Whangārei gamers of all ages now have a home away from home with the official opening of Esports Gaming Whangārei on the weekend.
The new gaming hub, which is one of Northland's few dedicated gaming lounges, invited people to take their 20 high-end computers for a test run for a 36-hour period from Saturday at 10am to Sunday at 10pm.
About 200 people turned up over the two-day opening and were able to try a range of games and technology like virtual reality. It also featured an appearance from Rotorua-based organisation, Digital Natives Academy, which offers programmes focused on Esports, coding, game development and content creation.
Esports, defined by the New Zealand Esports Federation, is the simple abbreviation for 'electronic sports', a form of sports where the primary aspects of the sport are facilitated by the competitive playing of video games.
Thirty-eight-year-old Murray Attwood, who had been interested in gaming for over two decades, attended the opening and was excited to see Esports find a base in Whangārei.
"It's actually really cool because you're going somewhere, you're all in one place and it's easy to communicate which is really important for team-based games," he said.
Attwood, who operates his own IT support and repair service 'Muzz IT', said it was good for gamers in the region to have place to congregate and socialise, as opposed to staying at home.
"You meet a lot of people that you would never have known and especially with Esports and gaming in general, you get a lot of camaraderie so you get a lot of friends."
Te Piha Niha, a co-founder of Northland Esports organisation 'N-Generation', said Esports Gaming Whangārei's launch was a good sign for the community.
"It's honestly a place Whangārei needs because it brings the community together, it gets people out of their house, rather than being holed up in their room," he said.
"I strongly believe there's a big gaming community in Whangārei so getting people to come out gives them another option to do stuff which is good, and it helps the reputation of gaming."
More than 450 million people already participate in Esports around the world. New Zealand has 180 professional players who compete in national and international tournaments.
Esports has a growing presence in New Zealand's sporting landscape, marked by the Breakers basketball team and the Warriors rugby league team who have both set up their own esports teams over the last two years to compete in national and international tournaments.
Esports Gaming Whangārei owner Tony Grose said his goal was to eventually run educational programmes during the day, which would include learning how to program and teaching graphic design.
This would combine with providing a competitive Esports scene in Northland where regular tournaments would be held as a pathway to national and international tournaments, similar to the pathways offered at an age-group level in rugby.
"It's about giving them a place where they feel comfortable because people can sometimes be shy so you need to give them somewhere where they feel comfortable with like-minded people, and treat them with respect," Grose said.
With funding a key issue in Esports, Grose hoped the likes of the Whangārei District Council would see the benefit of what he wanted to achieve.
"Funding is the biggest problem and I wish the council would jump on board because in Rotorua and Auckland, their council's are jumping at them.
"It's about teaching them people and showing them that the internet is not a bad place, it's a social world in there."