Meltdown London

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On Saturday night something special happened. An e-sports bar opened on Caledonian Road in London, a place where people can come and have a few drinks and rather than having to watch Football or Rugby, can watch Starcraft 2 or DOTA 2. This is important for London’s struggling gaming scene and for gaming as a whole, if the venue takes off it could be a huge boost for improving the image of gaming and the social calendar for gamers in the UK. So how was it?

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Just a couple of minutes’ walk from Caledonian Road and Barnsbury train station, Meltdown looks like most city-bars; you’d be hard-pushed to tell it was a gaming bar from the outside, but a peek inside reveals the array of screens and PCs set up for competition. When we got there for the launch party there was a big crowd outside, as last minute preparations were being completed inside. There was a palpable buzz in the air and people were getting on well; while gamers can be perceived as an introverted lot, people were chatting to each other, discussing games and news and even t-shirt designs. The weather was good and everyone was interested to see how this place turned out; rhe owner was outside getting sign-ups for a Starcraft 2 tournament and an army of volunteers and professionals were doing DIY work inside.

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Once we were let in, there was a mad rush for the bar. At the moment the building is set up so there is a gaming area complete with two impressive gamer chairs and an array of TVs to show everyone what is happening, coupled with a few projectors so the bar staff can sign in as spectators and bring everyone a decent view of the action. At the other end of the room is a bar with TVs above so while you’re waiting you could watch the latest games on Twitch.tv. It was a real novelty waiting for a drink and being able to watch Starcraft being played, with people chatting about it from all levels of interest, some just learning how the game works and others commenting on the APM data and upgrade paths chosen by Hero and Alicia.

There were some issues for the launch night, things weren’t all quite ready and the bar staff were dealing with malfunctioning tills while the gaming side struggled with horrendous lag and a complex monitor setting. Thankfully this didn’t get in the way of people’s enjoyment and it was packed up until we left at around 11, with the bar never getting less than busy and the sound of excited conversations and gaming-related discussions filling the room. Guys from Razer were there to hand out freebies, the Starcraft tournament did get underway but only two matches had been played by the time we left due to the aforementioned problems, and people were trying out the gaming-related shots and cocktails that looked mightily impressive.

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The highlight of the night was the first Starcraft game, it was real evidence that something like Meltdown is feasible and may survive to establish the gaming scene so many of us are yearning for. When the game was up there were cheers, shouts of advice, and drama in the room as the spectators could see where someone was going wrong. There were live commentaries and the players were chatting away for all to see on the big screen as they played. Meltdown is going to be running a number of different games each week, they’ve shown at the launch that these games really work as a spectator activity in the bar environment.

I can’t imagine all of the problems faced will be around for long as they were mostly a case of new equipment not working properly, and being a little rushed to open. After a couple of nights Meltdown will be properly up in full swing and I can’t recommend enough that you go check it out if you’re in the UK. Getting gaming out into the public is incredibly important for the hobby to get widespread acceptance and this is a huge step towards that. Plus it’s a great night out where you’re bound to run into a number of like minded people while getting the chance to play or watch some games and have a few drinks. Sounds perfect to me.

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