How BrookLAN is supporting grassroots esports while staying sustainable
BrookLAN is NYC’s largest esports lounge, and has endured a Pandemic launch and thrived with its series of unique esports events. We talked with one of the owners:
When you think of esports, it's easy to get carried away imagining b-roll footage of packed stadiums and screaming fans. But anyone who's spent a bit of time in the scene knows that esports is built in the grassroots across the world at LAN centers and places like BrookLAN.
BrookLAN is a place for casual players, lapsed gamers, and hardcore esports fans. It hosts community tournaments, publisher release parties, esports org events, and just casual gaming sessions and trivia nights. And for Alec Polsley, the co-owner of BrookLAN, NYC's largest esports lounge, that's the aim: "We really want to introduce more people who come and play at BrookLAN every day, who just don't even watch esports, to the community."
"It's kind of a story we get all the time, people come in and they're like “Oh, I don't play video games.” And then they see some playing Mario Kart and they’re like “Oh my God, I love Mario Kart!”
Located in the heart of Brooklyn, New York City, BrookLAN has been a home for community tournaments, team events, and publisher launches for almost three years now. We sat down with Alec to talk shop. We talked about the history of BrookLAN, some of their events, supporting the grassroots how they're dealing with the esports downturn, and how they keep their business viable.
What is BrookLAN and how did it start?
For those who might not know, what is BrookLAN? What’s it all about?
Alec Polsley: "So we call BrookLAN New York’s home for gaming and esports. We are a LAN center. We have an arena. It seats about 100 people with a stage. The stage is set for up to 6v6, which can run everything from, you know, VALORANT to previously Overwatch.
We have about 50 PCs, 10-15 gaming consoles, everything from Xbox Series X to PS5s to Switches. And people can just come, rent them out, like any traditional LAN center would. $6 an hour. Or $25 for five or $30 day passes. So you can just come and game all day.
We have a full kitchen and bar as well. We have a video game-themed cocktails, a full food menu. We hosted a ton of different events, a bunch of different tournaments and yeah, I'm sure we'll dive into some of that stuff!"
Yeah, definitely! When do you guys start? When did you open?
Alec: "So we started on the project in the beginning of April of 2019. Um, broke ground for construction in October of 2019. So in that time it's, you know, architects and finding the spots and all of that fun stuff, getting on the permits and then, you know, obviously about five months later we were like, Oh sh*t!"
Everything's closed down?
Alec: "Yeah, yeah. It's the pandemic. And it's funny because following all the Leagues I just kind of saw the domino effect. We saw it in Asia and then we saw it in Europe. And so me and a couple of my other buddies who work in games, we were like, “Yeah, it seems like it's just kind of a domino effect coming down to the U.S.” So we started prepping for it.
We knew we probably wouldn't be able to really do too much construction. Obviously, for the safety of everyone, too. And so we need to pause our construction in early mid-March and then got back to it, I believe, in May when they started kind of allowing us us back.
"The target open date was June 2020, and we knew we couldn't do anything."
The one thing we knew for sure was that we couldn't host any events. The target open date was June 2020, and we knew we couldn't do anything. So, you know, aside from social distancing, we just knew we couldn't host the events. We can't do any of the stuff that was kind of like the lifeblood of our of the the venue. And so we had to make a difficult decision. We negotiated with the building, had to freeze all payments. I had to go and try to find some other contract work for the time being.
Through that time, we actually announced in April of 2020 that we were going to be opening, that we existed and we started doing some online tournaments for Smash, VALORANT, etc. A couple of other fun games. We did the first ever Fall Guys tournament. And then Fall Guys retweeted us, which was at the height of the hype for that game and their Twitter was absolutely on fire. So I actually framed that tweet because that made me so happy."
That's cool! What was the Tweet?
Alec: “I just tweeted out and I was like, “Hey, we're running the tournament!” And it was the first weekend the game was actually around.”
"So we started doing tournaments for a lot of different games. We did a Halloween Dead by Daylight tournament. Smash and VALORANT were pretty consistent then. But kind of biding our time for when we would be able to open. We knew that winter two, they were going to close us down. So it wasn't even a matter of like I knew that nothing would probably change for the remainder of the year. So we opened for real in June 2021."
