament, so [I] allow my admins to put forward their ideas of how to run the tournaments effectively for the communities they represent.
If things go wrong, I will always take the blame as ultimately I have the final say in how we run these tournaments and we work with the feedback to devise better tournaments going forward. So for example, Finn was worried we may breach 32 teams for EPIC37, we all sat down and discussed format ideas [for] if we went over 32, and we left it to Finn to think about what we had said, and he then came back with the idea.
[Editor’s note: EPIC37’s current format is pot seeded]
Once we were happy with the idea and how it was communicated, I asked him to test the waters by submitting it to the seeding panelists for review so they would be able to give constructive feedback and we could change things based on that rather than getting to the event, telling everyone there and then and for everyone to get angry as they hadn’t processed the information properly.
For those not in the know, the seeding panelists are those that submit forms to us, we tend to choose 8 individuals not on the same team to give their informed opinions on the teams attending the event which gives some of the community some added investment into how the tournament runs. So, that is basically what I do, and how I do it for each event. I tend to feel like we have helped a lot of people through our doors go and get into various parts of the industry whilst continuing to bring in people who help the respective communities.
Going back to the point of this being one of the biggest EPIC LANs ever, what do you think has driven people to attend the event, perhaps even for the first time?
If you look back to the early days, we didn’t really have much of a community for Counter-Strike. It was kind of a top-players-only kind of club, so the top players would come to EPIC and they would support the event. But the community never really got behind us as such, [though] that all changed at EPIC 16. And I think… I don’t wanna put it as Iseries versus EPIC, because that’s not how we see it ourselves. I see it as the CS community often votes with their feet, and if they feel like they are being neglected by one side they go to the other side to come and enjoy the event. I think a load of cs players over the last few years have seen EPIC as the place they want to support most.
Gumpster elaborates why EPIC.LAN has continued to gain popularity since the covid-19 pandemic two years ago.[It’s] because we ran the WANs during the pandemic. We didn’t stop running events during the pandemic, we kept [them] going so people had something to play for during the pandemic. We often tried to support the CS community as best as we can. We teamed up with Grosvenor before the pandemic to try and put the Grosvenor grassroots community championship out there, and I think a lot of teams have noticed that over the years and that’s why they keep coming back to us. That’s why they keep supporting us and we honestly try to take all of their feedback on board.
Whatever feedback we do get, and this is more of a reminder for teams: esports makes the bulk of our tickets but it also makes very little to our feedback, so the more feedback they send in after the event is really critical, as that feedback we can look at we can change for future events, and we do try and honour that feedback looking forward. Obviously, logistics and costs and things like that factor into those decisions, but having that feedback there is something we can look towards.
With the increased interest in the tournament, are there any plans to increase the range of sponsors, and the prize pool with it?
That’s more of a John question, but what I will say out of this is that: yes, the costs currently are something that we’re monitoring so, to sort of give everyone an indication: obviously, you know we launched our ticket prices and we launched the tickets at the end of our last event and we had to make a decision midway through selling those tickets to increase the price of the tickets. This is because the cost of electricity just suddenly went up at our head office. Despite there being a price cap for consumers, there is no such thing for businesses, so business costs have gone up tenfold [due to] the electricity crisis that’s happening in the country and that’s obviously affected us as well. Not only that, but just after we’d raised the ticket prices, we got hit by a fresh set of costs that came from the venue, as they realised they had to raise their costs, which we then had to factor into this event, which makes it incredibly difficult.
And, if John was here with me right now, I think he would say that the next six months will be absolutely crucial to the business, as we’ll have to look at our current ticket prices and think: “is this sustainable for the next six months?” and there is no easy answer about that. Even the government obviously with itself imploding right now, they haven’t been quite upfront with businesses and how they’re going to support businesses right now in terms of whether prices are going to be kept low for the business side. So, it is a difficult thing.
