Since the early days of Pong in the ‘70s, video games have become big business. Now, Houston entrepreneur Hans Goss is looking to capitalize on their widespread popularity with the opening of Valhalla Esports Lounge in late July or early August.
Esports may not be a household word, but it is a huge phenomenon. The term refers to video game competitions, which boast full rosters of professional players and teams, as well as an international fanbase that hosts streaming events and shows up for viewing parties.
It was one of these watch parties in January 2018 where Goss got the idea to open a bar that could cater to the thriving subculture. As a host, he expected 50 people to show up, but the Houston event attracted 700 people — most of whom were over 21 and drinking.
“I thought, okay, there’s some sort of demand for it,” says Goss, adding he was "blown away by the energy everyone had.”
Several months after J. Blacks at 710 W. Sixth St. shuttered in February 2018, he snagged the building and began cleaning up the space and making cosmetic renovations. Once opened, Goss says Valhalla will be the first esports concept in Austin and only one of a handful in the United States.
According to Goss, the lounge will be outfitted with six video game consoles and 12 computers that guests can play for free with no minimum food or drink order.
But he draws a distinction between Valhalla and LAN centers — gaming spots that charge a fee using high-end equipment connected over a local area network. Instead of just appealing to hardcore gamers, Goss wants to provide a place that attracts more casual fans.
Valhalla’s main focus, however, will be watch parties. Gaming is an undeniably popular trend; a 2019 study released by video game industry trade group Entertainment Software Association found that 65 percent of American adults play video games.
To make Valhalla an even more comfortable space to socialize, Goss drafted general manager Reed Woogerd to help with the playful food and drink menus. Keeping in theme, the bar offerings will pay tribute to gamer culture. In addition to snacky standbys like chicken wings, burgers, and pizza, the spot will serve themed drinks like a Mountain Dew sipper crusted with Doritos.
Still for all the digital trappings, Goss says everyone is welcome, citing Topgolf’s model as one of his inspirations. Whether one knows the difference between a first-person shooter or real-time strategy game, everyone is invited to play.