The Gaming Paradise, an esports event in Slovania organized by The Gaming Resort, came with promises of huge riches in a wonderland.
It was sold as a mix of competition and relaxation, but people soon realized it was to become something very different.
– Nothing was going right and Sasa Bulic was just standing there laughing about it, Petar Markovic from Gaming.RS tells Aftonbladet Esport.
Imagine a luxurious hotel by the beach on the southern coast of Europe. The waves are crashing, the wind is blowing and there stands a man. His name is Sasa Bulic and he has a dream, a dream of creating a new type of esports event where relaxation and competition is combined.
The Gaming Paradise was meant to be everything he had dreamt of, but became something very different at the expense of other people.
”He seemed enthusiastic”
Petar Markovic, CEO of Gaming.RS, was contacted by Sasa Bulic. They were hired to bring in players, produce and broadcast The Gaming Paradise while Sasa and his company, The Gaming Resort, would handle all the rest. However, Gaming.RS soon became suspicious.
– We did a qualifier in June, the first LAN qualifier we organized with Gaming Resort. They were to provide basic things like computers, internet and stuff like that, Markovic tells Aftonbladet Esport and continues:
– We brought a really nice group of people that are working with us. Everything we had to set up was on time, but then the PC’s arrived too late. We had some issues with the internet and electricity becuase the venue he provided didn’t have enough power to support our lighting, audio and everything else with the production.
– Afterwards we thought this was his first event and that he would probably improve, that he saw his mistakes and wouldn’t repeat them. When we spoke with him after that event he seemed really enthusiastic and sounded more professional and we thought he had learnt a lot.
Tickets not payed for
Only days ahead of the events new obstacles came to the attention of Gaming.RS. Traveling arrangements for the competing players had not been payed for. Team managers were furious.
At the end of the day it was only the CS:GO players that were able to get there. No Dota players showed up and only a handfull of them had actually got their tickets payed for. Since there were no Dota players on site a decision was taken (without the knowledge of Gaming.RS) to cancel said tourney.
– When I woke up after my two hours of sleep I checked twitter and saw a few people from Romania asking me ’What’s going on?’, ’Why is Dota2 cancelled?’ – and I didn’t even know it was cancelled. He had said that he was considering it, but never told us he was actually doing it.
”He was just standing there laughing”
Gaming Paradise went live the 6th of September in Portoroz, Slovenia. World class teams such as Virtus.Pro, Mousesports and Na’vi showed up. In the beginning things may have seemed stable from the outside, but people on site witnessed chaos.
Huge delays struck as the gaming PC’s did not arrived on time. Gaming Resort reached for desperate measures and used office PC’s without graphics cards. The machines were originally meant for visitors – and while hobby players maybe would’ve been able to play on them – members of the professional community certainly can’t. And as the organizers tried to find better machines delays rose to over 12 hours.
What was the atmosphere like at that point?
– It was strange because the players knew that something was going on. Whenever we saw Sasa, we asked for answers. He was the main guy. He said that we had to ask him if we needed anything.
– He is a strange guy. He has good ideas, but he is really strange. He has an issue that he starts laughing when under pressure, so he was constantly laughing. It was really strange for us and we were getting really frustrated. Everything was going wrong, nothing was going right, and he was just standing there laughing about it.
Gaming Paradise cancelled
3:51 PM the 8th of September. CS:GO and Dota2 commentator Toby ”Tobiwan” Dawson announced on twitter the event has been cancelled. It was however just a misunderstanding in the midst of chaos.
– We didn’t officially announce that everything was cancelled, but I think one of the commentators heard us discussing it and thought it was official.
Discussions of canceling the event came after Gaming.RS was informed that the venue and food had not been payed for, and the hotel staff had witheld the players passports. Even the local police got involved.
– I went a bit insane, Markovic tells Aftonbladet Esport and continues:
– As far as I knew everything was payed for and Sasa told us everything was okay, everything had been payed and everything was set up.
– The players found out eventually and the problems became huge because ESL Dubai was just one or two days after our event and we had to react quickly. When I realized the hotel was not payed for, that we were not getting payed and the Dota2 tournament was canceled, then one big thought just popped up and I was like ’If nothing is payed, how can we even expect the prize money will be payed?’.
The only option
The hotel staff wouldn’t let anyone leave so easily, not without getting payed first. And even though the venue had been booked by Sasa Bulic and The Gaming Resort, Gaming.RS payed the hotel 5000 euros, according to Petar.
So you had to pay for his failure?
– Yes, that was the only option. We had valuable equipment for the main stage, the broadcasting and all that which we had brought with us.
The event finally came to a close with Team Kinguin securing the gold medal after defeating Na’vi in the grand finals. But with ESL Dubai around the corner many players were probably asking themselves if it was all worth it.
Around the same time The Gaming Resort’s website was shut down. According to a Gaming.RS member Sasa Bulic had said it was due to the enormous traffic from reddit, ”a hug of reddit”. The website is still down, a few months after the event.
Do you feel Gaming.RS have any blame in all this?
– We had a lot more prepared for the production, but couldn’t realize half of it because we didn’t have time. Our people had to make, literally make, PC’s for the players because they were not on site.
– We had a lot of things prepared, but we couldn’t make it on time. That’s the only thing we should be blamed for in terms of production.
”We can sue Sasa”
Gaming.RS are, according to their own calculations, looking at a loss reaching around 15 000 euros. They don’t expect to get payed for their work. To keep the company alive they’ve had to do personal investments, which for Petar meant he had to sell his car.
