'Realistic possibility' $48m esports tournament could be held in NZ, says gaming tycoon Gabe Newell

Luke Appleby
Source: 1News

Valve Corporation gaming tycoon Gabe Newell says there is "strong interest" from his employees to move to New Zealand — and that the prospect of holding the company's multi-million dollar International and Majors esports tournaments here "gets more realistic all the time".

He and his family, along with a group of friends, came to New Zealand on a family holiday in early 2020, but as the Covid-19 pandemic worsened, they decided the "most sensible" option would be to stay here.

In an extensive interview with 1 NEWS, Newell said he has now been granted New Zealand residency in principle, and that he plans to continue down the citizenship path to stay here "for the foreseeable future".


Newell revealed that there is "strong interest" from Valve employees to move to New Zealand, after  last year  saying there were no active plans to make that happen.

"We were actually just talking about that — I was literally having that conversation earlier," he said.

However, he doesn't want to jump the gun and confirm that any plans are in motion.

"You don't want to uproot a bunch of families, have them come here, and then the situation gets a bunch better and then they have to turn around and go back — so that's why getting a better handle on how long the epidemic is going to be affecting our operational decisions is important to that.

"But there's strong interest — after talking to these people who've literally been locked in their houses except to go out for groceries for the last nine months — and I'm like, 'Oh look, here I am at a motorsports race, or here I am at Starship, at the hospital talking to doctors or reviewing optic nerve damage from Covid-19 patients because of my interest in neuroscience,' and they're like, 'Yeah, I'm still at home — can we come to New Zealand now?'

"There's a lot of interest at a grass roots level inside of the company to have some people move."

New Zealand, he said, is a fantastic environment for game development, especially with its strong situation amid the pandemic.

"The infrastructure is what you need. There's a lot of local development talent as well — there's absolutely no reason why game development companies couldn't be located here," Newell said.

"In the past, you're looking at it like, 'Are there people that have the technical skills? Do you have a good internet connection?' Right? It's just that there's this new requirement where it would be really nice if they had amazing public health infrastructure.

"You've never really had to worry about that before when setting up a software company, but it's about to become a critically valuable thing.

"It's as if there's a new element that's been discovered called 'not-stupidium', and New Zealand is one of the world's producers of it — it's actually something that's been built by the people of New Zealand.

"It's absolutely, insanely valuable — like, any high-tech company would say our people are going to be a lot more productive in New Zealand than they are going to be in Ireland or Los Angeles or lots of other places."


Newell also talked about the idea of holding Valve's DOTA 2 and CS:GO esports tournaments in New Zealand, saying the idea gets "more realistic all the time".

The International DOTA 2 tournament boasts the highest prize pool in esports, with the 2019 pool reaching a whopping US$34.3 million (NZ$48.5 million), and the CS:GO Major Championship was put down for a US$2 million prize pool before the 2020 event was cancelled due to Covid-19.

The International 2020 was due to take place in Stockholm, but was also cancelled — now Gabe says New Zealand could be a good venue for both.

"It's a realistic possibility and it gets more realistic all the time," Newell said.

"I literally could not, if I had to guess when it would be safe to do an in-person tournament anywhere [else] in the world, it would be very hard for me to say that — whereas I think, with a lot of confidence, we'd be able to plan for that in New Zealand.

"Hopefully the procedures can be put in place so that becomes feasible — like, you know, this is what the quarantine would look like.

"As long as Covid keeps mutating, it certainly is increasing the likelihood that we'll be having events here."

News tip or more information? Email Luke Appleby or 


Newell has been receiving questions from fans about the next sequels for two of Valve's most popular franchises — Portal and Half-life — for more than a decade now, and when asked by 1 NEWS, he continued to not say much at all.

"I've successfully not spoken about those things for a long time and I hope to continue to not talk about them until they are moot questions. Then we'll move on to a new set of questions," he said.

"The nice thing is, by not answering those questions, I avoid the community coming up with new, equally-difficult-to-answer questions."

