Gaming is a hugely popular form of entertainment, and nowhere more so than in Vietnam. So, where can you go in Ho Chi Minh City to get your fix of StarCraft or Overwatch? Below, we’ve broken down the best, cheapest and most, uh, characterful places to play games, relax and catch a professional esports match in Ho Chi Minh City.
It’s official: video games are the world’s most popular form of entertainment. After narrowly surpassing TV in 2018, interactive entertainment now rakes in more than £122 billion a year. The United States and China are still the world’s biggest markets by far (Japan, Sweden, South Korea and the UK also have strong gaming traditions), but fledgling studios and new generations of gamers are growing steadily in pretty much every corner of the globe.
More importantly, gaming has become a huge part of the way that people all over the world interact, bond and compete. Now, people are even making serious money playing games. In China and Korea, esports rival traditional sports in terms of attention. When the South Korean national football team was getting ready to step onto the pitch, their coach arranged for professional StarCraft players to come give them a pep talk.
In Vietnam, gaming is still seen as more of a pastime, but public perception is changing faster all the time. The country’s tech boom, along with a generation of gamers raised in internet cafés, is seeing more and more people chasing the dream of a career in esports – as gamers, casters and developers.
Computers are expensive in Vietnam, and having one at home isn’t financially viable for most people. Pretty much the whole country goes to internet cafés. Most of them are dingy rooms filled with rows of screens, where you can get decent Internet and a comfy chair for less than a dollar an hour.
As gaming becomes increasingly popular and lucrative, a swathe of internet cafés are springing up targeted specifically at gamers. Kitted out with powerful machines, super-fast Wi-Fi and even more comfortable chairs, these gaming dens are some of the nicest places to while away a day playing everything from League of Legends to Overwatch and Dota 2. Gamer culture is a great way to get a look inside the life of young Vietnamese people in 2020.
Located in the heart of District 10, InTheNet eSports Gaming Centre is a spacious café with a solid range of gaming rooms. Their standard packages start at VND5,500 (about £.20) an hour and go all the way up to…VND10,000 (£.40) for their Gold package, which gets you a top of the line gaming rig and a 27-inch screen. InTheNet also offers practice spaces for esports teams, a streaming room and a couples package for two people “who share a passion for gaming.” If you’re an aspiring game developer, InTheNet also provides a community service where young devs can meet to exchange advice and expertise, as well as potentially get their gaming startup funded. If you’re looking to meet some of the folks actually making games in Vietnam, this is ground zero.
If sleek, futuristic, minimalist design is something you’re into, then skip on down. If you’ve got a soft spot for charmingly over-the-top black and red pictures of wolves made of fire howling at a moon that may also be on fire, Cyber Core Nhat Thiet in District 10 may just steal your heart. Inside, the application of red and black piping to every possible surface is enough to melt the heart of the 10-year-old gamer in all of us. Cyber Core is a little pricier than most gamer cafes: prices start at VND7,000 (£0.25) and go all the way up to VND12,000 (£.42) per hour. Their machines are seriously beefy, however. They also separate their shop into smoking and non-smoking, which can be a lifesaver as some gamer cafés will have you marinating in a grey fog for hours at a time like so much expensive haddock.
Filled with soft lighting, pot plants and natural wood, Marines eSports Gaming in District 4 is the trendy aesthetic foil to places like Cyber Core. It’s a halfway point between Cyber Core and a Shoreditch coffee roaster. Its major draw is the fact it’s the home turf of Marines Esports (previously GAM Esports), one of Vietnam’s top tier League of Legends teams. As well as gaming rigs, private rooms and all the coffee you could need for an all-night session, Marines is one of the best places to watch major esports events in the city.
As gaming has become more widely accepted and popular in Vietnam, there’s been a rise of a new style of gaming den: the iCafe. With its white walls, dangling filament light bulbs and natural wood, Kingdom Gaming is a gorgeous place to spend some time, regardless of whether you’re a gamer. Its high ceiling and clean palette mean its clientele aren’t your average pyjama-wearing, chain-smoking gamer gremlins. Their coffee is amazing, the staff are renowned for being very friendly, and upon stepping inside, it’s easy to recognise the fact that the usual 98-2% gender divide in gaming cafés doesn’t apply here. Pro gaming is quickly becoming a way for lots of Vietnamese women to level the playing field in a country that still has pretty 20th-century conceptions of a woman’s ‘role’. Kingdom is definitely a safe space for women who game, which is fantastic.
For a premium experience that pulls together the best that the Vietnamese gamer café scene has to offer, Kingdom Next Gen is a small chain that makes a lot of places look like amateur hour. Its interior is gorgeously turned out, with delicate lighting and glass dividing walls that make the whole place feel open. It’s one of the only spots in town where you can find gaming rigs that have 16GB of RAM and up, along with some beastly graphics cards and big, curved screens.