Five Below plans on expanding several of their stores into LAN cafes. Yes, you read that correctly, and it’s a project as ambitious as it is well-intended.
The cheap novelty and goods store, which sells all their items for $5 or below (hence the name), has partnered with esports production company Nerd Street Gamers and its LAN cafe brand Localhost to launch a LAN cafe project. These groups raised $12 in capital for the initiative. And no, the quality won’t be “value.” These companies plan on bringing “pro-level equipment” to potential players nationwide.
The Philly-based companies came together to envision “vision of a world where esports is accessible and inclusive for everyone,” John Fazio, CEO and Founder of Nerd Street Gamers, said in a press release. “Too few have access to the type of equipment and internet connections required to compete at the top levels, and by addressing that at a national scale we can increase real-life opportunities for millions of people.”
The first goal for the collaboration appears to be launching a multi-store pilot next year. Then, “based on learnings from the pilot,” they plan on up to “70 or more” locations—as a target, not a guarantee. Fazio explains that they want to try to open venues in “every major city in the country.” As LAN cafes continue to pop up in American cities, it’ll certainly be a race into relevance.
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It’s a move that makes sense for a chain store this big. Five Below often pops up in mini-malls (or actual malls) where, in this turbulent economy, there’s plenty of space to expand horizontally. Meanwhile, it’s quite difficult to open up a LAN cafe without the capital.
Plus, after insurance and wages, starting costs can go upwards of the mid-six-digits, even for a small LAN center. With companies like Localhost and Nerd Street Gamers to bring a genuine air to the project, this can fulfill their goal of approachable (and accessible) high-tier gaming. And for projects this big, the “pro-level equipment” promise can easily be fulfilled; other LAN centers frequently find sponsorships with equipment providers for cheaper peripherals and other hardware.
Five Below is not the first major retailer attempting to bring LAN cafes to the masses. Walmart partnered with popular California esports venue Esports Arena to pilot a program that inserts LAN cafes into Walmart locations across the country. (We assume this’ll be where the crane machines used to go.)
According to their website, Walmart has only launched locations in five states so far: Oklahama, Washington state, California, Texas, and Colorado. More importantly, it looks like all the locations are still active and holding events. Walmart also launched an esports line offering jerseys from popular teams, equipment, and more.
Hopefully, this will make esports as easy to pick up as a charging cord or laundry basket.