Coping with coronavirus: Platform on running an esports venue in lockdown

Platform, a gaming and esports bar and restaurant in London, should be celebrating its one-year birthday around about now. Unfortunately, however, like many businesses and spaces in the United Kingdom and abroad, the coronavirus lockdown has led to a temporary closure of the casual-chic venue’s doors.

We spoke with three members of the team behind Platform: Co-founder brothers Tomaso and Nicolò Portunato, CEO and COO, respectively; and Lucas Weintraub, Chief Marketing Officer. As part of our ongoing series, Coping with coronavirus, the trio offered insight into how they’ve approached life in quarantine with a business that depends on its physical space.

Coping with coronavirus: Platform on running an esports venue in lockdown
Photo credit: Platform

Esports Insider: Can you tell us what your work is like at the moment, with Platform being closed down?

Tomaso Portunato: The idea is kind of turning the business into a skeleton business, where we cut down all of our costs but we protect what we care about the most, which is our staff. We’ve been grateful for what the government has done, in terms of the furlough scheme, and [we’ve been] working with all suppliers, landlords, to make sure we cut the cost to the minimum. So our run rate is really low, that was the first thing.

In terms of what we can do now from our position, where everyone is staying at home, and most of the team is not working… One thing we’ve done is list the venue for the NHS to use, whether it’s for administrative purposes or if they need the venue for medical purposes as well. The fact that in our venue we have a really, really high-speed internet connection, a lot of PCs they could use; it’s available for them to create an NHS admin centre in central London. So that was one of the first things we’ve done straight away.

And then on top of that, we’re working with Esports Insider on this league [corporate esports competition WFH League]… We’re going to try and use our community and people we know to create some online tournaments. On the gaming/esports side, that’s pretty much it.

With the size of our structure, with one site, we can’t have the impact that a restaurant like Leon has, where they can deliver food to the NHS around the country. We’re a bit limited in that sense, but we’re trying to do our bit.

“What is very interesting, more on the hospitality side: I think it’s the first time that we can reset.”

ESI: Is there any insight that you’ve gained from this experience so far that you think other small and medium-sized businesses or venues could learn from, during quarantine?

Nicolò Portunato: What is very interesting, more on the hospitality side: I think it’s the first time that we can reset. I think it’s an opportunity for us. Okay, it’s not a very good, happy time, because we’re not making revenue, but it’s a good time where we can reset all our departments, do auditing, and really work on [making sure that] when we’re going to reopen, we’re going to be stronger than ever.

Obviously, we are lucky that we raised a bit of money just before the lockdown. So we are able to survive and hopefully improve the business while we are on [hold].

TP: I think there’s also looking at our costs, which was the first thing we’ve done. And I mean, at least for me, we do look at our costs, but we haven’t looked at each one of our items of our providers and spends throughout the whole business. That was a good exercise.

When you have a live venue in hospitality, you have this constant piece of work that’s happening in the background that doesn’t let you rethink outside that box. Looking at expansion now, we’re looking at this: maybe expanding now is a bit risky, but maybe that’s an opportunity to get better deals for leases, and we have more headspace to really think about what we’re building rather than building on the expansion pressure you have when you want to just go bigger and faster. So, yeah, it’s quite an interesting thing.

Coping with coronavirus: Platform on running an esports venue in lockdown
Photo credit: Platform

ESI: So, it lets you focus on things outside of that one venue.

TP: Absolutely, yeah.

Lucas Weintraub: Because the venue is a live being. It’s a bit like a child. You need to constantly care for it. There are things that pop up every day: issues with people, issues with customers, issues with your systems and software that you’re using. And when that pauses, you really get that time to look at things and be undisturbed and actually continue to build your business.

Whereas it’s much more difficult—it’s kind of like when you’re working from home, and it’s the difference between having a kid in the room with you when you’re trying to work and when the kid is in the park or at school. Which a lot of parents are currently complaining about, but you know, they’re making do with it; which is what we did for a year now, you know. Now it’s our turn to have some peace and quiet!

“What the hospitality industry is hoping is that there’s enough time for the Christmas period to be big enough for businesses to recover.”

ESI: Have you had any thoughts on how you’ll go about reopening after the lockdown?

TP: I think—there’s not a lot of evidence to back [it up]—but I think there’s going to be a gradual reopening with different categories of businesses. So, you know, I don’t expect the O2 to open at first, but I expect small pubs, restaurants where the capacity is going to be limited… Maybe the government is going to say maximum 40 or 50 people in the room, and that’s going to be a temporary law put forward.

What the hospitality industry is hoping is that there’s enough time for the Christmas period to be big enough for businesses to recover. Because as my brother said, we’re lucky to be in that timing position where we have cash flow, but I know a lot of businesses in hospitality, even larger ones, which survive on a two-week cash flow basis. So, if they don’t get two weeks’ worth of revenue in, they can’t pay any of their suppliers or their staff or anything like that.

I think everyone’s crossing fingers that this will be done way before Christmas period and we have some kind of normality by then, and we can expect a good Christmas season for the venue.

Coping with coronavirus: Platform on running an esports venue in lockdown
Photo credit: Platform

LW: And then, we’ve had to consider the adaptations we might have to make to our concept, given how people will get back to normal life, right? People are still probably going to social distance for a while. So, we’re thinking of integrating that into our venues and maybe providing more privacy, less grouping together and all of that. So that has an impact on how people enjoy the spaces and how people might enjoy esports competitions—because we might have to distance the computers a bit—and how people view competitions in our spaces.

ESI: A bit more peace of mind for everyone that’s attending.

LW: Yeah. But in our books, that might equate to a bit less fun, if you can’t group up with your friends, if you’re not close to each other, because the music is a bit loud and you can’t really share food, that sort of stuff. So, the environment, the atmosphere, might be different. We’re looking at that currently to see what it looks like.

TP: I think there’s a combination of government advice and our own decision. We actually closed down a bit before the government advised and told businesses to close.

If the government takes measures that we feel are not safe for our customers and our staff, we won’t follow them straight. Say they say, ‘Right, a hundred people is okay’ and we don’t feel like it’s the right move, we’ll put our own limits of maybe 50 people at the same time. So we’ll make our own decision as well.

Secure tickets for ESI Digital Winter