Billionaire US gaming tycoon Gabe Newell sets up event to thank NZ for having him during Covid-19

Luke Appleby
Source: 1News

American gaming and software giant Gabe Newell is helping to put on a concert to thank New Zealand for having him during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Newell is the co-founder of Valve, which created hugely-popular games like Half-Life, Counter Strike, DOTA and Portal, as well as creating online gaming client Steam, which has a billion accounts and more than 90 million active users.

Appearing on TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning, Mr Newell said he had just finished shipping a new game - likely to be VR title Half-Life: Alyx - and was visiting New Zealand with a group of friends when Covid-19 hit the world, so he decided to stay and work remotely.

Mr Newell was travelling with a group including Spanish Aston Martin racecar driver Alex Riberas and his partner Teagan Klein, and the trio said they were so touched by New Zealand's generosity and kindness that they wanted to put on an event to give back.

The three have helped to put together ' We Love Aotearoa ' - a free event and concert on August 15th in Auckland.

The event will involve food trucks, live music, workshops and activities, virtual reality stands, art installations, and from 4.30pm there will be performances by The Black Seeds, Ladi6, Leisure, JessB, Clicks, Sola Rosa, Frank Booker, Flamingo Pier and Tina Turntables.

"Whilst being here they have been overwhelmed by the Manaakitanga and Aroha they have received from the people of Aotearoa," the event page reads.

"These events are a thank you to the people of New Zealand for being so kind and welcoming, and also an acknowledgment of the hard work that 'the team of 5 million' have gone through to get us to where we are now."

Mr Newell said he had caught up with friends who work at Weta while in New Zealand, and had also visited with Rocket Lab, as well as seeing some of the work being done by Kiwi virtual reality company Eight360.

As he discovered more about the country, his choice to stay here during the lockdown and through the Covid-19 outbreak became an easy one, he said. 

"We've continued to connect with more people and discover more things about New Zealand, and that's made it very easy," he said.

"The hardest part by far is being worried about friends and family who aren't in New Zealand.

"When I talk to people back in Seattle, it's a very strange time. It's very challenging. They're very isolated."

Mr Newell said he had been touched by the hospitality shown to him in New Zealand, and by the spirit of coming together to fight Covid-19, which made his decision to stay easy.

"For me, it's very much about the community spirit - this sense that everybody can come together and solve this super challenging problem, and then be welcoming to us essentially as Covid refugees," he said.

"Theres the natural beauty, there's all the fun stuff that you can do, but it's the people that have really made our lives different."

Ms Klein said the group had come to New Zealand in March for a 10-day visit, and then had 48 hours to decide whether to stay or go before New Zealand closed the border.

"It's five months later now and here we are, happy as ever," she said.

Mr Riberas told Breakfast "we were very grateful and lucky to join this amazing team of five million people and to go through these amazingly tough times with such an amazing leadership".

"It was tough, missing the people from home - for the family members, for the friends, but we're still very, very grateful and feeling extremely lucky to be here."

Mr Newell only briefly mentioned his role at Valve, humbly referring to it as "my day job".

Watch the full interview above.

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