Walking into the Sri Lanka Exhibition and Convention Center last December, we were greeted by something slightly different from your usual tech exhibition. From thousands of youngsters playing games competitively, to stalls by some of the biggest technology brands and a fully fledged cosplay competition, This was Play Expo, organised by GamerLK
Seated at a table inside a quaint little cafe at Barnes Place one misty Wednesday evening, Raveen Wijayatilake looks nothing like the sort of person you would expect to be running Sri Lanka’s most famous and perhaps only gaming forum. At 31 years of age and happily married to fellow gamer Laroshi ‘chix0r’ Wijayatilake, Raveen is the founder and CEO of GamerLK, more commonly referred to as GLK.
It all began with a simple game
From a very young age, Raveen was into technology. Having schooled at S. Thomas’ Prep from grade 2-11, Raveen then attended S. Thomas’s College Mount Lavinia for A Levels. He was majorly into the old-school console games such as Contra and Super Tank which he played at his cousin’s house.
His mother brought home a black and white laptop from office with a collection of 8-bit video games including Commander Keen. From there, Raveen got his first PC when he was around 12 with FIFA and Command and Conquer being his favorite games to play. When his PC couldn’t support C&C because of the lack of a graphics card, his mother was quite supportive in helping him get one so that he could carry on playing his favorite games.
During his school years, S. Thomas’s also organized an Inter-school gaming tournament. The game of choice here was Counter-Strike 1.5. Raveen, who had never played Counter Strike before, found himself being appointed the captain of the team. Despite being defeated in the tournament, Raveen’s passion for the game never died and he became quite interested in the game. He spent countless hours playing Counter-Strike in nearby cafes almost every weekend to improve his skills.
Building communities was a passion for Raveen
Following his school career, Raveen studied for his Bachelor’s degree in Computing & Information Systems from the University of London, which he did locally. This was followed by a postgraduate diploma in Web technology at the University of Southampton, UK. From his experiences gained, Raveen states that he had a strong passion for building communities and watching them grow into something beautiful and entirely new.
In 2005, Raveen launched Rock.LK, Sri Lanka’s first music platform for all things related to rock music. Here, he learned more about Sri Lanka’s rock music community than the rock music itself. He was also introduced to both the veterans and the upcoming musicians in Sri Lanka’s rock music industry. Raveen also realized that his passion for gaming could also benefit from what he had learnt while running Rock.LK, and thus, the idea for a gaming forum was planted.
The birth of GamerLK
Like any good idea, Raveen’s idea for GamerLK began because he wanted to help people. Using the experience he gained from maintaining Rock.LK, Raveen approached Varuna “Viktor” Wijesundera and Mahangu ‘riptide‘ Weerasighe, two of his friends that shared his passion. He pitched the idea of a forum dedicated entirely to everything gaming. In an era of IRC (Internet Relay Chat), there was no WhatsApp, Viber or Skype and Facebook was still only available to a limited amount of people. In what may seem like a Neanderthal-ish approach to most millennials born after 2000, the trio communicated via MSN Messenger and launched GamerLK in the year 2007.
To get everyone in touch with GamerLK and its forum, Raveen, Viktor and Riptide carried out a series of weekend gaming events. Because there was no DNS software back in early 2000’s), multiplayer gaming wasn’t really a thing. They hosted a server on a separate PC and used Hamachi to login to that PC to play games. Speaking of games, the game of choice was Counter Strike 1.6, now a classic.
Because instant messaging apps were hard to come by, the details were posted on GamerLK. Those interested in joining these weekend gaming sessions would literally have to wait for server details to be posted so that they could log in and play. True enough, there were Internet Cafes. But these had their own problems such as not being freely available. Such issues were solved with software such as Hamachi. So budding gamers got the chance to play games from the comfort of their own homes.
Playing games is expensive
This wasn’t cheap though. In fact, as the trio quickly discovered, it was quite expensive. There were Internet costs and the cost of the hardware itself. Servers were expensive and the GamerLK forum actually had banners asking for donations to help. Sponsors were not even thought of back then because getting a company to support gaming was unheard of. So they pocketed out from their personal funds in order to keep everything afloat.
