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G4’s New Host Xavier Woods on the Network’s Revival: ‘This Is the Gaming Culture’

On Wednesday night, G4, the gaming network that aired from 2002-2014 and recently announced a revival, held a charity special that saw its previous lineup of hosts — Olivia Munn, Kevin Pereira, Adam Sessler, Morgan Webb, Kristin Adams and Blair Herter — reunite for a night of nostalgia and reminiscing.

But, at the very end of the special (benefiting G4’s multi-day Gravython effort), a hint at G4’s future, not its past, shown in the form of WWE star Xavier Woods, also known as Austin Creed, knocking down the door and saving them from a scripted dire situation. With that, G4 announced that Woods would be its first signed talent for the new version of the network.

For anyone following G4 since it announced its revival in July, however, the announcement probably didn’t come as too much as a surprise. Woods fought a vigorous social media campaign under the hashtag #Creed4G4 to become one of the gaming network’s new hosts, releasing a video that’s racked up 1.6 million views on Twitter since July 25. And he’s an unabashed gamer, streaming on Twitch and hosting his own gaming YouTube channel, UpUpDownDown, which has 2.2 million subscribers.

Even if the union between Woods and G4 did seem like a natural fit, the WWE superstar is still in awe of the fact that he’s joined its lineup of hosts, noting that it’s been an emotional couple of days.

“G4 had such a huge effect on my life as a kid,” Woods tells Variety the day after the reunion. “As a kid growing up who at a certain point, got made fun of for playing video games — because once we got to adolescence, certain people put the controllers down and started poking fun at everyone else — G4 was kind of like a safe haven for me and without that, I’m not sure if I would be the person that I am today.”

It’s that love of games, G4’s Head of Content Kevin Sabbe says, that made Woods such a great candidate to be one of the faces of the revival. In fact, early in their talks to bring back G4, Sabbe says his team looked at Woods as a “prototype” for someone in their new hosting lineup. “It was like, ‘yeah, but we can’t get him,’” he says.

But, within 24 hours of G4 announcing that it’s coming back, Woods had his campaign video up. He “beat us to the punch,” Sabbe says.

“When we talk about personalities and talent in the digital-first universe, you look for content creators, and he can do it all,” he says of Woods. “He’s not just a wrestler or a performer. He’s so multi-faceted.”

“He didn’t really give us much of a choice when he started the campaign, and we were grateful to not have a choice,” he adds. “And it really made it easy for us.”

The other big piece of news announced at the charity event: a “network relaunch.” It’s the first hint of what the new G4 will actually be — ever since it was announced, there has been no word on if it will be on TV, Twitch, YouTube or anything in between.

Sabbe’s answer? All of the above. Given that G4 is owned by Comcast and operated by its gaming and esports division Spectacor, a return to TV was never out of the question. But Sabbe and Woods acknowledge that streaming is a huge part of the landscape now, and G4 will be represented there as well. Sabbe promises that “it’s not just gonna be a cable channel tucked away. It’s gonna be pretty ubiquitous.”

“We’re gonna be everywhere on every platform,” Sabbe says. “So it’s a digital network, it’s a linear network. We’re kind of gonna be all over the place, and it will look different, but very much the same as what G4 was.”

And G4, of course, faces a lot more competition now than it did in the aughts. The network has been credited for being ahead of its time back then, giving a space to games on TV before it was seriously accepted as part of the mainstream as it is now.

Part of its purpose, as Woods notes and as some of G4’s hosts touched on during the reunion special, was to destigmatize games. Its role now, Woods says, is to bring together some of that community that’s formed around gaming.

“It’s a space where you can go and see that yes, games are important, they are fantastic, but this is the gaming culture, not just video games as the game itself, but as a culture, as a community,” he says. “That’s why I think that G4 is gonna be incredible, and that’s the space that I feel G4 is gonna fill, is to make you feel that sense of community.”

Still, some things won’t change. Part of what makes G4 unique, Sabbe and Woods agree, are the comedy sketches, and the general spirit of weirdness and absurdity that permeated its content, and that won’t be going away. Woods laughs that, if he had the money to hire a production crew at the time, that would’ve been the kind of content he and his friends might’ve created.

But it does have some new priorities: among them, representing the diverse population of people who play games. During the reunion, Woods pointed out the primarily white cast of the former G4, telling them, “it didn’t matter how bad my day was — the thing that I knew was gonna get me through was the fact that I could just turn on the TV and see ya’lls faces. Granted, none of ya’lls faces really looked like my face.”

Woods says he’s already seen G4 takes steps toward a more inclusive future in his work with the network, and Sabbe stresses that it’s a priority both in front of and behind the camera.

“Representation matters, representation is important, and especially representation in the games space, because I would say for the past decade, things have been changing,” Woods says.

“And it’s such a great thing to know that video games especially, they are something that is for everyone. It is a safe space for everyone from all religions, all races, all creeds. Whatever you are, games are for you,” he goes on. “And I think that G4 is going to do a fantastic job of making sure that the make-up of the channel represents the make-up of the gaming community.”

Still, even after the reunion and the signing of Woods, details about the new G4 remain fairly scarce. It still doesn’t have a set release date, other than the general 2021 timeframe that was announced in July.

But for now, at least, Woods can still just revel in the fact that he’s part of G4’s lore forever.

“That’s the coolest thing, honestly,” he says. “If the world stops tomorrow, I’m in G4 lore and I’m happy.”

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