Yesterday, July 22, 2019, the esports industry was left reeling following the death of one of its brightest stars. Geoff “iNcontroL” Robinson, a big man with an even bigger personality was no longer with us and there is no way to make sense of it. At just 33 years old it is unthinkable. What makes it especially cruel is that we have lost someone who had been a positive force in so many lives, seemingly innumerable and far beyond what a man of that age should be able to achieve.
Cold comfort to those he has left behind. When faced with such a loss language can fail us. Because there is nothing that can be said to ease the pain we devolve into cliches. However some cliches can be true and using them the only way to come close to accuracy. For example you will see people use the phrase “one of a kind” to describe Geoff, which we all are to some degree but he was the exact type of person the phrase was invented for. He was someone who defied characterisation, a high-powered jock/nerd hybrid, a body for powerlifting and a mind for strategy… A man who could cast an intimidating shadow, dispelled immediately when he opened his mouth and say something of profound, softly spoken intelligence. Serious when it was needed but never humourless, no matter what was going on in his life he brought endless, face-aching laughter to everyone he knew.
Geoff was one of the most gifted entertainers our business has ever produced. He possessed a mind that could go in any direction, one minute delivering technical insight or a profound point about the landscape of our industry, the next segueing into a joke that would have everyone in the studio laughing as much as the people at home. He could fill any role, instinctively knowing what he had to do to excel within it. What he had that set him apart was more than his considerable talents. It was his earnestness. He had an unparalleled ability to simply be himself on air without any artifice and it always be exactly what was needed.
Impossible then to speak of a defining quality but if you had to choose one it would be loyalty. Geoff was a man who lived by a code in an industry that is all too forgiving when you let that slip. Here was an incandescent star that could easily have been the face of our entire industry if he had it in him to sell out his values. Instead, he stayed loyal to himself, loyal to his community and loyal to his friends. So generous with his time, at the peak of Starcraft the one household name any up and coming podcast could rely on for an appearance was Geoff. Journalists could always rely on him for an interview. Instead of chasing flavour of month games for views he pioneered Role-playing on Twitch, normalised it. His love of Games Workshop tabletop would see him win Warhammer 40k tournaments, proving his Starcraft prowess wasn’t a fluke and bringing that hobby to a new, digital audience.
Geoff was a friend and a colleague, someone I didn’t know as well as I’d like to but made a big impression on me. When I first made my belated steps into the Starcraft scene he helped legitimise my work by association. This wasn’t always easy as I had a long running battle with his organisation Evil Geniuses but it never seemed to affect us or his willingness to help. When I moved on to being a host I got to work alongside him and he always helped put me over. It was a new, unfamiliar role, one I’d need some time to grow into. He did for me what he did for so many others; used his platform and credibility to make sure people gave me the same chance he did. And everyone implicitly knew that if Geoff vouched for you then you must be alright because even though he did this often he never did it lightly.
It is incredibly bad form when writing an obituary to make any of it about you, the author, rather than the subject. Please indulge me for what I consider some important context. Without these details I don’t think there is any other way to truly express my gratitude. 2015 was awful for me. It was getting worse with each passing month. Problems at work, problems at home, problems with health… 2014 had ended with my best friend hanging himself while I was at an esports event. Guilt… And yet all I really had was the job. Even though saying yes had brought such dire consequences I was terrified of saying no in case I lost everything. So I lurched from event to event in 2015 hating myself for being there and constantly finding a way to smile and laugh on camera before blitzing myself in the hotel bar between air time. Relationships started to break down so I’d focus more on the job.
By August I was building up the resolve to make 2015 my last year. I started to view my events as a farewell tour. It was fine. A good run. There was a Starcraft event in London so I hosted it and because, like me, Starcraft was also saying goodbye, Gfinity had pulled out all the stops. The analysts were Ilyes “Stephano” Satouri and Geoff. If you know anything about either you know that, even in my banged up state, the laughs were genuine. I could honestly forget about all my bullshit for however many hours it was. It’s only now I realise how many people he did that for with a frequency no mortal should be able to summon.
If you’d ever been at events with Geoff you’d know the drill. After you wrapped a broadcast you’d head to a bar or a hotel room and everyone would sit around and drink and unwind. Geoff, both on and off camera, was the star turn… There wasn’t a dull conversation he couldn’t spice up, an anecdote for every occasion and new ways to tell stories you’d heard before. No matter where you sat, he would become the centre of attention. There isn’t a single person who was on that Starcraft ride that doesn’t have at least one night like this, the night where your stomach ached and the hangover hit you a bit harder than normal because you had those extra drinks just to hear him talk and watch him hold court.
This wasn’t one of those nights, though I was lucky enough to have had them on many occasions. No, instead I was hunched over my drink in a corner, staring into the liquid as if answers would dredge up to the surface. A big hand on my shoulder and it wasn’t the doorman. It was Geoff. He asked in what was his polite way if he could join me and I said yes. He told me he could see I wasn’t happy and asked if I wanted to talk. It’s not my style honestly but if you couldn’t open up to Geoff you had nothing inside. So I talked and he listened and then he shared. He spoke of his own difficulties of coming to terms with the public eye, of the great balancing act and how he could never fathom how people could be shitty to total strangers but they just were. He told me it would be a disservice if I let it wear me down and he listed off a bunch of exercises he did to make being a public figure more bearable. Ever modest he said if it worked for him it could work for me too. Most importantly he told me that, while it can be hard, getting to do what I do was a gift and it was something to be held on to. We walked back to the hotel, a bear hug, he told me I’d be alright and he’d see me on the road. He emphasized the last part.
I woke up with a hangover and a Twitter DM sent just before he left. He told me to take care of myself, to check in if I ever needed anything, to keep my chin up… He’d meant all of it. And it always struck me as quite the gesture that Geoff, who had so many friends and so little time to spend with them all, gave up an entire night to try and lift someone up when he could see they were down. Most people will do anything to avoid that awkwardness, let alone choose to do it over something far more fun. This sums up Geoff in a nutshell. He was someone who felt a sense of duty to use his position to help those around him whenever it was required without even a moment’s thought about reciprocation. It didn’t matter if you were an old friend or a new colleague. You’d have got the same from him. He didn’t know how to be anyone else.
And now the knowledge I’ll never get to repay that or anything else. The heaviness of knowing that I won’t see him again, that none of us will. That he will never again light up a broadcast with his charisma and his infectious smile. Every moment he would have brought us has been stolen away forever with a ruthless finality and there would have been a countless number of them. It is a loss that cannot be measured, a cosmic gutpunch that has floored us all.
I lay awake all night after the news, watching the tributes pour in, watching the fresh sorrow as people from other timezones woke to the awful news. There is nothing that can be said to lift the mood and if there is I’m at a loss to find it. But I cast my mind back to the moments I watched from home, to the events we attended together, to our conversations… From stadiums to the Homestory Cup couch. This universe feels dark right now but darker still would be one where we never got him at all. What a gift he was. And as he told me once in a bar in London, when given such a gift you must hold onto it.