Apart from the weekend gaming sessions, details about GamerLK spread via word of mouth. CD shops promoted GamerLK through the products they were selling. The people who were writing the CDs/DVDs were fans of GLK, and included GamerLK branding on their CDs, leaflets etc. Those who visited CD shops to buy games, in particular, would be approached into a seemingly random conversation where they would be told about the existence of a platform called GamerLK and thus, word spread.
A call to arms
As time went on, Raveen also enlisted the help of Rameez ‘Prim3’ Matheen, Akash ‘Onca’ Ratnayaka, and Janitha ’Xearonsklavesky’ Ranawansa to aid them in handling the GamerLK Forum. The group formed a tight bond and you could even say that it was a brotherhood. After all, for them, that was what gaming was about.
They took GamerLK very very seriously. For them, the forum and everything that was posted on it was their number one priority. They kept posts to a very high standard so that anyone who visits the site even today would see that a lot of thought had been put into it. These values are even seen in the GLK members active today.
While other forums allowed posting about racism, hate and general spam aka “Shitposting”, the moderators of GamerLK ensured that no such posting was allowed or tolerated. The challenge was to keep it clean and free of drama. In the early days of GamerLK, there were no moderation tools, all comments had to be monitored manually. This, as you can assume, is quite a lot of work. In turn, it also led to their fair share of disagreements and tiffs, but they were all addressed and resolved.
“Machan, Let’s have a gaming tournament at BMICH”
Following the growth of GamerLK, the team decided to put what was at the back of their minds to the test. To have a gaming tournament at a cultural place. They drew inspiration from WCG or the World Cyber Games and they all decidedly agreed that this would be the base platform for their tournament. It would be called the “Sri Lanka Cyber Games”, or simply SLCG. “If we don’t do it, no one else will”, Raveen says as he recollects the memories of organizing Sri Lanka’s first official eSports tournament.
Putting everything together
Organizing Sri Lanka’s first eSports tournament was no easy task. The team at GamerLK realized that they needed manpower and quite a lot of it. As it just so happens, Varuna was the President of the Rotaract Club of the University of Colombo. Using that influence, the team at GamerLK signed on with the club to be joint organizers of the event. While GamerLK would handle the logistics and planning, manpower would be from the Rotaract club.
Their next big breakthrough was when Dialog and Intel came on board as sponsors in 2008. Raveen explained that Dialog presumably wanted to reach out to the youth and saw SLCG as a good way to reach that demographic. Since then, Dialog has created a dedicated business unit for games and eSports with Dialog Gaming, that has been working closely with GamerLK as a partner since inception. As for Intel, Raveen went on to say that the marketing staff saw potential in the gaming scene in Sri Lanka back then and hence decided to come on board. This also meant that all costs for the tournament would essentially be covered by the sponsors.
It all made sense after that first SLCG
In the aftermath of SLCG 2008, Raveen and the rest of those involved at GamerLK realized that there indeed was and is a community ready and willing to take part in eSports tournaments. Fun fact, did you know that Jeevan Gnanam, Founder and CEO of Orion City was a major Starcraft player? Well he was. He might still be, but we may never know.
Following the success of SLCG, GamerLK also introduced the GET or GamerLK eSports Triathlon. The concept here was simple. Rather than being good at one game (such as an FPS or racing), you had to be good at multiple genres of games. The key reasoning here was to develop a more rounded approach so that you’re competent across a wide arena of games (literally).
When asked what Raveen thought of SLCG and GLK, his explanation was quite straightforward. “SLCG was done as an interest and GLK was a hobby”. A hobby that took a lot of his time but also would not have been able to see the light of day if he had taken it as a job rather than a hobby. Throughout the years since 2008, game titles changed, and team titles were introduced.
