Balance Patch: The Rise of Social Gaming
For a long time I’ve struggled with the concept of ‘Social Gaming’, trying to share my passion and excitement with others, but often finding myself in groups that didn’t have appreciation for the things I did. But more recently I’ve encountered some successes by playing Until Dawn with a cast of seven other friends, asking for assistance with puzzles in The Witness, or helping a friend on his way through The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. These moments had a sort of magic to them, something that amplified my experience as I was able to share my adventures with people who I cared about, and was able to bring them along for the ride. It feels like some of the tides are turning on the historically solitary activity of playing video games. With the rise of Let’s Plays and Twitch streaming, sharing our gaming experience is rapidly becoming the norm.
Now, a local-Boston area café is looking to really bring the concept to life, by bringing to America the concept of a PC Bang. PC Bangs are popular in South Korea, and feature dozens of computers that can be rented out hourly and used to play popular games like League of Legends, Overwatch, and the recent Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds. Some of these venues are open 24 hours a day, and the spectacle has even garnered the attention of Conan Obrien. Now, opened west of the BU campus, the Balance Patch aims to bring the concept stateside and introduce Americans to a more social form of gaming. The venue itself not only features dozens of fully-equipped computers, but also has many console offerings, with titles ranging from the recently released Destiny 2, all the way back to 2000’s Mario Tennis for the Nintendo 64. But Balance Patch isn’t just a place where you can go and pay to play games, it also features its own kitchen serving milk shakes and fries, as well as wraps, sandwiches, and sodas. There are tables where you can come and take a seat, chat with other people, and maybe even watch some of the action.
As competitive gaming continues to gain momentum and attract the likes of Patriots owner Bob Kraft, it continues to search for venues and spaces capable of handling its specific needs. The rear of the Balance Patch features a modest esports stage, with two booths containing five computers each, a table on the side for announcers, and two large screens for viewing, it aims to fulfill a rising need within Boston’s competitive scene.
When I spoke to co-founder Bryan Rasbury last April in what was, at the time, a dusty mess of concrete and steel, he told me about the company’s philosophy, and how they’re trying to reach to the community: “Our thing Isn’t ‘We’re a business, we just need to make money’ no, we want people to come out, and hang out with us, and if they want some food come eat food with us. We’re always gonna be in the space, we’re here to talk, socialize, we want to be part of the community, because I think with video games it’s completely different [than] any other business. You have to be part of the community.”
The Balance Patch seems to be at the forefront of the changing social dynamic of gamers, aiming to make gaming experiences more social, accessible, and welcoming to those who might only be casually interested. As Bryan himself said: “I think originally people had the idea that gamers were like, in a basement, alone, dark kinda thing, and maybe it was true in the beginning, but it has progressed far beyond that now. A vast majority of people are gamers whether they actually consider themselves that or not. If you’re on your phone and playing a puzzle game, you are a gamer, and so with this environment what we want to bring out is that whole community part where people are actually looking for interaction.”
I see this as being the future of how people share gaming experiences with those they know. It provides a space where they can play together and meet new people, maybe even compete in an event. It exists as a venue that can encourage engagement and interaction in a community that will be the better for it. I know I’ll be watching very closely to see how it develops.
The Balance Patch is currently open 1031 Commonwealth Avenue, and you can find out more about it at its very own website.