A BRIEF HISTORY OF HOW AND WHAT
When it comes to cyber cafes, we know that there is a divider which separates the ordinary from the exceptional. Video game cafes owe their existence to the golden era of gaming, having branched out of arcade lounges. In India, cyber cafes mushroomed rapidly after the computer became an essential tool for office work. Now, they are diminishing rapidly in numbers as pocket internet has set in an upward mobility to enable even the poorest households access to the World Wide Web. However, this dwindling number of cyber cafes is mostly visible in urban pockets and not in rural India where people still have use for them. At this point, a layman would ask, “What is so special about gaming cafes and how are they different from the regular ones?”
To answer this in the simplest way possible, gaming cafes are not meant for regular office or school work. They specialise in gaming only and their rigs are much more powerful and expensive than a regular work computer, specifically designed to handle the latest generation of games that would otherwise not run on a regular PC because of weak or outdated components.
Mumbai far outranks Kolkata in terms of gaming cafes if one were to search closely. This is because there is a general abundance of gaming cafes in Mumbai as esports and video games, in general, have spread expeditiously given the city’s deliberate urban planning caught on a whirlwind at the turn of the 21st century, assimilating into its mixed culture several western trends.
ZONE CAFE: KOLKATA’S FIRST PREMIUM GAMING CAFE
Zone Cafe is Kolkata’s first proper, organised gaming cafe. It has set a benchmark for what an ideal business anent gaming cafes should look like. Located Southward on Elgin Road in the Bhowanipore area, Zone Cafe flaunts its exquisite collection of gaming rigs and prides upon having built a brand that is on everyone’s mind. The project began eight months ago with the idea of setting up India’s finest gaming cafe with a range of platforms to propagate esports and gaming in response to the growing demands for gaming cafes in the city.
|| THE REVIEW ||
For the sake of transparency, we have broken this review into several sections.
|| PRIMARY FACTORS ||
LOCATION AND ACCESSIBILITY [SCORE – 4/5]
Zone cafe is situated on 9 Elgin Road, Bhowanipore (somewhere on the periphery of South Kolkata). A fair trip for someone dwelling on the outskirts of Kolkata. In terms of accessibility, it is located close to Rabindra Sadan Metro Station at a comfortable walking distance of 8-10 minutes. Considering that it is 22 minutes away from Central Kolkata (by private vehicle), it has based itself in a pretty desirable destination. Other road transports such as bus and auto are also available close at hand.
THE COMPLEX & WHATS WITHIN | THE WHOLE SET UP [SCORE – 4/5]
The entire cafe is centrally air-conditioned and is divided into different zones. There is an area containing PCs for casual gamers, an esports area for 5v5 practice and a premium zone featuring PCs with RTX 2080s. In total there are 54 PCs — their specifications improving in ascending order with respect to the zone they are in. There is also a separate PS4 lounge with three PS4s and two PCs that support VR (HTC Vive). The popular restaurant, Mintelaa, have also set up shop at Zone Cafe to provide for a unique gaming experience. Starcomp’s very own retail store is the first thing that you see when you enter the complex. The shelves decorated with a wide array of GPUs, processors and gaming accessories.
THE PC EXPERIENCE [SCORE – 4/5]
Zone Cafe has premium XRIG PCs. Three of these are custom built with flagship liquid cooling systems that no other cafe in India has along with a diskless infrastructure which is highly innovative for gaming cafes. The PCs perform fluidly and it goes without saying that all of them can be used for both esports and casual gaming. However, performance wise, the premium PCs are the best. These are arranged in round cubicles. In contrast, the esports PCs are lined up sideways with five PCs on either end. All the PCs come with mechanical/membrane keyboards and gaming mice along with mouse pads. Additionally, comfortable gaming chairs ensure that you maintain the correct body posture while binging on your favourite game.
I had primarily utilised the regular PCs for playing DOTA 2. Just the same old grinding through LP that I am eternally stuck in. When I did emerge victorious after a while, I shifted my focus to CS:GO to try and test how good the system works. And for the next fifteen minutes, I was thoroughly engrossed in it, trying to rake in kills in deathmatch mode to appear at the top of the scoreboard. Throughout the session, I was not distracted once, except for the chilly breeze swirling down from the air conditioner which made me rub my hands every once in a while and the uncomfortable gaming chair which gave me a pain in the neck that lasted a day.
