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Introducing the 100 most influential people working in the British games industry

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eSports Pioneers

Véronique Lallier

General Manager Europe, Hi-Rez Studios

There are few people working in the UK that understand digital and online gaming as well as Véronique Lallier.

Following a stint at Rockstar, she moved to NCSoft to lead the marketing of its MMO titles. Having risen through the ranks there, she left to head digital publishing for Warner Bros International. Today she is European boss at Hi-Rez, the company behind eSports hit Smite, and is regularly pushing to improve diversity in competitive gaming.

“As a kid, I was only happy playing games,” Lallier says. “Games like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Cartridge in 1982, Phantasie II in 1986 and The Legend of Zelda shaped me in my early days. It has always been clear to me that I would be part of this industry.

“Since I’ve graduated from my business school in 1999, I have worked for some amazing companies and people.”

She continues: “Our industry is changing and getting better and smarter everyday. Online games are as amazing as they are agile. We are embracing this at Hi-Rez, our games get updated every two weeks and our sole goal is to create fun games.”

Craig Fletcher

Founder, Multiplay and SVP eSports, GAME

For a corner of the industry that feels so nascent, you might be surprised to hear that Craig Fletcher’s eSports career began 23 years ago when he organised a dial-up league for Doom 2. From there, he discovered small gatherings of players and organised events as a hobby, before having to make the call between launching Multiplay - and doing it professionally – or pursuing a career in medicine.

Multiplay’s Insomnia events have grown substantially over 20 years, from small LAN gatherings to expos that now take place at Birmingham NEC. In 2015, that growth caught the eye of GAME, which bought the firm for £20m.

“I am concerned about eSports sustainability moving forward, as with all gold rushes there is rampant inflation and rising expectations as to prize money and salaries, but it’s an exciting time to be involved,” Fletcher says.

Today, Fletcher leads all of GAME’s eSports initiatives, including bringing competitive gaming into the firm’s High Street stores to help grow the sector in Britain. “I want to bring more people into the ecosystem, flipping the pyramid into a funnel and filling it as fast as possible.”

Sam Mathews

Founder, Fnatic

Sam Mathews sold his car to set up eSports organisation Fnatic back in 2004 and has since grown it to become one of the sector’s biggest brands, complete with its own merchandise.

“Growing up I loved games, but was also extremely passionate about competitive sports. I played semi-pro rugby,” he says. “I started Fnatic as a hobby that merged both those traits. It then transformed into a legitimate business.”

The source of Mathews’ inspiration might be a surprise: “I started Fnatic over a decade ago with my mother. She’s inspired me every day in both my professional and personal lives – until we get into an argument. She is still my mother, after all.”

Fnatic is one of the best known UK eSports teams. Late last year, it launched the world’s first eSports store in London. But as a representative of the UK, Mathews is keen to see our nation have a bigger impact on professional gaming globally.

“I think the trick is moving UK eSports away from a fixation on console,” he says. “Then we might start to get more competitive.”

Michael O’Dell

President, Team Dignitas

‘Odee’ got into eSports after a football injury made him pick up the gamepad - 18 years ago.

“I read people were earning money in tournaments so I decided that’s what I’d do,” he says. “From 1999 to 2006 I played competitively and for three years tried to manage the team as well as work a full time job.”

Team Dignitas is one of the UK’s most successful eSports teams. It endured financial uncertainty for years until the recent pro-gaming boom saw its stock rise. It was acquired by NBA outfit the Philadelphia 76ers last year.

O’Dell says: “I’ve won tournaments personally, my players have won a hell of a lot and I’m proud of all we did in Team Dignitas Part 1. But without a doubt partnering with the Philadelphia 76ers is my proudest achievement. My staff are now fully employed, our players have access to many more resources, and we have a much better platform to help them win.”

As for the future, O’Dell has a similar ambition to many of those on these pages - he wants to grow the UK eSports scene. “We are so far behind other countries,” he says.

Ed Vaizey

Chairman, eGames

Ed Vaizey is best known to the industry for his six years as UK Minister for Culture. During his tenure, he became a champion for the business, working closely with trade bodies to secure some major wins, including tax breaks for studios.

He says the industry is “doing a great job, but needs to keen emphasising success, skills and job opportunities” to guarantee continued support.

Today, Vaizey has become a figure within eSports and is chairman of the International eGames Committee’s advisory board. He has already been a key supporter of the team forming eGames.

“We are seeing enormous growth in eSports across the globe, and the committee will play a crucial role in helping the industry shape a positive future,” he says.

Spike Laurie

Senior Director, ESL

Spike Laurie has become a familiar face in the world of eSports. He began at Warner Bros handling retention and engagement, and found he most enjoyed working on competitive titles like Mortal Kombat. So he decided to move to ESL to lead the eSports company’s UK efforts.

“I was attracted by the speed and dynamism of eSports,” Laurie says. “There’s still an undiscovered country feel right now. The idiosyncrasies of the space definitely suit my personality.”

Laurie has led eSports events across the world, and he is most proud of the Counter-Strike: Go Pro League Finals in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  “It was awe inspiring to see people come together, strip away their personal pride and collectively do what was best for the event under extremely challenging circumstances.”

ESL’s growth in the UK has now seen Laurie promoted to LA where he’ll handle developer and publisher relations for the events firm.

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