The Journey of GamerLK thus far
Since its inception in 2007, GamerLK has allowed Raveen to put all his crazy ideas to the test, which he says he wouldn’t have been able to do with his full-time job. He’s not alone though. Apart from the original trio and those who joined later on, the GamerLK family has grown to add a few more valuable members as well. Having successfully completed SLCG 2008, everyone at GamerLK was extremely enthusiastic about the next tournament. None more so than Ramesh ‘R_L’ Liyanage, Vikum ‘Scooby’ Jayasekara and Malinda ‘Warrior’ Jayasekera
Having completed his education at Gateway College Colombo, Ramesh’s first experience with GamerLK apart from having visited the website was at the first Sri Lanka Cyber Games in 2008. After seeing a massive scale eSports tournament take place, Ramesh also had the opportunity to meet Ishan ‘[email protected]’ Rakitha. The two had a lot in common, such as their love for Counter-Strike and curiosity in IT infrastructure behind gaming such as networking and servers to name a few. Since then, they have grown to be a part of the core team that makes SLCG tick.
Vikum heard about GamerLK via the weekend gaming sessions. From that began his passion with playing Call of Duty during pretty much all the weekends. It was during one of these sessions that Vikum met Rameez. The two instantly hit it off and Rameez actually recruited Vikum to n00b Alliance (nA) of which Raveen was a founding member of along with Kushan ‘kbalrog’ Wijendra, Kasun ‘K9’ Perera and Rameez ‘Prim3’ Matheen.
Now a part of an official eSports clan, Vikum was constantly at Rameez to keep hosting the CoD servers so that he could continue playing. Rameez saw potential in him and challenged Vikum to put together a team to play CoD at the first SLCG held in 2008. In 2010, Vikum faced another challenge to organize the first-ever SLCG Kandy qualifiers, with only 5 days’ notice. He did so willingly and enthusiastically.
Since then, he has been a part of the core team behind GamerLK ever since, alongside Raveen, Ramesh, Ishan, Rameez, Malinda ‘Warrior’ Jayasekara and Dinuka ‘Rasty’ Ratnayake who was involved in the local gaming scene from the early days becoming a significant partner in GamerLK’s initiatives and even represented Sri Lanka at the Asian eSports Federation annual general meeting held in Dubai recently.
Malinda has been with GLK from its formative years since 2008. He has become somewhat of an essential element to GamerLK. Responsible for taking hands-on leadership role from the get-go, Malinda then climbed the ranks to provide more strategic input – he was instrumental in taking GLK from the hobby it was in 2015 to the more structured business it is today.
Malinda’s potential was first noticed by Raveen when he was put in charge of handling the procurement of PCs for SLCG 2010 – a task that was becoming increasingly challenging year on year as the event grew. Today, the team handles close to 150 computers throughout the event.
The team has learned a lot over 11 years
Ramesh added that despite his background in networking technologies such as CCNA, no paper qualification or bachelor’s degree could get you ready for the technical challenges in organizing something like SLCG. Each year the team improves on this challenging themselves in new ways.
Vikum adds his own example of organizing SLCG 2011. The team began setting things up for the tournament the Wednesday before the actual event. This included assembling PCs and installing the Operating System and related software and games as well. For nearly 6 hours, they got only 4 PCs completely done. They had to make 50 in total. With a mixture of panic and boldness, they quickly learned about the arcane art of ghosting drives. This is where you create a clone of a hard drive and just plug it into a PC and its ready to go.
Even with this, they made it just in time. With all this effort, Raveen and Ramesh point out that those helping weren’t offered any financial reimbursement for their efforts. But still, they did it through sheer dedication and passion. They paid using their own funds for traveling and food and sometimes even accommodation.
Pushing eSports to the next frontier
Gamer.K was also the driving force behind SLESA or the Sri Lanka eSports Association. This was to have things in order from an organizational point of view. Throughout this time, there were attempts to replicate what GamerLK and SLESA were doing, but none of them were successful.
What initially kicked off as an eSports tournament in Colombo proceeded to other parts of the country as regional qualifiers for the main SLCG tournament where the winners of these qualifiers would come to Colombo to claim the title of the country’s best eSports athletes. 2010 saw the first qualifier in Kandy, followed by Kegalle in 2011, Matara in 2015, and Jaffna, Galle, and Kandy once again in 2016 culminating in the Colombo Finals.
2011 also saw a team representing Maldives challenge the winners of that year’s Call of Duty title. Sri Lanka was victorious and it became quite apparent that Sri Lanka actually has a potential for competitive eSports.
