A pop-up gaming experience that's both casual and competitive has been hitting Long Island bars and restaurants. Dubbed the "Bar Takeover Summer Gaming Tour," the event pairs free-to-play consoles featuring fan-favorite games like Super Smash Bros., Ultimate Mario Kart and Just Dance with food, drinks and the opportunity to network.
“Gaming is fun. Everyone is a gamer; they just don’t realize it,” says Dennis Buchanan, owner of the Long Island Gaming League, which launched in 2019 and works with local high schools to provide an esports curriculum. “We also wanted to make sure we’re able to cater to the older demographic, which is where our competitive aspect comes and also the bar takeovers, giving gamers who aren’t in school an opportunity to still enjoy the gaming experience and have fun,” he says.
Since its launch in March, the league has partnered with Ghost Brewing Co. in Bay Shore, That Meetball Place in Farmingdale and It’s About Time Cocktail Lounge in South Farmingdale, where they’ve turned the spaces into gaming havens with Nintendo Switches, PlayStations and Xboxes. Attendees can play games like Mortal Kombat, NBA2K, FIFA and Madden, via casual tournaments or free play. Up to seven systems are set up depending on space, with about 14 people being able to play at once.
Fernando Aguilar, 23, of Glen Cove, says he's been gaming on Long Island since 2016 "on a pretty large scale," but has never been part of anything like this. They're "fun for everybody" and they give people a chance "to experience what the gaming community really is," he says.
Multiplayer games, like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Street Fighter, are the most popular, according to Aguilar, who not only attends the events for a fun night out, but also helps organize them with Buchanan. Aside from these games being more interactive than others, "they're easy to pick up on," he says.
Mixologist Prince Estrada is on hand at most events, creating themed drinks like the Ultimate Smash (with vodka, blueberry soda and lime; $10) and the Pineapple Princess (vodka, tequila, pineapple and mango juices, infused butterfly pea flower and a red pepper tajin rim; $10). As for food, the company supplies free baked goods and brings in a food truck, when food is not available at the locale.
Grub and drinks are pay-as-you go, as are its tournaments ($5 for non-LIGL members; free for members with $9.99 membership); casual play is free.
Jiovani Rivera, 30, of Mineola, attended the March 25 event at Ghost Brewing Co. to network with others. "It was very different," he says, compared to other networking events he's been to. "This one was definetly a lot more laid back."
Buchanan, a casual — not competitive — gamer, says this experience he created reminds him of his childhood, when he would play games with his friends or brother. "I enjoy being able to do what I did when I was younger, but in a little bit more of an adult way” now.
Next up? Buchanan plans to launch a library takeover.
Doors open at 6 p.m.; free tickets can be purchased at eventbrite.com, thelongislandgamingleague.com. Upcoming events: June 10 at Ghost Brewing Co. in Bay Shore; June 15 at That Meetball Place in Farmingdale; special event to feature John “Fudge the Comedian” Rickenbacker; June 24 at Ghost Brewing Co. in Bay Shore; June 28 at It’s About Time Cocktail Lounge in South Farmingdale.