After having spent a few hours at Community Gaming New York’s ESL New York Day 1 afterparty talking to people about Dota, League, and CS:GO in between rounds of Smash, I left happy and drunk knowing that I would absolutely be going to their future events.
I arrived at the bar at around eleven in the morning ready to watch the final day of Dota 2 matches at the MLG World Finals. Up on the second floor the walls were covered with two dozen televisions all set to the Secret vs. Monkey Business match except for two, which were reserved for Smash 4 and Melee. There was no one there yet save for a few people including William, a volunteer I met at the ESL afterparty, who was paying for his breakfast. It was early, and I was not expecting much of a turnout for an MLG event anyway. While we watched the first best of three, the murmurs of “EE-Sama” and “Kappa” were steadily getting louder as people slowly funnelled into the room.
In between the matches people were talking to one another about the games and debating whether or not it was too early to order the Laguna Blade. I opted for the Viper’s Nethertoxin. One viewer introduced himself to another saying that he was visiting from Norway and he wanted to catch some Dota before he flew back. A person sitting just three feet away from him overheard and said, “Really? I am from Sweden!”.
Just over a year ago, Chris Kovalik walked into one of the last PC cafes in New York to find a depressing sight. The people there didn’t interact and looked as though they lived in the space. This inspired him to create a space to bring gamers together. In August of last year, he rented out a cheap space and invited some friends and whoever else he could find from local Facebook groups and meetups with the aim of playing League of Legends and capturing the feeling many of us once had at our local PC cafés. Only 13 people showed up to that first event under the name Game House Universe, and that number steadily rose with each LAN where now he’s expanding to a space with a capacity of 300.
By the time the grand finals began, everyone was well and drunk and the conversations were all over the place. In one corner you could hear people debating drafts, next to them a couple was drawing Dota 2 characters on bar napkins while a small crowd tried to name them before they were done. Smash 4 was still going strong complete with trash-talk followed by a handshake, a GG and a drink offer. As the matches continued, the separate conversations fused until we were all buying each other drinks, exchanging Steam IDs and talking about plans to attend The International 6 over screams of “Kuroky was right!”.
Two friends from Jersey told me about how they grew up across the street from each other. Whenever one of their moms would say “Enough with the games, play outside!” they would always go to one another’s houses and keep playing. Two guys with thick Staten Island accents, (stereotypical Brooklyn accents for those unacquainted) one of whom was dressed head to toe in New York Jets attire, were debating if SumaiL or Arteezy was the better midlaner. A couple was playing Smash 4 almost non-stop. They were always the last two alive.
I am not often surrounded by people who are as into competitive gaming as a spectator sport as I am, and there wasn’t a moment at the event where I felt like an outsider. People were friendly approachable and would even take it upon themselves to start the conversation. Perhaps the philosophy that you will never be good at Dota and you can only suck less has tempered the fans into humble competitors (probably only in person), but I believe that CGNY is bigger than that. The organization’s volunteers are there for the love of the community. Some of them were League fans who couldn’t care less about Dota, but this matters little to those who want to provide a space for like-minded people to play games and most importantly: connect.
While you’re at it, follow me too.