In New York City, you shouldn’t be surprised by any kind of business that exists here. Don’t blink an eye at whatever sort of cafe hybrid you may stumble upon, whether it’s a nail salon that serves lattes or a surf shop that brews single origins exclusively. However, when video games and coffee collide, it may be worth taking a closer look—like at Waypoint, the city’s first eSports specialty cafe.
Electronic sports, otherwise known as eSports, have been around longer than most people realize. While their popularity has climbed exponentially in the last decade, the act of competitive virtual gaming started as early as 1972, when Stanford University hosted tournament rounds of the game Spacewar. In the ‘90s, the rise of the internet paved the way for battle-oriented PC games like League of Legends and the iconic Massively-Multiplayer Online game World of Warcraft. They gave users across the world a chance to connect and compete, with companies like Nintendo and Blockbuster sponsoring tournaments with lavish prizes like Ferraris and huge cash jackpots. The creation of World Cyber Games and the Electronic Sports World Cup in the 2000s set the tone for serious gaming, and the establishment of Major League Gaming in 2002 made them one of the biggest gaming leagues in history. Today, eSports arenas exist all over the world in addition to countless LAN centers (gamer talk for eSports play centers), and prize money easily dips into the millions.
Your typical, somewhat sterile experience at a LAN center includes a too-comfortable computer desk chair, two massive computer monitors, and library-carrel-style dividers between gamers. With plain walls, neon lighting, and over-ear headphones, no distractions come between you and the game. Even food can be limited to heated automatic vending machines, when you have a quick few seconds in between battle rounds to inhale some Top Ramen before returning to your station. How fun does this sound to you?
For those looking to game with better breaktime options, and even those simply in need of a good coffee, NYC’s Waypoint Cafe upgrades the LAN center experience significantly. Their solid, front-facing coffee bar not only improves the quality of the gaming experience, it also offers a gathering place for the gaming community and beyond.
Waypoint opened just this past fall on the Lower East Side, a business built by former game and hardware reviewer Luigino Gigante. While Gigante comes from a heavy gaming background, he also grew up in a family of restaurant owners. Gigante’s coffee interests came out of a mixed, caffeinated family upbringing, along with a preference for cold brew over Red Bull during finals weeks in college.
“I’m Italian and Puerto Rican, so I come from two very different schools of thought [about] coffee,” Gigante explains. “On my father’s side, it’s just straight espresso, and my mother’s side is very light, sweet, different pour-over types of coffee,” he says.
After noticing how unsuccessful LAN centers around him were, Gigante opened Waypoint, drawing inspiration from Uncommons Cafe, a similar nook in Greenwich Village that combines coffee with board games. Waypoint’s location is also intentional.
“A lot of people don’t know this but the Lower East Side has a lot of history in gaming, actually,” Gigante says, noting its proximity to Chinatown Fair, which was for a long time one of the oldest remaining traditional arcades on the East Coast. Chinatown Fair was “not like a Dave and Buster's style of arcade,” Gigante insists. (Though it has since closed and reopened, with an unfortunately less traditional flavor.)
The Lower East Side was already a place where a lot of PC, fighting, and arcade games were already played. Waypoint seeks to pay homage to the neighborhood, as well as become a community space for gamers again.
And while some multi-purpose businesses tend to focus on one feature over another, Waypoint is committed to both the art of gaming and specialty coffee. Serving Black Cat espresso from Intelligentsia on a La Marzocco Linea Classic and controlled drip brews from BUNN, plus cold brew from local roasters Death Wish, the cafe takes its coffee game seriously and its décor playfully. A plethora of plushies and action figures rest on the shelves of pastries and in between bags of coffee, and drink specials incorporate video game themes with them, i.e. the “star seeker sour” and “mur-lox” bagel.
Gamers can also expect to get a snack that surpasses your average heated vending machine. The full cafe menu includes salads and hearty chicken and mozzarella sandwiches, while pastries are a mix of goods made in-house and from Amy’s Bread.
The LAN center itself, however, maintains the average complexion of dividers and massive monitors. While the front serves as a social space, take a few steps back to the dungeon of computers, where users can access their own gaming accounts via ggLeap. The fun begins with classic, reputable games like League of Legends, DOTA (Gigante’s personal favorite), Minecraft, and World of Warcraft. Waypoint also hosts events and tourneys to truly test your skills. And don’t worry, just because this is a cafe doesn’t mean you’re getting kicked out by 7:00pm. Waypoint stays open till 10:00pm during the week and 2:00am on the weekends, which means even non-gamers can get a late-night caffeine fix.
In a crowd of freelance workers, gamers, and coffee enthusiasts, Waypoint has truly brought together an odd yet fun mix of people.
“There were a few kind of gaming communities that were flung out and spread and now they’re all starting to come here. It’s fun meeting new people,” Gigante says—even if it's IRL.