WEST CHESTER—The U.S. video game industry generated more than $30 billion in revenue last year, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and two-thirds of all households have at least one member who plays three or more hours per week.
Kevin Mash is hoping to cash in on the growing trend with the opening last week of Level13, a 35-station computer gaming center on High Street, next to Barnaby’s Restaurant.
“The excitement level and the energy here is explosive,” said Kevin Mash, 42. “It’s just so much more fun to be able to do this relatively anti-social activity with other people. This is a new way to think about playing games.”
A new study based on information collected from 813 colleges and universities around the country found video games contributes to poor relationships with peers and parents. But Mash said his gaming center allows people to game together, not alone.
“A lot of parents have a problem with their kids coming home from school, doing their homework and running upstairs or downstairs to the basement to play video games,” Mash said. “They have headsets on, are conversing with people on the internet, but not a face-to-face interaction, which is what this (gaming center) is.”
Mash said he had the idea for opening the business after reading “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline. A movie by the same name was released in 2018.
Kevin and his wife Jessica have four children, ages four to eleven and enjoy playing video games such as Fortnite and Roblox.
“You go to any restaurant in West Chester and kids and adults alike talk about playing Fortnite and video games,” Kevin Mash said. “I took the idea and turned it into a video gaming center.”
Mash said the average age is fifth-graders to 10th-graders. Those age 13 and up can be left at Level 13. The most popular games are Fortnite, Overwatch, FIFA, and Madden football. He said problem-solving games like Portal 2, which requires teamwork, are gaining in popularity.
“Portal 2 is a brilliant game,” he said. “There is no violence, no shooting, and there are different challenges and the story line is funny.”
The computers are all custom state-of-the-art gaming machines, with the latest video cards and video graphics cards. They play and look much better than a console, Mash said.
“If you are used to playing on an Xbox, you can come in here and can game just like at home,” Mash said. “But PCs have a distinct advantage in performances of games. If you look at video games on a PC and on an Xbox, it’s night and day performance, in terms of the quality of picture, fluidity of the motions in the game, and PCs are far superior.”
Mash said startup costs were significant. The building at 21 South High Street was formerly a non-profit Justice Workshop, and before that, the offices of a financial adviser.
“There is nothing like this in West Chester,” Mash said. “About 15 years ago there was a place called Ground Zero, which was similar, but gaming wasn’t nearly as big back then as it is now.”
Mash said he will be staging video game contests at the end of January, with weekly tournaments and prizes. He is working with officials at local elementary and middle schools to set up esports clubs. Esports leagues are forming now.
Price to game is by the hour. Currently it’s $13 for one hour, $24 for two hours, and $50 for five hours, though pricing is still being tweaked. Unused time remains on the gamer’s account.
“We’re just having fun,” Mash said.