In the golden age of the gamer, web cafes are surprisingly thriving
How Fortnite and League of Legends have revitalised Abu Dhabi’s fading internet cafes
It’s 8pm in Khalidiyah and Booth Café is buzzing. Groups of youngsters are engrossed in Playstations, while others sit at banks of gaming computers illuminated by huge screens.
It is a raucous environment as the players shout into headsets, bash keyboards and bang on desks. They can spend hours here, playing survival game Fortnite and League of Legends.
Booth is just one of many rejuvenated cyber cafes across the city. Forget checking your email, these new internet cafes cater to the gaming crowd and more are opening across the city, heaving until the early hours, and fuelled by a desire for a more social gaming experience.
Gamers are playing together, in the same row of seats and in the same game. Some are institutions such as Khalidiyah’s The Warrior, while others have opened their doors only in the past few years.
‘Eat, game, live’ goes the tagline on Booth and Emiratis, Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Europeans and just some of the people that play here. Just Dh10 gets you an hour.
“As a customer, I saw the potential of the business,” said Ahmed Hamad, 30, a gamer who founded Booth in 2016.
“People once played alone but the new games are social,” said Mr Hamad. “Eighty per cent of 16 to 35-year-olds are into gaming. Especially in Abu Dhabi, because there are not as many other activities. Weather also plays a role. The developers’ strategy is also to get more people playing because it makes more.”
Business is increasing because people like to meet new friends while playing; video games are now more geared for groups; and gaming computers can cost about Dh6,000.
Those in the gaming community also said the recent decision to block Skype doesn’t affect gamers. All the games have different communication means whether text or voice. The fact groups of people play together in the same room reinforces this.
From the 1990s to the mid-2000s, cyber cafes were a visible reminder of how the web was reshaping our world. It may now seem quaint, but users once paid by the hour to check emails, surf the net and share music.
But the rise of affordable computers, Wi-Fi and smartphones seemed to have consigned a place where generations came of age online to history.
Mr Hamad struggles to remember the last time someone came in just to check their emails.
“You can browse the Web here. But no, it doesn’t happen. Maybe six months ago. It’s been like that for three or four years.”
Aziz Awad, 25, from Syria and Bernard Kourieh, 27 from Syria were both playing in Booth when The National visited on a Monday night.
“You meet new people, you meet new friends and there’s also much faster internet than at home," said Mr Kourieh. "It gets you out of the house."
Mr Kourieh comes about twice week and spends between four and five hours here. Fortnite is popular but his favourite is World of Warcraft.
“It’s getting more popular,” he said of the social gaming trend.
Mr Awad agrees. “The internet is much faster. There are also much better facilities in Booth.”
This rise of gaming as a group activity frustrates suggestions that it’s a loner sport, played only by people holed up in dark bedrooms fuelled by caffeine.
Mr Hamad has 35 dedicated gaming computers and is planning to expand this to 50 this summer.
It’s a similar story at the Click Dot Net internet cafe a few streets away, where blackout curtains shroud the front doors.
Manager Muhallad Waqas agreed the social aspect was most important.
“Everybody has computers now – some even better than these,” he said, pointing to the 44 high-specification computers.
“But it’s like an outing. They will sit, eat, talk and play. Some are rich but still they come here. It’s like social networking.”
Across the city, many gaming cafes have opened in the past few years including Last Resort in Muroor, Games Lounge in Khalifa Park, Dragonmaster in Al Seef Village Mall and Geek Station on Airport Road.
Among the largest in Abu Dhabi is Global Games Internet Cafe in the Embassies District. There are 100 computers here and it holds weekly competitions.
“Business has increased,” said Mr Waqas.
“The kids come for four or five years, then go to university and are busy. But then the next generation comes.”
Back at Booth Café in Khalidiyah, it’s getting late but there are no signs activity is slowing down. And Mr Hamad is expecting a busy weekend.
“On Friday’s there is not an empty chair in the house.”