The esports bar is a simple concept. Its patrons don’t watch people kick or throw balls around on a field somewhere. Instead, they’re watching fantasy and sci-fi avatars duke it out on digital battlefields in games like League of Legends and StarCraft 2.
That may not sound like the basis of a steady business, until you look at the numbers. People watched 2.4 billion hours of esports last year. So why not spend some of them chilling at a bar, downing a beer with a couple friends?
That’s the environment Meltdown eSports Bar, founded in May of 2012 in Paris, provides. And its proving that the beer and video games combo can be a model for success. After just a year of operation, so many pro gaming fans were coming that the bar had to move into a spot five times bigger. Locations in Berlin and London soon followed.
Four more franchises will open in France this year. According to Sophia “Foxy” Metz, one of Meltdown’s founders, eight more locations are planned to open in Europe by the middle of 2015.
“The very first franchise to open should be Montpellier in July,” Metz said in an interview with mystarcraft.de. “The venue looks awesome and the crew is already known amongst the eSports community in France, so I have no doubt it will be a very successful place.”
Metz and her partner, Yann-Cédric Mainguy, caught on to the Barcraft phenomenon in 2011. Starting in the United States, Barcrafts bought esports, and specifically Starcraft 2, into the bar environment with esports events on specific nights in traditional bars. Metz and Mainguy started BarCraft Europe to host their own gatherings. But despite hosting successful events, the pair struggled with bar owners who did not understand esports. They needed a dedicated venue, and so Meltdown was born.
There will be seven locations opened later this year, but the demand for more is real. Metz says they’ve received over 60 applications for franchises, and expect more to pile in. While France is leading the way, probably due to the brand’s initial success in Paris, their vision isn’t limited to Europe.
Despite spawning the Barcraft movement, the United States proves to be a tricky market for a venture like Meltdown. For one thing, the drinking age is 21, higher than in most places in Europe, and with the esports audience trending a bit younger in League of Legends than it did during the heyday of BarCrafts featuring Starcraft, that cuts out a lot of potential customers.
Opening in the United States is a “big challenge,” Metz said. “However, we already have projects for a few cities there, and we’re really looking forward to more.” Another avenue for expansions is the booming Asian esports market, but cultural differences may make the model moot there. Still, Metz says they are “not excluding the possibility to open there in the near future.”
Meltdown attracts patrons by broadcasting numerous hours of esports content while serving up game-themed cocktails, and also hosting its own events: weekly tournaments for games like Hearthstone and League of Legends, game launch parties (for the Monster Hunter 3 launch, dozens of bar patrons huddled around the tabled tapping their Nintendo 3DSs), and meetups with popular esports personalities,
The bar’s drinks are affectionately named for features of different games – the “Stimpack”, named after the Starcraft marine’s favorite drug, or the fire-colored “Shyvana”, a red colored cocktail named for League’s molten dragon warrior.
The bar even recruited its own mascot, “retired” Starcraft legend Ilyes “Stephano” Satouri. A renowned party animal, it makes an odd kind of sense to see the good natured Satouri playing from a bar, drink in hand. Satouri has earned nearly $250,000 during his prolific career. And he’ll be needing some of that cash—his new contract does not include free drinks.
Metz won’t rule out the addition of more players to the Meltdown esports team. “But our focus will always remain our venues,” she said. “The team is just a bonus we want to give our community!”
And those venues, starting to pop up around the world, seem to be delivering on the Meltdown promise: “making esports a great party at all times.”