Pulling all-nighters at gaming cafes

Anand Krishnaswamy | Updated on October 09, 2020 Published on October 08, 2020

Keyboard gladiators: Gaming cafes became popular about a decade ago, when few homes had fast connectivity or high-end laptops and phones   -  SHAJU JOHN

The shrieks of excitement, exultation and friendly banter have gone silent at gaming cafes around the country

* Gaming cafés are equipped with high-end consoles and computers that give a real kick to gamers

* Games such as Counter-Strike, Dota 2, League of Legends and Fortnite are among the more popular ones

* Today millions of people play games on their mobile phone

* The mobile gaming segment is expected to touch $943 million in India by 2022

In those carefree days when Corona was just a good beer, I used to look forward to my post-dinner outings. Armed with a bag of snacks and cold drinks — mostly caffeinated to keep myself from dozing off — I would enter a gaming café, with the firm intention of not leaving till the next morning.

I love gaming and have been playing for quite a few years now. I was, however, never a part of any gaming community initially. Then, a few years ago, I began to frequent gaming cafés, which are equipped with high-end consoles and computers that give a real kick to gamers. I started playing through the night with a group of other gaming enthusiasts.

The night hangouts with friends in the Gurugram cafés were fun. We played, joked, laughed, and vied with one another — sometimes with others in the café.

Gamers are a weird breed; they have their preferred time of the day or night when they like to play. Hence it is no surprise that most gaming cafés were once open 24 hours. The difference between the regulars and occasional visitors is obvious. The regulars start chatting with the café workers and the other known players the moment they walk in; occasional visitors are reserved.

There are mainly two types of customers in gaming cafés. The first type is the gamer who may have aged but hasn’t lost the passion for playing. The moment their workday ends they make their way to their favourite café. This night excursion is followed by a few short hours of sleep and a quick shower before they rush back to office the next morning.

The other type is the more casual gamer. These players usually come in during the day with groups of friends. They are often boisterous and breathe life into the cafés. There are also many youngsters who frequent cafés because gaming at home is often frowned upon by parents and guardians.

To understand why the gaming café became so important to our lives, we need to turn the clock back by about 10 years, when online gaming first burst onto the scene. Internet connections were still slow in most homes, and high-end laptops and phones were rare. If you wanted to play a good game, it was only possible on relatively expensive computers or a gaming console. Over the years, technology has evolved and many laptops are powerful enough for gaming.

Most players at the cafés play a multiplayer game on a console or a competitive game with an online element to it. Games such as Counter-Strike, Dota 2, League of Legends and Fortnite are among the more popular ones. The console players opt for either a first-person shooter game such as Call of Duty or an arcade fighter game.

The game changer has been the outbreak of mobile gaming. Today millions of people play games on their mobile phone. In a country like India, the widespread use of smartphones and low-cost mobile internet have been the biggest boon to the industry. According to a report by the Mobile Marketing Association, revenues for the mobile gaming segment alone will reach $943 million in India by 2022.

Yes, one can always play a game at home on one’s phone, but the cafés have their own charm. Many of them are like lounges, with comfortable seating areas where you can relax when you don’t have your eyes glued to a screen. Most offer finger foods and cold drinks, and there’s nothing quite like the sound effects — the shrieks of someone screaming in excitement or anger. Better still is the furious mashing of buttons by the silent warriors. The feeling of camaraderie adds to the fun.

Most of these gaming cafés are affordable: Around ₹50 an hour. All-night packages are cheaper.

The culture of gaming cafés is a unique one, not always understood by those who are not a part of it. A café is as much for the loner — who plays all alone in one corner — as it is for the gregarious, crowd-loving player, who draws in others, competes and has a whale of a time.

Over the years, gaming has grown in terms of money and the number of players. Each café has become a community with its own set of patrons and hosting localised tournaments at regular intervals.

But Covid-19 has brought all this to a standstill and cafés have taken a major beating. In the initial months of the lockdown, all cafés were shut. Some have reopened now, but the smaller ones have downed shutters, for there are no customers. Some of the bigger ones continue, but are not sure for how long. As a gamer and a proud member of a few of these communities, I hope that this is not the end, but just a long wait before we get to a new season.

Anand Krishnaswamy is a Gurugram-based gaming enthusiast

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Published on October 08, 2020
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