BrookLAN — Connecting grassroots, TOs, and teams
One thing I've seen across social media is that BrookLAN is known for working with grassroot organizers. Can you tell me a little bit about those efforts?
Alec: "Yeah, absolutely. So that's something I mean… I always thought it was the lifeblood of esports, right? I mean, the tournament operators of all sizes, but especially like grassroots are kind of the lifeblood of what keeps any of this going. So for us, that consists of watch parties with the 5 Deadly Venoms Crew for NYXL and stuff like that. NYXL is actually very good about working with their grassroots fan organizations. So we threw a big watch party the first couple of months we were open, which is awesome.
Then pretty much every week, usually twice a week we're hosting tournaments with other tournament organizers and other organizations. We hosted a Smash weekly every Sunday with a 12G. We host pretty much monthlies with TSB and NYC Tech.
[In esports] pretty much everyone's doing this out of passion, right? And so we've tried to do over time too is say to them try to take something [in ticket sales, etc.], so you’re not spending $50 on an Uber just to bring all these consoles here, right? And so, you know, traditionally we've done splits with TOs for venues and stuff like that, which most venues do. But it's also trying to pair them with sponsors and trying to help in any way we can as a venue. To me, like that is essentially the lifeblood of esports."
Something you were kind of alluding to there is that esports at the moment is going through some tumultuous times. Do you get that feeling where you are? And how does it affect your bottom line?
Alec: "The biggest thing for us is not even really in esports, the biggest thing that's affected us is just general inflation. The cost of everything went up and we increased our prices. We had to. For food, for gaming… We just increased the price. [$5] has been pretty much the standard for LAN centers for 10-15 years, So it's not necessarily the esports landscape that’s affecting us as much. It's more the general inflation landscape.
We work with a lot of teams and I'm doing a huge push right now and kind of an open call to everyone I know that at more traditional esports organizations like TSM, 100T, team-based orgs, like “hey, let's throw events and let's make money together!” Because I think for them that's been a big thing. I say “We can do this, leverage your teams or creators and let's throw fun events, right?”
"I really want to introduce more people who come and play at BrookLAN every day, who just don't even watch esports, to the community."
We threw an event with FaZe in 2021. It was a Nate Hill/Corona takeover. And it was honestly amazing. 200 people came and it was a good time. And they didn't charge admission, but they could have and then at least broken-even on the event probably. But I think that's a huge opportunity that a lot of teams are still missing, which is just to get in front of their fans and be able to host really cool things. Because for us, we can make it work!"
You were talking about partnering with teams, one I saw on your timeline was that you partnered with FURIA for an event. What was that like?
Alec: “FURIA is amazing. So Henry over FURIA . He's the director for North America. He gets it. He's like, “Let's throw something cool for the fans.” They flew out their entire Apex team and then they flew out Fatality for Smash. And we hit up our local Smash community. We run in about anywhere from like 60 to 80 plus for Smash every week. Everyone knows Fatality, so we're going to do a NYC crew battle. Fatality versus our top eight players and Fatality ended up winning! It's funny because we have some of the top-rated players in the world, and Fatality won, so that was really cool.
We decked it out with FURIA branding. We had a whole charity component as well. Henry is really passionate about King Fights Cancer. The family who started it, their son ended up having cancer. And so now what they do is they raise money for families to fight, pay for treatments. HipHopGamer came down and was MCing the whole thing. And we raised 2000 dollars for the charity."
Is the charity element something that’s important for you?
Alec: "That's something I'm pretty passionate about. Charity in gaming is so powerful compared to traditional fundraising. I've done fundraising for other charities in the past, not through gaming. It's very difficult. But things like charity subathons, the community all rallying behind something it's like one of the best sides of the gaming community. AGDQ, Games Done Quick would be my dream event hosted at the venue because it's perfect!"
Another thing that caught my eye in your past events was the Persona 4 Arena Ultimax launch party. As someone who was pretty obsessed with that game last year, what was that like?
