Video games are often associated with teenage boys hunkering down in their bedrooms, eyes glazed over as they pretend to be ace footballers or human killing machines. The industry has moved on, however.
Enthusiasts are growing older, often play in groups, and like to watch other gamers compete too.
Gfinity aims to capitalise on these trends by becoming a dominant force in so-called ‘eSports’, a fast-growing sector that lets fans watch and take part in tournaments.
The big stage: Fans watch gamers compete in Gfinity’s Elite Series
From its stadium in Fulham, South-West London, it launched the Elite Series, in which teams of professional gamers compete in, say, Street Fighter (martial arts) or Rocket League (football in fast cars).
To outsiders, the idea of watching other people play video games may seem odd, but eSports have already gained more than 380million fans worldwide, and this is expected to near 600million by 2020.
The Elite Series final was held this weekend, and fans queued to gain a ringside seat, while many more watched from home.
BBC Three and BT Sport both broadcast the series, as did other channels, such as Eleven Sports, which broadcasts in the US, Singapore, Taiwan and parts of Europe.
The Elite Series is in its infancy, but is gaining momentum. Until now, most competitions have been one-offs, but Gfinity intends to run two series a year, for a given number of weeks, featuring specific teams at specific times – much like football leagues work. This structure appeals to broadcasters, as it lets them plan ahead and publicise coming events to existing and prospective viewers.
Regular series also encourage supporters to develop an interest in team members, and fans are already asking for key players’ autographs and photos.
Over time, Gfinity’s boss Neville Upton hopes to attract more sponsors and more advertising, making the Elite Series popular and profitable. Specialist gaming laptop HP Omen was a partner in the first series and talks are ongoing with well-known brands for the future.
Upton has form. An accountant by training, he founded a call-centre business in 1998 and sold it for £60million to Serco in 2011. A year later, he founded Gfinity, hoping to create an even more successful firm. The signs are positive. Most video games are played or watched by young men, from their teens to their 30s. Competitive gaming series offer big consumer groups a cost-effective and targeted way to reach this audience, many of whom no longer watch mainstream TV.
Gfinity has another string to its bow, partnering with big organisations to launch gaming events on their behalf. Last month, it was appointed Formula 1’s eSport’s partner to deliver the F1 gaming series, which will culminate in finals broadcast live from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November.
Gfinity has also developed series and events for Microsoft and Activision Blizzard, producer of leading video game Call Of Duty.
Midas verdict: Gfinity is loss-making and likely to remain so for at least two more years as it invests in future growth. But eSports are developing fast and Gfinity is at the vanguard. Nigel Wray, who owns Saracens rugby club, has a 13.6 per cent stake and Upton himself owns 7.6 per cent. At 27¼p, the shares should deliver long-term rewards.