The arcade craze fell apart in the late 90’s. Nobody really noticed because they were too busy playing on their PC or shiny new Playstation console. Everyone thought, hey, why should I keep feeding these machines quarters (microtransactions? pfft….) when I can just play in the comfort of my own home?
While this was partly a natural evolution as technology proliferated, it does seem that we may have shuttered a very important part of the gaming community which helped create the industry that stands today: a social setting where like minded people can physically come together and enjoy gaming. The internet allowed us to connect conveniently, forgoing the need to deal with the logistics of gathering, but it has also fragmented gamers, isolating groups and individuals in the process.
While the interweb allows for the opportunity to never leave your house, which in its own right is an amazingly convenient thing, it does open up the discussion on whether there is an untapped, underutilized market for individuals who want to interact and enjoy life in a deeper sense than what you can find through the end of a microphone. As much as gamers like to stay stoic on the subject of feeling lonely or isolated, 9 out of 10 of us would love to have a place where we can hang out with others.
This leads to the question: Will there ever be another truly viable way to create a centralized gaming venue? Businesses like Dave and Busters continue to provide an arcade experience, but it is not the place you go to play the latest competitive game titles. Fortunately, we may be seeing a new market developing that fills this niche.
A few brave souls are currently attempting to create an innovative way of bringing gamers together, with one such example being Meltdown, a European based eSports bar chain that has succeeded in developing a pub-style business catering to gamers.
It is also one of the main European drivers of the “BarCraft” movement, which is exactly as it sounds: a bar where you can watch StarCraft tournaments. They will soon be opening their third location in London, and from how well they have done up to this point in Paris and Berlin, they may be on to something.
The thought has also crossed the mind of American entrepreneurs, with a Seattle couple preparing to open the Gosu eSports Bar and Lounge, a more “hardcore” take on the idea that focuses more on playing than viewing.
But no matter how much goodwill these places receive, gaining traction and growing their business will certainly be an uphill struggle, with many variables that must be taken into account. It is easy to say, “wouldn’t it be cool to have a bar where you can play a bunch of video games.” but actually making it a strong alternative to sitting in your room is another problem entirely.
This is where the discussion gets interesting. How can one create an experience for gamers that would allow for sustained numbers and popularity? While offering a place to comfortably watch professional tournaments is essential, this will not be what creates long-term success.
It is what the establishment can do in between professional tournaments that will truly allow an eSports venue to thrive. The patron must be fully engaged in order for such a business to become a viable alternative to your desk chair. First and foremost, it must have high quality games and computers on site to keep people happy. Gosu Bar has considered this and have already outlined the tech that patrons will have access to:
Intel Core i7 (3.5ghz)
Nvidia GeForce GTX 660
Dell 22″ UltraSharp monitors
SteelSeries QcK+ mousepads
2 Xbox 360s
2 Playstation 3s
Plenty of controllers
Eightarc Qanba Q4 sticks
Samsung 32″ 1080p LED TVs
With the right technology chosen, next comes the selection of games. If you do not carry the top titles of the day, it is likely that your venue will fail, because many gamers need a damn good reason to leave their fortress of solitude.
Gosu, for one, will start out by offering the following titles: StarCraft 2, Halo 4, Super Street Fighter IV, Dota 2, CS: GO, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, League of Legends, Team Fortress 2, Heroes of Newerth, Persona 4 Arena, and Tribes Ascend. A solid offering for sure.
After accounting for the essentials, the venue must then find ways to provide incentives for gamers and spectators to actually make the trip. This requires daily events, tournaments or challenges which are governed by some form of reward or incentive.
As a completely valid example (and somewhat shameless plug), we can think about how Xfire’s new competitive gaming platform, Battleground, could be used. I can easily see people coming to the venue, wagering Battle Tokens and playing until they want to cash out. By doing so, they can win prizes or money based on their performance. When there are not enough people there for LAN events, servers should be available for outside participants (likely for a nominal fee that is a bit higher than if you went to the location itself) where you can play remotely.
Lastly, it must simply be a fun place to be for all types of people. Include food and drinks, great music and a friendly atmosphere, all of which will make it not only a natural pick for gamers, but a logical recreational choice for everyone else.
Just like a sports bar, an eSports venue must advertise friendly competition and provide a venue where people WANT to get together and enjoy truly social gaming. If we can successfully accomplish this, I almost guarantee that many people, who may have never given eSports a thought, would be mightily impressed and surprised by how engrossing and exciting video game competition can be.
Just think about some NFL or Premier League fan walking down the street and looking through a window to see a bunch of people roaring during a League of Legends match, and realizing that there is very little difference between watching digital characters being played by human beings and a live Football match. This will help not only legitimize eSports, but it also has the potential to introduce many new fans to an important aspect of our lives.
Although we may not realize it, gaming is becoming increasingly isolated, and the need for our culture to operate on a closer social level is important in keeping the gaming space a public and highly visible part of the world.
This can be a strange thought, because most of OUR lives revolve around games and they are front and center throughout most of the day, leading us to forget that we can seem nearly invisible to the general population. This “disconnect” also creates communication issues, and has, in many cases, already led others to assume we operate in a shadow industry that is antisocial and destructive.
It is the inclusion of these eSports venues and social meeting places that will help bring gamers together while offering something new to non-gamers, and in doing so, allowing our favorite entertainment medium to grow.