London. It’s Saturday night at a busy pub in north London, and the crowd is packed around the bar cheering and shouting at a large screen. It’s not showing sport, but a video game.
There is no telltale sign on the grey front of the building, just its name “Meltdown” and the muffled bass of Bob Marley’s “Get up, stand up” which makes the windows vibrate gently.
But inside this “e-sports” bar is a temple of competitive gaming.
Around a table crowded with pints of beer, young people are following a tournament of “League of Legends,” one of the most popular online games.
”Go, go for it, come on!” shouts a young woman wearing black stockings, shorts and a striped top, her fingers typing quickly on her phone as she comments on the match on Twitter.
Here customers come to have a drink and watch a video game contest as others would a game of football or rugby.
The menu lists a selection of cocktails referencing the virtual world.
With its fruity blend of rum, lime, mango, raspberry and passion fruit, the “Shoryuken” takes its name from “Street Fighter,” one of the most famous games in history.
Meltdown is the only one of its kind in Britain and is an offshoot of a chain of bars launched in France by gaming enthusiasts.
The first opened in Paris in 2012.
”I realised that there were many players who wanted to leave their homes, have a drink and party,” said Sophia Metz, one of the founders.
”Six months later, we opened in Berlin, then in London. Today there are nine bars,” she said, adding that the United States could be next.
”E-sports is still a niche market, but it’s a market that’s growing,” said Metz, who views Meltdown as a video game “Starbucks.”
Her guests also come to play games themselves.
Consoles are available for their use, as well as five workstations equipped with backlit keyboards and ergonomic chairs to avoid back pain.
This Saturday one player in particular is drawing attention: Ilyes Satouri, who goes by the name “Stephano”.
Aged 21, he is one of France’s leading e-sports players and has won some $250,000 in just over 80 tournaments of strategy game Starcraft II.
E-sports bars “were missing until now. Before, those interested in video games generally stayed at home,” said the curly-haired Satouri, wearing a red shirt.
”It breaks down of the myth of the pimply geek who stays shut up at home.”
Another assumption the institutions can help to break down is that they would be mainly frequented by men.
Although women are less numerous at Meltdown on a Saturday night, they are certainly present.
Among them is Bedir Marisa, aka “Ribbons”, a bubbly 21-year-old Londoner who works in cancer research.
”I go to Meltdown to relax and see my friends as well as being able to participate in the League of Legends tournaments,” said Marisa, who plays at least two hours of the game a day.
”I think that some men assume that because there’s not many girls who play games that you are fake and only playing games to get attention,” she added.
”Which is quite disheartening considering I’ve been playing games non-stop since I got my first Game Boy at the age of seven!”
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