A Friday night gathering at Meltdown Montreal had fans cheer on the Montreal Mighty Mooses against the Quebec City Carcajous, renewing an old rivalry between the Quebec cities.
Rather than featuring icons named Roy, Lafleur or Sakic, the players went by handles (nicknames) such as Calypso, Dryken and Zky in an eSports tournament final — competitive video gaming.
After expanding through Europe with 26 locations across six countries, Meltdown entered the North American market with Meltdown Montreal opening its doors last July.
Locations in Toronto and Quebec City opened shortly after.
The owners of Meltdown Montreal wanted to offer a different kind of gaming experience compared to traditional arcades, net-cafés or other gaming bars that feature nostalgic retro console gaming – the latter is also available at Meltdown Montreal.
“Opening Meltdown Montreal was like a dream job for me. It allows me to take a hobby and enjoy it in a more social environment with like-minded people.”
Meltdown has hosted a variety of video gaming events since its 2016 opening, such as game launch parties, after-parties for gaming events and conferences in the city, as well as their own tournaments.
As tournaments are skill based, any cash prize awarded to the players fall within the legal boundaries commissioned by Quebec’s board of alcohol, races and games (RACJ).
“It’s a competition based on people’s talent,” explained Meltdown Montreal co-owner Roch Turgeon.
Up until November 2016, the debate over cash prizes for eSports competitors who live in Quebec was a battle that advocates had to fight for.
“We noticed Quebec eSports athletes were banned from participating in some major events around the world,” François Savard, vice-president of Fédération Québécoise de sports électroniques (FQSE) told Global News.
“There was a conflict between the RACJ and the corporations that hosted the events.”
The FQSE, the body founded to develop the eSports movement in Quebec, stepped in with lawyers and was able to settle the process with RACJ outside of court.
“In the end, it was a big misunderstanding. RACJ stated that for any publicity event there had to be a percentage given back to the province,” explained Savard.
“Our argument was that it wasn’t a publicity event. eSports is a skill-based event, you’re either good or not.”
Eventually, the RACJ submitted a letter granting permission to Quebec eSports players to compete for prizes.
eSports have come a long way in the past 20 years; geeks of the ’90s gaming across home-made local area networks (LAN) have turned into celebrities going to multi-million dollar tournaments around the world.
Turgeon, who also co-founded the popular Lan ETS, evolved with the industry since its moderately humble beginnings.
“The origin of eSports is fun. In the early days, nobody cared, there was no cash prize, there was no professional gamers flying around the world,” reminisced Turgeon.
“It was just a bunch of guys gaming in one of their basements and the winner would win a bag of [potato] chips — and bragging rights.”
The culture has grown through corporate sponsorship and select universities are even starting to offer scholarships to lure video gamers into their computer sciences and technology programs.
Outside of major AAA video-game titles and big tournaments, Meltdown Montreal also holds smaller events to cater to a broader range of gamers.
“Some players are actually in the same location for the LAN, and some others are playing from overseas,” explained Fun-LAN founder Michael Daudignon.
“This hybrid concept works fine with a game like TrackMania because there are no latency issues, unlike first-person shooter games.”
Three-time TrackMania 2 Stadium World Champion Carl-Antoni Cloutier, a Rosemère resident who has been playing the game for about 11 years, joined in the Fun-LAN race.
“It’s the first time I’ve been to Meltdown, and it’s a great spot to find other gamers with the same passion,” Cloutier said.
Cloutier a full-time civil engineering student at Polytechnique Montréal told Global News he can train somewhere between seven and eight hours a day, while not in school, as a competition approaches.
He won the day’s tournament at Meltdown Montreal.
Despite the competitive nature between people, the vibe remains loose at Meltdown Montreal.
It is mostly gamers who are there to either play, watch or chill out with friends.
“I really like it. I’ve never worked in a bar. I wasn’t sure how I would like it — talking to customers, making drinks,” said Young.
“The kind of customers that we get in here, I would get along with outside of the bar, we’re into the same kind of things.”
While gaming bars have been in existence for a while, the appeal of the Meltdown franchise is that it builds a fraternity among patrons as they go up against other Meltdown bars for sponsored cash prizes and equally important bragging rights.
Turgeon and Young hope to see other franchises open up in North America in the next couple of years as they prepare their team to take on the world.
Meltdown Montreal is located at 2035 Saint-Denis St.