A sword has just been thrown across the field unexpectedly, its victim yelling at their opponent for hitting them, as the perpetrator gleefully sprints across the arena, awaiting his reward of being devoured by a giant dragon-monster-thing. Elsewhere, a man groans in agony as the gigantic flaming ball he is rolling, a-clutter with miscellaneous items such as a peach and a cow, accidentally falls into a bed of water. Game over.
This is SF Game Night at the Folsom Street Foundry, where patrons gather at this SOMA-residing bar, huddled together closely on comfy couches to play video games old and new, such as the aforementioned Nidhogg and Katamari Damacy.
Miniscule balls from nearby beer and ping pong tables whiz by, with a stander-by watching a match of Towerfall Ascension picking a stray ball from the ground and tossing it back to the players, with a smile and a headnod. The warehouse-esque bar is lined with couches, chairs, and bar stools along long tables. People chat happily in groups, sipping beers, and eating snacks, all there to watch, or play, video games.
SF Game Night, a weekly set of events on Tuesdays and Thursdays, is put on by local eSports organization Showdown for gaming brethren to gather and compete or just casually play video games in a bar setting. The Folsom Street Foundry is huge and crowded, yet it never seems to get “too” loud (a common trait among popular bars in San Francisco). This makes SF Game Night extremely accessible and most notably, comfortable, a trait that president and co-founder of Showdown, the organizer of SF Game Night, CJ Scaduto aims to achieve.
Described as “an extension of your living room” by Scaduto, the coziness of the Folsom Street Foundry is evident. The atmosphere is relaxed and upbeat and the crowds are diverse, encompassing people from all walks of life. SF Game Nights offer a wide selection of beer, food, and even cocktails, so that people can drink and game, no matter what their taste. SF Game Nights also promote a BYOG policy: Bring Your Own Games, be it board games, iPads to play Hearthstone, or even their own video games from home.
SF Game Night organizers Showdown got their start putting on local BarCraft events, where people would gather at bars to, well, drink and watch people play the popular strategy PC game Starcraft. BarCraft events began in the Summer of 2011 in the United States by the North American Star League, and later spread all across the world. Due to its success, BarCraft-esque events became a trend, with Hearthstone-themed “Fireside Gatherings” and Dota 2-themed “Pubstomps,” and even spurring a chain of competitive eSports bars in Europe called “Meltdown.” Showdown decided to embrace the trend and bring it to San Francisco in October 2013, and later the idea of a gaming night for both casual and competitive gamers, and thus, SF Game Nights were born. Since SF Game Night’s start in February 2014, their audience has grown from two hundred to three hundred people to four hundred to six hundred in August 2014.
Despite the success of BarCraft events, Scaduto’s initial idea for Game Night spans all the way back to January 2001.
“I wanted to create a fun, relaxing atmosphere for adults to celebrate video games,” Scaduto says. The slow death of arcades all around the country, including the cult San Francisco arcade Southtown, has left people without a place outside their home to enjoy games. “[SF Game Night] is the next logical step for those who grew up playing in arcades,” says Scaduto.
At weekly tournaments, SF Game Night has regulars coming back week after week to compete. On Tuesdays, professionals and casuals alike duke it out in Super Smash Bros. Melee tournaments, titled “Get Smashed,” meanwhile, Thursdays see a competition of Ultra Street Fighter IV called “Churning the Butter.”
Spenser Cheung, Co-Founder and Live Production Director for Showdown, started playing a major role with the organization after volunteering at a League of Legends event. Cheung monitors the livestreams of the weekly competitions and makes sure that everything goes smoothly.
“I’ve always been a fan of streaming, so I started making my own overlays,” Cheung says of getting his start. “And now I get to sit and watch every match.”
Cheung is enthusiastic about the hardcore fighting game community that comes out weekly, with about thirty regulars, he notes.
Showdown’s an official partner with Twitch, the livestreaming website recently acquired by Amazon for roughly $1 billion. They stream their competitions live each week.
Cheung expressed interest in attracting a bigger MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) crowd in the future, with the potential of League of Legends and Dota 2 competitions.
Hai Nguyen, U.S. history major at SF State, is a regular at the Showdown-hosted SF Game Night events.
“I was surprised that San Francisco can support such an event, and after checking it out for the first time, I knew that this was [the] place to be,” Nguyen says. “There’s a wide spectrum of gamers just looking for fun with alcohol and games.”
Nguyen began going to SF Game Night after reading about it on Facebook and the closing down of his favorite arcade, GameCenter in San Mateo. He has attended less recently because of school, but still thinks fondly of the weekly bar romp.
“What I like most about GameNight is the concept itself,” Nguyen says. “Video games and board games in an adult environment mean that there is a level of maturity and open-mindedness that I suppose adults have, rather than teenagers or young adults.”
SF Game Night has evolved into a platform for independent developers to show off their games, for advertisers, for hosting international competitions, and even expanding to charity work, with a planned twenty-four hour broadcast with the organization Extra Life on October 24th.
Showdown recently instated a $5 entrance fee rather than being free, in an attempt to provide more value to the night’s experience, such as providing more televisions for video games. Co-Founder Scaduto also hopes that by the end of 2015, there will be more regular Showdown events around the Bay Area.
Showdown Co-Founder Spenser Cheung views SF Game Night as a sort of safe haven for those who enjoy playing video games.
“Everyone I know who has ever played games has been made fun of it at one point,” says Cheung. “Here [at Game Night], everybody can gather and be themselves in this environment. Even though everyone likes different games, everyone has a good time.”
UPDATE: The previous version stated that SF Game Night allows patrons to bring their own consoles, but this was miscommunication as the Foundry does not have enough space, and was instead referring to Showdown being able to acquire and replace new consoles.