Mashing buttons and pounding back a few drinks with your buddies was once an activity saved for your home’s respective gaming area. The folks behind High Score E-Sports and Gaming Lounge—Steven Noel, Josh McKenney and Mathew Vetten—have taken that experience from the basement to the bar allowing patrons the thrill of Mario Kart victory while enjoying urban nightlife and a choice beverage.
“It’s a growing industry that’s only getting bigger,” says founder and CEO Noel. “E-Sports is becoming a common thing and slowly, but surely, it’s making its way.”
Situation Brewing Company was the first in High Score’s line of pop-up events, before the crew eventually opened a permanent location.
Eight TVs were assembled along the side wall of the bar, connected to Xbox One, PS4 and Wii U. Also included was a retro corner—with the beloved Super Nintendo and N64—a back wall of six gaming PCs and E-Sports on mounted TVs around the bar area.
The mass of gaming equipment needed to cater the event was one of the biggest obstacles High Score had to address.
“It was 65 to 70 percent borrowed from family and friends and the rest was ours or purchased,” Noel explains. “But just for this one because we didn’t know how well it would do and didn’t want to drop a ton of money.”
The trio next prepped its food and drink menu. Video game themed cocktails such as “Ocarina of Lime,” “Falcon Punch,” “Smoke Screen” and “FINISH HIM!” were created especially for the event, as were shooter specials like “Nerf This” and “Heroes Never Die,”—named after featured game, Overwatch. Craft beer was also on the menu along with hot sandwiches, including butter chicken, pulled pork, Reubens, grilled cheese, and finger foods like veggies and hummus, soda cracker taffy and pretzels.
High Score’s owners hadn’t initially expected it to be busy, but once the doors opened at six o’clock, the house was packed. High Score entertained 150 customers and was at its 114 patron capacity for a large part of the evening, on January 29. At the next pop-up High Score hopes to have one or two servers on the floor, helping alleviate traffic to the bar.
Noel explains that they had prepared for the risks of mixing crowds, alcohol, and expensive gaming equipment.
“We had done our research and we just knew that this crowd isn’t like that,” Noel says. “They’re pretty respectful for people’s equipment and it actually really showed. In a bar setting, we didn’t have a single thing stolen or lost. In this situation, we just had to keep an eye out on everything.”
Console players were privy to games such as Madden, NHL, HALO, Call of Duty, Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart and Mario Party. PC gamers had the opportunity to partake in the titles Starcraft 2, Overwatch, Counter Strike-GO, Heroes of the Storm, Dota 2 and League of Legends.
High Score went out of the way to give the Super Smash Bros. community the proper equipment they needed. CTR TVs—an older tube model television—was used to quell latency issues, providing quicker response from controller to screen than LCD or plasma options.
The pop-up’s social scope included gamers of all ages, with no signs of confrontation or belligerence to report.
“Everyone was pretty good sharing, moving around to different stations, trying different things,” Noel says. “We did have multiple copies of some things, so that worked out. Every station was full the entire time and people kept swapping in and out.”
In the future they’ll be adding ID strips to each piece of equipment and have scanners placed at the door. When their own location is established they will enact a pay-to-play model instead of a cover charge at the door.
The owners are currently in talks with locations on Jasper Avenue and Whyte Avenue for their next pop-up.
“All in all, the night was a huge success. It had it’s fair share of surprises but nothing we haven’t learned from. We already can’t wait to get this going again,” McKenney says.