From escaped snakes to LA rock and roll, iconic industry party Fire & Ice has seen it all. Zak Thomas-Akoo asks Michael Caselli, Fire & Ice co-organiser and non-executive chairman of Clarion Events, what could be next for gaming’s most outrageous show.
Legendary industry party Fire & Ice began in 2002 by a ragtag group of online gambling enthusiasts, as a result of not being invited to parties thrown by land-based groups. It’s idea that seems comic now, considering the scale of the sector.
From its beginnings in the backroom of a pub, to today’s must-see mammoth show at Troxy, the show has gained a reputation as the wildest, most avant-garde spectacle in gaming.
Featuring a medley of the bold and strange, Caselli does not shy away from looking at the event as high art.
“The acts are on the border of, if it’s okay or not okay,” says Caselli. “Just like good art should, it makes the uncomfortable comfortable, and the comfortable uncomfortable.”
Previous shows have featured other-worldly features including an enormous maze, a pygmy goat, acrobatics, illusions and giants. At Fire & Ice, elements that a less adventurous party would steer away from – like live animals and pyrotechnics – are actively embraced.
After 20 years in online gambling, Caselli has seen the industry grow exponentially.
From a stage where its vision strode ahead of its technological capabilities, to today where the largest online conglomerates stand shoulder to shoulder with the jewels of the land-based sector, the longevity of Fire & Ice speaks to the distinctiveness of the industry today.
At the time of the first Fire & Ice, the igaming industry was still in its infancy, beset by all the troubles of a world only vaguely familiar with the internet. Suffice to say, online gambling has evolved tremendously since then.
When Caselli first came upon online gambling in the late 1990s, it was still a pipedream. No one was certain that the underlying technology needed to process online bets would, or even could, work.
“When I first started looking at it, it essentially loaded HTML pages,” says Caselli. “You knew what hand you had before your 9600 band modem downloaded the cards, because the page title would say “forward slash 9H, KD” – like 9 of Hearts, king of diamonds.”
This year’s edition of Fire & Ice will be a remembrance of sorts. In the 20 years since the team behind the show began gathering in the back room of a pub to plot their rise, fortunes have been made and lost in the chaotic and fast-paced world of online gambling.
The event will salute this through the medium of performance. Fire & Ice will include five acts, each representing a stage of the industry as it has developed over the years.
“There’s some magic and illusion, there’s some high energy, there’s some aerial, there’s some fire, there’s some pyro, there’s special effects,” says Caselli. “It’s definitely our biggest and most expensive show to date.
“We’re taking everything we’ve learned over 20 years of doing this and putting it into our Magnum opus, our greatest piece.”
Present in the venue will be those who made the online gambling industry what it was in its first uncertain years; those who steered the course as scrappy start-ups became serious corporate actors.
In honouring those figures, the event will feature a “legends table” where those who have been involved from the very beginning will sit.
This is the first meaning of the show’s title – “Beyond our wildest dreams”, referring to how the development of the sector has been bigger and bolder than anyone could have anticipated.
The second meaning refers to the thematic staging of the show, which is set to include a surreal and dreamlike style.
“It’ll look really cool. It will definitely take you out of your normal life, and be like nothing you’ve ever imagined before.”
A night to remember
The complexity of Fire & Ice means that it cannot simply be compared to other big-time, big-budget events.
“It’s a little bit of Burning Man,” says Caselli. “It’s a little bit of New Year’s Eve Times Square. It’s an immersive, interactive theatre experience.”
When asked for memorable moments of past shows, Caselli says that his liberal use of snakes has raised an eyebrow or two over the years.
“I use a lot of snakes in the shows,” says Caselli. “People remember the snakes.”
However, inevitably, a show with as many moving parts as this one is bound to experience a hitch once in a while.
The 2012 edition of Fire & Ice, titled ‘Original Sin’, featured a hair-raising moment involving a party-goer who became scared when one of the snakes snapped at a dancer. The woman yelled out, causing a brief joint of panic among the performers.
“Everyone in the lift was screaming and running around because they thought the snakes had gotten together and decided to attack the humans,” said Caselli.
“I had to calm everyone down for the rest of the lift journey and say listen, the snakes have not communicated to each other, they’re not attacking the humans. Everyone chill out.”
The end of an era
This year’s anniversary edition of Fire & Ice is, in a sense, the end of an era. Thanks to the efforts of those on Fire & Ice’s guest list, online gaming has changed radically since the event’s origins.
The upcoming generation are not venturing into uncharted waters, in the same way Caselli and his posse were. Every year, the industry grows up a little more.
It’s a bittersweet feeling. The show – much like the industry itself – finds itself in much more serious, ordered times.
But Caselli has no intention of saying goodbye to Fire & Ice. To the contrary, 2023’s edition is set to be the most spectacular of them all – although Caselli is prepared to take the show in a new direction going forward.
“We’ve probably used every illusion, every pyrotechnic, every special effect that you possibly can,” he says. “And if I’m going to continue to blow people’s minds, anything going forward is going to be different.
“It’s going to be everything we’ve learned, put together into its twentieth year. The granddaddy of them all.”
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