Organising an event isn’t just about creating a place for like-minded people to find each other and form friendships. Now in its seventh year, London Gaymers has worked with charities, gaming giants and a fintech company to ensure everyone has a place to play.

“There are LGBT spaces and there are gaming spaces, but there were no spaces for that crossover, and that is ultimately why the group started and why the group exists,” says co-founder Matt Hardwick.

“Online gaming can be quite toxic at the best of times, so it was important to create a space where you can play with other people in the same minority as you and not be subject to abuse and harassment,” he says.

From friendship group to formal event

What started life as a Reddit thread and Google group is today a 3,300-strong community of gamers who have access to a jam-packed schedule of social events. The most popular of which is the monthly LFG night, which is named after the gaming term ‘looking for group’.

“We take over Escape Bar, a great gaming bar in Stratford, and usually welcome around 150 to 200 attendees,” says Matt. “These could be people who’ve been coming since we started in 2012 or people who have been members for two days. Everyone meets up to play video games and board games.”

London Gaymers – SpecialEffect Fundraiser in collaboration with Monzo

In between niche events – which have included a Pokémon pub quiz, a cinema screening of the Game of Thrones finale and plenty of video game guild meet-ups – members are connected via social channels, can read news and opinion pieces on the London Gaymers (LG) blog, and play against and alongside each other online using the voice and text platform Discord. “We even have a channel on the platform that automatically links to our Eventbrite page, so when a new event goes up on the site the link is displayed on Discord.”

Matt says that joining Eventbrite in 2017 was a clear sign that LG had transitioned from a friendship group to an events organisation, and with that came an important lesson…

“For a long time, we would consult members on potential dates and venues. But that just stresses you out.” Matt’s biggest piece of advice – especially if it’s something you do in your spare time and you are not getting paid for, as is this case for LG’s four-strong administration team – is to stop trying to please everyone. “Word-of-mouth meant more and more people were joining the group, so we had to start operating differently – telling people when and where an event would take place rather than the other way around,” he says.

The majority of LG’s events are free but the team use Eventbrite to ‘sell’ tickets in order to keep track of attendance numbers. Their presence on the platform has added to the group’s sense of connectedness, too. “If people have the Eventbrite app, then every event they sign up for goes into their calendar and, if they follow LG, they get a notification whenever a new date is added to the site,” says Matt.

Strength in numbers

While trying to keep costs to a minimum, one of the biggest battles LG face is finding suitable venues. Matt jokes that their approach is to “beg, borrow and steal” spaces whenever possible, or at least send in a team member who is great at negotiating.

In central London, it’s very tough to find a space that’s big enough, accessible and doesn’t have a ridiculous minimum spend. We try to find and build relationships with places that are happy to host a bunch of gay nerdy people!”

Budgeting is a big part of Matt’s role and he says it’s important to have a clear idea of how much an event costs per head and how much you would be prepared to shift either way.

“There’s a lot to think about: are you going to put money behind the bar, are you going to provide snacks? There will always be something on the day. We get donations from members and some sponsorship, but when we have to pay for a venue and it’s not something we can write off then we charge on ticket sales – but it’s usually at cost.”

London Gaymers Eurovision Party

Having a stockpile of their own equipment – from board games to controllers – helps, as does having a group of volunteers who regularly help out. “We call them ambassadors – 15 or 20 people who are willing to lend a hand. They recognise what the group is doing for the LGBT community and want to give back,” says Matt. But he also acknowledges how beneficial this experience can be for attendees. “Being both LGBT and geeky, or quite insular, means it can be very easy to go into yourself. Social anxiety is a serious issue for some of our members, for example, some have low-key mental health issues or autistic spectrum disorder. Getting involved in something is important for them and it’s great for us, as we get an extra pair of hands.”

The team also support people to set-up their own niche events under the LG banner. Whether it’s a concert, a film screening or a discussion, Matt says it makes sense for people to run projects they are passionate about, themselves. “We’ll advise them and help curate the event but, on the day, they are running the show.”

Becoming a thought leader

Taking its advisory role one step further, LG has recently expanded into industry engagement and taken part in panels at various conventions – acting as a sounding board for both the LGBT press and the gaming press on intersectional issues. “We’ve worked with Sony, Microsoft and various developers about issues that affect LGBT people – making suggestions and highlighting things they might want to consider,” says Matt

Strengthening their commitment to inclusivity was last year’s fundraising event for SpecialEffect, which makes accessible controllers and add-ins for games for disabled people, particularly young disabled people. “We organised a gaming evening in conjunction with Monzo and filled their boardrooms and offices with consoles, while in the main workspace we projected a live video game. We used the donation ticket function on Eventbrite, where we suggested an amount but people could donate more. That, combined with a cash bar and raffle, helped raise over £1,2000. It’s fantastic to be able to do something like that for such a great charity.”

Taking pride in LGBT gamers

The next monthly meet-up on 29 June forms part of the Pride in London Festival celebrations, and Matt says LFG: Show Your Pride promises to be a great opportunity to raise awareness of the group. “There’s extra momentum around LGBT events during Pride and it’s the time of year our membership tends to increase the most,” says Matt. “There are still people who don’t realise that there is this intersectional space. Pride gives us visibility and it’s also a good opportunity for groups that aren’t LGBT-led to show they have LGBT members.”

And with this year’s celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Matt says it’s never been more important to keep fighting for equal rights and acceptance – for everyone.

“Society and history haven’t been kind to minorities in the past, and we need to be conscious of not becoming complacent within our own community as well,” says Matt, who urges people to keep fighting for the rights of others.

“It was a trans person of colour who kicked off Stonewall, so we need to be supporting our trans brothers and sisters and queer people of colour. That’s something we work very hard on – we have a dedicated women’s space and are looking to establish a dedicated trans space.”

Looking ahead

Continually evolving to meet the needs of the group is key to LG’s success, and the team plan to hold a town hall event in August. “We are pretty sure we are going in the right direction,” says Matt, “but it’s a good chance to engage with the membership in an open forum and find out what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong. We will stream that online for people who can’t join us.”  

Even if they do receive some critical feedback, it’s seeing the positive impact of each event that keeps Matt motivated. “You aren’t doing it for the masses, so focus on the people who really appreciate the events – those who really need the group and see the events as the highlight of their social calendar. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.”

Some London Gaymers at a fortnightly drinks social

This kind of attention to detail has helped build a loyal community both online and in real life. And it’s not just confined to London. “There are members all over the UK, we’ve even had someone fly over from Sweden. There was a man who used to live in London and has since moved to Ireland, but he comes back every month because he cares enough about the friendship group he’s become a part of.”

After London Gaymers’ Pride in London Festival meet-up the team will be preparing for a World of Warcraft treasure hunt in August – you can search out tickets on Eventbrite now.

If you are thinking of creating a space that speaks to your social group, then now’s the time to start planning your first meet-up with the Eventbrite Organiser app.

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