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By Zarif and Bareesh

CIRCA 2009, Blizzard Game Café closed down. It was the most well-known gaming zone in Dhaka. And it was the first of what became a rapid spree of closures all over Dhaka. There used to be four of them just in Shaat Masjid Road. Now there's one, and none of the previous four survive. In the space of two years or so, Blizzard, Assault, Xscape and Metal Gear game cafes all died out.

Game cafes were really the start of multiplayer gaming in Bangladesh. It began with BASS gaming zone, in 2002, where a group of kids started discovering LAN (Local Area Network) gaming. It soon spread, and even when BASS shut down, in early 2008, the movement was just becoming stronger. Blizzard could be said to have been the peak. Now, game cafes have become rare sights. This being the case, multiplayer gaming is on the rise in Bangladesh. So, we pose the question, why are these old lairs of gamers falling out of scope?

The writers caught up with MainMan, arguably the icon of competitive gaming in Bangladesh, to discuss this. He cited two main reasons for gaming zones becoming a dying breed. “Firstly, it's a very expensive habit,” he says. “Most gamers aren't willing to spend that much on gaming. 25-30 bucks an hour might not seem like much, but gamers don't go there to play an hour or two. They play for four, five, six hours. Some play all day. And then you have snacks and hang out with friends when you are there. So yeah, it's pretty expensive. Then there are a lot of gamers who aren't allowed to go to the game zones. With online gaming now being there for everyone (anyone with a decent internet connection), people find playing online a much better alternative. Secondly, the cafes themselves are costly to maintain. It's really profitable for the first couple of years. But then the machines get worn down and repair costs starts rising; fried GPU, broken headphones, crashed hard disks, etc. And let's not forget the cost for upgrading the systems. It's not cost feasible any longer.”

The manager of Aldex, the oldest game café around, agreed with MainMan's point about gamers preferring to play online now. He also said that some of the old gamers have probably outgrown their gaming habits now too. With electricity bills, rent and maintenance costs, the owners hardly make any profit and sometimes have to dole money out from their own pockets. The owner doesn't seem to want to give up on Aldex just yet, but with internet and multiplayer gaming (at home) facilities doing nothing but improving, the future doesn't look bright. One way of making profit that they're looking at though is holding tournaments.

Bhejafry, a gamer who used to go to Aldex, says with public servers available that don't require very high internet speeds, gaming cafes are obsolete. Although he says that one thing that online multiplayer at home just cannot do, is provide the same environment that the gaming cafes did. “One of the main advantages is that it's like hanging out with your buddies at a pad; you are surrounded by like-minded people and you get to meet other gamers face to face. It's still the best place to hold matches because then everything is fair, everyone gets the same kind of PC and no one has the chance to cheat.” MainMan voiced similar opinions saying, “Being an introvert, I have to say I don't mind playing at home. But, yes. I do miss the environment. You can have all the high speed internet, you can have your Skype on and video chat while playing and everything, but nothing beats LAN play. This is why we still go to gaming zones. You can't have that environment anywhere else.”

This leaves us with another question. How long before LAN gaming becomes totally extinct? Free MMOs such as League of Legends have furthered their plight. World of Warcraft, perhaps the most widely played MMORPG, can be played on private (and quite illegal) servers for free. Clients such as Tunngle, Game Ranger and GArena allow virtual LAN play through the internet. Just about any game can be played on multiplayer via these software and they are really easy to use. While this is good news for the gaming society here, it spells inevitable disaster for the gaming cafes.

At Club 3, in Dhanmondi, the managers told us that new gamers coming to game cafes are rare nowadays. Their business is running on old customers who haven't made the transition from LAN to online just yet. But with all the other gaming cafes having closed down in Dhanmondi, Club 3 has made the most of it. There are the occasional party of gamers who go to the cafes with their friends and play CS or DOTA. The high number of gamers we found in Club 3 was definitely encouraging. But how long till they close down too?

What's the solution? There needs to be greater proactive action, both from gaming cafes and gamers. The cafes might hold more tournaments for publicity. But that might still not be enough. Like most things in the world, gaming cafes must try and evolve with the changing environment. Perhaps they could incorporate online play in the cafes, holding team battles with teams from across the world. That would be something a lot of gamers would love. It might help them bring back the environment of camaraderie that gamers speak of so fondly, while adding a different dimension to competitiveness. Anyone can perform in the comfort of their own home. How about trying to replicate that with cheering, visible spectators? At the end of the day, the difference might boil down to watching a game on TV and watching from the stands.



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