Worlds Collide: Spaceship Meltdown in a London Pub

What if I told you that there's a world beyond your computer monitor? What if I told you that it's safe to go outside, talk to strangers and drink beer? Welcome to the future, mine's a cider.

London, 4th August 2013: I spent all day in a pub, drinking cider and watching the game with friends. Nothing unusual there you may say - millions around the world would be doing the same thing.

Except I was watching spaceships.

It felt like I was in an episode of Doctor Who; there had been a strange collision of realities and as a London bus rumbled past outside, I watched fleets of heavily-armed spacecraft dogfighting whilst listening to folk around me discussing ship types, galactic politics and the rising price of beer (some things are common in all parallel universes).

The London Meltdown bar is a traditional pub in many respects, but with one key distinction – it specialises in televising eSports. I was there for EVE Online's Alliance Tournament which I had been diligently covering here on GameSkinny for the last few weeks, but the landlord Duncan Morrison told me that they also frequently show competitive live-streams of League of Legends, DOTA 2, Starcraft II, Street Fighter and others.

Duncan also explained that customers are able to get hands-on game time on one of several game stations located around the bar and tournaments are often held. When there are no tournaments on, house rules apply in much the same way as was the tradition with the pool tables of the last millennium.

A Public Spectacle?

So there I sat, listening to the ebb and flow of the crowd's excitement at the final stages of EVE Online's Alliance Tournament playing out as heavyweights Pandemic Legion and HYDRA RELOADED strategically exploded each other's spaceships to the delight of the baying audience.

It was a kind of digital nirvana. For years I had endured the socially accepted tradition of the football match being the clarion call for men to gather and drink whilst verbally swashbuckling with factoids of sporting knowledge. I grew to like and understand football, but it was almost like I didn't have a choice. After all, in the UK, football is traditionally our national sport.

But now this - Meltdown London, a place for sociable video game enthusiasts - this felt like home. It was evident that I was not alone in this and the gathering had been a beacon for like-minded souls.

Stevie Ward, former darling of EVE TV now community manager for Giffgaff, was in attendance and was impressively on form – she knew her internet spaceships and could still get the crowd eating out of her hand.

Members of the popular Red vs Blue alliance were present – well, the Red Federation half – we jokingly speculated that a turf war had taken place and Blue Republic members were required to find somewhere else to drink. Red vs Blue's simple primary colours and friendly internal rivalries were the perfect symbol of the sporting factionalism which has transcended the football fields of the world and evolved into the digital age.

Welcome to the New Age

As the evening wore on and the alcohol did its work, I found myself swept up in the excitement of the clashing spaceships, but just as much in the passion of my fellow drinkers. There were supporters of both sides, informed neutrals, and folk like me who were just happy to keep up and cheer in the right places. The game may have changed, but my spectator experience was much the same – I still can't quite manage to keep up with the hardcore fans when it comes to the intricacies of the pro-level competition, especially after what the locals call a “Leo Sayer”.

But that didn't matter. This, I hoped, was the future – a world where popular computer games can be celebrated in public, discussed over a pint and are welcomed and accepted as part of our culture. 

It was about the people and being able to share the experience in good company rather than huddled around a laptop at home. A home which, it turned out, was quite challenging to return to with a head full of cider, an unpredictable Sunday evening train schedule and a flat iPhone battery, but that's a story for another time.

Featured Columnist

Broken paramedic and coffee-drinking Englishman whose favourite dumb animal is an oxymoron. After over a decade of humping and dumping the fat and the dead, my lower spine did things normally reserved for Rubik's cubes, bringing my career as a medical clinician to an unexpectedly early end. Fortunately, my real passion is in writing and given that I'm now highly qualified in the art of sitting down, I have the time to pursue it. Having blogged about video games (well, mostly EVE Online) for years, I hope to channel my enjoyment of wordcraft and my hobby of gaming into one handy new career that doesn't involve other people's vomit.

Published Aug. 8th 2013
  • Isyldra
    We NEED one of these places in Richmond, VA! Sports can't motivate me to hire a sitter and get out to a pub anymore but an eSports tourny could...
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    I was just checking out the "Ways to Watch" page from the Dota2 International and there are these events called pubstomps happening all over the world. Not only that, there are well over 100 events world wide all too drink and watch Dota2. The closest one too me is a nearly 3 hour drive and... I'm seriously considering it.
  • Mat Westhorpe
    Featured Columnist
    3 hour drives in the US are like a trip to the local shops, right? ;)
  • Ecobahn
    In the UK the Meltdown pub made it on the news -- its pretty fascinating! Something like this would never have been dreamed about happening a few years ago, its truly great that video games are having such an impact. And I love that this shows that video games ARE social and can be really enjoyable when played competitively.
  • Mat Westhorpe
    Featured Columnist
    Yeah, I found the BBC coverage when I was researching the pub before my visit. I wish there were more of these. Duncan the Landlord told me there was a Meltdown in Paris and another in Berlin.
  • Ecobahn
    Ha yeah that's the exact web address where I read about it as well! I might have to travel there myself just to check it out, but unfortunately I've never got round to playing Starcraft or League of Legends so I guess I'd just watch? Ha Interesting to know there are more Meltdown's across Europe. Perhaps it might expand further to the USA and Asia?...
  • Mat Westhorpe
    Featured Columnist
    It would certainly be great to see eSports embraced in more bars. I've heard tale of another one in London that I hope to investigate - the name alone is genius: The Loading Bar.
  • Ecobahn
    HA! That name *is* genius! Ooh some of these bar owners can sure be witty! Perfect name for it - at least in comparison against Meltdown, they've certainly raised the bar....! (That pun was so intended :p!) But blimey, before I know it there will be hundreds of these bars open before I ever manage to even visit one! Lol

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