The gaming centers are more than a place to play video games ’til dawn. There’s food, movie-watching and community.
YouTuber Charming_Jo was among the more than 66,000 video game aficionados in attendance for the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) back in June, where some of the biggest gaming companies gathered to unveil new technology and upcoming titles. Before sinking into his chair at Koreatown’s Zero Ping Cyber, a PC and console gaming LAN center, he quietly surveyed the warmly lit room of gamers murmuring to their screens. On his own screen, a burst of colors popped up — finally — Counter-Strike had loaded. He leaned over and joked, “This is so slow. My PC at home is faster!”
Charming_Jo’s real name is Jang Woo Jo. As a game streamer based in Seoul, South Korea — which has the fastest internet in the world — he can poke fun at connection speeds basically anywhere.
Zero Ping Cyber is a PC bang (방), or a “PC room” in Korean. The PC is in reference to the personal computer. It’s on the PC that the gaming world began to take off in the ’90s. PC bangs typically offer patrons their pick at online multiplayer games such as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, Overwatch and League of Legends, but there are others that house older generations of video game consoles, ideal for retrogamers.
At a PC bang, every gamer is stationed at their own monitor and pays hourly to play. It’s common to see monitors lined up in rows; the setup is unpretentious, not unlike that of a public school computer lab. Many of them have dividers between computers to give each gamer privacy. PC bangs, in essence, are places where gamers can be alone, together.
“When I play games at home, it’s more individual of course. Somewhere like here, gaming becomes more about the people you’re with,” Jo says.
Just a few rows over, fellow gamer Levi Jacob sat at one of the computer stations and played a Spider-Man game. He and a friend traveled to L.A. from Alaska to attend E3. “This is the first time I’ve ever been in anything like this,” he says. “My setup at home is more advanced with the monitor, but this is a cool gathering place.”
PC bangs offer patrons a place to play video games, watch movies and relax with friends away from the distractions of the outside world. Photo by Lisa Kwon.
PC bangs can be found all over the world, but the more traditional ones in Koreatown feel like dimming establishments of yesteryear. There are currently five left in the neighborhood. This means for the Korean teenagers and adults who grew up gaming at PC bangs, the opportunities to congregate around video games outside of their homes is diminishing.
“Multiplayer games are fun, so when I want to play them, I go to PC bangs instead of playing at home. There are less distractions that way, such as parents,” Jo says.
Koreatown’s PC bangs provide Korean newcomers and residents with a familiar experience. Edward Bai, a first-generation Los Angeles native, recalls being dropped off at PC bangs in K-town before his mother went grocery shopping at nearby Korean supermarkets. His memories of them were planted long before his L.A. childhood.
“My infatuation with PC bangs happened very early on when I would go to Korea,” Bai says. “I was so excited to go in America. [Going to a PC bang] always felt like I was walking into somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be as a kid, but I forgot all of that once someone set up my computer to start me on my way to burn two hours.”
Almost a decade ago, it was common to see PC bangs in K-town plazas and strip malls at major intersections or tucked away in indoor shopping centers. Nowadays, they are hard to maintain in their prototypical state.
Joshua Chae is the current owner of K-Town PC Cafe, one of the oldest PC bangs in the neighborhood. It has stood at its location near the intersection of 8th and Hoover Streets for five years.
“There used to be more [bangs] in Koreatown, but it’s easier or even faster to play games at home now,” Chae said. “Nowadays people come here to socialize or play in a competitive but friendly setting.”
Night owls, late-night gamers and their friends find food, games and company at PC bangs, some of the only places open all night, if not 24 hours a day. Photo courtesy of Cyber City eSports Center.
K-Town PC Cafe spans the entire second floor of a quiet outdoor shopping plaza, and its signage explicitly designates it as an internet cafe. Food is often what draws in dedicated gamers, and it’s not uncommon to hear PC bangs being referred to as cafes. The ones that most mimic those in South Korea have kitchens that serve anything from ramen, dumplings and rice bowls to chicken bakes, wings, corn dogs and pizza. The meals are then delivered to the gamer’s station. K-Town PC Cafe, with its size and kitchen, is one of the most traditional in town.
“The reason people go to a PC bang is not just to play a game,” Jo says. “Sometimes we are just watching each other play or hanging at night. Some people even go for dating! We go because it is comfortable to socialize with people who are like me, a little nerdy.”
Beyond Koreatown lay new iterations of the PC bang concept. Cyber City eSports Center in Mid-City draws hundreds of gamers from all over the county. It boasts state-of-the-art headsets and monitors. Each Cyber City location conjures up memories of laser tag with floor-to-ceiling projections and saturated hue lights. There are four other locations around L.A. County in Gardena, Granada Hills, Little Tokyo and Montrose. They are situated in or near neighborhoods with large populations of first and second-generation Korean-Americans. No other gaming centers in Los Angeles have seen as rapid a growth as Cyber City eSports.
One reason that may be, is that PC bangs are some of the few places that are open until dawn, if not 24 hours. They provide a space where friends can connect in person or online, but they also remind us that many people in Los Angeles don’t have somewhere to go in the hours when they are most free.
There’s serenity in the soft late-night glow that emanates from these gaming hangs. It’s difficult to find something open in Los Angeles after 1 a.m. But in a city where night creature itches are difficult to scratch, at PC bangs your habits don’t have to die hard.
K-Town PC Cafe
2748 W. 8th St. #201, Los Angeles, CA 90005
Open from 11-5 a.m. Monday-Thursday, and from 11-6 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Zero Ping LAN Center
1001 S. Vermont Ave. #201, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Open from 11-2 a.m. daily
Pang Pang PC
3534 W. 8th St., Los Angeles, CA 90005
Open from 12 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily
1100 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90006
Open from 10-5:30 a.m Saturday-Wednesday, and from 10-7:30 a.m. Thursday and Friday
PC Game by Ahri (AHRI PC Cafe)
3959 Wilshire Blvd., Suite A23, Los Angeles, CA 90010