Catch the Game at LA’s New eSports Bar, Guildhall

The semantics fight over whether or not eSports are “real” sports has long been settled.  Gaming streams pull in mind-boggling viewership numbers that dwarf many analog sporting (and political) events, the fans are as worshipping of gaming pros as their athlete counterparts, and watching a League of Legends stream is just as boring to me as sitting through an MLB broadcast.

Naturally, with these viewership numbers only predicted to grow, the traditional sports bar is starting to see competition from watering holes that cater to a less jocky, but just as fanatic customer. One such bar, Guildhall, recently opened up right by me in Burbank, CA, so I went to see for myself what the future of drinking plus competition has in store for us.

Guildhall is stealthy in its presentation, with no external signage hinting at the establishment’s central thesis. Inside is just as subtle, with traditional trappings of dark wood walls and green vinyl booths. It’s only when one looks up at the myriad flat-screens bolted to the walls that it becomes immediately apparent that this isn’t Buffalo Wild Wings. Rather than the millionaires throwing a variety of balls around one would typically see, Guildhall TVs show Twitch livestreams for a variety of games. Perennial multiplayer favorites like League of Legends and Hearthstone are there, naturally, but I noticed a few other “Let’s Play”-style single-player game streams that felt like an olive branch for lone wolf gamers such as myself.

Though less than a month old, Guildhall seems to already be living up to its aspirational name. When I arrived, relatively early on a Wednesday evening, the bar was already starting to pull in customers who quite clearly felt at home in the nerdy haven. A group in a booth spouted Rick & Morty quotes and sprawled out around their table regarding the room with the familiarity of a basement rumpus room.

And a basement-style game of D&D breaking out would hardly seem out of place in a spot like this. In fact, it’s encouraged. Owner Spencer Cox told me that, as the joint’s been focused entirely on the trials and tribulations that come with opening up a bar/restaurant, they haven’t got around to the event planning stage of their ambitions for the bar, but “hopefully, some people will take the initiative and come use us as their venue.”
guildhall
It’s hard to deny the appeal of Guildhall as a base camp for gaming. Even if pen and paper RPGs aren’t your thing, the bar also has a massive, wall-sized collection of tabletop and board games to use, gratis. As much as I’ve been itching to delve into the modern board game renaissance I’ve been hearing so much about for the past decade, I had neither enough time or companions to give it a proper go.

What I could, however, enjoy on my solo mission was the food and drink on offer. With a restrained yet sophisticated entrée and cocktail menu that simultaneously honored and elevated typical “bar food,” Guildhall made it clear that this aspect of the experience was no mere afterthought.

The cocktails had names like Laird Destro and SI:7, references either too niche or too modern for my 25 years of gaming experience. Ashamed, I ordered a beer instead, and scoped the food menu. There, I went with the Juicy Lucy—a burger with cheese in the middle of the patty—and side of chilled habanero dip to go with the side of house made chips. These were both solid picks that I highly recommend, by the way.

guildhall

While I ate my burger, desperately willing myself to find something to enjoy about watching gaming streams, I realized that I may be one of gaming’s forgotten generation. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m too old to ever fully appreciate the socially connected aspects that are intractably linked with modern gaming, yet I’m also probably too young to make it to the halcyon age where I can just neural-link my brain stem into an indistinguishably realistic VR simulation of a feudal serf’s life. (You have your gaming fantasies and I have mine.) Graphics-wise, we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns where additional polygons don’t register to our eyeballs. Story-wise, the George Lucases, Charlie Kaufmans, and Woody Allens of game writing are already emerging and getting their due recognition. What artistic frontiers are left to explore other than immersion?

I took stock of the room and the diverse collection of friendly faces enjoying it. Perhaps I’ve been too purist about what gaming’s next evolutionary step will be. It’s entirely possible (and increasingly probable) that the human elements, never touched by a dev or distributor are what constitutes gaming’s future.

I plan to return to Guildhall soon, and this time with a large enough entourage to make use of all the amenities. Though I’m not sure I’ll ever fully embrace the social aspects of gaming, video or board, the party just looks so damn fun from the outside looking in that I’ll only have myself to blame if I don’t give it a shot.

guildhall

I closed out my tab, thanked the owner for a wonderful meal, and went home to create a Twitch account. We’ve all got to start somewhere. I can only hope my journey begins as strong as Guildhall’s.