Sonisphere, Knebworth, 2009. That’s when I lost my festival virginity. I was such an impressionable young soul back then, so pure and full of wonder. I can clearly remember how Linkin Park stopped halfway through their slot to bring on Chester’s new band Dead by Sunrise, completely ruining the atmosphere. Still, I had an absolutely amazing time camping, getting merry and even having my arm signed by a couple of the bands. It’ll be an experience I’ll never forget.
Not all festivals require camping in a cold wet field though, surrounded by clogged up porta-potties, dodgy street food vendors and having to tiptoe around used condoms on your way back to your tent. Take Insomnia, for example, the UK’s largest video game festival. It takes place indoors where it is warm and dry, with functioning toilets and, well, I can’t actually comment on the food but I hear good things.
The Insomnia Gaming Festival hasn’t always been how you see it today though, it was actually very different when it first started up all those years ago. So come jump in my imaginary delorean as we travel back in time to look at the history of the event and how it’s developed over the years.
The year is 1999; Multiplay and Wireplay have teamed up to create Insomnia99, a 300 player LAN event that laid the roots for the gaming festival that we know and love today. Multiplayer gaming was much different back then though with the superfast internet speeds we all rely on today but a dream of the future like flying cars. Instead, we had dial-up broadband and any por…pictures you wanted to download took a lifetime to download, so events like Insomnia were the only real way to hold massive multiplayer events. In an interview with WIRED.co.uk, founder Craig Fletcher explains what the early years of Insomnia were like;
“For many years, there were no exhibitors. It was just a LAN party, that and tournaments. We didn’t even have a way to watch our tournament finals, so it’s come a long way.“
Following a successful first event, Multiplay and Wireplay went their separate ways, with Fletcher going on to keep the event going with Multiplay under the iSeries banner. The first of the newly renamed events was held in Swindon Town, where it stayed up until i4. Gathering momentum with each event they had to relocate in 2000 to accommodate growing crowds.This saw the festival moving to Newbury Racecourse, which would remain the home of the event for the next 29 gatherings from i5 to i33. Due to a further increase in the event’s popularity over the years, 2008 saw another change of venue to Stoneleigh Park, but sadly it only lasted only from i34 to i37, where unfortunately the recession hit and sponsorship revenue decreased. Determined not to let this defeat them though, Multiplay took the event back to Newbury Park from i38 to i42.
Having weathered the storm caused by the recession, which was a global crisis, not one caused by the Labour party as the Conservatives would have you believe in their propaganda, Multiplay was again in a position to move to a larger premises due to increased growth. So, in 2011 the festival took up residence at the Telford International Centre for i43 where it remained until i50. It was here that the festival also picked back up the original Insomnia name. Following the final event at the TIC, Multiplay announced on December 2nd, 2013, that they would again be moving premises to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry due to increased popularity. They would grace this venue from i51 to i55, where at the last of the events it would draw in more than 36,000 gamers.
Then in 2015 Multiplay was bought out by GAME, which following some difficult years where they had to close many stores, was a wise investment allowing them to tap into booming eSports and gaming event markets. It wasn’t the only big announcement that year though as Multiplay also revealed yet another change of venue, this time to the NEC Birmingham. A fitting location for the UK’s largest gaming festival, Insomnia has been ever present at the NEC since i56 and has a contract to remain there until 2018. FULLSYNC’s very own Kirsty Smith actually went to the last event, i60, and wrote about her experience as an Insomnia first timer which you can read HERE. She’ll be attending i61 as well, which is set to have the biggest turnout of any Insomnia Gaming Festival to date, so be sure to say hello if you see her cheery face.
As well as moving into the NEC, Insomnia has also seen events launched in both Ireland and Scotland which have become the biggest events of their kind in both countries. And it doesn’t look like Insomnia will be stopping there as during an interview with the Tamworth Herald back in April this year, director of the Insomnia Gaming Festival Andy Smith stated;
“I’d be really surprised if we’re not in two or three countries over the next 12 to 18 months. There’s a lot of interest now, I think the one thing when you see the show is that it’s hard to do because we’ve made it so diverse...I’m pretty confident that there will be announcements that come out that show you that we’re dropping into different continents.”
It’s safe to say that the festival has grown so much over the years, from being an exclusive LAN event for PC gamers, branching out into its current format that engages both PC and Console enthusiasts. Even when times got tough they persevered and kept the event alive by downsizing temporarily, a move that proved wise as they now welcome in record crowds that may even break the 100,000 visitor mark this year at i61. There is going to be so much going on with plenty of eSports tournaments for games like Counter Strike and Rocket League offering cash prizes, as well as the Insomnia Show which will feature a number of high-profileYouTubers and other gaming industry professionals. Not just that, but this year our friends at eBuyer will also be joining in the fun with a specially designed stall in the retail expo zone, which will allow gamers to experience what it’s like to be part of a professional eSports team.