By Douglas J. Guth | Photo by Doug Khrenovsky
Hatala, 33, continues to be a believer in the connections that interactive entertainment can foster among people. Harnessing this digitally based ideal of camaraderie and inclusiveness led him to create GDL Entertainment (Games Done Legit), an event-planning company that integrates video games into wedding receptions, educational programming, corporate team-building programs, and other spaces.
“Games are the new American pastime,” Hatala, event director — or “final boss” in video game parlance — says of GDL. “When coupled with face-to-face interaction, technology can help people uniquely bond through shared experience, much like playing sports except without the physical limits.”
GDL builds gaming events around the age of participants. Older attendees may get the old-school treatment with an Atari 2600 home video game console or ‘80s arcade machines. Millennials who grew up with more complex graphics and game play, meanwhile, may be plied with today’s newest console blockbusters and party games.
A corporate event may not seem like the proper setting for some barn-burning joystick action, but Hatala has found that a rousing round of Super Mario Bros. promotes trust among employees and helps workers develop and enhance their problem-solving techniques.
In Super Mario Bros, for example, employees take control of the Nintendo classic, with onlookers suggesting strategies to help navigate the iconic Italian plumber through puzzles of varying difficulty. The idea is to get everyone involved, even if they’re not experienced gamers.
“I’m designing challenges for people to understand and have fun with,” Hatala says. “Everyone can participate regardless of their skill level.”
Video games are a friendly alternative to sports competitions or other corporate-sponsored activities, the gaming-centric entrepreneur says. Even so, many games demand split-second decisions and fast reactions that can translate into real-world situations.
“It’s all about getting people to learn from each other and come up with cohesive strategies,” Hatala says.
While GDL has only been in operation for a year, its founder has spent the better part of his life immersed in the social, shared experience of gaming. Hatala began his gaming career at age three, a hobby that grew into the competitive realm through high school and into college. His particular expertise was one-on-one fighting games, including the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat series, a genre in which the player controls an on-screen character and engages in close combat against an opponent.
In 2006 Hatala co-organized his first fighting game competition, an event that after its first few iterations bloomed into an international tournament, hosting upwards of 700 attendees from ten countries.
After a few years learning to pool resources and engage corporate sponsors, Hatala decided to shift his focus to more general event coordination. He joined Executive Caterers of Landerhaven in 2012 as an event specialist, a position that found him serving meals, repairing PCs, and any other job that allowed him to soak up the particulars of the event planning industry.
With helpful advice from the Cleveland chapter of the International Special Events Society (ISES), Hatala combined his newly minted professionalism with his old hobby via a gig running a gaming tourney at Euclid High School. From there he went the independent route, planning gaming events full-time at spots around Greater Cleveland.
“Games are an easy way to make people happy,” Hatala says. “When you’re doing a good job, word of mouth spreads and other people will want to share in your success.”
Hatala knows he spends an inordinate amount of time talking and thinking about video games, even if he doesn’t get to play them as much anymore. As a former tournament-level fighting-game competitor, he believes games helped hardwire his mind to better control the variables of the fast-paced events coordination arena.
“I’m making tactical and strategic decisions (in business) when things go wrong,” Hatala says. “It’s a natural progression for me from when I was a competitor.”
Looking ahead, Hatala aims to grow his company while also elevating the pastime of gaming in the eyes of the public. He points to charities like Extra Life, which runs video game marathons that raise millions of dollars annually for children’s hospitals. Hatala also has nascent plans to write a book about how gaming helped steer his professional career.
“The goal of GDL as a company isn’t just to make money, but to ‘level up’ the hobby of gaming,” Hatala says. “Games can be a mature endeavor that engage and teach people in ways that no other entertainment (medium) can.”
For more information: gdlent.com