Who is Gaben? Valve’s beloved founder is gaming’s richest icon

Kenneth Williams • July 20, 17:08

Even when the communities around popular games Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive are furious with developer Valve, fans can’t help but love the company’s president, Gabe Newell.

Gabe Newell is a co-founder and president of software development studio Valve. His common nickname, Gaben, is derived from his public email, gaben@valvesoftware.com. In addition to piloting Valve’s direction on the cutting edge of technology, Gaben serves as a figurehead for the company. He frequently attends or comments on Dota 2 and CSGO esports events, and is known for being a particularly big proponent of Dota 2.

Gaben studied at Harvard in the early 1980s but dropped out to work at Microsoft. Newell claims to have learned more in his first three months on the job at Microsoft than he did in three years at Harvard. He helped to develop early versions of Windows and led work on the port for the original DOOM on Windows 95.

Gabe Newell at The International 2019

Gaben left Microsoft to form Valve with former co-worker Mike Harrington. He was particularly inspired by the success of first-person shooter Quake. The pair financed the three-year production of Half-Life as the studio’s debut video game. Half-Life was wildly successful, which allowed Gaben to pursue other projects. Valve would eventually produce multiple sequels to Half-Life, massive esports titles, and one of the first full-room virtual reality systems. Valve also owns and operates Steam, the largest online platform for purchasing and downloading video games. Valve receives a substantial cut of every game sold through its popular service.

Gaben has become an almost mythical figure in the PC gaming world. Fans kneel before him and offer their wallets as tokens of piety. His quiet yet confident voice has declared the opening of every edition of The International, the richest event in all of esports. A Gabe Newell announcer pack was even released for Dota 2 to go along with The International 2018 battle pass.

Gaben is known for giving cryptic hints about future Valve projects. He famously joked about a Valve gaming console in May just two months before Valve formally announced the Steam Deck.

The secrecy of Valve is part of what makes Gaben so recognizable. Valve is notoriously quiet when it comes to its games, something that irks CSGO and Dota 2 fans. Gaben acts as a real personality attached to the gaming monolith that is Valve. Fans love to take photos with him, something Gaben accepts and encourages. 

As for Gabe Newell’s current life, he is currently living in New Zealand after being trapped there due to travel restrictions in 2020. He’s grown to love the country, even hosting a free music festival called We Love Aotearoa for New Zealand locals to enjoy. Gaben plans to live in New Zealand indefinitely, but does not intend to move Valve’s company offices out of the current location in Bellevue, Washington.

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