Levelling Up: Building the Future of Social Gaming and Esports with Cisilion
From Odyssey to Atari, Nintendo to PlayStation, the advances that have come with each generation of video games have shattered gaming expectations. There was one expectation, though, that persisted: that gamers were either playing mostly alone at home or online with others (who were also at home alone). At Platform, we have made it our mission to shatter that expectation.
It was 2016 when I reconnected with my childhood friend Tomaso Portunato completely by chance. We used to play World of Warcraft together when we were kids and had found ourselves at the same nightclub for a party. That night, he told me about his dream of creating a video game bar that would challenge the negative stereotypes of gamers, while making people who don’t identify as gamers feel welcome. He wanted to design a new, fresh space that would be the complete opposite of what anyone would imagine as a gaming bar—somewhere he’d be happy to take his friends and family.
That was the night Tomaso, his brother Nicoló, and I became co-founders of Platform—London’s first-ever video games and esports bar and restaurant.
We were inspired by other popular activity bars in the UK. Our goal is to change the way people perceive and experience video games as we bring them together through social, inclusive gaming. Following our passion for gaming, we embarked on our entrepreneurial journey together.
After three years of planning and logistics, Platform finally opened its doors in the spring of 2019. Just before Platform launched, we were commissioned by a major video game company to set up a PR event for the release of a highly anticipated game. The company wanted to organise a community event in our space and globally stream a video event for this new game. We weren’t too clear on their requirements, and we only had dial-up internet at the time, which was painfully slow. When the video began streaming, it cut out and there wasn’t any audio because our network just couldn’t support it. It was clear that we needed to do something about our network.
Guild of Dreams: If You Build It, They Will Come
We knew that we needed to have the infrastructure in place to handle loads of wired and wireless clients on our network at the same time, with seamless connections. The network needed to be strong enough for any potential esports tournaments and competitive gaming events, and we needed to securely house all of our computer systems as well. We also knew that we would attract a tech-savvy audience into our space, and they would demand secure IT infrastructure.
Even though we knew what we needed, none of us founders knew very much about networking in general, or if what we needed was even possible. We didn’t know the top networking providers in the market, what solutions were available to us, or how we could implement them. We also didn’t know what would be required from an equipment and setup perspective.
Initially, we got a sluggish internet connection through a commercial internet provider. At that point, most of our games were offline, so that connection was fine for connecting to our point of sale system. But it wasn’t long before we realized that our desired uses fell far beyond the capabilities offered by traditional ISPs.
Our concept had great potential, but we needed to understand what was going on in our network in order to succeed. For us, it became critical to hire a consultant that could truly understand our business needs and then walk us through the process in a way that we could understand. We started looking for a partner with the expertise to guide us so that we could scale and grow. We found exactly that in Cisilion.
We explained to Cisilion that in addition to our security and connectivity needs today, we wanted to get insights into how our gamers were using the network, what games they played the most, and how they responded to different features in our venue, all of which would affect our product offerings in the future. Cisilion showed us the existing solutions on the market, the different options we could choose within those solutions, and helped filter those products in terms of budget, capabilities, and immediate needs. Cisilion delivered, introducing us to all the Cisco products we needed: Cisco Meraki, Umbrella, and Purple.
Cisilion has been with us almost since the beginning, so we were able to build everything in one go. They worked with our architects to figure out all the cabling, and we finished outfitting our venue with the IT infrastructure in mind.
From Noobs to Networking l33t: Stepping Up Our Game
We’ve learned a lot on our journey, and Platform now has 10 powerful computers, eight multiplayer booths, a streaming room, and 100 ethernet ports that are all connected to our point of sale system in all our terminals.
Umbrella is constantly working in the background to keep our network and users safe and secure. This is especially important as we’ve expanded our offerings to include more competitive online gaming.
Adding in Purple also allows every customer to join our Wi-Fi network. They can log in easily and we can control the information they see, which can personalise their experience. We can collect data such as basic demographics, contact information, and more. We then integrate that information into our CRM database, which allows us to stay in contact with our customers.
We’re planning to use that information a lot more as we expand. One use case will be for our new assisted games menu, which helps people find the perfect game to play at Platform. We’re also going to start automating our communication around promotions and events, enabling us to stay connected with our customers in between the times they visit our space.
We intend to use Cisco Meraki for heat mapping, so that we can understand how people flow through our venues and then optimise the layout based on that information. We are opening two more venues in London that will incorporate heat mapping so that we can learn more and create spaces that are much more user-friendly and functional.
Esports: A New Realm to Conquer
Beyond two additional venues in London, we are exploring ways to open in other global capitals. Apart from building more social gaming venues, we’re also going to expand further into the realm of esports.
Millions of people around the world watch esports online. We want to adapt our concept and partner with leaders and influencers in the industry to create a space that will be more dedicated to esports. That space will feature enhanced streaming capabilities, streaming studios, and production studios in addition to social gaming and esports facilities. We want to be able to host competitions large and small, and are creating partnerships to build a purpose-built esports arena that incorporates our social gaming experience.
The more we become a reputable, recognisable brand, the more we want to merge our physical presence with a virtual presence. We want to foster a community both online and offline with the same intention of bringing people together around video games. And if we need to support even more people online at the same time, then we definitely need the right network to be able to scale our operation. This will require even further collaboration with Cisilion to deliver that experience to our customers.
Bring on the Next Campaign
Without Cisilion, we wouldn’t have been able to take our ambitious idea and grow so quickly. It would’ve taken us a bajillion years to understand the world of solutions. We know our business, our customers, and this industry. But we just didn’t know networking—at least not enough. Finding a partner allowed us to focus on our expertise, while ensuring our network didn’t fall through the cracks.
By putting Platform’s needs ahead of everything else, Cisilion has proven that they’re invested in a long-lasting relationship, and that will lead to a better chance of growth and of working together as we expand our physical locations.
We wouldn’t have a safe and secure environment for people to be able to play, and that would’ve limited our potential. Cisco Meraki really connects everything—all our machines and infrastructure—and it hasn’t let us down once.
Because we learned by building everything at once on a small scale, we can use that knowledge to continue building bigger. With Cisilion’s guidance, Cisco allows us to start on the next stage of our campaign. It collects all the data we need so we can then pull insights at a moment’s notice and see how people are interacting with the network in real time.
Quite frankly, we couldn’t have launched Platform without Cisilion. Their Cisco expertise was obviously vital, but they’ve been a true partner in understanding what we really need for the long haul by working with us to figure it out. This partnership gave Platform a better chance at surviving in its early days, and now allows us to better position ourselves for future growth.
The future of gaming has endless possibilities. As an industry that’s on track to be worth $300 billion by 2025, gamers, gaming vendors, and gaming venues are each on their own quests to find out where they fit in. There’s a pervasive stereotype surrounding gaming culture, but it’s truly an activity that a diverse group of people can enjoy—and when the pandemic eventually passes, people will want to physically reconnect with others in a place that exemplifies that idea.
And as Platform moves to create social gaming environments with a concentration on competitive gaming, we need a guide that will have our backs. With Cisilion and Cisco supporting us every step of the way, we know we’re ready to level up.