THE PS4 EXPERIENCE [SCORE – 5/5]
If you follow my articles, you would know that I am not really accustomed to the PS4. In fact, I do not consider myself a big fan of it. But from time to time, when I feel like I need a break from a long day’s work, I like to take the controller and the couch. I did not have this privilege before Zone Cafe as I did not have my own PS4. Essentially, I used to walk down the block to my colleague’s home to play some TLOU and GOW. Seeing that Zone Cafe had PS4 setups, I thought to myself that it was a moment worth exploiting. So I decided to get the full experience. I took a chair and a comfortable one this time so I wouldn’t end up at a hospital. The PS4 logo materialised on the screen in a fade in and out animation while I fiddled around with the controller in a vain attempt to understand the functions of the individual buttons. I fired up Spiderman, Sony’s exclusive superhero game. I was finally aboard the hype train (which has probably died by now).
As I guided the web-slinging superhero through the city, shooting long strands of web to swing in and around the shimmering skyscrapers, I felt the true power of a good open world game (sorry GTA V). In the next half an hour I had immersed myself in the game as I traversed the thronging world, swinging from building to building and in spite of the fact that the sequence I was in had no fighting, I was happy. For a moment. The next moment Spiderman had transformed into his true form, Peter Parker and was helping Otto Octavius (or I think that was him at least) fix a mechanical arm he’d made. This was done very skilfully through a series of circuit-based and correspond-the-following puzzles. Simple and easy, made hard only by my lack of knowledge on how to use the controller properly.
I ended it there. It was getting late and I still had one more thing to try.
THE VR EXPERIENCE [SCORE – 5/5]
So far, Zone Cafe has only two PCs that support VR. I was at the edge of my seat when I was informed that I could try out their VR system. In all excitement, when I put on the visor and grabbed the controller I could only think about one thing: that all those videos of Super Hot VR that I binge-watched on YouTube, I was finally getting to try out the system. I fired on Super Hot and jumped into the world of red, white and black, flinging punches, chucking objects and shooting at random characters that were aggressively attempting to take me down. I was in constant fear of hitting someone in the face, but I soon realised that there was ample space before me. I died several times, but the experience brought in mixed emotions of exhilaration, anger and frustration. I enjoyed it all the while I could.
THE MINTELAA EXPERIENCE [SCORE- 4/5]
The first day, I had visited Zone Cafe with my mother. I had an awful lot of convincing to do to take her along and by the time we were home, she only had good things to say about the place. Of this, I have not much to speak of. The arrangement is neat and there’s plenty of space to roam around. The seats are comfortable and fluffy. The restaurant area merges with the PlayStation area where people, if they desire, could buy and have refreshments. The menu consists of a range of items and the pricing is pretty fair for a reputed restaurant. I remember I had ordered two cups of lemon tea and its bitter taste to the tongue had thrown us off quite surprisingly and we decided to throw in a few pouches of saccharine.
|| ADDITIONAL FACTORS ||
PRICING [SCORE- 2/5]
Zone Cafe charges an exorbitant ₹100 per hour for all of its PCs and PS4 and ₹300 per thirty minutes for its VR systems. And while the word premium was mentioned before in the article, it seems highly immoderate, at least for Kolkata standards. Where famous gaming cafes in Mumbai are likely to charge you ₹20-₹40 per hour, Zone cafe falls on the far expensive wing of things. But to even things out, it also provides several special offers like free game time for girls every Friday (Femme Fatale Friday).
INTERNET [SCORE- 4/5]
Zone Cafe has pretty decent internet provided by Airtel and Alliance Broadband. Although I never tested the speed on speedtest.net, the latency had been quite stable throughout my Dota 2 session. In a friendly conversation with Silaj, he had mentioned that he had specifically asked Alliance to provide speeds up to 1 Gbps. Rest assured, you would not experience any internet related issues.
MANAGEMENT, STAFF & RETAIL STORE [SCORE- 5/5]
The Zone Cafe staff are very friendly and there is always someone around the corner to help you out with whatever problems you are facing. The retail store staff are very friendly and I would highly recommend checking that out if you want to build a powerful rig. They have some of the latest GPUs and components in store to be sold at the most basic market value you can find anywhere in Kolkata.
It is an ideal location for friends to hang out and play games, for aspiring esports players to group up, play side by side, learn and grow from inexperience to be adept, for anyone without a PS4 or a VR system at home to visit and try out. It is a great location being centrally air-conditioned in a spaciously calm and soothing environment to provide you with the best gaming experience you can get anywhere else. It goes without mentioning that, Zone Cafe is also a great destination to host parties both for those aficionados who have a knack for video games in general or for those gamers who like to spend time playing games during the weekends. There may be identical alternatives but in terms of uniqueness and quality, Zone Cafe overshadows them all.