Once again, the familiar battle cry of “Let’s go New York!” rang out. But this time it wasn’t at Citi Field or Madison Square Garden. A lively group of native New Yorkers had gathered in Lower Manhattan to cheer the NYXL to victory during a pivotal Stage 2 match against Seoul Dynasty. As time expired, the sound of celebration could be heard down the street at the cosmetics shop, and through the floor of the weather-beaten apartments stacked above the cafe. Elated fans pumped their fists and exchanged high-fives, bouncing up and down as if in a mosh pit.
“Our New York Excelsior viewing parties are loud and vociferous, like you’d expect from any major sporting event,” said Gino Gigante, the owner and operator of Waypoint Cafe, a New York City LAN cafe that hosts esport viewing events.
Never missing a single match, fans at these rowdy get-togethers bust the stigma that viewing esports online is best done solo. A diverse lot of good-natured locals come out to these events, many of whom are decked out in blue jerseys and flat-brimmed hats. Along with other grassroots support clubs that have sprung up around the Overwatch League, NYXL fans are transforming watching professional Overwatch into a high-energy (and highly-caffeinated) communal experience.
“A lot of folks come in who’ve only socialized through digital interfaces,” said Richard Ng, the architect of 5 Deadly Venoms, NYXL’s homegrown support club and the main organizers behind Waypoint Cafe’s NYXL viewing events. “We get people to come together, and a lot of goodness comes of it.”
Yet the New York club nearly never existed. Less than a week before NYXL’s opening match against the Boston Uprising, the team was still searching for a unified fanbase in its hometown; they were a small community simply in search of a place to hang out. Ng, a devout Overwatch fan, began asking around at random bars to find out who was showing the game.
Today, many venues have expressed interest in hosting future viewing parties, but at the start of the season, the market was untested. With the ever-rising cost of rent in New York, venues that catered to esports were hard to come by. Every spot was concerned with the amount of revenue they would generate per head, said Ng. But the next time he searched Google maps, his cursor hovered over a little LAN cafe tucked away in the Lower East Side. He’d found a waypoint.
Located south of Delancey, on a block tagged with graffiti and flanked by tenements, Waypoint Cafe is a gaming cafe tailored for esport fans.
As a jackhammer trills in the distance, high-schoolers on lunch break drop by for a quick round of League or Fortnite. Inside they are greeted by the aroma of almond croissants, oatmeal raisin cookies, and delicious coffee. But be warned: The cafe’s infamous “Zerg Rush,” a cup of drip coffee containing a quadruple shot of espresso named for a notorious StarCraft strategy, is not for the lighthearted.
Waypoint Cafe’s interior looks as if an upscale coffee chain has been taken over by a PC gamers. The narrow space is decked out with gaming memorabilia and gaming rigs. A life-size Stormtrooper figure guards the cubicles; a yellow Star from Mario peeks down from behind a replica Soldier: 76. As soon as you walk in, four flat-screen monitors are playing various esports matches, often Overwatch League.
“When Rich reached out to me, I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re showing all the games. Just know we’re only rooting for the New York team,’ ” said Gigante.
On game day, a chalkboard sign announcing the viewing party is placed out front, and excitement gradually builds throughout the afternoon. While waiting for the matches to begin, fans strike up games of Dungeons and Dragons and sip Bawls, old-school energy drinks caffeinated with Guarana berries. (Unlike some esport venues, the cafe doesn’t serve alcohol and is open to all ages; kids chaperoned by older family members often join in on the festivities.) As the match gets underway, the viewing area fills with fans who are pumped to see NYXL play. All eyes are on the screens.
From the very first event, Waypoint Cafe has united the New York fanbase. At first, turnout was low. Only 15 fans showed up to watch New York defeat Boston 3 to 1 on opening night, including Ng. But towards the end of the match, the Overwatch League sportscaster Chris Puckett gave a shout-out to Waypoint Cafe during his live broadcast. Interest rose sharply. By the end of Stage 1, when New York reached the finals, the venue was packed wall-to-wall with around 70 hooting fans.
On the first night, no one knew each other, but these perfect strangers quickly convened under the NYXL banner. The group has grown fond of hanging out together. Before matches, they feast on Chinese hot pot at 99 Favor Taste, located three blocks away in Chinatown.
“I’ve made a good set of New York acquaintances,” said Patrick Austin, a fan who tries to make it to every viewing. “I’d call any one of them to get a beer or grab a bite to eat.”
Speaking as a long-time follower of esports, Austin relishes the chance to cheer alongside everyone. “I’m not sitting at the apartment yelling at the monitor,” he said. “I’m going out with a bunch of people who are invested in something I care about. The energy is higher because we’re all together. There’s a deeper connection to the game.” To him and the rest of the gang, catching a match at Waypoint Cafe makes the boys’ victories that much sweeter.