Triangle man opens esports bar in Durham for devoted gamers

DURHAM, N.C. — All-night gaming sessions have paid off for Glen Swan.

Swan is the owner of Bad Machines, one of North Carolina’s first esports bars that recently opened in an upstairs space in downtown Durham.

It’s a fitting arc for Swan, who grew up in Knightdale and was kicked out of school in 11th grade after spending too much time playing games.

“I was pretty bad in high school,” Swan said. “I skipped a lot. I didn’t do my work a lot. I slept a lot. School pretty much had it with me.”

Instead of academics, Swan, now 40 with children, was more engrossed in MUDs or multi-user dungeons. MUDs are text-based and lack some of the big franchises or household names that big-selling console games have. He preferred multiplayer, PC-driven titles over console games, signaling a certain devotion to the hobby that most 90s kids who only played Super Nintendo lacked.

“My parents thought it was almost a waste of time,” he said. “A lot of my teachers didn’t have any belief that this would amount to anything. But it did. I made a career out of it.”

Swan never graduated high school, but worked his way up in the gaming circuit while developing instincts for the engineering and software development aspects of the industry. Years later, a career laced in gaming, tech and advertising gave Swan to flexibility to open Bad Machines, as he hopes to capture on the increasing space that gaming plays in the public sphere.

“There’s a lot that goes into making games. Some of the games I’ve worked on take three-to-five years just to make and hundreds of millions of dollars just to produce,” Swan said. “They’re essentially like movies.”

Clearly, gaming is taken more seriously in 2023 and Swan is giving the dedicated gamers somewhere to congregate and play. Swan hopes Bad Machines will eventually be able to host exhibitions between the top players in the Triangle and beyond. The bar intends to host tournaments to bring players together to play Super Smash Bros., Rocket League and Fortnite, which is produced by Cary-headquartered Epic Games. There’s also a few arcade machines or board games if you prefer your fun to be unplugged.

The Triangle has lured groups of serious gamers to the region in recent months. In 2022, an Apex Legends championship at PNC Arena drew players to the Triangle for a four-day competition where the top finishers split more than $2 million in prize money. In December, a Call of Duty tournament at the Raleigh Convention center sold out of tickets.

The esports industry is soaring in value, popularity and revenue as economists have valued the industry in the billions. Swan wants the venue to eventually host high-stakes shows and bring in professional gamers so fans can see them up close. Eventually he hopes to incorporate a stage, lights, fog machines, and cameras for big production value. Bad Machines also serves local craft beers and game-inspired drinks.

“There really hasn’t been a sports bar-type concept for esports, so it just kind of seemed like the thing to do,” Swan said. “A lot of the concept came to be from my dream, which was to create a venue for esports to run exhibition matches, dream fights or ‘bar fights,’ between well-known pros,” Swan said.

“What if we had Michael Jordan and Larry Bird play one-on-one, would people want to see it, even if it meant nothing? The answer is yes,” Swan said.

Bad Machines is open Wednesday through Sunday at 108 East Main Street.

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