It’s not only about playing games
From 2013 onwards, the team at GamerLK, led by Raveen, realized and understood that they wanted to add more things to SLCG. One of these things was cosplay. The idea of cosplay was officially introduced at SLCG with one model dressing up as Lara Croft AKA the Tomb Raider. Then in 2015, the first Lanka Comicon happened alongside SLCG 2015.
In what can be described perhaps as an overnight explosion, cosplay became mainstream. The sheer talent here has since spawned two separate events just for cosplay: the Lanka Comicon and the Colombo Comic Expo. Here, cosplayers from all walks of life showcase their talents in dressing up as their favorite characters.
Since its inception in 2007, GamerLK has always been about helping people. As such, they were in the business of building communities that didn’t have the resources or experience that GamerLK had. Raveen and the core team lent a helping hand to these communities for no additional cost. For example, if you attended SLCG 2013, you would have seen that PRUVE comics, were given a space to showcase their talents. In addition, there was also a live photo-booth happening.
What does SLCG have for the future?
Well, according to Raveen, there’s no concrete plan per se. According to the team, SLCG is an experiment wrapped under the umbrella of the phrase “#OneDay”. This is where the team brainstorms about what more they can add to SLCG. Since the last SLCG in 2017, the entire thing has come to be known as the Play Expo. They’re not out for competition, Raveen says, but they will always support people if they need. It’s all for the community. If eSports grows in Sri Lanka, that’s what makes them happy.
Involving more communities is their immediate goal. Just think of drone races and bot battles, to give you a little hint. While plans are still being drawn up, for now, it’s just a matter of the logistics. Overall, we can expect even more titles, more technology, all the while with SLCG getting bigger and better.
The team also pointed out that all this growth has been possible thanks to the dedicated staff at GamerLK, referred to as “Team GLK”. They have, over the years continued to support and share the passion the core team has maintained.
The Yellow brick road hasn’t always been an easy one
According to the GamerLK team, Sri Lanka has one of the most organized and structured eSports scenes in South Asia. In addition, Raveen also emphasized that no other event in the world has this many gaming titles held within one tournament.
The team at GamerLK have faced their fair share of challenges. Perhaps one such challenge is with regard to the awards and medals at SLCG itself. In case you didn’t know, monetary rewards are not handed out to winners at SLCG. Rather, they are given medals, awards and certificates. This has created a slight uproar in the gaming community with other tournaments organized by companies giving out monetary rewards. When asked to comment on this, Raveen’s explanation was rather simple.
“The point of SLCG was to spread the popularity of eSports. It’s about building the community. If you give a prize pool, then the growth of the event is going to be measured by that. SLCG has to be measured by the impact it has created”.
For Raveen and the team at GamerLK, it’s always a case of the new things that can be brought to the table. It’s not an easy challenge because your finances won’t always keep up with the ideas you have. It comes down to a combination of “What do we have, what do we improve, and finally, what do we scrap?”
Making Gaming a viable path for everybody
It’s not only about gaming, Raveen says. For example, for the Inter School eSports Championship, GamerLK is looking at introducing a more holistic approach to show a career path for students to show that there is an actual demand for games-related technology work. This includes game design, to 3D model creation to even becoming a beta tester for games where you can learn the mechanics of different genres of games. Teaching students these things could unlock new chapters.
In addition, Gamer.LK also introduced the GamerLK Women’s league to show that women too can get on the battlefield, overtake their competition and score some goals, encouraging more female participation in eSports. They are also actively looking into getting female school children to take part. We even interviewed a gamer girl in 2014 to showcase that gaming doesn’t have to be male-dominated.
Another goal is to get eSports recognized as an official sport. Thus far that particular topic is under discussion. Raveen emphasizes that it’s up to the government to wake up and realize that eSports is actually a thing.
With the recent MoU signed with the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka, Raveen and the team behind GamerLK also want to introduce eSports and digital entertainment to the ICTA’s Smart Social Circles initiative. This is where citizens would be empowered to improve their living standards by making the best use of digital technologies and ethical use of social media. They have also set their sights on taking SLCG and the Play Expo to international levels “one day”, making it an equivalent of the World Cyber Games (WCG).
If you’re interested in GamerLK and what they do, you can visit them here.