Opinion: Explaining the backlash behind Brazil’s supposed ‘Geek Fyre Festival’

Image credit: Esports Insider

In July, a geek event called UCCONX was held in São Paulo, Brazil. However, it took over Brazilian Twitter for all the wrong reasons.

The storm began on the event’s first day, Wednesday, July 27th, with people claiming that it was a scam, employees didn’t get paid and no one was attending it, all while posting photos of empty spaces and poorly built booths. Additionally, two of the confirmed attractions Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things and George Takei from Star Trek cancelled their attendance at the event.

Everything was going terribly, with UCCONX being called the ‘geek Fyre Festival’ on social media.

There were many valuable lessons we could take from it, including ones for esports as it was organised by the Brazilian production company Bad Boy Leeroy (BBL), a pillar in the local esports scene.

I attended the event on two of its five days. The first day was Thursday, July 28th, right after the Twitter pandemonium. My initial plan was to attend it only on Saturday to watch a Warzone tournament that would be held there, but I needed to see the disaster that was being announced on Twitter.

To my surprise, what I found was a nice event.

On the first day, I was undoubtedly entertained. There were dancing competitions, a BMX competition, robot fights and a best-of-three CS:GO match between B4 and Megazord. The event was held in a big space named Anhembi. It indeed didn’t look full, however, you could hardly call it empty, plus it was a Thursday afternoon.

On Saturday, k-pop groups, comedy shows, lots of cosplayers and a Warzone tournament graced the event. I even briefly saw Harry Potter actor Rupert Grint on a panel on the main stage. 

Crucially, the main thing that became apparent was that, on both days, people were smiling, kids were playing RPGs at tables, families enjoyed board games and gamers played in a huge arena full of PCs and consoles. There was also a top-notch esports stage, sponsored by the telecom Claro, JBL and the e-commerce KaBuM!, with 72 PCs and fans cheering for their favourite teams.

UCCONX’s esports arena. Image credit: Esports Insider

So, if it was a nice event, why did it face so much hate on social media? The answer for that can teach a lot about the current dynamics of the Brazilian esports scene.

The event’s change of ownership

UCCONX was organised by BBL, however it was not created by the production company. It was created by a company named UCCON MARKETING LTDA.

Dating before the COVID-19 pandemic, this company hired people and scheduled the event to happen in Anhembi, a huge area for conventions in the heart of São Paulo. The company, though, couldn’t keep up with its commitments and had to sell the event to BBL a process that was finalised in February 2022.

According to reports and testimonials on Twitter, UCCON MARKETING LTDA owes multiple months of salary to its former employees. Documents also accessed by ESI highlight that payments were also due to other service providers. Among such documents, was the contract detailing the purchase of UCCONX by BBL.

One of the factors that contributed to the event’s backlash was people not getting paid for their professional efforts. The contract, though, explicitly says in its fourth clause that the seller is still responsible for its debts and will answer to charges of people or companies that would demand their rights regarding the event.

It is important to point out that BBL acquired the intellectual rights and some other contracts for the event, but it did not acquire UCCON MARKETING LTDA itself. That means, therefore, that UCCON MARKETING LTDA’s administrators Luciano Martinez and Wagner Gustavo Gonçalves Ventura are still to manage those debts.

BBL made sure to avoid practical debts from UCCONX’s former owners, with those employed by the production company following the purchase seemingly being paid. However, BBL didn’t acknowledge UCCON MARKETING LTDA’s previous misdoing, meaning that the company’s terrible reputation came along with the event. So, on Twitter, it didn’t matter that BBL wasn’t in debt with former employees of UCCONX, people didn’t even know about the change of owners, thus leading to the event being trashed anyway.

The document highlights that BBL will pay a total of R$600,000 (~£95,270) to UCCON MARKETING LTDA for the event. Two payments of R$100,000 (~£15,880) were executed on March 31st and April 29th. Another R$400,000 (~£63,510) payment is planned for November 30th. 

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Diving into BBL

Now back to evaluating the event and the organiser BBL, personally I can say that I enjoyed UCCONX. It was not the best event I’ve ever been to, but it was a good event. This statement is in tune with what I feel about the organisation: BBL is not the best production company I know, but it’s certainly a good production company. Overall, the stages looked good, the attractions were nice and you could easily conclude that the event was not the disaster Twitter was highlighting.