– As a startup, things like this affect your company very negatively. We are trying our best to fund the most important and basic stuff at the moment.
– It’s really hard, but we are really trying our best to gather funds. I am sure we will go out of this battle as winners.
Gaming.RS have considered to file a lawsuit against Sasa Bulic and his Gaming Resort. But since Gaming.RS are located in Serbia, outside of the European Union – and Gaming Resort are from Slovenia, within the union – it’s not an easy thing to do.
– We can sue Sasa and we can win the lawsuit, but I don’t think we can get anything out of it at this point. His company is a L.T.D (limited company) and he can just declare bankruptcy. Then we have to pay for the law costs and everything, and that would bring us a lot more issues and problems. We are checking some more things before we decide wether we go for it or not.
After all this, what do you think about Sasa as a person?
– He’s not a bad guy to be honost, Markovic says and continues:
– My thoughts about Sasa are really mixed. Sometimes he is a really good guy trying to help and doing everything in his power. And sometimes he just don’t care. He had a great idea with this event, but not enough experience and not a good mindset to implement it. I think that’s the perfect explanation for him. I don’t want to use any bad words or anything. Even though I’m mad – really, really mad over the whole situation and specifically Sasa – I can’t use bad words against him, but that’s just me.
”We started from complete zero”
Sasa Bulic has a 7 year long background in IT and has been a gamer for 20 years. But when it comes to esports his experience is limited to internet cafés, at least before The Gaming Paradise.
The foundation of his vision was to create a vacation spot for gamers. He says it was a mistake to try and organize a large event with tournaments instead of focusing on the resort. According to him that’s a big reason as to why his event became such a failure.
– We started from complete zero and tried to compete with Dreamhack and ESL – 20 year old companies with a lot of money, Sasa tells Aftonbladet Esport.
Gaming Paradise heavily relied on one big investment representing a fifth of their economical resources. The investment was however canceled in the last minute putting Gaming Resort in dire straits. He describes the money as the last piece of the paradise puzzle and after losing it they put their last hopes in ticket sales.
They needed at least 500 visitors a day for their budget to go around, including sales in food and merchandise. In the end approximately 100 people showed up each day, a lot of whom demanded refunds.
Sasa thinks teams withdrawing from the tournament (7 teams withdrew) generated skepticism and partly stopped people from wanting to attend the event. It also caused economical issues since some of the team’s traveling arrangements had already been payed for.
”Completely destroyed by the community”
Sasa also feels the local Slovenian CS:GO scene has been working against him. When the PC issues arose no one told him about the available PC’s nearby, and according to him some even tried to hide them. Powerful gaming machines for rent are uncommon in Slovania, Sasa says.
– In the end I found out there were some PC’s in Slovenia, but since they wanted this event to fail the community didn’t even try to help us. It was like a backstab.
Even though Sasa claims to realize his failures and admits responsibility for the situation, it’s not without a glimpse of pride he talks about the event.
– I did a lot in two and a half years. I put up the biggest event within 1000 kilometers radius ever in this part of the world and I was not supported by the community at all. In the end I was completely destroyed by the community.
In regards to the payment of Gaming.RS, Sasa says Markovic and his colleges were unable to perform under pressure, even though he himself holds the main responsibility for the chaotic atmosphere. He also says Gaming.RS did not fulfill all of their commitments by contract, mentioning the Dota2 tournament as an example – even though it was he who canceled said tourney and was unable to pay for the player’s traveling arrangements.
Sasa thinks jobs should be paid for when completed, and other than the commitments related to Dota2, Sasa also says Gaming.RS’s communication was bad as well as the broadcasting quality.
– They won’t get paid 100 percent of the money, that’s for sure. It all depends on the contract. It should be analyzed and after this analysis we will see where the contract was broken and what amount is yet to be paid, if any.
”They were aware of the risks involved.”
Petar Markovic from Gaming.RS feels he was kept out of the loop and not informed about the missing money. According to him the version he was told was that everything was fine, set up and with no economical issues. Sasa disagrees:
– The Gaming.RS guys knew the project plan from the beginning, so they can’t be extremely surprised about what happend. All of the subcontractors were aware of the risks involved. We talked with them in March and explained our plan, but at one point we realized it was impossible. So we did a big investment out of our own pockets to survive until the tickets sales started.
Gaming.RS says they payed the hotel 5000 euro out of their own pocket. Sasa says it’s not true.
He says the a sound production company payed the hotel to get their equipment, and that he fully reimbursed them for that.
Sasa has also signed a contract that says he has to pay out the prize money.
During the event Aftonbladet Esport contact Sasa Bulic. He said he would probably step down from his position within the company and find someone else better suited for the job. Today he says it was meant as a joke.
Gaming.RS are considering to sue you and think they will win.
– I think they should, because in the contract everything is written down perfectly.
How does it feel being responsible this event?
– Well, it feels like having a child. We planned it all and made room for child. During birth it hurt like hell and the baby was born prematurely. It had to be putted in incubator and we hope it will survive.
In the future Sasa still hopes to realize his dreams of a vacation resort for gamers. Right now they are looking at huge debts up to 100 000 euroes. He says they are gathering money through new partners, sponsors and investors. If Sasa ever gets to realize his dreams is for the future to tell, he says he’s unlikely to organize another esport event any time soon.