Yes, we are always looking out for more sponsors to be involved in the event, which is what we’ve done gradually. So, obviously, we’ve had Intel sponsor the event which has made a big difference to our events. We’ve obviously got Overclockers and we’ve got Logitech. Logitech provides the MVP prizes for the tournaments, which means a player will walk away with a headset. And then there are other sorts of smaller deals that have happened as well, so we’ve also had MSI come to the last event and they’ve provided 320Hz [monitors] or something like that, top-of-the-range monitors for the stage now, and all our streaming setups as well, so there are all of these things happening behind the scenes. But its just kind of difficult because everyone in the UK currently is fighting for the same space and amount of sponsors, so when we don’t have the footfall compared to Iseries for example, or any other big events — like you know your ESL premierships that obviously have bigger partnerships in place — then you’re always not going to get that slice of the pie that everyone else does. So, its a little bit more challenging for us to get sponsors, but we are always consistently trying to look for new sponsors for the tournaments and for the event in general, just to make sure we are secure going forward.
Yeah, you can only do so much, some of it’s out of your control.
It is yeah, it’s a little bit difficult to factor everything, especially now with energy costs rising for all businesses, not just our own obviously. It’s becoming incredibly difficult to even think about the next six months and I imagine John is in that position where you know with the external events that we do on behalf of the business we then have to factor in all of our costs and prices for all of that, and those costs go up for everyone. So, like, fuel is another one that has risen in recent times and makes it all difficult for us at this point.
A very broad one to finish us off: what do you think of the state of the UK CS scene at the moment?
As I’ve been ingrained in it for many many years and it’s like part of my passion, what I will say is fundamentally, you’ll never see the likes of what we had with Counter-Strike: Source [come] back with Counter-Strike Global Offensive. I think esports has kind of eroded away the kind of community side of things. Back in Counter-Strike Source, we had lots of big community teams. there would be like 20 or 30, 40 different communities that would have, you know, massive amounts of teams, they’d bring like eight teams to LAN and you’d have another community that would have 10 teams.
But these days you’re not doing this for fun anymore, you’re doing this to actually get somewhere and that’s an admirable thing, I can totally get behind that. It kind of eroded my fun out of actually playing Counter-Strike sometimes. Like, I used to love playing Counter-Strike with friends and stuff like that because you would be able to have a laugh, but I can see why certain players would want to have ambitions that are a lot more than just wanting to have a laugh with your friends. There are dollar signs and I think regardless of how people feel, I think the UKCS scene is in a much better place than it was in the past. We’ve gone through the stormy times and I think we’re now in a place where there are 10 to 15 different teams that are now challenging each other.
Yes, there’s obviously Endpoint who have won God knows how many ESL premiership titles now in a row. But I feel the scene below them is certainly a lot better, and I think we’re sort of carving ourselves into the upper echelons of Counter-Strike as a whole, with players going to majors and being able to get that stepping stone now. So, I definitely feel that the scene is in a lot better state.
Unfortunately, going into EPIC 37, we’ve had so many different roster changes happening, even one that is happening today, which doesn’t really sell that confidence to people who look at the scene from outside. So, sometimes when players make these decisions, it kind of doesn’t help from an outsider’s perspective when they see all of these teams capitulate a couple of days before LAN. Like, it’s not sustainable. You want a sustainable amount of core line-ups.
I don’t think there’s any particular laziness or anything like that, I think there are a lot of players who are completely passionate in the scene, and now that UKCSGO is back, hopefully, that will help bring the scene to another level. Because that was the one thing that was sort of holding back the scene: there was no one writing about the scene, there was no way to know about what was going on in the scene because no one was covering it, and now that we’ve got you guys and the group of editors and newswriters that are writing now, there’s now a little bit of hope that can translate into better coverage for the scene, better teams coming out of it, better players being picked up by better organisations out there and better salaries happening and that kind of thing.
My only advice for the scene is to weather your expectations. I get that the cost of living crisis is happening but sometimes there are a lot of people who have unrealistic salary expectations when you’re only a UK team and you’ve not made it at the top level CS yet. You’re going to end up alienating organisations who may not be able to look at their finances right now and say “yeah we can afford this UK team but they’re asking for obscene amounts of salary” sometimes that kind of thing, you just need to weather your expectations and perhaps look to using those organisations as a stepping stone to other organisations with different salary expectations.