Parkwood store brings new kind of gaming space to Northeast Philly

“Game the Systems,” which opened Feb. 1 on Academy Road, is part video game store, part esports lounge.

Colin Tallman opened “Game the Systems,” a video game store and lounge, Feb. 1 in Parkwood. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

Colin Tallman marks milestones in his life through “formative experiences” he’s had with video games.

The first of these happened when he was 2 and watched his brother beat the first dungeon in “The Legend of Zelda” on the Nintendo Entertainment System. To Tallman, it was the “most phenomenal thing (he) had ever seen.”

Later, he remembers playing the first level of “Super Mario 64” on Christmas Day and college hangouts featuring alcohol and “Super Smash Bros. Melee.”

Tallman’s love of video games perhaps culminated Feb. 1, when he opened “Game the Systems,” a video game store and lounge in Parkwood. Housed in a former karate studio on Academy Road near Byberry Road, it’s Northeast Philadelphia’s first esports venue. 

Inside, there are a couple of small display cases featuring brand new games and older titles, but the focus at Game the Systems is the lounge.

The space features six stations, each with a couch, monitor, a Playstation 4 or Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and an older console or two. Pretty much every major system released over the past few decades is represented.

“The whole idea is I want people in here playing,” said Tallman, who works as a chemist by day and lives with his family down the street from the shop. “As far as I’m concerned, this is kind of what video game stores are going to look like in five, 10 years.”

For $10, a person or group of up to seven people can rent a station for an hour. That entitles them to whatever available game and system suit their fancy. The first controller is free, and subsequent controllers are rented for $5, but gamers can avoid that fee by bringing their own. There’s also snacks and drinks for sale.

Anyone who chooses a game released in the last week or an older console gets double time, so $10 for two hours. Customers can trade their old games in for game time valued at the full retail price of the title or store credit. 

Tallman’s business model is predicated on gamers bringing him their old titles for time in the lounge. He can make pure profit by reselling the used games.

“To them, it’s basically free because those games that they got rid of to me were just sitting around anyway,” he said. “They weren’t even playing with them. So, it’s a win-win for everybody.”

The store’s three weekly events have proven to be the main draw thus far. On Fridays, Tallman hosts a “Fortnite” tournament; “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” nights are held on Wednesday; and there’s a competition involving a rotating sports game on Sundays.

Tallman used to be a technician at Dave & Buster’s on Columbus Boulevard, and he became disillusioned with the quality of games that were being offered. Some were novelty experiences; others were casino-like games of chance, he said.

So, he made an arcade for the esports generation.

The growing industry surrounding video game competition, known as esports, tops $1 billion worldwide, according to Forbes. Comcast Spectacor is investing in a $50 million esports stadium planned for the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, and Philly Fusion, an esports team, reportedly drew a large crowd to its season opener Saturday at The Met.

“On the global scale, Philadelphia’s kind of up there in terms of esports and the interest that people have in it,” said Tallman. 

Game the Systems, he said, has all the bells and whistles to attract competitive gamers. All of the consoles are hooked up with ethernet and the monitors are ultra-low latency, meaning characters on the screen react as soon as you press a button.

Tallman, a competitive Smash Bros. player himself, said he has been embraced by the tight-knit and supportive competitive gaming community.

He believes his store has an edge on traditional video game shops, which usually do not have lounges where gamers can spend hours playing. People have the ability to try out titles before dropping $60.

“The one thing I can’t do at a GameStop is try a game out, play it,” Tallman said. “Maybe I only want to play Spider-Man for two hours before I’m like, all right, I get the gist of this, and I’m done.”

Game the Systems was founded with kids in mind, and, so far, his primary clientele has been middle and high school students who live nearby. 

Tallman, who speaks passionately and knowledgeably about gaming, enjoys introducing teenagers to older systems and titles, some of which were released before they were born.

In the future, he hopes to hold more events, like invitational tournaments, and set up esports leagues for kids at local schools. He also has a station with a streaming set-up, which he wants to use to make gaming videos for YouTube and broadcast on Twitch, a popular streaming platform for gamers.

“We’re trying to be as in the center of the gaming space as we can get for being a relatively small store,” he said. ••

For more information about Game the Systems, 12330 Academy Road, visit www.gamethesystems.com or call 215-618-3588.