In the Eyes of the Controller: The Salty Joystiq Esports Lounge

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Salty Joystiq Lounge esports Vineland

The Salty Joystiq Esports Lounge is not only a gamers’ paradise, it hosts video- game tournaments and is giving young adults something new to do—together.

VINELAND, NJ — Since the inception of video games, it has been seen as just something for kids. A toy to waste time during the weekend or during summer break. But as the years have continued, the industry has grown exponentially.

According to the Entertainment Software Association (the lobbying group for the industry), video games have moved past being considered as simply toys and have become a mainstream phenomenon known as esports (formerly eSports).

The average age for gamers in 2017 was 35 years-old, with consumers spending $30.4 billion in 2016.

Even ESPN broadcasts professional video-game teams playing in stadiums that have thousands of spectators and millions more watching online.

But what if you wanted to find a local spot to meet up with friends and just relax and play some games?

Enter the Salty Joystiq Esports Lounge in Vineland.

I realized I wasn't the only person like this who wanted to play in person rather than play online.

Matthew Boone just wanted a place for him and his friends to play some video games.

“So, I started inviting my friends over because my parents had an open space where they used to sell church hats and stuff like that,” Boone said. “I would have friends come over and play casually because I can't play online anymore, it just doesn't work out.”

As more and more of his friends invited more of their friends over, Boone realized that more people wanted to meet in person and play than play online.

“I realized I wasn't the only person like this who wanted to play in person rather than play online,” Boone said. “So I was like, if there are a bunch of people who want to do this, then let's get some more stuff together and get more equipment.”

In 2013 Boone started the Salty Joystiq Esports Lounge in Vineland. He calls it a safe place that anyone can come to play the latest video games with friends or like-minded gamers.

“We wanted to be more of an open thing for everyone; that was our plan,” Boone said. “We realized in Millville and Vineland, there's not much to do. I figured if I started this thing, I should involve everyone. Most people just hang out at the mall until 6 p.m. on the weekends."

The first Lounge opened across the street from the Sacred Heart High School, but the building was sold and torn down. So Boone moved it to its current location on West Landis Avenue, in the CVS lot on the right side of the Sherwin-Williams.

The Lounge has a wide range of games that people can play in a casual setting or in weekly or monthly tournaments.

"We have a weekly Smash 4 tournament,” Boone said. “We also host a monthly Smash 4 and that costs a little bit more. We also do, “Overwatch” [on] PC's. Saturdays, we have the new “Dragonball Fighterz” and “Injustice 2.” I try to have something every week. We do a lot of Blizzard stuff. Even with our “Hearthstone” tournaments, Blizzard sends us care packages."

The Lounge is pay by the hour to play games. You can pay for one hour, two hours, three hours, five hours and all day. The prices change on how many hours you want to play. All the money goes back into the Lounge, to pay for new equipment, game consoles, games, and more.

Boone is currently a student at Rowan University studying for his masters in health and wellness. He works part-time as a technician at a pharmacy, on top of running the Lounge Thursday through Sunday.

"If I'm not working, I'm doing homework for grad school,” Boone said. “It's definitely stressful. I have people that help me take off the weight, but I try to use my time wisely. The people here are volunteers.”

But with all of that stress comes the recognition. People from all over South Jersey (even as far as Red Bank) come to play at the Lounge. Even gamers from Philadelphia and New York come down to the Lounge to play at tournaments that are held there.

It is also a great place for parents to drop-off their kids in a safe environment.

“A lot of times, people want to play video games with their friends but their parents won't let their friends over or something,” Boone said. “So, they say, ‘Let's go to a play.’ Parents drop their kids off here all the time."

Currently, the Lounge has one big esports team, which is a group of professional gamers that compete in local, regional, national, and world tournaments. These teams are filled with people that play competitive games as a career.

A new league called the Overwatch League gives players full benefits — including healthcare and a minimum salary of $50,000 — to all of their players. But this is a rarity in the esports field.

According to Boone, some esports players have a plan B just in case the gaming tourneys fall through.  

“Even the top Smash player is a bioengineer,” Boone said. “He was doing that and playing Smash and he was making so much money from esports that he left his job as a bioengineer. But if Smash ever stops, he can go back to being a bioengineer. People in esports usually have two jobs going on. For esports, it's great. It's on TV now."

The Lounge’s team will eventually be split into two smaller teams to represent the Lounge in more tournaments. The esports team recently gained a sponsorship with MSi Gaming, a major PC peripheral company, and now there are new mice and keyboards for the esports team and the Lounge to use. But Boone is looking for more sponsors.

“When we get our new Salty jersey, we'll have MSi and more on them,” said Boone. “I'm looking to do gaming chairs and controller equipment. If you can come here and you have a nice chair and equipment and stuff you don't have in your house, it's worth it."

As time goes on, the Salty Joystiq Esports Lounge plans to spread its brand and have more locals come and enjoy what it has to offer. A place for anyone to come in and enjoy a few hours of gaming with friends or to make new friends.

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