BACK in 2008, an 18-year-old Stephen Byrne knew exactly where he was headed. He was making the move from YouTube to mainstream media, from vlogs to RTÉ. Fast forward to 2062, however, and things have taken a surprising turn.
“I’m in my 50th year of managing Chelsea,” says Stephen. “Jose Mourinho is probably dead.” Byrne isn’t talking about the real Premier League, of course, but something much more important — Football Manager. It’s one of Byrne’s many gaming obsessions, which makes him a fitting host of this month’s GamerCon, the first truly large-scale gaming convention to take place in Ireland. GamerCon takes place at the Dublin Convention Centre on March 18 and 19, with 20,000 gamers expected to attend. If we’re not careful, however, Byrne might not show up. Football Manager has a way of getting under your skin.
“I remember when Kurt Zouma signed for Chelsea (in real life) and I turned to my dad and said: ‘He can’t be 21! He was my assistant manager for 15 years but we fell out.’ Another time I was on a flight and Robbie Keane was there. I made the mistake of asking him if he wanted to see where he was on my game.” Byrne pauses. “He was managing Notts County.”
Byrne is best known as the host of RTÉ’s TwoTube, but it was his love of gaming that drew him to GamerCon.
“2FM is a media partner of the event and they were talking about it at work, we were doing video game pieces on the Tracey Clifford show. I told them I was mad into video games and would love to go to the event. GamerCon heard that and asked me to host the whole thing. It was a chance for me to marry my passion with work.”
That passion for gaming started on the Super Nintendo and Byrne still has fond memories of Donkey Kong Country and F-Zero, but it was the Xbox era that really took his enthusiasm to a new level.
“I used to be on forums all the time. I was part of a Halo glitching group — we used to look for glitches in the game.” In telling a story about his love for Halo, Byrne highlights why GamerCon is such an important event for Irish gamers.
“When I was a teenager, I remember there was a gaming convention in London at the Excel. I won tickets to it and bugged and bugged my dad to take me, because it was a chance to see Halo 2 before anyone else. My dad agreed to take me and it’s still one of the best days of my life. There were never those events over here in Ireland.”
Searching for glitches in Halo is hardcore, but Byrne goes one step further with his favourite game of all time (a favourite he shares with this writer), the legendary Morrowind, the predecessor to both Oblivion and Skyrim.
“I must have spent a thousand hours in Morrowind,” he says wistfully, “downloaded a million mods. I literally was just living in it. I’d download a mod to make a house and just live in it. Then when Oblivion and Skyrim came out and suddenly the series was cool … I was thinking ‘People definitely did not think I was cool when I was playing Morrowind’.” The change in perspective on gaming is a point that Byrne is only too happy to acknowledge.
“Back when I was teenager, gaming wasn’t cool. It was even seen as a little anti-social. Now it’s the biggest entertainment industry in the world, for good reason. It’s telling amazing stories and immersing people in ways no other medium can do.” Byrne himself is a perfect example of how gamers and the industry continue to evolve. His passion for gaming and the digital universe led him online to become a v-logger and, subsequently a TV host. Just a few weeks ago he was covering the Oscars in LA, yet a month later he will host Ireland’s first video game convention.
You can catch Stephen introducing top YouTubers and the latest games at GamerCon on March 18 and 19 — that’s if he’s not too busy exploring Vvardenfell. “You know what,” he says happily at the end of our call. “I’m going to go and buy Morrowind for my Mac right now.”