Newell also wouldn't be drawn on a rumoured new Valve project known as "Citadel".

"We have a bunch of code names — are you referring to a code name?" he said.

"I don't know what 'Citadel' is — what is Citadel?

"Just to be clear — internally we have a bunch of different names and they change over time."

What Newell did confirm is that Valve does currently have new games in development.

"We definitely have games in development that we're going to be announcing — it's fun to ship games," he said.

"Alyx was great — to be back doing single-player games, that created a lot of momentum inside of the company to do more of that."


Asked whether he still regularly plays games himself for recreation, Newell said absolutely, and that he's even converting some of his travelling companions into DOTA 2 players.

"There are actually 52 of us who came here, so I've been turning a bunch of people into DOTA 2 players. I've been running classes in DOTA," he said.

"What I really want to do is get a bunch of people to play the way I want them to play.

"I am making a clan, yes — a cannibal clan."

Newell said the game he wants to get more into at the moment is Apex Legends, because a lot of Valve employees were heavily into it.

"I think I'll enjoy playing it, which is good, but I also think there's a bunch of things I'll learn as a video game developer from playing it."

Newell also paid tribute to Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto.

"Playing Miyamoto's games, it's like, one, they're a lot of fun, but I can't think of any of his games I've ever played that didn't make me better as a game developer."

He said he's also currently "going through a retro phase" with his preferred games, including trying to complete all of the Left For Dead games on expert mode, "which is not a particularly noble gaming objective", he said.

Another title he's obsessed with at the moment is tower defence game Ancient Planet.

"Everybody's going to play it and they're going to make fun of me," Newell said.

"I've just been obsessed with trying to figure out all of the possible ways to play that game."


Newell said he had played through the most anticipated and hyped game of 2020 — CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk 2077 — on PC, and that the performance issues the game experienced on console versions were something many game developers grapple with.

"I have a lot of sympathy with a situation that every game developer finds themselves in," he said.

"All I know is that there are a lot of very happy gamers in the PC space, which are the ones that are most visible to us.

"There are aspects of the game that are just brilliant, and it shows a tremendous amount of work — it's unfair to throw stones at any other developer, because just getting something as complex and ambitious as that out the door is pretty amazing."

Speaking about Sony's decision to pull Cyberpunk 2077 from the Playstation Store, and offer refunds to those unhappy with its performance on the platform, Newell said while Steam was not party to those conversations, he did think it was an "unusual" move.

"People get mad because they care," Newell said.

He said he sometimes receives abusive emails about Valve games, and that responding in kind would be pointless when the best course of action is to learn from the situation.

"When people have those kinds of reactions, my first thought is that this is an opportunity for us, and I assume that the Cyberpunk 2077 developers are similarly just using it to crank through an make improvements that are going to be beneficial to their customers.

"They have a long history of doing a great job, of continuing to invest in their products over time and I suspect that they're going to be very good at making their customers happy over time.

"Everybody knows that if you're in this business, expectations are high, and if you do it well people are going to let you know and if you failed to meet those expectations they're are going to let you know — that's part of why it's a fun industry."


Newell also spoke about issues around producing Valve's Index VR headset, which is not yet available to buy in New Zealand, saying the reason for the issues was related to Covid-19.

He said other large companies competing for components vital to making the Index had simply bought out the entire supply as Covid-19 hit.

"We actually have components that are manufactured in Wuhan and when you're setting up your manufacturing lines it doesn't occur to you that you're suddenly going to be dependent on this peculiar transistor that's sitting on one board that you can't get," Newell said.

"Everybody ended up running into the same problem simultaneously — you go from, 'Oh, we're in great shape,' to, 'What do you mean Apple or Microsoft just bought the next two years' supply of this just so they could make sure they aren't going to run out?'

"You went from a situation where everything was getting done just in time to people buying up all the available supplies.

"So the only thing keeping us from shipping in New Zealand at this point is just getting enough of them made — we're very much manufacturing constrained."