Posted March 13, 2020 by Adam Ghiggino in Feature

New esports and gaming venue Fortress Melbourne opens its doors

Walking through the half-built Fortress Melbourne last week was a surreal experience. Perhaps it was moving from the skeleton of a LAN café, slowly being decked out with 160 top-of-the-line Alienware PCs, into the bar area, which had already been furnished with most of its fittings to make it seem like a medieval tavern. Booths around the perimeter have in-built TVs and consoles to encourage multiplayer sessions. There’s an area for table-top games here, too. In front of the loos is a green painted acid pit.

“That’s getting replaced,” says Jon Satterley, CEO of Fortress Esports, giving the tour to a small group of media.

Up the venue’s own escalator (although it also has its own lift), lies the biggest attraction, the Esports Arena. Framed with the same customisable RGB lighting as the rest of the venue, along with an impressive stage, optional 200-seat grandstands, and the capability to transmit any events through stream or live broadcast to the world.

It’s an ambitious convergence of several concepts, even filling out its hallways with arcade machines like Mario Kart and electromechanical Pong, and even going to the extent of creating its own mascots and characters, which feature on the artwork adorning the walls, carvings in chairs, and of course, the merch.

Satterley compares the experience as an alternative for going to the movies or somewhere like Strike or Holey Moley, for social entertainment. Walk-up prices to game in the LAN lounge are priced in line with those, at $13 an hour, $26 for 2 hours and $38 for 4 hours. If you’re looking at visiting more regularly, members can join a ‘Power User’ program – it’s a $13 a week, $4.50 an hour, with some bonus merch as incentive. There are further tiers and foundational options available, as well as options for tabletop gamers renting board games, or groups looking to rent a booth in the bar area. There’s a bevy of options to look into which will be available to browse when the venue goes live – along with special foundational memberships which offer specific perks. However, there’s no commitment to anything if you just want to pop your head in and have a look around.

“Of course,” Satterley says, “Coming down here to have a beer, there’s no price.”

The esports arena already has events lined up this weekend to tie into the grand prix, as well as hosting E-League grand final in May. Like anywhere else in the business, it’s also designed to be welcoming to walk-ins who may not have much experience elsewhere. Broadcasts within it operate at a basic level to make it more accessible for newcomers, but the ability to scale-up for huge events is built-in.

“If you’re a 14-year old coming in and there’s ten techs sitting there, you’re going to be freaking out” Adam Chesters, Head of Technology explains, “So yeah, the whole venue, even this room is catering to that walk-in off the street. You can come here with your mum, but you’re not going to feel unwelcome.”

Fortress Melbourne says its the largest esports and gaming venue in the Southern Hemisphere, and is hoping on a lot of foot traffic with its location right next to Melbourne Central and a stone’s throw from Bourke St. Mall. However, the Coronavirus pandemic continues to affect every industry, not the least of which has been gaming with the cancellation of E3 2020 and GDC. Opening a facility that invites large groups of people could be a struggle, but Satterley remains optimistic.

“If anything it might train people’s minds to do things locally, and then we benefit.”

Fortress Melbourne opens today, located at the lower ground floor of Emporium Melbourne, with access also via Caledonian lane.

Adam Ghiggino

Owner, Executive Editor of Rocket Chainsaw. I also edit TV, films and make average pancakes.