This is, however, not saying that BBL is a saint. The company is currently being sued by the Brazilian Public Ministry of Labor for R$5m (~£790,000), endorsed by former employees and service providers. The process is still in transit and will be judged. Though, it is important to point out that it has no direct connection with UCCONX.

Another problem is that BBL is infamous within Brazilian esports for being an arrogant company. Its posture in the market plays against the goodwill of people and many really want to see the company fail.  

For example, sources confirmed with ESI that Millie Bobby Brown would not come a week before the cancellation announcement. Though the company promised to return the money to those who only wanted to meet and greet her, BBL’s lack of communication resulted in that message not being properly relayed to the audience. The situation even led to people willing to sue the event for false advertising.

Another very practical example of BBL’s arrogance is that their management will probably get so annoyed with my critics about the event, that will completely ignore the fact that this is a generally positive article about them. 

Such arrogance, combined with the fact that they actually are a good production company, resulted in UCCONX being promoted in a way that made the event look much greater and flawless than it would ever possibly be. Again, it was a good event, but it wasn’t the promised Brazilian geek event ‘revolution’ that was marketed.

For BBL, it didn’t matter that it was the first UCCONX ever, they used a whole convention centre one of the biggest and most traditional in São Paulo priced it high and did everything their way, including communications. 

Regarding the Anhembi convention centre rental, it is fair to highlight again that it was not a decision taken solely by BBL. When purchasing the event, the company also gained a R$1.75m (~£277,760) contract with Anhembi that had to be settled. The reservation fee of R$214,200 (~£34,011) was paid by UCCON MARKETING LTDA on September 2nd 2019, BBL would pay the remaining amount in five other instalments from April to July 2022. Considering the event was indeed held in Anhembi, the agreement was honoured. 

Back to BBL, if you watched Paramount+’s show Players, you will get this: BBL is Organizm. They are really good at what they do, but their lack of communication makes them act out of tune with the scene, damaging its reputation as a result. The company acted like just making the event and ‘being BBL’ would be enough to make it successful. 

BBL’s esports production is top level. Image credit: Esports Insider

A lesson for the whole esports sector

One of its founders is Leo de Biase, one of the people who helped foster Brazilian esports since its beginning. As a professional and as a BBL owner, Biase worked for ESL in well-produced events, bolstered the CS:GO scene with the CLUTCH tournament and promoted many other important esports initiatives in the country. 

For all of that, the company considers itself a cornerstone of Brazilian esports. And, truly, it is.

It could really be considered an esports national treasure nowadays if it wasn’t for its lack of communication, as well as its fights with former employees and partners. Those kinds of attitudes and factors make BBL raise animosity almost everywhere in the local scene. 

Such animosity was also a cornerstone of what made the event so criticized on social media: many would really enjoy seeing UCCONX and BBL fail. Therefore, while I was there, surrounded by people having fun, I read a tweet stating “Rupert Grint would join the five people attending the event,” something that shows how Twitter created its own bloodthirsty reality.

Almost everything that was promised was there: esports, cosplay, art, comics, celebrities like Rupert Grint, The Vampire Diaries’ Ian Somerhalder and Stranger Things’ Dacre Montgomery, as well as esports icons like Bruno ‘Nobru’ Goes and Gabriel ‘Fallen’ Toledo. However, what wasn’t there was a likely unreachable out-of-this-world experience. 

BBL took over the event in February and expected to achieve a challenging level of quality within five months, resulting in delays, organisation issues, logistical issues and empty spaces across the convention centre that backed the idea of a flopped event. 

Empty spaces backed the idea of a flopped event. Image credit: Esports Insider

What companies in the esports industry can learn from this story is to not act out of ego and to be transparent with their audiences, otherwise, the whole scene can be damaged. It is also a strong heads up for BBL to be a team player, invest more in communicating with the scene, stop looking for enemies, and humble up a bit. We still don’t know what will be of the company after the investment as even though the event was attended by a fair amount of people many tickets were given away by the organisation.

Another lesson is to always remember to take care with what Twitter paints of reality, because things may not be as ‘toxic’ as perceived. Therefore, I will finish this article with one defining sentence from my experience after visiting two days of the event: UCCONX, organised by the Brazilian esports company BBL in São Paulo, Brazil, was genuinely a nice event to attend.

Victor Frascarelli, Journalist
Victor Frascarelli is a Brazilian esports business journalist focused on the LATAM market. Previously at The Esports Observer for two years, Victor enjoys all things competitive, from League of Legends to football to chess to CS:GO.