New Durham bar Bad Machines excites esports enthusiasts, brings hope to Duke gaming scene

Just a mile off of East Campus, a brand new bar hopes to offer a unique experience to esports enthusiasts, weekend gamers and Durham locals alike. 

Located on East Main Street, esports bar Bad Machines officially opened its doors in December 2022. Prior to opening the establishment, founder and co-owner Glen Swan spent over seven years in the video game industry, during which he became friends with eventual co-owner and esports director Carlos Lopez.

Swan and Lopez considered opening gaming-related spaces of various capacities for years, though none of their proposals ever came to fruition. This all changed one morning, when Swan woke up with a vision of creating North Carolina’s first ever esports bar.

“We offer people a place to game for free, and we make our money off of micro-transactions, like drinks,” Swan said. “The community really likes it. [On a recent Saturday], we had a party of 30 come in, and they didn’t even have to rent the space. We also offer the space to local tournament organizers to run [their events] and build a community.”

Swan noted that Bad Machines is a for-profit organization, meaning the business can direct earnings from events towards improvements and updates — essentially paying it forward.

The esports bar offers many of the same amenities as traditional arcade breweries like Boxcar and Dave & Busters — old-school machines, fully-functioning bar, casual ambience — though this hardly scratches the surface of what Bad Machines has in store.

On top of these features, Bad Machines serves as a venue for esteemed esports professionals to compete in friendly tournaments and host their own productions. Swan believes these resources are what make Bad Machines a one-of-a-kind establishment.

“Imagine if you got Larry Bird and Michael Jordan to meet up one day on a basketball court to see who the best was,” Swan said. “If you take all of the top esports professionals and do the same thing at a venue, no one is doing that. We take the profits from the bar, fly them out and use their fame to put on a show and stream it.”

To Swan, the live-streaming aspect of these productions could take Bad Machines to new heights, transforming it into something far greater than an esports bar.

“We want to get to a point where we can almost run this like a television show,” Swan explained. “A weekly or monthly thing, with really big names, and create a fun and entertaining show set in a bar. At that point, we aren’t even a bar anymore, we’re a multi-million dollar media company.”

Although the patron population of Bad Machines consists heavily of adults — and primarily those interested in video games — there is reason to believe that mounting numbers of Duke students will continue to trickle into the bar as its popularity increases. Several members of Duke Gaming have already competed in tournaments hosted at the bar over the past few months.

Senior Michael Topper, vice president of Duke Gaming, believes Bad Machines could facilitate the club’s mission of providing a space for Blue Devils interested in gaming, both for competitors looking to test their merit and casual players just trying to take a break from school.

“We are trying to support the idea of gamers having a place to go, by hosting game nights, esports competitions and sponsoring teams,” Topper said. “I think the existence of Bad Machines tells you a lot about what’s coming. People are realizing that there is a demand for public spaces where you can appreciate gaming in the same way you can go to a sports bar.”

Apart from sending members to competitions, Duke Gaming organizes weekly tournaments on campus, but the club’s efforts have been hindered by two major challenges, locking down a permanent location to hold events and providing members with access to high-performance gaming equipment.

“We are forced to host our events in the Social Sciences building, and the space is fine, but it’s a bit out of the way,” Topper explained. “There is a huge accessibility problem. The existing team, we play out of our bedrooms on our own machines, because that’s all we have.”

Duke’s Housing and Residence Life also recently turned The Bolt, a gaming suite in Edens Quad, into a marine robotics research lab. 

Topper knows that providing resources like space and equipment will require a great deal of time and money, though he is interested to see if Bad Machines will eventually be able to bridge the gap.

Above all else, both Topper and Swan hope their respective efforts will serve to bring gaming into the mainstream, and encourage others to give it a go.

“It’s a really great community of people who have this passion together, and it’s an awesome thing to be a part of,” Topper said. “I’d highly recommend trying it out.”

Gautam Sirdeshmukh | Staff Reporter

Gautam Sirdeshmukh is a Trinity senior and a staff reporter for the news department. He was previously the health & science news editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.


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