Alec: "Yeah, yeah, that was really cool. So through our relationship with TSB, you know, a FGC grassroots organizer. They actually got someone at SEGA was asking around. And someone else was like, "Hey, these guys [TSB] are the best if you want them to help host the tournament." So they go hire them. And then TSB was like, "Hey, we wanna do this at BrookLAN."
"That was a really, really cool event and that was also charity-focused. They shut down the venue for about two days. The whole hallway was transformed with vinyl, the whole hallway. There was red carpet and then they turned the front into the the Velvet Room."
Oh wow, that's so cool!
Alec: "It was really cool! We still have like some of the props because there were so many. We were excited to work with them and add something to it. We've been trying to talk to more publishers about, you know, let's host game launch parties and DLC launch parties and new character launch parties. And so that's kind of been like another big push that we've been trying to make."
A quick glance at your website, I saw your schedule. You're not just pure esports, but you've got some Magic: The Gathering in there, there's trivia quiz nights, recurring events like that and you do private bookings. How important is that diversity in events to keeping an enterprise like this viable?
Alec: "Super important. I think a big component is — I hate comparing us to like a bowling alley — but for example, you never go to a bowling alley that doesn't have a bar and a kitchen, right? So it's synergistic to making a place that's 5,000 square feet viable. So the trivia nights and other events we do definitely bring in an audience that might not play games.
But, truthfully, if you're in like your twenties and thirties, you've played video games. I'd be really hard pressed to find someone who hasn't tried. It's kind of a story we get all the time, people come in and they're like “Oh, I don't play video games.” And then they see some playing Mario Kart and they’re like “Oh my God, I love Mario Kart!” That's like the most prime example. And we see it multiple times a week. So it's also introducing people through those different events.
So during Trivia night, we have matches playing on TVs, right? Whether it's the CDL or, you know, CS:GO Major, or just someone streaming. So it helps introduce people who aren't really familiar with it more into the world of esports. They say it's like five percent of all people who play video games are like fans of esports.
I really want to introduce more people who come and play at BrookLAN every day, who just don't even watch esports, to the community."
"New York's definitely positioned to be one of the best places [for businesses like BrookLAN], because of public transportation, the tightness of like community, and obviously the tightness of the city."
Obviously, you’re BrookLAN, you're in the heart of Brooklyn. New York is a unique city in the US in terms of infrastructure, community, and the ability to get places. How much does a location and the infrastructure help BrookLAN? And do you think that model could work elsewhere in the US where that isn't always the case?
Alec: "So, we've looked at some other cities. I lived in Los Angeles for about six years. And for how popularized esports is in LA, there's nothing like this, which is very strange.
But I think New York... New York's positioned alongside a lot of cities in Europe — which I think New York's pretty similar to — New York's definitely positioned to be one of the best places [for businesses like BrookLAN], because of public transportation, the tightness of like community, and obviously the tightness of the city. So you can get anywhere, wherever you need, regardless of how the subways are running, you can figure out a way to get there. I think it's pretty massive.
You know, we're also in there's a lot of activity out on Long Island, too, so we get a lot of people coming in and a lot of people in the city. But it's great to be in Manhattan. Brooklyn's pretty central and being able to find the size space that we want it definitely like is easier to do in Brooklyn, which is kind of why we we opted for it. Plus, Brooklyn's just pretty cool!"
What's in store for the future of BrookLAN, anything big on the horizon for you guys?
Alec: "We're trying to working with some teams, trying to plan some really cool both creator and player events. So, you know, kind of similar to what we did with FURIA. We're really trying to branch that out and show teams that there's not only like a good fan engagement angle, but there's also like revenue to be made.
I'm watching teams spend an inordinate amount of money across the bunch of different types of events, and I'm like, you don't have to spend that much! We would love it, but like, we can also make it viable so that you're around in a year.
A lot of teams do get that. We've got a lot of teams who understand everything from the grassroots in to having to generate revenue and bring out new product lines and stuff like that. So that's been really cool. So yeah, I mean, a big focus on creator and team events in 2023. And then just seeing what the future holds and potentially looking and seeing what's out there for other cities!"