The news that GameWorks will open four more esports lounges across the United States has hardly come as any great surprise. The company already operates similar establishments in Las Vegas, Denver, and Seattle. In February and March, it will add new ventures in Chesapeake, Virginia; Schaumburg, Illinois; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Newport, Kentucky.
GameWorks is not the sole company in the United States operating bespoke esports facilities. Retail giant Walmart announced in 2018 it is seeking to open competitive gaming venues in five of its US stores.
The esports lounge concept
The move has echoes of the internet café culture that sprang up in the early days of the digital revolution. GameWorks says it will focus on including arcade games, prize games, and a restaurant. Furthermore, it hopes the surge in esports’ popularity will encourage companies and individuals to rent the lounges for private events.
In addition to this, GameWorks plans to run specific esports events across its stores, where players will be able to compete against each other with up to 100 guests able to participate. The company reportedly runs around 200 tournaments every month across its locations.
Typically, a GameWorks Esports Lounge comprises 20-40 PCs and consoles. The devices offer approximately 100 different games. Players are free to join in with the promotions and tournaments offered at GameWorks Esports Lounges, or they can simply play casually.
Global esports lounges
It is not just the United States were esports lounges taking hold. In the United Kingdom, popular high street store Game UK is involved with Belong Gaming Arenas.
There are a total of 21 Belong Arenas in the UK and Ireland at present. Customers can log into the Belong site and book time on a console at their local Belong Arena, as well as participate in a number of Community Night events. Those are for players with interest in a particular esports title, such as Overwatch, Call of Duty, League of Legends, or Tekken.
It certainly seems as if these “lounges” and “arenas” are here to stay, but what are the pros and cons of using them? And will they help or hinder the development of esports?
There’s no doubt Esports Lounges offer plenty of positives for people seeking easy access to esports and, in particular, the equipment needed to play the games. Many people who may only have access to older, slower technology can benefit from these establishments.
By giving customers access to fast broadband speeds, reliable connections, and top-spec hardware, lounges offer users a smooth gaming experience at an affordable price. That affordability is also a major positive for novice gamers or first-timers. They can try out titles and equipment without purchasing games and consoles themselves.
In my view, there are just two clear drawbacks to esports lounges at the moment. The first is their availability.
For example, the nearest Belong Gaming Arena to me (in the UK) is over 40 miles away. In the United States, it may be thousands of miles between some people and their nearest lounge.
Of course, if the lounges prove popular, then more will open. But the remaining issue, regardless of how many lounges open, is one of cost.
Although hiring a PC or console for an hour or two is not a massive expense (£10 per hour in the UK), if this was your only access to gaming or esports, then you could spend a fortune playing these games over a period of a month or a year.
In contrast to what we said in the “pros” section, if a player is an esports devotee as opposed to someone newly exploring gaming, then the hour-by-hour pricing quickly becomes prohibitive. It’s almost as though these lounges are designed strictly to cater to dabblers and recreational players.
Despite the high cost, esports lounges remain a good way to enjoy gaming in a brief, low-stakes community setting. As an introduction, esports lounges are a good way to see esports at their best. Players can then make an informed decision before they spend big on hardware and software.
It’s ultimately the social aspect that may well help esports lounges find their niche market and why I feel GameWorks’ model will enjoy great success across the United States in the years to come.