Take two or more video gamers, drop them in an arena of thousands of screaming fans, and pit them against each other in high-stakes death match. That, in essence, is eSports, a competitive phenomenon with a global following estimated at more than 200 million and streamed online by networks like New York–based Major League Gaming. And until now, Portland has missed out on the action.
That will change with the opening, planned for later this summer, of Outrage, a 5,000-square-foot downtown bar slash gaming battle arena. Co-owners Justin Green and Jeff Hotes, both 25, say that until now local gamers had to rely on board game stores to host events, resulting in ... call it a clash of cultures.
“I’ve heard stories about board game stores having to ban certain people from these competitions because of their propensity for yelling expletives when they win, lose, or just see something that ignites their passion,” Green says.
Outrage’s adults-only atmosphere could be better suited for the culture of competitive gaming—which, Green says, is “populated primarily by young men who like to yell.” Ten gaming PCs and consoles will offer favorites like League of Legends, Counter-Strike, and StarCraft II.
Jeff Extine, a Portland-based gamer who hosts a popular eSports YouTube channel with 125,000 subscribers and almost 30 million views, says he’s delighted his team—the Portland Burnsiders—will finally have a place to compete locally.
“Gaming culture is still stuck in the basement,” he says. “People want to be able to experience eSports with their friends. It’s an exploding industry.”
Lifelong gamers themselves—Green grew up a Sega Genesis kid, Hotes had a Super Nintendo—the owners feel like eSports might have turned mainstream. Since the early 2000s, they say, the field has slowly begun to evolve from groups of kids playing in their basements to internationally televised events with multimillion-dollar prize purses. One pivotal moment sticks with Green: when Daigo “The Beast” Umehara beat Justin Wong in Street Fighter III in 2004, a victory that would “become enshrined” in the minds of gaming fans forever.
Says Hotes: “We’re lucky. We got to watch the culture of eSports grow. It basically blew up overnight.”