Cody Frederick and Seth Mason saw opportunity last year after the Penn State-Altoona students advertised a Madden NFL gaming tournament inside their off-campus apartment.
“We set up six gaming stations and people started showing up from as far away as Harrisburg,” Mason, 20, of Cresson, said. “We realized pretty quickly … this could be something big for us.”
In the months since, the duo launched Altoona Gaming in Blair County but then quickly outgrew it, leading them to relocate their business – and the name – to The Galleria mall in Richland Township last month.
“E-sports – competitive gaming – is a growing industry, and we needed a space where we could grow with it,” Mason said. “We have big things planned.”
Gaming cafes and lounges are growing in popularity across the country, giving avid gamers a place to try out new titles and compete together.
It’s been a decade since the Johnstown area sported a gaming cafe – and Mason and Frederick said their Galleria location might be the only one in western Pennsylvania, other than one in Pittsburgh.
The site has only been plugged in for two weeks but the tri-state area’s gaming community has apparently noticed, Frederick, 19, of Northern Cambria said.
A two-day tournament last weekend drew more than 80 people from western Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia to play Epic Games’ hit multi-player “shooter” game Fortnite, he and Mason said.
The tourney featured an $800 cash prize and T-shirt giveaways.
But Mason said it’s the competition itself and camaraderie that attracts many gamers who are realizing they’d rather master today’s games side by side than by talking to one another from miles – or perhaps continents – apart on their wireless headsets.
“They come for the experience here. We had two groups here last week who showed up to play and by the end the day they had formed teams together and they were all friends,” Frederick said.
The lounge itself is a draw, too, he said.
It features 16 gaming stations, each equipped with specialized racing-style chairs and 27-inch monitors. Eight are set up for X-Box One titles.
The other eight are PlayStation 4, while a Wii U station is set up in one corner with couches surrounding it.
Nintendo’s latest system, the Switch, is being added in the coming weeks, Mason said.
Their Oculus Rift and PlayStation virtual reality systems are also a popular draw, he said.
Altoona Gaming offers hourly play at $5, all-day passes for $10 and other special rates for monthly access.
They also have all-inclusive party packages.
Mason and Frederick said they were searching for a mall location and that The Galleria seems like the perfect fit.
They credited Zamias Services for working with them and helping them find a suitable spot.
Altoona Gaming is located on The Galleria’s upper floor near Boscov’s.
“In just two weeks, we’re already bringing in hundreds of people a week,” Mason said. “We think it’ll be good for the mall and for the Johnstown area.
He hopes their success will lure more millennial-minded businesses to the shopping center.
And if all goes well, it could be the start of something big when it comes to tournament gaming in the Johnstown area, Mason said.
“In a year or two, I’d love to fill the (1st Summit Arena) War Memorial with a major tournament – just pack the town with gamers from everywhere across the country,” he said.
For more info and pricing: www.altoonagaming.com