Pop culture café to open in York this summer, will screen live eSports

The game's afoot… Photograph © Pawel Kadysz on Unsplash
9 Jul 2017 @ 7.09 pm
| Food & drink

Limber up your gamer’s thumbs, break out the board games and swot up on your trivia facts – a pop culture cafe is coming to York.

Random Encounter hopes to be open by the end of August after successfully raising more than £10K on Kickstarter.

With that funding added to some start-up cash from charity the Prince’s Trust it’s all systems go for what they describe as “a unique social hub”.

“We never had a clubhouse, so we decided to make our own,” said Ellen Stubbings, who is the co-founder of Random Encounter with partner Wes Hall.

It could mean that York soon has two pop culture cafes.

As we reported in March, the Play! Gaming Cafe was aiming to be the premier venue for social gaming in the city, and it has raised more than £11K in crowdfunding.

Something brand new

Co-founders: Wes Hall and Ellen Stubbings

So what will Random Encounter be like? “We’re going to offer customers a place to relax and play a wide selection of video games or board games, browse our graphic novel library or simply just watch a film,” Wes told YorkMix.

“Also, we’ll have a small shop selling new and used pop culture goods – the kind you would find at a comic book shop but most importantly we want a space for local artists to sell their pop culture related goods – like they would at an artist’s alley at comic-con.”

The cafe will sell hot and cold drinks, baked goods and snacks – things like nachos, hot dogs and ice cream, washed down by coffee or milkshakes.

And Random Encounter wants to bring something new to the city, as Wes explained.

“We want to offer one thing that nowhere else in York has – live eSports. Like how you would watch live football in a pub, we want to offer gamings biggest events live to watch on our projector screen.”

Theme nights and film clubs

On screen: an esports tournament. Photograph © Gabriel.gagne on Wikipedia

The social aspect of the cafe is important to Wes and Ellen.

“We want to create a community of pop culture fans and bring them together for unique weekly events such as a film and comic book clubs, gaming tournaments, quizzes and beginner classes,” Wes said.

They want it to feel inclusive. “The sheer scale of pop culture can be rather intimidating and unfortunately some pop culture fans can be a little elitist and unfriendly – we want to change that.”

They are planning theme nights, film and comic book clubs, screenings and marathons, pop culture quizzes and viewing parties, like on Oscar night.

Where does the name come from? “A random encounter is a term used in gaming for when you are unexpectedly rushed into battle, the most common example would be when you fight a wild Pokémon in the Pokémon video game.”

Born from anxiety

Board games are also on the menu, like Camel Up. Photograph: Random Encounter / Instagram

Random Encounter grew out of Wes’s Super Ultra Mega Club, formed in 2015 after he had to leave his job of eight years due to work-related stress.

“I was working full time whilst dealing with anxiety and depression, brought on by other health issues, and I decided I needed to leave that job and focus on recovering,” he said.

His anxiety intensified until he struggled to leave the house. That was when “my ever supportive fiancé, Ellen, had a table to sell her artwork at York’s first ever comic-con and had asked for my help”.

Ellen is a professional illustrator. The day spent in the positive and accepting environment of the convention led to a “personal breakthrough” for Wes.

He set up the SUM Club with the idea of “uniting people passionate about pop culture in a positive, fun and accepting environment” and that led to the cafe plan.

Support came from the Prince’s Trust, the charity that helps young people launch businesses, in the form of expert advice and start-up funding.

‘Found a place’

No location has been finalised for Random Encounter. They had hoped to secure a place at the forthcoming box park on Piccadilly, Spark:York, but missed out on that.

Wes told us: “We have been looking at premises and although nothing is concrete, we have found a place and things are going really well with that.”

Planned opening hours are 11am-9pm Sunday to Thursday and 10am-11pm Friday and Saturday, though these could expand depending on how busy it is.

Wes added: “I’ve had a great deal of support from friends and family through getting to where I am with Random Encounter and being able to work on it full time, so I’d like to thank them from the bottom of my heart.”