Inside Good Game, Toronto’s first e-sports bar
Musty basements and messy bedrooms are no longer the only video game arenas
On a Friday night at a bar in uptown Toronto, a couple dozen pint-drinking patrons—mostly dudes—are cheering on their favourite team, drowning out the announcer’s commentary. But the Jays aren’t playing. Neither are the Raptors or the Leafs. The live games on the big screens are League of Legends, Hearthstone and StarCraft. This is Good Game, the city’s first e-sports bar.
The most intense faction of modern video gaming, e-sports have a following of approximately 150-million people and are often played in tournaments for cash prizes of up to $20 million. (So, while Candy Crush is a video game, it is not an e-sport—and nobody has ever won a bunch of money for playing it.) E-sports have their roots in South Korea, where they’ve been popular since the early aughts, but gaming bars have recently been popping up all over the world. Good Game was first to the punch in Toronto, and the city has already welcomed another, Raiders, at Yonge and St. Clair (which replaced a long-standing traditional sports bar), Power Up in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, and it’s about to get a fourth, Meltdown, in Little Italy.
Owner Pavel Kabargine, a 28-year-old veteran gamer, got a sense that he was part of a niche but growing demographic: people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who still have a passion for video games but have jobs, pay mortgages and raise kids, too. “I knew that there was a population of older gamers who have lives outside of video games, and I thought that there needed to be a social hub for these people to meet each other,” says Kabargine. So, he quit his job as a change manager to pursue his dream. “I didn’t want to be that guy who kicks himself in the ass 10 years from now when e-sports bars are everywhere.”
The main level of Good Game looks just like any other bar—there’s nothing overtly geeky about it: there are a few big screens, a couple of leather couches and a drink list that includes local craft beers and house cocktails. “We wanted to create a space that was very unintimidating, where gamers could bring their non-gamer friends,” says Kabargine.
The upper level has a bar and big screen, too, but there are also computers—complete with ergonomic racer-style chairs, noise-cancelling headphones and specially made gaming keyboards—that players can rent by the hour. Each computer comes loaded with a number of games, which allows new players to give titles a shot before purchasing them for their own PC. “If someone has to pay $80 and download 40 gigabytes to play a game, they might not be willing to try it. By offering people the chance to play without all of that commitment, we can break down a lot of the barriers that people experience with video games,” says Kabargine.
Checking out @goodgamebarto, just discovered that it was even here and I'm only a few blocks away. Good brews and Overwatch on the tvs, not bad. Just need to start putting Street Fighter comps up there and we good. ?? #eSports #Toronto #Bar #Drinks #CraftBeer #VideoGames #MidTown #GoodGameBar #Overwatch #Gaming #Cocktails
The bar’s main draw—and what distinguishes it from a mere internet cafe—is the live gaming broadcasting. All of the programming comes from Twitch.tv, an online platform that streams e-sports tournaments and the feeds of individual players, some who develop huge followings. It’s like YouTube for video games, has more than 55 million users, and it was recently purchased by Amazon for a cool $970 million.
The bar can stream two games at the same time—usually a console game and a PC game, depending on the audience. During tournaments, all screens tune in and the bar’s music turns off so viewers can hear the play-by-play commentary—just like a real sports game. “We pride ourselves on the fact that we only broadcast e-sports,” says Kabargine. “The Raptors could be playing in the playoffs and we wouldn’t care.”
2097 Yonge St., 647-348-7779, goodgamebar.ca