Who needs sleep?
Evidently, no one at ICE London 2019. With a packed schedule keeping attendees busy from the break of dawn on Monday to the final hours of the London Affiliate Conference (LAC) on Friday night, there was little rest for the gaming sector in early February.
Yes, ICE (and LAC, held in the same venue) was everything I was told it would be, as the Excel London acquired all the industry’s available shares for five relentless days. For some of us, five even became six, as the setting up of stands was followed by Super Bowl parties on an uncharacteristically busy Sunday. For many of the Excel’s American guests, Sunday was reserved for those air miles.
This was my first ICE and I can confidently say it was the most enjoyable working week of my career to date. That’s despite some industry veterans expressing trepidation – and one quite deliberately declaring “I hate ICE” as loudly as he could when we walked into the Excel on Tuesday morning.
I was told by a regular ICE attendee in November: “If you do things right, ICE will involve staying up late, travelling far and wide for social events and having your diary jam-packed with meetings.” They weren’t wrong.
Socially, the ICE calendar offered visitors a number of daily options. My Tuesday evening led me to a boat party down the River Thames, courtesy of Wazdan (the magician was the ace in the pack), while my Wednesday evening took me to three separate events. Numerous party animals attended ICE, ICE Baby, before heading to Fire and ICE the next day, with affiliate events filling up people’s schedules on the Thursday and Friday.
But ICE was far from a non-stop rave. My days were just as fulfilling as my evenings, as a dynamic list of conferences captured the attention of myself and my colleagues – even if not every single event on the schedule lived up to its billing. At the Hive on Tuesday morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see five panellists sit down among the audience rather than monotonously talking down to listeners. That was my first indication ICE is about getting up close and personal.
The majority of us spend our time calling, emailing and Skyping people all over the world in our day-to-day lives. At ICE however, faces get added to names through first-time meetings with industry neighbours you’re already best pals with online. Others, even those based a few streets down from the Gambling Insider office, I was delighted to see for a second, third or fourth time.
There was no shortage of places in which to hold said meetings; the Racing Post Café and Bridge Restaurant being two good examples of neutral venues to meet, greet and eat. Naturally though, company stands were where most appointments were scheduled and I’d like to thank all those who visited the Gambling Insider stand throughout the course of the week. Every networking event is usually billed as the place to form new relationships and solidify existing ones; for ICE London 2019, this was no false claim.
As for the stands themselves, how long have you got? I could talk about them for days, such was the variety and eye-catching nature of those on show. From Novomatic and Scientific Games’ gigantic platforms to SBTech and Ganapati’s standout hubs, there was a little bit of something for everyone. It was clear which companies enjoyed a strong 2018 meanwhile, and the sheer size of their 2019 stands showed it.
Wednesday was definitely the busiest day of the week, as the first affiliates headed to LAC at one end of the arena and the bulk of ICE visitors arrived at the other end. It was undeniably exhausting, although the change of pace from the daily rat race was something to savour. Walking (with a speed dependent on whether my previous meeting had overrun) across the venue, I was meeting the CEO of a US operator one minute and a European lawyer the next. The gaming sector reaches far and wide.
Speaking of US CEOs, it was hard not to be impressed by Jason Robins’ composed manner as he presented DraftKings’ outlook for the future. It was also difficult to avoid the hot topics of blockchain, esports and responsible gaming – whatever your take on each.
As a journalist, it was incredibly rewarding to interview five-time World’s Strongest Man Mariusz Pudzianowski, representing Promatic, and Champions League winner John Arne Riise, with Betsson. ICE and LAC certainly came with their perks.
I can’t pretend the free food and drink weren’t part of those perks, especially as I managed to avoid paying for lunch all week. I do stress though, that ICE wasn’t all about the freebies.
To those who say they’ve seen it all before, I don’t doubt it. Once I’ve been to five or more renditions, I’ll happily review my stance. There may come a time when I find ICE repetitive – and the 14 hours of sleep I had on Friday night proved just how much it had taken out of me.
But, at the same time, I can always see there being something new enough and dynamic enough each year. It’s about whether you approach ICE with a glass that’s half empty or half full. For an eager debutant, what wasn’t to love? Although I appreciate the peace and calm now greeting me at my desk every morning, like Frodo from Lord of the Rings, my Shire isn’t quite the same after seeing the exciting world out there.
As the industry now rebounds from the busiest and perhaps most important week of its calendar year, offices around the world will be buzzing with optimism and post-ICE developments. Salespeople will pursue leads, CEOs will follow up M & A talks and developers will absorb the feedback their new products received when unleashed in front of the watching world.
I know just how much work I’ve had thanks to my travails at ICE, but I mean that only in a good way. Whether your glass is half-full like mine, or you’re reading this with nothing but cynicism and disbelief, I challenge you to recall your top five gaming industry moments from the past 12 months.
Take a minute. Now, once you’re done, try telling me at least one of them wasn’t at ICE.