Worlds Collide: Spaceship Meltdown in a London Pub
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”.
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.