New York City’s Next Level Arcade has built a reputation as a premier hub for the fighting game community, fostering some of the toughest competition in the country. After five years of operation the gaming center will move about 12 blocks north to 874 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY and expects to be open for business next week.
Wednesday night marked the final Next Level Battle Circuit at the familiar 9th Avenue location, with tournaments for Street Fighter V and Guilty Gear Xrd. The SFV bracket’s 54 competitors marked the most entrants in about two months for the weekly event, and the tournament was streamed as usual by Team Spooky, with Arturo “Sabin” Sanchez at the helm.
Though he’s still working out the decor, Next Level’s Owner, Henry “Golden” Cen, said that Next Level’s new venue will be ready on Wednesday for next week’s NLBC. It’s a welcome turn of events for the arcade, whose future seemed uncertain just under a year ago.
In August 2015, Cen announced that Next Level would be closing in February of this year due to disagreements between the ownership and the landlord. At the time, Cen maintained that he would continue searching for a new location for the arcade. There wasn’t much news after that, as frequenters of the arcade and fans of Next Level Battle Circuit speculated as to its fate.
Cen said the store’s original five-year lease was indeed expected to end in February, and he was not able to come to an agreement on its renewal. However, he was able to convince the landlord to extend the agreement on a month-to-month basis, keeping Next Level open as he searched for its next home.
After searching through a number of potential locations, Cen began working to finalize a deal with the new property’s owner in March. After two months of negotiation he was able to secure the location under another five-year lease with an option to renew for a full decade. The new space has a basement level in addition to the main floor, and boasts a backyard–a rare find in the dense city. During an interview on Wednesday, Henry mentioned that there may even be some barbecue in the arcade’s future with the added outdoor space.
A sneak peek of the new store pic.twitter.com/KJmGfgl0fF
— Henry Cen (金神) (@goldencen) June 27, 2016
Tournament competitor and volunteer Michael “Wyseguy” Coleman said he wasn’t fully aware of New York City’s fighting game scene until he made his way to Next Level. Though he had visited Chinatown Fair (an arcade that served as one of New York’s original fighting game hubs) a handful of times over the years, he was shocked to hear of its sudden closing in 2011.
“I thought, ‘is this it?’ And then I found out Next Level was gonna be around so I had to come here, and that’s why I started getting into it,” he said. “Essential, is what this is.”
Next Level has certainly been essential in harboring New York’s fighting game community. Next Level arose as CTF’s spiritual successor, opening in Brooklyn with a new business model and a focus on competitive fighters. Even in an era where online play is more popular than ever, the players at Next Level will be the first to tell you that there is no substitute for playing in person.
“It’s a new game, new players are coming in, there are still a lot of established players who still come out to Next Level,” Javits Arias, who placed 7th in the SFV tournament with Alex, said. “If you want to improve you’ve got to come out and support your local scene, play in person, and know what it’s like to play next to someone and feel the pressure.”
Though he had already built a reputation as a strong player in the Midwest, Antwan “F3|Alucard” Ortiz wasted no time making his presence felt at Next Level after moving to New York. He said being able to play against strong players more often at a place like Next Level has improved his overall performance and results at major events.
“It helps me out a lot, my game has like tripled in value just by being out here and being able to play these guys every week, instead of every month,” Alucard said. “It’s definitely a privilege to me.”
Alucard would eventually earn third place in the evening’s tournament, falling twice to OG Shine. Shine would go on to reset the bracket and win NLBC for a second consecutive week after beating PIE|Smug in two sets of Karin mirrors. On the Guilty Gear side, Venom player DaiAndOh took first place.
Next Level will re-open at 874 4th Ave, Brooklyn NY 11232. For those who are familiar with MTA transit, the location is accessible through D, N or R subway trains via 36 St. Station. The B70 and B35 bus also stop at 36th Street and 4th Ave.